The nineties started off with a hare problem on the first nine, a porcupine problem on the back nine and in ’93 a mosquito epidemic, but the poor condition of the course during this period was also attributed to excessive rain and the many public holidays during December 1995.
True grit required to solve bunker problem
After a considerable sum of money had been spent filling the bunkers with white silica sand in 1986, it was decided in 1991, that the bunkers should revert back to the original indigenous sand, as the white sand was too powdery. The staff must have been grateful to Hugh Inggs for cutting back the bunkers by half to less than 50.
Members tapped to support water system
In May 1991, the new workshop buildings were completed. Just in time because at a special meeting held on the following month, members were informed that a water reticulation system down both sides of the fairways was to be undertaken. An expenditure of R400 000 was envisaged, and in order to help pay for this, members were to be levied R600 over three years.
In February 1992, the Training Unit applied for and received its own liquor licence and thus the last link the Club had with the “Dormy House” ended, at least setting the minds of the legal eagles at rest.
Later that year, New Vaal Colliery donated 100 trees to the Club and golden cypresses were planted at the 150 metre mark. Another addition at that time was the golf caddy cart.
Maccauvlei rated as one of the best
In 1993, Maccauvlei was featured in Stuart McLean’s book “South African Golf Courses – a portrait of the best”, being a tribute to what he generally regarded as the twenty five best courses in the country.
A number of other changes, took place. The catering, which had previously always been run by the Club, was outsourced to private caterers. A new national handicapping and green fee management system was introduced to the Club and handicapping was computer controlled by credit card.
The men’s bar and hall fronts were completely remodelled with new wood cottage type windows. The bar was retiled, furnished and wood panelled.
Meanwhile, out on the course things were happening too. This time the course was burnt up, not by fire, but by M. Hendrikse of Gauteng North who set a new course record of 62 during the National Team Championships.
In March 1997, Dereck Mocke became the first member of the Club to hold every executive office at the Club, having been Captain, Chairman and President.
Moving towards momentous change
Since its opening, Maccauvlei has been respected as a very good test of golf, hence its long tradition of hosting top amateur and professional events. Over the years the course underwent upgrades such as eliminating many bunkers, new tees, over-seeding greens with bent grass, installation of irrigation systems and the introduction of water holes. In the nineties there was also a focus on upgrading the clubhouse facilities with improved change rooms, halfway house and a modern kitchen. The lounge, which over the years acted as a dining room, a lounge and a halfway house, reverted to the President’s lounge. A security fence with a ticket access system was installed. In both the men’s bar and president’s lounge, the furniture was partially paid for by individual member sponsorship, the member’s names appearing on a plaque attached to the furniture. On Friday the 8th August 1997, the President’s Lounge was officially opened by Gilbert Steyn.
The moment of decision arrives
Towards the end of the decade it was clear that Maccauvlei was facing a major decision. The bent grass greens had outlived their lifespan and become difficult and expensive to maintain due to an insufficient root development system and a resistance to fungicides and pesticides. A flood in 1996 badly damaged five greens. They were rebuilt by simply overseeding as the quickest and cheapest option. This quick fix was probably the wrong decision and they quickly deteriorated. These greens were the initial focus of the redevelopment project, but there were other issues involved. The development of the game and golf equipment had made dramatic strides and Maccauvlei had fallen behind other top courses. The greens were too flat and too small, which also inhibited the root development of the bent grass. With golf rounds exceeding 3000 a month the greens compacted very quickly after treatments. Fairway bunkers were too close to the tees and did not come into play for longer hitters. Repair of the irrigation system was becoming a major expense and the course had begun to lose its original character. Like many older courses in the world Maccauvlei had to make a crucial decision whether to stagnate or move aggressively to regain a place near the top of the course rankings. A special General Meeting was held in July 1998 to discuss green replacement, possible changes to the course and machinery replacement. Members voted in favour of progress. Initially the Gary Player Group was consulted, but their proposal and fees were beyond the Club’s budget. Peter Matkovich of Matkovich and Hayes was appointed the golf architect for the whole project, having proved his ability by his exceptional track record. Peter was very excited about the challenge and full of praise for the original designers as true professionals. He did not foresee any major changes as his brief was not to alter the unique character of the course and he decided rather to retain Maccauvlei’s links origins that built its reputation. All 18 holes were reviewed and plans detailing the upgrading of tees, greens and bunkers were approved.
His plan was to do away with all water holes and reinstate the bunker as the main obstacle. Planting exotic grasses in some bunkers completed the unique links feel of the sandy terrain. He created a new green on the water’s edge at the 15th and thinned out the trees lining the river exposing beautiful views from tee to green. The 10th took a new turn, literally, with the old practice area dog-legging to a new green. The famous bunker near the 17th green reverted back to its railway sleeper face and challenged the golfer’s prowess still further with the biggest green on the course. All 18 greens were remodelled and shaped.
The decision is DIY with a lot of help from friends
The Club decided to do the construction itself with the assistance of New Vaal Colliery and Vereeniging Refractories. The logistics involved in the overhaul were mind boggling. Over 50 000 tons of sand had to be moved and 9 000 m of grass had to be laid. Ironically the kikuyu which was once kept off the course as a weed, was lifted from the fairways and laid to rest around the new greens. Greens double their original size had to be planted and nurtured. Justis Vorster, the greenkeeper, did a great job building the greens from Peter Matkovich’s plans. During the project the team had to battle against heavy rain which damaged the new greens as well as unprecedented heat and drought. A lot of overtime and thankless hours were put in by all the course staff. Club Captain, Gerard Tait, who co-ordinated the whole project shouldered much of the responsibility. The Club owes a deep debt of gratitude to everyone who worked so hard to achieve the dream and to our special benefactors who loaned the equipment.
Initially the plan was to approach the project in three phases, building six greens a year. The first green was dug up and immediately the rounds of golf dropped dramatically. The committee had not foreseen this tremendous drop due to the temporary greens and reviewed the position. It was decided to bite the bullet and tackle all 18 holes immediately to minimise the financial losses. In the event this proved a wise decision, for despite a special appeal by the President to members not to abandon the club during the renovations, only the die hard supporters rallied to the call.
The project, the biggest and most comprehensive undertaken at Maccauvlei since its inception, was completed at a fraction of the true cost due to the availability of free sand and the loan of equipment. But the limited budget was overrun, placing a huge financial burden on the Club. To help meet these costs the Club decided to sell membership debentures for 10 years at a cost of R20 000. This entitled the person to free membership and green fees.
The reconstructed course will probably be at its best when the Club celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2001. It was officially re-opened by John Drysdale of Anglo American when he unveiled a plaque on Friday the 19th of November 1999 – surely an auspicious date 19111999. The plaque has been hung in the President’s lounge.
A lone piper signalled the event, recalling the past and the game’s Scots heritage, while ushering in a dynamic new era. Maccauvlei advances confidently into the new millennium with a course whose early “rugged grandeur” has been somewhat smoothed into a parkland layout, but one that retains the links character that made it famous. No course is never finished but we at Maccauvlei believe we have the nucleus of a course that will see us well into the new millennium. Our challenge in the future is to ensure that Maccauvlei always remains a tribute to a great game.