Serious challenges for the seventies
The 70’s proved to be difficult years for the Club. The picture was gloomy. Everything would have to be improved if the Club was to survive, from the number of rounds played, to the number of new members allowed in.
The Club faced two serious problems with regard to its membership – these were a decline in numbers and an increase in the average age. A concerted drive was made to attract new members, preferably in the under 30 age group. Entrance fees were dropped, membership fees lowered, and a major newspaper was approached to write about the improvements at the Club. But, despite all these efforts, nature had a say in the destiny of the Club as well.
In May 1972 there were serious floods, damaging the Dickinson Park Bridge which had to be closed for repairs. Golfers had to go via the old “Ascot Bridge”, which at that time was a single lane bridge, to reach the Club. The following year the course was infested by ants due to the severe drought conditions.
Incredibly, the course was hit by even more severe floods in February 1975. This time Maccauvlei was literally “out of bounds”. The Club could not be reached via the Dickinson bridge, which was bent and had to be jacked up and straightened and was only expected to open in July of that year. The “new” Ascot Bridge was still under construction and was only expected to allow traffic to cross in April, so the only way to Maccauvlei was via Sasolburg. The Club suffered a great loss due to the closure of the bridge. Thought was given to the use of a ferry service to cross the river, and permission was also sought from the Rand Water Board to use the
pipeline across the river as a means of reaching the Club. As members couldn’t easily reach Maccauvlei, the February committee meeting was held in the Boardroom of Irvine and Chapman, as Des Chapman was then Chairman of the Club. From March to June, they were held at the Usco Club. Maccauvlei considered applying to the Government for compensation as many people were receiving disaster support, and the Secretary was told to submit a claim.
There was some heartening local support when Jimmy Carbarns, the Mine Manager of Amalgamated Collieries sent 400 mine workers to assist with a general clean up of the course and weeding after the floods.
Various schemes were discussed to improve the financial position of the Club, and in September 1975, it was suggested that Maccauvlei become a country club. Chairman Jan Le Grange agreed and hoped that “this would be the introduction of a new era for Maccauvlei.” This was never to happen.
The Gilbert Steyn era
When Gilbert Steyn accepted chairmanship in 1976, the Club was in dire straits. It had R5 000.00 in the bank and was losing Rl 000.00 per month. On Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings there were only 30 to 40 rounds being played. There was no greenkeeper, the fairways were scraggly, and attempts at planting trees had failed, because the sand could not retain the moisture. Anglo was again approached, but refused further assistance as it was felt that the local community should bear the costs of running the Club, which was being made available by Anglo free of charge. Between 1976 and 1979, Maccauvlei was on the verge of bankruptcy and Gilbert Steyn embarked on a “save Maccauvlei campaign”. The idea was to approach local companies to help the Club financially and to get the industries to bring their golf sections to join Maccauvlei en masse.
The Club prepared a memorandum on the financing of all forms of sport in the Vaal Triangle, which proved that all sports, except golf, were financed either by the town councils or local industry. The Club then appealed to institutions of this type for help, pointing out that Maccauvlei was a valued sporting amenity which Vereeniging could not afford to lose. This was not entirely successful, so the Club embarked on another route. Membership was encouraged for residents of Sasolburg and Meyerton at reduced fees. In addition, Gilbert advised the Anglo Training Centre how to circumvent the Liquor Act – enabling them, despite advice to the contrary from their Head Office attorneys – to establish their own bar under the Club’s auspices at the Training Centre, which resulted in a substantial monthly income for the Club.
On one particular occasion, the Chairman of the gold section of Anglo, with whom Gilbert had been negotiating for a grant, phoned to speak to him only to be informed that he was on the roof of the Clubhouse carrying out repairs. The mining executive’s reaction was that if the Chairman was acting as greenkeeper and building repairman, then assistance was indeed justified. A week later he handed Gilbert a cheque for RI0 000.00.
As the Club could not afford a greenkeeper when Gilbert took over, he assumed the responsibility and ran the course with the assistance and advice of the highly qualified personnel employed by the supplier of the fertiliser, as well staff members of the Department of Agriculture who were always willing to place their knowledge at Maccauvlei’s disposal. He even overcame the problem about getting trees to grow by putting clay around them to retain moisture when the sand dried out.
In 1976, Arthur Penberthy, a Club member and MD of Soetvelde Farms, who was resident in the old Pistorius house at Maccauvlei, indicated a willingness to assist, and immediately put at the Club’s disposal the use of their tractors, mowers and other equipment to be used on the golf course. This indeed was a tremendous saving and played a significant part in helping to restore the Club’s financial fortunes. During this period many fund raising projects were instituted. In 1977, the men’s bar was converted into a ladies bar, all in the hope of attracting additional income.
