Golfing professional speaks of his love for the South Coast
After qualifying as a club professional, Zimbabwean-born Fred Beaver worked in Swaziland for two years, and aged 26, joined an as-yet unopened golf course at a resort located in what was then the Transkei.
An inauspicious start, one might think, but one which has endured.
Next year marks four decades since Beaver arrived at the Wild Coast Sun; he is one of the longest standing employees at the resort which just celebrated its 40th year in business. The Wild Coast Sun is recognised among the most beautiful golfing ranges in South Africa; an enjoyable course for anyone from a scratch handicap to a 24.
“The course’s architect, Robert Trent Jones Jnr, made every effort to utilise the natural topography and geography of the region to its fullest – such as the waterfall on the 13th hole and the damn on the 18th – resulting in a one-of-a-kind course that blends in with its natural surrounds,” Beaver said. “It was brilliant to watch the course taking shape, working with the experienced international team who were building the bunkers.”
With a handicap of one, Beaver reminisced about why he chose to complete his golf apprenticeship as opposed to going the tour route like many of his peers, who became big names in golf. “I was a good player but some of the other guys were just that little bit better, and I not as disciplined. I preferred the social side of things in my early 20s,” he said.
However, he is not without accolades – in 1997, Beaver won the PGA Club Pro of the Year, a prestigious award which on-course professionals compete for.
Beaver officially retired from Sun International six years ago when he turned 60, to become a concessionaire and service provider, operating and managing the pro shop as well as the golf operations, caddies, carts, and revenues from green fees at Wild Coast Sun. “I still work a full day, mostly seven days a week. The day I wake up and haven’t got a list of things to do, is day I die.”
A normal day sees him opening around 6am, readying the golf carts and welcoming golfers from 7am for the first tee-off time. After lunch, Beaver can be found in the pro shop.
“One of the big reasons I have stayed at the Wild Coast Sun all these years is that all the General Managers’ have been easy to work with, realising the importance of a good golf operation. Having their support and understanding made it a great job. In addition, the weather and the people on the South Coast are fantastic.”
He recalled the Wild Coast Sun Country Club’s first pro tournament in 1984, where Spanish professional Seve Ballesteros was in the field, finishing third. “If I recall correctly, the prize money was R1-million, the biggest in the country at the time.”
Other international stars and major winners played in the Wild Coast Skins tournaments from 1987 to 1992. “We had four of the Million Dollar players playing at Wild Coast Sun the week before they played at Sun City – guys like Nick Price, Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer – and we would sell-out spectator tickets as people queued to watch them.”
Beaver recalled when, on a day the event was rained out, some guests found a plastic sheet which they used to slide down a hill in the wet. “Dressed, not quite in line with normal golfing attire, to put it politely!”
Golf carts are compulsory today due to the undulating layout, but that wasn’t always the case. In the early years everyone walked. There used to be a funicular railway which took golfers up a steep hill from the 12th green to 13th tee, but this ceased to exist many years ago.
The Wild Coast Sun has played host to the Founders Tournament each year in May since 1983, with the exception of 2020 due to the pandemic. “It was started by Charles Fiddian-Green and other founding members of the club and is today something of a reunion, and by invitation-only. Many of the players are now bringing their children along and it has become a family event which is amazingly successful, raising a substantial amount for one of the local schools which the Resort supports.”
Beaver stopped teaching in the late 90s as he didn’t have the time, but is always up for a four-ball should any guests be looking for an additional golfer. “If I see a player struggling during our game, I will still offer advice and some tips.”
Married with a daughter and two step-daughters, it is surprising that Beaver admits that fishing is his preference over the game of golf. He enjoys many trips up the Wild Coast’s rivers and estuaries, staying in rustic accommodation and eating fresh seafood.
“It was wonderful to experience the excitement and busy days at Wild Coast Sun before casinos were legally allowed to open in South Africa. Today, Wild Coast Sun is on many a golfer’s bucket list and is a huge South Coast attraction, so the years to come sure to see much more excitement.”