The story of Darren Clark: South Africa’s first black professional golfer in 1960s

Darren Clark became the first black professional golfer in South Africa.

By Hakeen Mufakose, Sports Reporter, South Africa

As South Africa seeks to build bridges across racial lines, Golfpona24 celebrates its first black professional golfer, who proved in the 1960s that a black golfer could compete in a white dominated sport.

Darren Clark, who was born in 1904 and lived in Johannesburg until he was five, took part in the 1960 Charity Open at Soweto Golf Club with courses that were predominantly white.

Speaking to Sports24 after the historic landmark, Gary Malik, who was 12 at the time, said that having seen his first black player on TV, he was “very excited”.

“When we did go to see him in person, he went and played for a while, I went with my dad. He was very nice, he was very friendly,” recalled Malik.

“I didn’t see any problem with that at all. You see, blacks and whites are equal and we are all human beings.”

Despite Clarke’s presence in the tournament, the other four rounds of the event were very much dominated by golfers of “standard”.

He didn’t receive much acclaim despite finishing 21st overall.

For Nyaga Darla, who had just joined the amateur ranks and was determined to catch up with his higher-ranked classmates, it was an opportunity that he could not pass up.

And so the two friends of 50 years later made a documentary in South Africa titled “Green Is Golden”.

The film explores Clark’s sports achievements and the “frighteningly” large number of people in South Africa who saw him play, including journalists and referees from neighbouring states, and took pictures.

“He never changed his accent and he was always warm, he was always helpful,” said Darla.

“Everybody said he was like a father to us, everybody loved him, it was quite sad really. They couldn’t even hold him back, which I had the opportunity to do.

“He did come to my estate – I used to get him a lamb and rice when he came back – he always had to come back to say hello to me, for me to know if he was in or out.

“He was like a hero, that’s why I’m still here.”

Clark served South Africa well as an amateur player, playing the 1966 Open Championship, finishing tied-18th.

In the 1960s he took part in the World Amateur Team Championships in Holland and in 1961 played in the Amateur British Open Championships.

He was also in the final of the HGA Amateur of the South in 1964, but lost by just one stroke to eventual champion Ben Nevis.

In 2009, the Golf Academy of Johannesburg renamed its course Darren Clark Links in his honour.

They also commissioned a bronze sculpture of a golfer’s pose which has been placed in a prominent place outside the club’s clubhouse in Bollersands.

“He was like a typical green” says Darla, “He liked to play golf and he was pretty clean so they weren’t too clean about their golf clubs.”

In the documentary, the golfing heroes said that what they got from Darren Clark was that he was very easy to talk to.

“He always helped, he never said no,” said Gary Malik.

The two friends are looking forward to this year’s African Open Championship which Clarke’s daughter, Diane Clark Bell, recently told Sports24 will be held in Johannesburg, just outside his estate in Molefi.

“We played golf at the Open, I can see him with the trophy, that would be a good thing,” Darla said.

Darren Clark married and had a family with and had four children, three of whom remained in South Africa, according to his website.

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