BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Trailblazing Zimbabwean golf professional Lewis Muridzo-Chitengwa is not one to shy away from a challenge.
He is a hardened warrior — a man who, back in 1959 as a mere 13-year-old teenager, was part of a group of brave men who built Gleneagles Golf Club — the only golf course in then colonial Rhodesia, where blacks, Indians, and coloureds could become members and play the game.
Muridzo overcame trials and tribulations during the colonial era, where black people’s involvement in the sport was only limited to being caddies, rising to become the country’s first black professional golfer in 1985 aged 39.
Eight years earlier, Muridzo had become the first black person to join a “white” golf club when he became a member of Salisbury South (later known as Harare South) in 1977, winning the club championship three years later.
He has worked with some of the biggest names in the sport such as former world number one ranked golfers Nick Price and Vijay Singh while he made friends with luminaries such as Gary Player and world-renowned Zimbabwean golf instructor David Leadbetter to mention but a few.
Muridzo has churned out over 80 junior golfers who went on to earn golf scholarships in the US, including his late son Lewis Chitengwa, who famously beat Tiger Woods in 1992 to win the Orange Bowl in Florida, United States, when they were both still amateurs.
Lewis Jnr took his mother’s maiden name because his father Muridzo was a professional at his home club Wingate.
A year later Lewie aged 18, became the first black man to win the South Africa Amateur Championship in the tournament’s then 101-year history in East London, becoming an instant hero to all who had suffered under the racist apartheid system in South Africa.
Sadly, Lewis Jnr, then a rising star in world golf, passed away in Canada 20 years ago, at the age of 26, after falling ill during a tournament on the Canadian Tour.
Despite the loss of his son, who was evidently destined to become a global star in the sport, and recently losing his dear wife of 52 years, Josephine, Muridzo remains dedicated to playing golf and imparting his vast knowledge of the game.
He has lost none of his will and passion to teach the game, religiously conducting his first golf lesson of the day at 6 am or earlier every morning at his academy near his home at Wingate Park Golf Club, where he has stayed since 1981.
“Every day at 6 am I’m on the course for my first lesson or preparing for lessons and it has been my tradition since I moved here. Teaching is my passion and will continue giving back to the game. I don’t do it for the money, if it was about money I would have left the country because I can get a job anywhere in the world but because of the love for the game and my country,” Muridzo said in an interview at his home last week.
“I have taught over 80 players who have gone on to secure golf scholarships in the US including my son Lewis. I started teaching Ben Follet-Smith when he was two years old, Brendon de Jonge who was on the PGA Tour also came from here while Simon Chigorimbo-Murungweni, who is now the national team coach, I also taught him and many others. It gives me great joy to see youngsters who would have come through my hands succeeding and realising their dreams through the sport.
He added “I believe I have played my part in promoting golf in the country. For a black man to be able to play the game of golf in the colonial era we had to build our own golf course, Gleneagles Golf Course in 1959 and I was only 13 years old. It was the first course for blacks, Indian and coloureds because we were not allowed to join all the other clubs.”
While he still beams with pride at his late son’s continuing legacy over two decades after he passed on, the legendary golfer is equally proud to see his other two children Farayi and Rhodah following in his footsteps as teaching professionals, who are highly regarded on the continent.
“My son Farayi was director of golf with the Tanzania Golf Union for eight years, working with the R&A (one of the governing bodies of golf worldwide, alongside the United States Golf Association) to develop golf in the country. Now he’s in Uganda where he has been playing an important role in the development of the sport in that country,” Muridzo said.
He added: “My daughter Rhodah was the national ladies golf coach here but is now in Zambia, she is doing fine and helping elevate the standard of golf there across the board from the ladies, juniors, amateurs and the professionals.”
Muridzo believes despite his achievements and contribution to the local game, he has not been accorded the respect that he deserves by some of the game’s stakeholders.
“As a family, we have done our bit to promote golf here in Zimbabwe but I’ve noticed that we are appreciated more outside the country than we are here but we will continue doing our best. I’m grateful for the support I have been given here at Wingate,” he said.
In fact, Muridzo has set his sights on a new project he believes could change not only the face of Zimbabwean golf but the entire sporting landscape in the country.
While teaching golf remains his biggest passion, Muridzo also has big plans which could help in reviving the sport around the country through the revival of golf courses and other sporting facilities which were introduced by white commercial farmers in the 1900s in every farming community.
The clubs were also popular then as farmers would meet for various sporting disciplines like cricket, rugby, golf tennis and other recreational activities.
However, nearly all the sporting facilities are now derelict or now completely destroyed following the land reform exercise introduced by the government two decades ago.
“The white commercial farmers used those country clubs to hold their meetings and share ideas while their children played various sporting activities on these facilities. Sadly right now the new farmers are not utilising the benefits that these clubs used to provide. Our sporting tradition as a nation was because of these facilities,” he said.
Muridzo, who is also a golf course designer, said he is ready to revive these facilities.
“I want to avail myself to help in reviving all these country clubs by assisting in rebuilding their golf courses around the country. I have a passion for golf course design and have set up a golf course design company called Lewis Chitengwa Golf Courses and if I’m given a chance I want to help in reviving golf courses at these country clubs in our farming communities which have been lying idle,” he said.