Updated: May 21
On this final day of Black History Month, I dedicate an article to honour the story of the first black Bahamian to win the Prime Minister Cup for Golf in 1972, Mr Basil Randloph Smith. At the start of this year, I was filled with pride to learn of his past victory. So to 'tee things off', my father and I made a special effort to arrange a one-on-one interview with the legend himself while his voice was still strong.
His humble story begins in 1959 when a young fourteen-year-old boy named Basil Smith travelled alone on the Mail Boat all the way from 'The Lot' in Orange Creek, Arthurs Town, Cat Island to Nassau, New Providence.
While in Nassau, he worked in the service industry for many years. First, his brother Eric Smith took him to City Meat Market to start work as a packing boy earning 5 pounds a week (i.e. roughly 20 pounds or 24 dollars a day today) He worked at the market for a year and a half and gained responsibility over Fruits, Vegetables, Frozen Foods and then Pricing. Shortly thereafter, Chris Munnings (a friend from The Lot) helped him secure a job as a Bar Boy at the Nassau Beach Club. For six months he served in that position and was subsequently promoted to Bartender for the upstairs out-island Bar until he was twenty-one (21) years old. Then, he became a Manager of the Drumbeat Club on Nassau Beach, which was owned by Peanuts Taylor and hosted a native show every night including fire dancers and the like. He eventually returned to the Nassau Beach Club to serve as the Assistant Manager for Food and Beverage and then opened a restaurant with his business partner Caleb Hepburn on Bay and East Street called 'Parrots Tarvin'. His favourite drink to mix for guests was a concoction he coined with Issac Lightbourne called "Goombay Smash", which included pineapple juice, orange juice, rum, and a splash of lime juice. When he was not at work in the evenings, he could be found hanging out in his neighbourhood park around East Street and Andros Avenue or every Sunday morning at Grants Town Wesley Methodist Church on Baillou Hill Road.
It wasn't until around 1965, at the age of 20, that one of his favourite pastimes became the sport of golf. For you see, in the early 60s, "the game was still played by whites only and a black movement began with the expressed aim to allow non-whites to play the game on all courses. Names like E. J. Rolle, George McKinney, Errol Leach, Roy Bowe, Kenneth Francis, Basil Nichols, "Big Jim" McPherson, Hiram Lloyd and Walter Hutchinson paved the way for the change that was to inevitably follow." These men he knew by name. "The records [also] show that Clifton Borer and Helmut Kaetini were instrumental in assisting the group to achieve their goal."
His good friend Freddie Fernander introduced him to the nine-hole Blue Hills Golf Course. They both started hitting the ball and Basil took a liking to it. After nine (9) months of playing every morning and beating his friend in many matches, he had to move to another golf course. Basil went down to the 18-hole course on the present site of Goodman's Bay, the Ambassador Beach Golf Course (Cable Beach) and met Mr Freddie Higgs, the two-term President of the Bahamas Golf Federation and his 'best ball partner'. Higgs helped open doors for him to play and work as the Assistant Golf Director at the 18-hole championship course on Paradise island (designed by Dick Wilson). Prior to this he also worked as the Golf Operator in charge of golf carts and teeing off the golfers at the Cable Beach Golf Club.
Basil had the opportunity to play in every golf tournament hosted by the Federation. In particular, in the 1972 Prime Minister Cup for Golf Tournament when he inevitably squared up against three white men - Bob Salata, Mike Taylor and Valdo Prosa (pictured above). It was on this that Basil made Bahamian history as the first black person to win the Prime Minister Cup for Golf. He went on to represent The Bahamas in Kingston, Jamaica, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Lisbon, Portugal for the Caribbean Amateur Gold Championships.
I told him he was a pro and he humbly replied, "I wasn't a pro, but I could play!" We spoke about how the sport instilled discipline and consistency in him. As for insight into his technique, he said, "Do it the same way all the time, that's the best you can do!" The experience also taught him "how to get along with strangers, how to treat them, and what to expect from them so you know how to treat them when they get to your island." With that said, what an honour it was to interview this Bahamian legend, my grandpa, Mr Basil R. Smith.
Happy Black History Month to The Bahamas.