History of golf in the Czech Republic
The first golf course in what is now the Czech Republic was built in 1904 in Karlovy Vary, followed by another course in Mariánské Lázně a year thereafter. Both were mostly designated for foreign spa guests and would rarely be used by local players. The existence of said courses had therefore little effect on the development of the local golf scene prior to the First World War.
Beginnings of Czech golf prior to WWI
In this light, we find the true roots of Czech golf in the endeavours of the Ringhoffer family – just before the outbreak of the First World War – which eventually transformed a piece of private land close to the Volešovice village into a golf course.
This private undertaking, which would later fall under the auspices of the family-owned Volešovice Ringhoffer Golf Club, led to further expansion organised by František Ringhoffer. At the end stood the founding of the first Czech golf club named Prague Golf Club (PGC) in 1926. PGC would build a course in the Motol district of Prague and hold the very first competition in 1927.
Independently of the foregoing activities, an initiative was also born elsewhere: in 1923, a group of friends brought a set of old golf clubs back from England and began to play golf on the fields surrounding Stránčice. This would finally result in the establishment of the second Czech golf club – Líšnice Golf Club (LGC) – in 1928. LGC transformed a piece of land close to Líšnice and another golf course was born. Toward the end of year 1931, the above clubs united with the sole existing Slovak club, Piešťany Golf Club, to form the Czechoslovak Golf Association (CSGA). The West-Bohemian clubs from Mariánské Lázně and Karlovy Vary did not enter the association at the time of its foundation. The CSGA appointed František Ringhoffer its chairman and Ing. Josef Charvát its general secretary. In 1929, the course in Mariánské Lázně was expanded to eighteen holes and works began on a new course of the same scale in Karlovy Vary.
First national championship in 1930
The course in Motol represented the epicentre of Czech golf between 1927 and 1934. It was precisely there that the first Czechoslovak Masaryk cup championship in stroke play, won by František Ringhoffer Jr., took place. In 1931, Mr. Šáša Schubert seized the prize. The first inter-club match between PGC and LGC was held in Motol in the same year, LGC winning 7:6.
Further to a resolution of the CSGA in 1932, all Czechoslovak Men’s and Women’s International Amateur Championships would become match play contests. In 1932 and 1933 the men’s tournament took place in Motol and women’s in Piešťany. 1932’s season was won by German player Stefan Samek and Elisabeth von Szlávy from Hungary, and the following by Hanno Tonder and, once again, E. v. Szlávy. In 1934, both championships had to be cancelled due to the deteriorating state of the Motol course.
This gave rise to the commencement of negotiations between the CSGA and Marienbad Golf Club about featuring next year’s national tournament in Mariánské Lázně. These were a success and in 1935 the golf course hosted three tournaments – the first Czechoslovak Open and both amateur championships. Scottish professional Mark Seymour won the Open championship, while Jan Bečvár and E. v. Szlávy became amateur champions. Mark Seymour would prevail once again in the 1936 Open in Mariánské Lázně, accompanied by J. W. Bailey in the amateur division. The women’s championship did not take place. In 1935, a new course was opened in Karlovy Vary; this saw two major competitions in 1937, both being Czechoslovak Amateur Championships (winners: John de Bender (ENG) and, for the fourth time, E. v. Szlávy). The Open took place in Mariánské Lázně for the third time already, being dominated by the world’s then best player – Henry Cotton. In the year to follow, the courses exchanged their roles: Karlovy Vary hosted the Open and Mariánské Lázně the amateur championships (winners: Henry Cotton and, for the second time, Hanno Tonder, respectively). The Czechoslovak women’s championship was held at a newly opened course in Klánovice, constructed based on a project devised by Josef Charvát. Ms. Luisa Raudnitz seized the first prize. At the end of 1937, the European Golf Association was established, with the CSGA being one of its founding members.
In 1936, the Czech golf club spectrum gained two new clubs, i.e. Brno Golf Club (BGC) and Tremšín Golf Club (TGC). While BGC would use the golf course in Piešťany, TGC built a course close to Leletice (nearby Tremšín hill), and proceeded to host there a number of competitions including inter-club tournaments. Both clubs joined the CSGA.
