JOHN Kelley, the veteran Zimbabwean sports writer, has belatedly joined the golfing world in paying tribute to the late golfer Simon Hobday, who died in Pretoria in March aged 76.
By Enock Muchinjo
South African-born Hobday — who lost a battle with cancer — won the US Seniors Open in addition to bagging tournaments in Europe, America and Africa.
A versatile sportsman, he also represented Zambia in golf’s Eisenhower Trophy in addition to playing international rugby for the country, which became his adopted home after he had moved there to earn a living as a cattle farmer.
But his love relationship with Zambia would end rather messily.
Hobday was forced to arrive in present-day Harare, then known as Salisbury, the capital city of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), after he was deported by the Zambian government in 1969 for playing golf in apartheid South Africa.
“He was thrown out of the country and given only 24 hours to do so,” Kelley said.
“He had been reported to President (Kenneth) Kaunda for playing golf in South Africa when Kaunda was attending a conference in West Africa.
“Embarrassed by this revelation, Simon was forced to arrive in Salisbury with a wife, two children, a bag of clubs and very little money. His only option was to turn professional. He made a great success of it, both in results and personality.”
Being deported by Kaunda’s government was not the only instance Hobday fell foul of a government due to the politics of the time.
Said Kelley of another incident: “Simon also had a similar experience in England when Prime Minister Harold Wilson blocked his bank account for being a Rhodesia player during the sanctions period following UDI. A group of English businessmen had a ‘whip round’ for him.”
Kelley, however, also remembers a talented golfer who was known to be a colourful character on and off the course.
“Legend is a word freely banded about without justification, especially in sport. But in the case of Simon Hobday, it perfectly fits this very fine golfer and character, whose life was full of sporting talent, as well as glorious and humorous anecdotes,” said Kelley, who covered Hobday’s career in Zimbabwe and has written a book on the game’s history here.
“Stories of Simon tumble over each other, but the bottom line was his quality as a player. He won tournaments in three continents. He was named the best long iron player on the European tour by his contemporaries.
“Simon was a leading amateur in Zambia during the 1960s, though he was born in British Consulate, Mafikeng (South Africa). This caused his family several passport problems.
“There are many wonderful characters in modern sport. But none quite like Simon Hobday, who had outstanding ability and a real enduring warmth about him.”
Tributes that poured in from the global golfing community also described Hobday, who was nicknamed “Scruffy”, as “fun-loving”, among other affectionate portrayals.