Legacy Tour on Quadrangle is dedicated to Sporting institutions and legendary individuals who promoted Sports in Sri Lanka commencing from the Colonial era. During the 19th century under the patronage of British Administrators and by Planters and Military officials, various Sports Clubs were established exclusively for them to patronize recreational activities and social gatherings. By the middle of the 20th century, most of these Clubs were opened to Ceylonese or natives to patronize. Then Ceylon’s now Sri Lanka’s Sports and Sporting culture were built on these ‘Exclusive Clubs’ and these are the homes to some of the greatest and were Ceylon’s pride. The rich heritage along with the ‘Legendary Sporting Icons’ of yesteryear who made a mark through these hallowed sports clubs in various sports helped in popularising Sports in Sri Lanka. The journey has been long, challenging and we hope you will enjoy the stories we share from our tour to these Sports Clubs and Pubs.
Nuwara Eliya’s pride –NEGC 1889
By Algi Wijewickrama
Sri Lanka is blessed with six Golf Courses and the one I have to write about is one that was selected by the editor as he was going to cover clubs in Nuwara Eliya. Perhaps it is right that we start from the highest point as it were.
Before coming to the Golf Club let me start with Nuwara Eliya or N’Eliya to give its shortened form or Newreliya as the British and the Anglicised Sri Lankans used to say.
After Ceylon was ceded to the British in 1815, it is said that N’Eliya was discovered in 1818 by John Davy the brother of the more famous Sir Humphry Davy (an Irish Chemist who is credited with isolating a series of elements through the use of electricity, Potassium, Sodium, etc. in 1928). Though discovered by John Davy it was Samuel Baker, the explorer who is said to have founded the city after he had discovered the Horton Plains in the vicinity. The high ranking British administrators and the planters were the ones who initially made this town their home away from home, calling it ‘Little England’, spending the hot sultry months of April and May holidaying and constructing buildings with typically British architecture. The Queen’s Cottage, General’s House, Grand Hotel, Hill Club, St Andrew’s Hotel and the iconic Post Office still stand testimony to this. The local elite followed and now it is sometimes an overcrowded town hardly able to handle its visitors during the holiday season.
Apart from architecture the British introduced their sports to N’Eliya, cricked, croquet, hunting, trout fishing and of course golf.
The Nuwara Eliya Golf Club (NEGC) was founded in 1889 at which time only the Royal Colombo Golf Club (RCGC) existed and by 1891 NEGC had won its first title the ‘Ceylon Amature Championship’ which has been won by J W Govan. Records also show that the Annual Gold Medal had been won by J M Purdon in 1891.
Going through the history of a club that is over 125 years old is not easy and it’s made even more difficult when a fire destroys some of the records in 1950 but the club had pieced together its history with much difficulty for its centenary in 1989, thanks to dedicated members, faithful historians and friendly scribes. For example, one finds in the grand old Club House a board that indicates that captains had been elected since 1891 but the first name found is that of J N Campbell – 1896.
On Boxing Day in 1936, the Club had elected its first Life Member, in E C Elliott while the 10th and last in 2007 in Ms. Rohini de Mel.
In a special plaque hanging in the wood-panelled, well stocked bar built in typically British architectural style, with a great fire going to keep the cold out, the club commemorates forty of its members who had laid down their lives in the Great War or the 1st World War (1914 – 1919).
Played since 1902 between the RCGC and NEGC, one of the oldest golf tournaments in Sri Lanka is the Burdett Trophy tournament and in the corridor leading from the dining area to the library hangs a photo of the players who represented the club in 1909 (obviously one of the photos that survived the fire in 1950).
Though starting as an all English club records show that as early as 1917 Ceylonese were admitted to the club and F de Saram, father of the well known cricketer, F C de Saram, was a member and took part in tournaments while records also reveal that Col. B W Bawa QC was present at the AGM of the club in 1915.