In 1938, a new golf course was opened in Klánovice, following the final close-down of Motol golf course in 1937. The West-Bohemian clubs initiated cooperation with the CSGA and joined the association soon thereafter. In 1938, a nationwide club competition called the Ringhoffer memorial was introduced, commemorating the death of František Ringhoffer Jr. in 1937.
Halt in development due to occupation and WWII
In autumn 1938, the Republic witnessed a detachment of some of its border territories. Thus, Czech golf lost three of its golf courses, the only ones remaining being Klánovice, Líšnice and Leletice. In 1939, works on a new course in Svratka were commenced. From 1939 onward most golfing activity transpired at the aesthetic and well-maintained forest course in Klánovice. On 15 March 1939, what remained of the Republic extinguished and was instead declared the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Notwithstanding, even in that year an Amateur Championship took place in which the Masaryk Cup was at stake – Hanno Tonder became the winner for the third time among men, and Kitty Linhart among women. The Czechoslovak Golf Association was renamed to Bohemian-Moravian Golf Association.
Of course, the war which broke out on 1 September 1939 took its toll on Czech golf, too. The main consequence was such that many pre-war golfers gave up the sport and never returned to it again. While we have learned the fate of some, it is completely unknown as regards the majority. At the close of 1940, chairman of the association F. Ringhoffer passed away. But golf lived on – competitions would still be held, albeit with little audience. Hanno Tonder, for one, managed to grow in such extraordinary fashion that he had all but no competition left. His closest rival was Karel Hynek – a man of particularly polished playing style. Indeed, he won the first war-time championship (at which the Masaryk Cup was no longer the prize), though in Hanno Tonder’s absence. The female winner of said championship is unfortunately unknown. In the following three years, Hanno Tonder – who had by then achieved a ‘plus’ handicap – remained unbeaten. The 1941 and 1942 women’s championships were won by Anna Strobachová and Kitty Linhart, respectively.
The repression triggered by the assassination of acting Reichsprotektor R. Heydrich in May 1942 meant the tragic death of many golfers. The most were from Brno; from Líšnice Golf Club it was president Ludvík Vaněk, from Prague Golf Club its committee member Veleslav Wahl. Veleslav was arrested directly at Klánovice golf course. The club house was seized to become an occupation army base together with the adjacent part of the course. Only six holes were playable until the year 1944. Starting autumn 1944, when the Klánovice course was closed down altogether and the Leletice course abandoned for non-reachability, Czech golf would be forced to survive within the confines of Líšnice until the end of the war. Some golfers were imprisoned during the war, including Hanno Tonder.
Post-war times and another totalitarian regime
Over the first three post-war years, the expansion of golf once again picked up pace in Czechoslovakia. The first men’s and women’s championship took place in Klánovice in 1946 (winners: Karel Hynek and Mia McLaughlin). Further championships moved over to the Mariánské Lázně course, which had been restored by the American army. In 1947, the first post-war international match with Switzerland was held – nationwide golf activities were all managed by the CSGA. That year, Hanno Tonder and Věra Petersová were victorious. Later in said year, Mariánské Lázně Golf Club was founded by those who had come to repopulate Czech borders. One of such newcomers was war pilot and hero Ivo Tonder.
In February 1948 came the Communist coup and society would soon begin to change. Sports education specifically underwent major reform upon the first post-war Sokol gymnastics festival (slet). All clubs or sports unions were either dissolved or would have to incorporate themselves into a nationwide totalitarian organisation named ‘Sokol’. Therefore, in order to retain existence, all golf clubs became branches of Sokol units, associated with either factories or the so-called ‘people administration’ (lidospráva) offices. This is how the Czech Golf Club, formerly established by the merger of Třemšín Golf Club and Prague Golf Club, became part of Jan Šverma sokol, Líšnice Golf Club a part of Líšnice sokol, etc. The Czechoslovak Golf Association was replaced by the Golf Office of the Czech Sokol Union, led by central secretary Artur Štika. In 1948, the Klánovice club welcomed new members who had previously been engaged as caddies. These new players would immediately go on to become the country’s best players.
