Michael Williams

One of the special golf days at the Stellenbosch Club is the Golf Day of Cape Town Opera.  Apart from the fun on the golf course, guests and players are entertained at the function afterwards by beautiful live music.  The decor for the function room is also stunning on the eye.  The driving force behind this golf day is Michael Williams, CEO of the Cape Town Opera and a staunch member of the Stellenbosch Golf Club for the last 25 years.

Herewith my interview with him:

Question:   How old were you when you started with golf and who introduced you to the game of golf?
Williams: I started playing when I was 11 years old. My father taught me how to chip around our garden. He would try and win my weekly pocket money back and after one “nine hole” round where I lost my whole weekly allowance, I practiced all week to win it back double the following week! 

Question:  Did you teach yourself to play golf or did you take some lessons?
Williams: My father was an A league golfer at the Stellenbosch Club for many years and he was my only teacher. When I was in my forties and my game started sliding I took a three-day golf course in Florida – which remains a personal highlight – returning to Stellenbosch and within a month going from a 14 to a 10 handicap which is what I have stayed for the next fifteen years.

Question:  Were you a member of other golf clubs before joining Stellenbosch Club?
Williams:  No. Stellenbosch has been the only club I have joined. 

Question:  When did you join the Stellenbosch Golf Club?
Williams:  1989

Question:  As a new member of the Stellenbosch Golf Club – with whom did you play regularly as a newcomer and who helped you “to settle in” as a new member?
Williams:  As my father – Robert “Bob”’ Williams had been a long-term member he was well-known. When he relocated to Johannesburg all his friends took me under their wing and I played with them regularly - members like Alec Velissariou, Clive Wagner and many others.

Question:  Who are your most difficult opponents at Stellenbosch Golf Club and give your reasons why they are so difficult to beat?
Williams:  Fred Kieks and Schalk Burger. They are tenacious and consistent – at times moments of sheer genius.

Question:  As manager of the Cape Town Opera you have been organizing a golf day at Stellenbosch Club for the last few years.   At the prize giving function you entertain the players and their guests with music, and the decor are stunning.  Tell us more about the day, the support for the day and the “dividends” of the golf day.
Williams:  Golfers tend to be people with a great appreciation of the finer things in life. That is my experience of the members of Stellenbosch over the last 25 years.  Singing opera is no more difficult than playing golf and as both are my passion it seemed natural to bring them together. Aside from the fundraising element, it has also become a great day for the staff of Cape Town Opera (CTO) who enjoy spending a day on the course. During the day I give group golf lessons to the staff (which is probably not a good idea given my swing!) and they have enjoyed meeting the golfers and learning more about the game. In a strange way the event has become a team-building activity and everyone appreciates the day out of the office. I started the CTO Golf Day in 2000 and we have held five golf days since then raising just under R400 000 for young opera singers.  The event is popular because we combine a day of golf, with great food from the Stellenbosch Golf Club's kitchen and some great music.  We had a record attendance this year and people have already booked for next year's golf day which will be held on 23 February 2017.  

Question:  As a golfer – what has been the highlights in your career?
Williams:  Playing off an 8 – the lowest I’ve ever been in my career. Winning three Individual Medal rounds at Stellenbosch – two back in the day when they actually gave you a medal – and shooting a round of nett 69 off a 12 handicap in a BB Medal round.  Squeezing a round of golf in every country that Cape Town Opera has toured: Sweden, Norway, UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, France, Australia.

Question:   Which hole on the Stellenbosch course is the most difficult one for you and give your reasons why?
Williams:  Hole number 1. It’s long. Your drive has to be on the fairway. Your second invariably lands to the right, which makes an up and down challenging. The green is fast and there is always a cross wind. 

Question:  Conditioning and lay-out of the Stellenbosch Golf Course – are you happy with both?
Williams:  This is one of the reasons I have been with the Grand Old Lady for the last 25 years: she is in a great shape, the traditional lay-out has stood the test of time, the views are always spectacular, she plays through winter and summer, the wooded nature of the course makes every round challenging. Every hole has it’s unique challenges; it’s the only course I know that has a pair of resident falcons and is the home to a family of owls. 

Question:  What other course in South Africa do you enjoy?
Williams:  Kleinmond – tough, nuggety course, with a punishing rough, great views, lightning greens; Pretoria West – ball flies on the hard turf, variable topography, great finishing hole; Southbroom – great ocean views, tight intricate course, and accuracy is a wise strategy.

Question:  Have you had the opportunity to play some of the old and famous courses of Scotland and England?
Williams: I have played at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club in Wales (host of the British Senior Open last year) Crazy, loopy greens – what a privilege. 

Question:  Current handicap?
Williams: 8

Question:  Lowest handicap ever?
Williams: 8

Question:   Lowest gross score at the Stellenbosch Club ever?
Williams: 78?

Question:  Why do you play golf and what does it mean for you as a person to spend a few hours on the golf course?
Williams: I love to walk in a cathedral of green every Saturday. Just like sex, when you play golf, you lose yourself in the intense activity of the game. I can’t escape how golf is so much like life itself; delayed gratification, self-control, overweening ambition meets a reality check; a strange camaraderie where you really feel your partner/opponents pain; a shared experience with other men.  Striving for the continual balance of a sense of calmness and controlled energy is fascinating.