A golf club that removed the colour bar in the sport has been honoured by the Governor.
John Rankin presented the Ocean View Golf Club with the memoirs of former governor Sir Julian Gascoigne, who presented the club with the Governor’s Cup in 1964 to help in its battle to overturn the island’s racial segregation.
Cheryl-Lynne Thompson, president of Ocean View, said it was “the first golf club on the island that allowed black Bermudians and those of Portuguese descent to play”.
She said: “At a time of need, it was supported by Sir Julian, as Governor of Bermuda, including through the holding of a meeting at Government House, to which members of the House of Assembly were invited.
“Ocean View then played a key role in bringing about the desegregation of golf in Bermuda.”
Ms Thompson added that the club will celebrate its 64th anniversary on Sunday and mark the journey in which black members worked hard to create a golf course from overgrown farmland.
She added club members had “a lot of financial worries hanging over their heads” during its history and it had been twice hit by arson.
The Government bought the land in Devonshire in 1961, but two surviving members of Ocean View’s original executive board can trace its roots back decades beyond that.
The Reverend Vernon Lowe, Ocean View’s first president, joined past executive member Harrison Simons to talk about the club’s past.
Mr Lowe said A.B. Place, editor of the Bermuda Recorder, asked the land-rich Gibbons family for help to create a proper golf course.
Mr Lowe said: “They developed a nine-hole golf course named Ocean View. Mr Place was the first president in the organisation of the golf course, and I was the first president in the operation.
“My brothers, and others who were interested in golf, used to get down on their hands and knees and pull up the sage bushes so we would have a fairway to play golf until it was constructed and then we, with pride, decided to formulate a golf organisation and here we are.”
Mr Lowe added the drive to develop Ocean View went back to “the late 1930s, early 1940s”.
He added: “It’s because of the capability of golfers that we had as coloured people. We were complaining at not being able to play the other courses without going down there first thing in the morning, 5am, to play.
“After we got organised and started playing here, I wrote a column for the Recorder called ‘Up and Down the Fairway’.”
The column caught the attention of Sir Alexander Hood, Governor from 1949 to 1955, who invited Mr Lowe, now 91, to have tea at Government House, where they discussed the issue of “bringing together the races”.
Mr Lowe said: “I informed him that Bermuda was too small to have such a division of the races.”
The cause was taken up by Sir Julian, Governor from 1959 to 1964, who gave the club “a huge cup, still being played for”, to help unite a racially fragmented community.
Mr Lowe added: “It did help in some aspects. Ocean View played Mid Ocean on this course, and they went also to play at Mid Ocean. It did bring about some change in the environment of the Bermuda Golf Association.”
Mr Simons, 80, looked back on getting involved in the mid-1960s when Ocean View was “really not a golf course, it was run by the British garrison”.
He said a group of 25 men formed Ocean View’s first executive group.
Mr Simons added: “When the former president approached the Governor about us having this golf course, Bermuda was in a very segregated place.”
He said the Government allowed the land to be used on condition it would be “for all people, meaning brown, yellow, black and white”.
Mr Simons added: “The response was yes. Hence this golf course, known as the garrison golf course, was given to Ocean View.”
Farm animals still roamed the Devonshire land overlooking North Shore when the club took over.
The course was nicknamed “the cow pasture” as a result.
Mr Simons said: “But since that time, we stood with it, we worked hard, and when the Governor agreed to give us this golf course, we all came in many times on a Thursday afternoon or Saturday morning and prepared greens so that anybody could play.
“We have produced some of the best golfers in Bermuda. We stand by our record 100 per cent.”
Mr Simons said he hoped to erect a plaque to the three founders of Ocean View, the Reverend Erskine Simons, Bill Pitt Sr, and George Lowe.
The memorial would mark the site of the first club house, which was built of wood.
Mr Simons said: “One day the wind was in the right place, and somebody set fire to it. We lost all the golf clubs, the pounds, shillings and pence. It all went up in a blaze. We stood with it, and were able to bounce back, and come up with this facility.”
Brian Morris, head golf professional at Ocean View, said it was important to keep the memory of the club’s past alive.
Mr Morris said: “It’s important for me. It’s my obligation, not just for my job, but to the club. I started golfing here when I was 7 or 8. I’m from Devonshire and my first tournament was here.
“These days there is a lot of excitement around the club, and a lot of the old traits are coming back. It’s always been social. We just need to get the great golfers back. These guys were sharp in their day.”