A true green lung in KL city, and a golfing legacy that dates back to the bygone era of British rule, RSGC proudly marks the occasion of its incredible 125-year-old history
By SYAMA RAMASAMY photos courtesy of RSGC
Dusk was nearly settling that evening. My gaze was fixated on the stillness of the water in front that had delicate white, yellow and lilac-coloured water lilies clustered together along the bank. Age-old rainforest trees were watching, guarding … like loyal sentinels of the grounds – oh the tales they would tell if one would just be still and listen.
The silence, interrupted by sweet bird calls drifting in the gentle breeze, drew me in further as it connected with the soul. Aah, it all felt deeply therapeutic, as though I was a million miles away from the city.
But I was clearly not, as a few seconds later as I strolled along the buggy path, it came into view … the silver titanic double peaks that are truly the icon of Kuala Lumpur city, the magnificent Petronas Twin Towers, its reflection on the water coaxing one to take advantage of the irresistible ‘photo op’.
The Royal Selangor Golf Club, located just off Jalan Tun Razak, is indeed an experience, and not just for golfers but for nature lovers as well. It’s a beautiful union between Mother Nature – a sanctuary for wildlife – and the human soul, laid out in a parkland-style layout comprising two 18-hole championship courses, along with a par-30 executive option, existing amidst the ever-evolving concrete jungle of the Kuala Lumpur CBD. A convergence of the past and the present, steeped in rich history dating back to 1893 in the thick of the British domination.
“Three important events happened back in 1893 – first, sometime in January, two English brothers (the Glassfords), who were coffee planters, got together and decided to form a golf club,” says Ezani Abu Bakar, the vice captain of RSGC, clearly a man as passionate about golf as he was about the club’s extraordinary legacy.
“So they advertised in the newspaper (Selangor Journal), inviting anyone who’s keen in the idea to attend a meeting in May.”
Sometime in August that year, The Selangor Golf Club was ready for tee-off (the ‘Royal’ title was given in 1963).
“The original site was where Stadium Merdeka is right now,” shares Ezani, adding that the move to the current site transpired in 1921 when the government reclaimed the land.
He further explained that during World War II, the clubhouse and the entire grounds were taken over by the Japanese. “They had built a runway here for their planes … 10 years ago you could still see it. Then we re-built the course to what it is today.”
In 1894, a year after it opened for play, the club held its first golf competition, which later evolved into the Malaysian Amateur Open. The inaugural Malaysian Open was staged at RSGC in 1962 and has been held there on a total of 28 occasions.
“It all started from here. In that regard we’re truly proud that we set the trend, we got the ball rolling,” says club captain Dato’ Chang See Tum, beaming with pride.
Though now they offer full-fledged modern layouts, the courses still retain an old-world feel with its parkland-style, tree-lined fairways.
“In terms of design, those days course architects were practically unheard of here, so the courses had simple layouts, based on its topography,” says Dato’ Chang, adding that the lush courses are a haven for over 101 wildlife species, including a globally near-threatened species of bird called the Asian Golden Weaver.
Some might even refer to the courses as ‘old-school’ with oodles of charm – and magnificent trees, some that have out-lived generations, for example that daunting yet strangely mesmeric rain tree in the parking lot facing the main lobby. Yes, the one that looks like it’s appeared right out of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
“The courses are at their most natural state,” Ezani says, “which is why I think the pros really loved it when they played it during the Maybank Championship Malaysia (in 2016). Nothing too modern or forced. Simply put it’s a heritage course.”
Over the years, the members-only club has hosted a slew of prestigious tournaments, and along the way produced a number of professionals who are currently active on the PGM Tour.
“The late P. Gunasegaran also trained here regularly … a good-natured and well-loved character,” added Dato’ Chang. “He almost became the first Malaysian to win the Malaysian Open back in 1994.”
Apart from supporting junior golf, RSGC has also built a reputation as firm advocates of ladies golf; in fact the RSGC Ladies Amateur Open – its 44th edition to be held on August 9-12 – is the oldest ladies golf tournament in the country and a category E World Amateur Golf Ranking event.
While it’s no secret that golf has seen better days here – a couple of clubs have ceased operations, as have a number of print titles catering to the golfing community – RSGC remains unruffled by the winds of change, its century-and-a-quarter-old history testament to its uncanny aptitude to reel in golfers, and more importantly retain its membership which includes high-flyers, captains of industries as well as royalties.
So what’s the secret to the club’s longevity and success?
“I would say it’s the profile of our membership … it comes down to the people, as well as our staff. These are two very important ingredients for a golf course to be maintained at a level that’s reputable – and ours is well known throughout the world,” says Dato’ Chang.
“We are fortunate enough to acquire the management skills of the Brits … they were good at managing and keeping records, and we were able to keep it going; the tradition is upheld till today.”
Ezani added, “Yes, the advantage is that we were formerly British, so in typically British fashion they set up a good structure in terms of administration and organisation. And 125 years later, here we are!”
The two gentlemen also spoke with fervour about their other prized asset – the club’s well-trained, committed and loyal staff.
“Some of our staff have been with us for generations … from grandfather to father to children. They’re very passionate about the club, and very loyal – they’re part of the RSGC family,” shares Dato’ Chang.
The club has also to date hired and trained about 4,000 caddies.
According to Ezani, “this is an opportunity for us to work with the community, to provide jobs for those from the nearby kampungs.
“Some of the caddies that we have here are school dropouts. We train them as junior caddies, and then they begin to earn, which enables them to support their families.”
Career progression within the organisation is encouraged and something the club takes pride on. One fine example is long-serving employee Lovis Loordswamy who joined RSGC as a part-time caddie in 1970. After dropping out of school he started to caddie full time, and in 1989 he became caddie master. Since then he’s been promoted several times, and is now the assistant manager of the sports department. Not only that, Lovis’s sister also works the front desk at the club.
“It’s a wonderful progression, really,” says Ezani, emphasising that giving back to the community is truly the heart and soul of the club, along with conservation of the environment.
Honourable traits indeed, the perfect reflection of a Malaysian icon of the Gentleman’s Game.
Let’s all raise our glasses. Happy 125th Birthday, RSGC … you truly are exceptionally inspirational. PG