Hanno Tonder became the Republic’s champion in 1948 in Mariánské Lázně. The female winner is once again not known. In 1949, Hanno’s winning streak was interrupted for the first time by Miroslav Vostárek, with Adéla Novotná from Mariánské Lázně seizing the win among women. Adéla Novotná reclaimed her title in the year to follow; Miroslav Vostárek, however, gave in to Hanno Tonder.
At the end of 1950, the Klánovice club house and course were shut down – and the short life of this beautiful and unfinished course basically concluded for good. Attempts at its reopening failed due to the totalitarian party’s aversion to golf. Further to a resolution by the country’s physical education (PE) bodies, in 1952 golf was struck out from the list of supported sports, the Klínovice course ploughed up and trees planted in its stead. In the same year, a similar effort to liquidate golf was taken in Líšnice and in 1953 the astounding course in Mariánské Lázně was to be turned into agricultural land. Fortunately, this plan was never realised and Mariánské Lázně assumed the role of the centre of Czech golf.
The paradox of totalitarianism was such that the elimination of one golf course in Central Bohemia led to the reinstatement of the golf scene in Karlovy Vary, all thanks to the efforts of a number of avid golfers. In 1949, the year in which the golf unit of Karlovy Vary Sokol was founded, the then decrepit original golf course started to undergo self-help renovations; however, the attention soon rather turned to a brand new course near Olšová Vrata. The former golf course, built in 1904, never did receive much needed restoration and ceased to exist.
The 50s were by far the most dangerous for golf in the Czechoslovak Republic. The totalitarian powers at play perceived golf as a manifestation of Western lifestyle, thus constituting an ideological diversion. Therefore, golf tended to be discriminated as a ‘bourgeois sport’ on all levels, the sole exception being the tolerant stance assumed by PE bodies in West-Bohemian spas – these kept golf in their sport-related agendas. It is also for this reason that Mariánské Lázně would continue to host golf tournaments each year, albeit under the disguising name Mariánské Lázně City Cup. The subject period was dominated with little competition by Miroslav Vostárek who won all cups between 1951 and 1956 – that is save for the year 1952 in which he did not take part (and was temporarily substituted by Vladislav Holan).
In 1956, the Czechoslovak stroke play championship was reintroduced after 18 years. The initiative was raised by golfers in Karlovy Vary and the championship took place on their – not yet fully renovated – course. Jiří David Jr. from Prague seized the win in the men’s category while Božena Mikutová won the women’s. It was around the mid-50s that two brilliant Czech female golfers – Hana Brožová-Chrástková and Ludmila Plesníková-Křenková – arrived at the scene. These two players would proceed to engage in a tug-of-war over trophies in the seventeen years to come, rarely leaving any room for other competitors. The remaining men’s trophies were shared among Miroslav Vostárek, Karel Hynek, Ladislav Bartůněk Sr. and Jiří David Jr.
In 1956, all unified sports education was subordinated to the Czechoslovak Physical Education Union (CPEU). Both Western-Bohemian golf clubs fell under this organisation but former Klánovice golfers and Líšnice Golf Club remained outside its regime. At that time, after the dissolution of Sokol organisations, Brno golfers, too, operated outside the official PE structure. During the course of 1957, dialogue was begun about the establishment of golf units at major Prague PE Unions. In 1958, three Prague unions admitted golf clubs into their structures: Tatran Prague PE Union, Dynamo Prague PE Union (later known as Slavia Prague PE Union) and Slavoj PZO PE Union. The golf clubs at the first two PE Unions comprised predominantly former Klánovice players while the Slavoj PZO PE Union brought in the entirety of former LGC. In 1959, a golf section was founded with the Municipal Committee of CPEU in Karlovy Vary. This way, golf was represented at least on a regional level.
The 60s – a new era
The 60s meant a new impulse for golf. In 1960, a new eighteen-hole course was opened in Karlovy Vary. This year, a nationwide league of teams was also introduced which, owing to its collective character, approximated more closely the ideologically preferred sport competition forms at the time. The application procedure as well as all other formal CPEU requirements were identical to those pertaining to other sports.
