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Club at the heart of colonial rule

Tuesday January 21 2020
Nyeri Golf Club

The Nyeri Golf Club office. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MERCY MWENDE

Nyeri Golf Club, which is the second oldest golf course in Kenya, was started as part of a British administration centre during the pre-colonial period.

Lt Col Meinertzhagen, a British colonial administrator, on December 6, 1902, built the first military camp in Nyeri and referred to it as Fort Nyeri.

POLITICAL PRISONERS

The camp, which was put up by his Maasai Moran warriors who had travelled with him from Nairobi, was started by digging a large ditch and fencing off the territory using barbed wire and Zariba thorns.

With a number of military offices at the site, the camp offered protection to the Europeans from hostile Agikuyu warriors. It hosted Lt Col Meinertzhagen’s office as well as the district commissioner’s office, which at that time was headed by S.L Hinde.

The camp also hosted a prison, police station, courts and a hospital reserved for Europeans only.

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On the same day that the British soldier built the camp, he captured a Gikuyu warrior known as Gakere wa Nyingi, who had previously given him a hard time while trying to settle in the area.

Gakere wa Nyingi, who now has a street in Nyeri Town named after him, was sent to Nairobi as a political prisoner together with his warriors to be dealt with by British commissioner Sir Charles Eliot. Fort Nyeri military camp grew to become the main administrative centre for central province taking over from Kenia province in Murang’a.

SPORTING ACTIVITIES

According to a former long-serving curator at the National Museums in Nyeri, Mr Anthony Maina, a number of Mau Mau fighters were hanged at the camp after being tried at the courts.

“Once you were tried and found guilty of criminal offences like being in possession of a firearm, you were hanged at the camp,” Mr Mains said.

 The bodies were buried in unmarked mass graves in the region, with most of them being buried at the nearby Witemere and Kiawara areas.

 It was at the same camp that Mau Mau hero Dedan Kimathi was tried before he was sent to be hanged at Nairobi prison. According to the curator, the Europeans often involved themselves in sporting activities, while at their administrative camps.

“A popular sport among them was fishing at the nearby Chania River as well as playing golf,” Mr Maina said.

NINE HOLES

In 1910, two colonial government employees — Reggie McClure and Guy Sandbach Baker — started a golf course in the said territory. Guy was the son of Frederick Baker, one of the first white settlers to be given land in Nairobi.

He was granted 1,600 acres in Muthaiga by John Ainsworth, the sub-commissioner, on condition that he supplied Nairobi with dairy products. Then, Kenya was a British protectorate.

The two colonial staff laid out nine holes on a piece of land, about the same year, which were maintained by voluntary labour under the supervision of local chiefs. By then, the two were the only players on the course.

The course was extended to 18 holes in 1934 but later reduced to nine holes.

Around 1953, portable gallows were discovered in part of the golf course, which was where Mau Mau fighters were hanged.

WHITES ONLY

The golf course’s purpose as the main recreational facility at the former British territory, is clearly proven by its strategic location among buildings that were previously owned by the colonial government.

On the left side of the course is the posh Ring Road estate which was previously occupied by White Settlers.

While on the right side of the golf course is the first African cell and the first law courts where Africans were held before being taken to the courts.

 Behind it is the White Rhino Hotel which was built in 1910 by three Europeans namely; Berkeley Cole, Lord Cranworth and Sandy Herd.

The hotel was for big game hunters and only admitted whites as it was out of bounds for blacks.

SOCIAL STATUS

Other buildings that have come up with time at the former British camp are the County regional offices, Huduma Centre and the District commissioner’s office.

After independence, the Golf Club was passed on to the Elite Kenyans in the society.

The Golf Club now boasts of around 1,000 members. To apply as a member, one is required to pay a membership fee and an annual subscription.

However, a panel is thereafter expected to scrutinize the applicant in terms of his or her social status in the community. The vetting process checks on the applicant’s character in the community.

Residents and tourists are also allowed to pay a green fee for a round of Golf.

Among the trophies that have been played in the Golf course are; Hope Cup Championship since 1925, Horne Club Championship since 1930, Mount Kenya Championship started in 1967 and the Mwai Kibaki championship started in 1977.

SCOTTISH DANCES

Accompanying services that members of the club enjoy are swimming and gymnastics.

Other functions that took place at Nyeri Club during the Pre- Colonial period were Scottish Country Dancing Evenings and dances in the aid of the nearby Mount Kenya Hospital.

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