Oldest Golfer in Africa – 98-year-old Emmanual Basaliza still plays!

At 98 years old, Emmanual Basaliza is already a legend in his own country…

On a recent trip to Uganda, Africa, Ian Mullins (AKA The Social Golfer) traveled to the city of Fort Portal. It was here he had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the oldest golfer in Africa!

At 98 years old*, former Toro Western OPEN champion (1974 & 1975) Emmuanual Basaliza is already a legend in his own country.

However, as he demonstrated, he has not given up the game just yet and he still plays golf every day on the Putting Green he built at his home.

98-year-old Emmanual Basaliza

Photo by www.facebook.com/sagiomhzaphotography

*Feb 2024

Oldest Golfer in Africa – The History

It was only a few years after the First World War, in 1925, that Razaro Rusoke Rwetumbura Adyeeri and Maria Ekyenda Ekuhaire welcomed their new son in the world. 

He was later schooled at St Peter and Paul Primary School, Virika (Primary), St Leo’s College Kyegobe (O-Level) and St Mary’s College Kisubi (A-Level). At this point in time, he knew nothing of his future within the game of golf. 

At an early age he had set his sights on becoming a Veterinary Officer, which he later achieved. 

But it was around this time that the colonial masters of the then British Protectorate, had started to play golf in the region. 

They had already constructed the Toro Golf Club near Bukwali on Kampala Road, but It was exclusively for whites.

In his own words…

The first time I noticed people playing golf was when I was nine years old. I was fascinated by a group of old men hitting a white ball. I made it a habit of taking my father’s herd of goats to graze near the golf course where I would hide from the Europeans as I watched them play”

He later added: “Eventually, I started finding and keeping the golf balls. I would then hide in the bush and start playing with a stick, as I had no club. Little did I know that this curiosity would be such a big part of my life.  My youthful play on the golf course and desire to win earned me the nickname Mzee Kijana – Meaning, ‘Old Youth’.

He went on to say, “I was inspired to play golf because all the people who were playing the game at that time were respectable and classy. Toro Golf Club was a reserve for “Members Only” who were men and women of status. So, I made it my priority in life to work hard to become a member!”

It was only a few years after the First World War, in 1925, that Razaro Rusoke Rwetumbura Adyeeri and Maria Ekyenda Ekuhaire welcomed their new son in the world.

Breaking Down Barriers

In 1962, after Uganda got Independence, the club started accepting Ugandans, but only civil servants and successful business people who could afford to buy clubs. 

And of course, as it is today, Golf equipment was extremely expensive.

In 1963, he started playing at the club by befriending some members. 

He bought 11 clubs from a white man (Mzungu*) who was a tutor at Kichwamba Technical School for Shs. 3,000 (£0.60p in today’s money).

Emmanual Basaliza - Trophy Collection

Emmanual Basaliza’s Trophy Collection

The Mzungu also gave him a textbook which helped him to learn the rules of the game faster and he made sure he learnt that verbatim.

With the ambition of playing golf more regularly, he would need to become a member of the golf club, but one still had to be recommended by a current club member.

The vetting process

New members had to go through a rigorous vetting process with many not meeting the criteria set out by the club standards and being denied membership.

Luckily, he was one of the fortunate Ugandans to be accepted and in 1969, Basaliza officially joined Toro Golf Club as a full member after paying Shs. 4,000 (£0.80p).

He has been a continuous member of the club for more than 50 years and for more than 20 years, served as a trustee member of the club.  In 2019, he was invited to be a Life Member of the Club.

Basaliza – His Playing Stats & Accolades

During his competitive golf career, Basaliza has won over sixty accolades from both national and international engagements.

He entered his first tournament, Kilembe Open, in 1973, when he finished second. 

His finish was particularly satisfying as he was almost exclusively playing against the more experienced whites.

It was his second golf tournament, in 1974 (the Toro Western Open Championship), when he tasted victory. 

Emmanual Basaliza, Uganda & Ian Mullins (Editor of The Social Golfer)

Photo by www.facebook.com/sagiomhzaphotography

Here he went up against Sadi Onito from Uganda Golf Club in Kampala who would become his biggest rival. He won! 

To much acclaim, he also successfully defended his title the following year.

Hole in One!

However, his second Championship was remembered for other reasons. It was during this event that he had his first hole-in-one.  

Later, he went on to play all courses in Uganda – currently, there are still only eight full eighteen holes courses in the country – and others in Kenya and Sun City in South Africa.

He rates Sun City golf as the best but also the most difficult course. 

The course has a lake in the middle, a hill, and a zoo. When you play the ball, if it goes into water or in the zoo, you cannot get it back – so you end up losing points.”

He has also represented the Ugandan National Golf Team in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

His golfing accolades include:  Toro Western Open Championship 1974, Western Open Championship 1975, ICAO Tournament 1994, Seniors Golf Day 2008, Western Open 2009, Seniors Golf Day 2014 and Tusker Malt Uganda Open 2015. His most recent trophy is from the 2019 Seniors New Year Golf.

Present Day – he still plays and inspires others to enjoy the game.

Now living in Kiburara, Kabarole District, he is retired but plays golf every day with his grandchildren on the twelve-hole Putting Green, he built in his garden. 

In addition, he tends to his cattle and his Coffee plants.

Throughout his life, he shared his experience and knowledge with many golf enthusiasts including friends and families.

He has been greeted by Presidents and National Leaders and playing golf has made him many friends. 

Emmanual Basaliza recieving award from President of Uganda, Mr Yoweri Museveni v1

Receiving Award from President Museveni

Accordingly, it is important that he still receives much recognition from the public for his achievements.

His Nickname – ‘Mzee Kijana’ – certainly seems like a fitting nickname at 98 years old.

Recalling his younger days he commented: “That nickname did not come on a silver platter. It was through my hard work and by winning trophies. Golfers would fear me whenever they would see me on the course. I have maintained my winning record from 1974 to date”.

Uganda -golf in the back garden v3

And finally (Writer’s note)..

What an inspiration! 

Despite his advancing years, he still plays every day, thus earning him the prestigious title of “The Oldest Golfer in Africa”.

I would like to thank Basaliza for his time, and his candidness in answering all our questions and for inviting me to his house for Sunday Lunch.

I would also like to thank him for acting as our guest of honour at the Kids Par 3 event at the Toro Golf Club on 26th January 2024. 

Oldest Golfer in Africa - Emmanual Basaliza - Putting in his back graden 12 hole golf course

He was a huge motivation to all the young golfers but insisted on telling them all the importance of integrity, punctuality, and mutual respect for your competitors when playing the game.

If his life proves anything, it is that golf can be a catalyst for change (e.g. rejecting Apartheid).

In addition,  it can be a lesson in life skills (strategy & problem-solving) but most of all, how a passion for the game can transform lives, both yours and others.

I only hope he achieves his lifelong ambition of playing at St Andrews before we lose him forever!

 

By Ian Mullins