All hail Sapele Athletic Golf Club —Nigeria’s Oldest Golf Club
SITUATED in the corner of Chichester Road in Sapele Delta state lays the course of the oldest golf club in Nigeria now known as Sapele Athletic Golf Club which was once known as Sapelo and later Sapilo Golf Club.
Some historians say the club was formed in 1898 by a coterie of European sailors and captains of ships who were said to have traversed the Atlantic Ocean from the United Kingdom down to River Ethiope which has its source from Umuaja, a village in the present Ukwani local government area of Delta state. Others posit that the club was founded in 1908. Its first documented competition was held in June 1914 and the tournament was won by H.M. Mansfield. This is evident in the giant trophy still being preserved in the archives of the club donated in 1913 by Sir Owen Philip (KGMG) then Chairman of Elder Dempster and Directors of the company to “Sapelo Golf Club”.
Mansfield victory in 1914 was followed by the 1916 edition of the competition which was won by S.D. Fraser, 1919 edition was won by J.W. Maskew. In 1922 and 1923 by the names inscribed in the trophy, D.J. Martins won the two editions while the edition of 1931 was won by R.C Little. In1933, Dr T.B. Mcalear won the tournament and then in 1934, C.D. Avy won the tournament. There were many annual competitions then especially when the expatriates in Sapele and neighbouring cities patronised Sapele Golf Club. Golf enthusiasts say geographically, with the topography of Sapele as a rain forest, it would take a minimum of five years using manual labour to build a golf terrain, an indication that the Sapele golf club existed long before 1913 when the trophy was donated and 1914 when the first tournament was held.
Documented evidence of the Sapele Golf Club put to rest insinuations by one Mr. Lami Sadiq in the Daily Trust Newspaper edition of April 21, 2016 that Rayfield Golf Club in Jos, Plateau State is the oldest golf club in Nigeria. In the said report, he claimed that golf in Nigeria came to life in 1913 yet the Jos Rayfield golf course was initially speculated to have been established in 1935. The report also claimed that it was the discovery of “the Angus Butler Cup” that supposedly settled the matter that the Rayfield golf course in Jos is the oldest golf course in the country and perhaps the entire West African region.
The first documented trophy for Sapele Golf club was donated in 1913 and then the first tournament was held in 1914 whereas the first documented golf competition for Rayfield golf club was reportedly in 1948. The report on Angus Butler Cup said the trophy celebrated the occasion of a visit to Rayfield in 1948 of Mr. Angus Butler who laid out the first golf course at Rayfield in 1913 and the first 6 holes of the present course in 1921 or there about. The report claimed that the Angus Butler trophy had revealed that the first six holes for the course were laid in 1921 by the same Butler who was said to be the first Captain of the club.
The trophy also reportedly carries several foreign names and dates on its wooden base. The imprinted names were said to be names of those who had contested and won the annual golf tournament between 1948 and 1975 with Butler’s name imprinted as having won the inaugural tournament in 1948. Until the current crop of leaders of Sapele Golf Club led by its Captain, Chief Peter Asagba who have been encouraging more interests in the game many see as conservative, there was an attempt to revive the Sapele Gold Club in 2014 when the then Minister of Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe organised a tournament in the golf course to bring back the fading glory of golfing in the coastal town.
Sapele is believed to be one of the first cities to have contact with pre-colonial Europeans. The current captain said going by the special status of the club as the oldest in Nigeria, there was need for the Delta State government to show special interest in it. He told Vanguard; “When I was persuaded to become the Captain of the Club, I said with my age of over 70 years, I am supposed to be a patron and not a captain but they said there are enormous challenges and as a Sapele boy, we need home grown people to groom it so we came up.
We had our inaugural competition with about 110 persons in attendance and thereafter we had about two or three competitions sponsored. “The state government has been approached, they said they will come forth with aid but they have not come for now. Some persons say golfing is not government business but I say Ibori Golf Club in Asaba was done by government so the challenge we have is that government is not showing interest here. This club being the oldest Club in Nigeria, we should be proud to keep this place alive. We appeal to government to keep in archives what they have.
I was surprised when I went to Liverpool in UK and saw a resort where you have shrine where they do divinity; the mats, those items they used to throw, they were displayed so we lack record keeping. Government should be proud of this place and celebrate it.” He however, commended the Orodje of Okpe, Major General Felix Mujakpero (rtd) who he said has been supporting the club and encouraged the current leadership to ensure regular competitions to keep the club moving. On making golf attractive to younger people, Asagba said, “If you look at golf from the outside, you don’t see anything interesting.
I worked for Shell for 15 years, I never stepped my leg on the golf course because I saw them as lazy people until I got committed. Golf is one of the best games in the world all over and that is a game you can play from youth to old age as long as you can walk. “Today the young ones are there, you can get a cheap golf kit for about N30,000. Some of us do what we call ‘’jam jam’’, it is not very expensive. If you cannot play from place to place, you can play in your locality and you will enjoy it. Today, my grand children play golf so if the grand ones can play, the medium size are playing.
The problems we have is that most of our young ones don’t have jobs.” Vanguard also met with current oldest member of the club, 74 years old Amos Edoviagba who said he had to abandon tennis for golf. “I joined in 1986. It’s been okay, at that time, we had foreigners playing golf here, people were coming to play but now the interest has weighed down. “When I was the Captain, there were a lot of people who wanted to play here, there were a lot of them who bought kits.
“The major problem we have is that people don’t even understand the importance of golf presently, they don’t know. By 1986 that three of us came to play golf, we never went back to tennis. Golf is a game of life.” The above stated facts proves that the Sapele Golf Club is the oldest golf course in Nigeria haven been established in 1908 and held its competition in 1914.