Herman Loos had the distinction of being the first Ceylonese to be elected to the Committee in 1927 and it had taken a good forty years since the opening of the club before “Trooper” Mutthukumarasamy, became the first Ceylonese to take part in the Burdett Trophy team, in 1939.
Another significant historical fact is Pin Fernando joining the NEGC in the early 1940s and going on to become the Champion in 1947, the 1st Ceylonese to win this coveted accolade and the youngest to do so.
A further significance in the year 1947 was the election of Carl Modderr as the first Ceylonese as the President of the Club after having captained NEGC in 1946.
Going through available records and finding out historical details was tedious work made light by Rohan Perera, the Club Secretary who rather than taking the limelight himself, assigned two others who were able to help us with some details that others may not be privy to.
For instance, Dinesh Paramalingam, Senior Accounts Executive who had been with the club for over 25 years in various capacities was able to explain that the present club house is a new one and the older one was now being used as a guest house where rooms are let for staying in guests for differing rates for members and non-members. He added that apart from Golf, the club had a Billiard and Snooker Room and a library and further, mentioned that in addition to the several tournaments for the gentleman members, there are also two Ladies Tournaments i.e. the Club Championship and the Open Championship.
Perhaps the most interesting tidbit he mentioned was not in relation to Golf though it has a connection to NEGC. The connection is that there is within the club’s boundaries a burial site with a few graves. The graves are preserved and periodically inspected by the Archeological Department for they are of historical value for Sri Lanka. However, one such grave cannot be considered kindly though it may have historical value and the reason is that it is the burial site of Maj. Thomas William Rogers of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment, Assistant Government Agent and District Judge of Badulla. He is not famous for his deeds as the AGA or DJ of Badulla but is a notorious elephant killer who is said to have killed over 1500 elephants in the region during those times when the area was mostly forest land and elephants roamed freely. His death at just 41 years had occurred on 7th June 1845 when he was struck by lightning on the Haputale road while on yet another elephant hunt.
Dinesh’s story about this elephant hunter did not end there. According to him the burial site of William Rogers has been struck by lightning annually since his burial and the gravestone has several cracks that bear testimony to this story. He added that if not the gravestone, some nearby tree or building is struck by lightning every year or two as if the elephants’ curse still lasts.
The second person who helped us was P Sigamany who had started his golf in 1964 taking part in a caddies’ tournaments and now involved in coaching of those taking up golf as a new sport and also advising even the older pros who are not too familiar with the Course in N’Eliya.
He recalled the arrival of Indian golfers in 1947 and his friendship with them in 1975 had enabled him to travel to Bangalore to coach along with the Sri Lankan champion, Nandasena Perera. He also recalled the centenary celebrations in 1989 which the occasion had been graced by the then President, Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa and the quasquicentennial celebrations in 2014 when Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksha, President, had graced the occasion.
For the record the different tournaments at NEGC are the following (listed chronologically):
- Gold Medal – 1891
- Captain’s Cup – 1897
- Burdett Trophy – 1902
- Ogilvy Cup – 1903
- Sylvester Vase – 1908
- A R Aitken Cup – 1911
- Buchanan Cup – 1912
- Graham Sinclair Cup – 1926
- Keith Rollo – 1927
- Club Championship-Gentlemen – 1933
- Puffin Cup – 1936
- Ladies Club Championship – 1939
- Presidents Prize 1984
- Golden Putter – 1986
- Millennium Trophy – 2004
I can’t really put my finger on it, but whenever I think of golf I’m reminded of this quote by Jack Nicklaus “If there’s one thing that Golf demands above all else, it is honesty”.
It’s a lesson for life, isn’t it?
Enjoy our Legacy tour here:
The video documentary with interviews with the President of Nuwara Eliya Golf Club Maj. Gen. Srinath Rajapakse and Captain of the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club Mr. Priyanga Hapugalla.
Click the below link for the photo album (taken in October’2020)