At the beginning of the 60s, Jiří Dvořák began to dominate Czech golf. He won his first stroke play title in 1960. From then on, he ruled over the Czech golf scene for a long nineteen years. His nearest contenders included brothers Jan and Jiří Kunšt, Jiří Staněk at the beginning of the 60s (two-time champion), Bohumil Landa and Jaroslav Dvořák (one trophy). Women’s golf was prevailed variably by Hana Brožová and Ludmila Křenková.
In the year 1963 and upon all but a year’s worth of negotiations, golf was integrated into the organisational structure of CPEU by means of the so-called Steering Golf Commission, though even this did not match the organisational role of other sports. Miloslav Plodek was appointed chairman of this commission.
In mid-60s, Czech golf made use of slight political ‘warming’ and struck up a sports dialogue with foreign institutions. Golfers from Sweden, Austria and Germany would as a result start coming to international golf events, while Czech players got the opportunity to travel abroad for inter-club matches. The participation of our players in the professional two-player team competition called Canada Cup (later World Cup) was one of the highlights of this time period.
In 1966, golf was at last recognised as a sport equal to others. Formally, this was achieved by virtue of a CPEU Central Committee resolution, which transformed the Golf Steering Committee into the CPEU Central Golf Section. The Golf Section roofed ten different golf units at this time. The then existing golf courses were joined by a course in Boskov u Semil and works on a brand new course began in Poděbrady.
Political warming escalated into Prague Spring in 1968. Those few months of Prague Spring could easily be compared to the strong impulse we witnessed another twenty years later. The CPEU allowed for the establishment of sport unions with relatively extensive powers. Golfers, for one, founded the Czechoslovak Golf Union (CGU), chaired by Miloslav Plodek. The CGU subsequently applied to become a member of the European Golf Association – an organisation in whose foundation Czechoslovak golf had played a major role in 1937 and from which it had been forced to withdraw for a period of twenty years. The CGU was admitted on 25 October 1968 in London. This led to the consolidation of cooperation with the rest of Europe and enabled Czech senior golfers to participate in the seniors’ championship in Colorado Springs. What is more, the topic of restoring the Klánovice course one again became the order of the day. This development would continue approximately until the end of the 1969 season, upon which totalitarian control over union activities was once again reaffirmed.
The 70s passed in the spirit of protecting golf’s position in organisational structures and shielding against the ever-growing disdain on part of superior authorities. The latter manifested itself, for example, on authorisations of participation in cross-border competitions. The cornerstones of Czech golf during these times were two tournaments – stroke play and match play – as well as a sophisticated nationwide team competition, a league with several performance divisions.
It was in the nationwide league that the evolution of golf on the Czech territory was most noteworthy. Teams from both old as well as new units signed up for the competition. New golf centres such as Poděbrady, Semily and Ostrava joined more traditional ones such as Prague, Mariánské Lázně and Karlovy Vary. Particularly Ostrava’s contribution in the form of a new eighteen-hole course in Šilheřovice was imperative, the project having been concocted by Ing. Jan Cieslar. The meanwhile neglected Svratka course, too, underwent a revitalisation and became the main golf centre in the Brno area. During the 70s, the construction of a new Prague course began under the auspices of the newly founded Prague Golf Club. This club, empowered by its merger with Slavia Prague, tied into the pre-war tradition of PGC. Meanwhile in Slovakia, the first post-war golf unit was established under the Elán Bratislava PE Unit.
Jiří Dvořák continued to represent a dominant figure on the Czech golf scene, having acquired twelve different champion titles even in this period (last one in 1979). Further eight victories were distributed among Jan Kunšta and Arnošt Kopta (two each), Jiří Kunšta and Jaromír Fuchs (one each), and foreign players (two).
Women’s golf, on the other hand, was ruled almost without challenge by Ludmila Křenková, who had won fourteen out of twenty possible trophies. The remaining ones were seized by Hana Chrástková (two), Helena Kropáčová (one), Amara Robětínová (one) and foreign players (two).
