During the early part of Ryder Cup week at Le Golf National next month, the ‘other’ Ryder Cup is also taking place once again in Zimbabwe featuring a team from Verulam GC in Hertfordshire, the home club of Samuel Ryder himself.
The Zimbabwe Ryder Cup is the little-known cousin of its more illustrious namesake and this year will involve a 12-man team from Verulam jetting off to Africa for the three-day event.
Recent Verulam captain John Rodford has spent 18 months putting the trip together to play members at Hillside GC in the Eastern Districts of Zimbabwe, about a four-hour drive from the capital Harare.
“I was intrigued by the story of the Zimbabwe connection to the Ryder Cup when I first heard of it during my captain’s year. Also, because my wife was raised in that country, there was a natural affinity for me,” he says. The Verulam team are set to play the exact Ryder Cup format against Hillside starting on 21 September and are still looking for a last-minute sponsor.
Verulam members are visiting the place where Samuel Ryder’s daughter Marjorie settled back in the 1930s with her farmer / husband, a time when the country was still called Rhodesia. Ryder discovered that the African golf community needed a trophy to play for, so in 1933 (six years after the more famous Ryder Cup began) he sent one and told Marjorie: “Call it the Ryder Cup!” And so, another Ryder Cup was born.
The connection between Verulam and the Ryder Cup is that the Hertfordshire club was Samuel Ryder’s home club for almost 30 years. Ryder was captain there in 1912 when the new 18-hole, James Braid-designed course was opened, replacing the original 9-hole lay-out. Ryder would also be captain of Verulam twice more, in 1926 and 1927.
It will be the second time an international team has gathered in Zimbabwe to play for the small silver alternative Ryder Cup – a team based around members from Hampstead GC in London made the trip in 2014, the first time the trophy had been contested by golfers travelling from outside Africa.
Once again, both sides in this year’s Zimbabwe Ryder Cup are made up of enthusiastic members rather than the lowest handicappers of each club and the match is seen very much as a ‘friendly’.
Rodford says the Verulam members took a bit of persuading about the idea of a golf game in the politically-sensitive Zimbabwe, but now the team is ready, and they are all paying their own passage.
“Hillside GC is not an easy place to get to – it’s not a typical journey for a club golf match,” says Rodford. “Plus, other factors are difficult, such as the US dollar being the default currency, yet there are no ATMs with any stock of that currency, so we are taking lots of small denomination notes. But I’m sure we’ll all have a great time, will make new friends and golf will be the winner.”
The team’s costs run into several thousand pounds, so Rodford has left the door open for a sponsor. “Originally, I thought the match was a longshot,” he says. “But these are two clubs, both of which had members of the Ryder family belonging to them, both of which are home to trophies supplied by Samuel Ryder. There is a lot of history and prestige involved here and we’d welcome any sponsor who wanted to be a part of that.”
Prior to 2014, the sterling silver Zimbabwe Ryder Cup had an equally interesting history: it was played for between local golfers in many formats for many years; attracted sponsorship from a large distillery; was contested with South African players; and even went missing for a few years during the land reform invasions of the early 2000s.
Top picture: Hillside Golf Club, Zimbabwe
Verulam Golf Club https://www.verulamgolf.co.uk/