The upshot of all these factors was that the rounds grew to 120 and 130 on a Saturday afternoons, and when the auditors called to check the books, they could not believe their eyes. In due course the Club’s bank balance grew to R60 000.00.
In this regard Maccauvlei owes Gilbert Steyn a deep debt of gratitude, which sadly in the years to come will be remembered by few. He certainly saved Maccauvlei from closure, for which the Club was in deed thankful, as this had been a close call.
Attempts to dethrone the crown
In April 1972, the crown weed on the fairways was getting out of control. Labourers were employed to weed this grass by hand. The turf research unit was asked to recommend a suitable grass for the course, and their suggestion was the eradication of the weed with weedkiller. They also said that the Club’s weed problem could be solved by additional fertilisation and by the introduction of a stronger ‘kweek’ by interplanting on certain fairways. The Club was advised at that time not to introduce the planting of Kikuyu. The grass problems continued and in March 1974, it was decided to poison the Kikuyu growing in the surrounds of the greens on holes 13, 14, 15 and 16. Later that year a new watering system was installed, and together with the suggested heavy fertilisation, the skaapplaas grass was given one last chance to establish itself before going any further with the planting of Kikuyu. An approach was also made to other clubs who had planted this grass for their comments.
Finally, on the 26 November 1975, it was decided, despite talk to the contrary, to plant Kikuyu on the top plateaus where the skaapplaas grass was ineffective, and to interplant or seed the fairways. This would help to tighten the “knit” of the grass cover on the sandy soil. No Kikuyu was to be planted in the lower valleys where there was sufficient moisture. The planting of Kikuyu would also help to reduce the large expense on fertilisation and weed killer.
There was much debate from the members as to why Kikuyu was to be planted on the fairways as it was not a popular grass. The committee posted a notice on the board, inviting all objectors to sign their opposition. There were only three signatures, so the planting proceeded. The reply to this decision is seen in the condition of our fairways today. It certainly was the best grass cover for Maccauvlei conditions.
SAGU rating leaves Maccauvlei 20 metres short
In November 1965 the T.G.U. advised the Club that the course rating could be changed to 72. It was decided to alter the par of the ninth hole from five to four (from stroke 17 to stroke 1) in order to equate the par and rating. In May 1972 Maccauvlei entered the computer era – not entirely happily. The South African Golf Union introduced a new computerised method of course rating which was based on yardage and altitude. Maccauvlei was rated at 71.45, only 20 metres short of the 72 rating. The Secretary wrote to the SAGU appealing against the re-rating of the course, using as grounds for the appeal the claim that the Club had closed 46 bunkers, and that there were no more than 50 bunkers. In the same year the Stewarts and Lloyds computer centre became responsible for the handicaps at Maccauvlei.
Reliving the past but doing a much better job
After many decades, farming was re-introduced to Maccauvlei in May 1969 with the establishment of Soetvelde, a Division of Anglo American Farms. Having learnt from its past, the company only introduced wild game to the area, as the soil was not suitable for crops, and the only way to utilise the land properly was with game as there was plenty of grazing available.
At its peak the count of game totalled over 3 500. This number included 1 200 fallow deer, kudu from the Northern Province, blesbok, eland, zebra, gemsbok from Namibia and red hartebees. The successful farming of game resulted in the first big live game auction ever held in South Africa, which was conducted by Sotheby’s at Maccauvlei, where over 1 000 head of game was sold.
Pheasants were also once again introduced to Maccauvlei. This time they were kept strictly segregated from the wildcats, and at one time 10 000 English ringneck pheasants were being slaughtered annually. A similar number of guineafowl were also farmed, and these gamebirds were sold to various hotels in South Africa.
Soetvelde Farms is still operating today as Dewhurst Fresh Foods, and has since 1962 supplied all the Anglo Coal and Gold Divisions as well as De Beers with fresh fruit and vegetables. Today the plant has been modernised and also produces prepacked processed foods.
Golfers could really post their scores
The first post office building in Vereeniging was situated at Maccauvlei. Although the post office itself was later moved into the town centre, the old building stood for many years. It was only when extensive open cast mining operations started at the New Vaal Colliery that this group of buildings was finally demolished. They included the original post office, Kwaai Augus Pistorius’s house and the barns where Sammy Marks had stabled the horses used to transfer goods across the Vaal River.