CGU Chairman Miloslav Plodek succumbed to a serious illness in mid-70s. Thus, Czech golf lost a relentless fighter for recognition and stability in the hostile environment of unified physical education. Doc. Ing. Ivan Rais was elected the new chairman and would have to take charge in circumstances where golf need no longer have feared sudden liquidation, but was continuously threatened by a significant lack of financial means as well as interest of superior authorities (which could otherwise be most generous in respect of other sport fields).
The Czechoslovak Golf Union was renamed to the Czechoslovak Union for Golf (CUG). In 1979, a European Championship for juniors was held in Mariánské Lázně thanks to the magnificent efforts of golf enthusiasts. This event was extraordinarily successful as concerned organisation, and was generally very well acclaimed by its participants. On the other hand, it became apparent that matching world-class performances given by nationals of golf-savvy European countries would not be possible without international contacts. The tournament was won by Irish players, including Ronan Rafferty who would later become an excellent professional player.
In the 80s, large groups of foreign players would attend international stroke play championships on a fairly regular basis. This was primarily thanks to the international secretary of the CUG, Hanuš Goldscheider, who maintained great relationships with representatives of foreign golf associations. While Swedish, German and Austrian delegations were the most numerous, our tournaments would also be visited by players from Greece, Yugoslavia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Finland, Luxembourg, Denmark, and even the US, Australia, Canada and Brazil. Some of the more prominent golf personalities we had the opportunity to host during these times were Thomas Gögele (DE) and Thomas Björn (DM).
Local trophies were nonetheless shared by a larger number of players: Miroslav Brtek (4x), Jiří Kunšta and Pavel Fulín (both 3x), Jan Kunšta (2x), as well as Jiří Zavázal, Jan Juhaniak and Miroslav Němec (one each)
The year is 1989 and Czech golf thrives
With the end of 1989 came a substantial political revolution. In spring 1990, the CGU changed its name to the Czechoslovak Golf Federation. A new president of said Federation was elected: Ing. Milan Moučka, former chairman of the CGU technical sports commission of many years. New national golf bodies such as the Bohemian-Moravian Golf Union (BMGU), led by president Pavel Resl, and the Slovak Golf Union, headed by Ing. Juraj Lupsina, were formed. Simultaneously, a process of golf units seceding from larger organisational structures and their subsequent conversion into standard golf clubs became noticeable.
In 1992, Mr. Moučka resigned from the function of the president of the CGF and was replaced by Hanuš Goldscheider. By then, the velvet divorce of the Czech and the Slovak was fast approaching, having finally materialised on 1 January 1993. The succeeding organisation of CGF in the Czech Republic was the BMGU. At a BMGU conference in 1993, it was resolved that the name Czech Golf Federation (CGF) would continue to be used and that Hanuš Goldscheider was to become its president.
That same year, Mariánské Lázně hosted a European Championship of men’s teams. The 90s saw a soar in the amount of players, clubs, as well as new golf courses. Several professional tournaments of the highest European professional league were held in the Czech Republic, mostly owing to Hanuš Golfscheider. The Professional Golf Association of the Czech Republic was founded, which unites professional golf coaches and competitive players. By the end of the 20th century, golf had become a sought after and dynamically developing sport in the Czech Republic.
The entry of Czech golf into the 21st century was marked by the passing of CGF president Hanuš Golfscheider. JUDr. Milan Veselý, a long-time golfer, local and international competition organiser, and member as well as president of Mariánské Lázně Golf Club, was appointed president of the CGF. As the dynamic expansion of Czech golf continued, its organisational management began to entail considerable effort. The number of players, clubs and courses grew by multiples. Openings of new golf courses during this period can also be attributed to the principle that a club could only become a member of the CGF if it were capable of independent functioning on its own or a hired golf course, absent any “charity” by other golf clubs. Thus, a proportionate development of playing capacities and member base was assured. Currently, the Czech Golf Federation belongs to the largest sport unions in the Czech Republic as to the sum of members, clubs and the extent of activities.