wattlespring sport club
A preface to the history of this great club is essential as it was formed in the early nineties well before the present ranges were established on the farm ‘Onbekend’ in the Bapsfontein district.
During its existence the club functioned under different names and with different priorities and in different localities, but the core values and principles have remained steadfast over time. It was initially known as the South African Field Trial Club, (the SAFTC) which underwent a metamorphosis from a club whose members were involved primarily in breeding, training and trialing of hunting dogs, then adding formalized clay target shooting with a name change in 1961 to the South African Field Trial & Skeet Club (SAFT&SC).
Later, in 1965, it split into two separate entities, a ‘hunting dog’ club and a ‘clay shooting’ club- the latter named the Highveld Gun Club(HGC). After relocating from the Crown Mines property to the Durban Deep mine on the west rand in 1975, the Highveld Gun Club became known as the Durban Deep Skeet Club (DDSC) and finally Wattlespring Gun Club in Bapsfontein in 2001.
The SAFTC was formed in 1908 by a group of hunting dog enthusiasts, and in the 1920’s after the First World War Col. Alec Tainton, Mr. V.R. Thurlow and Mr. David Erasmus set up trap machines for clay target shooting at the Lombardy Estates.
On the 16th October 1935 The Star newspaper published an article on clay target shooting with a photograph of “shottists on the firing line”.
In February 1937 members of the committee of the parent club proposed to engage and negotiate with the Crown Mines Gold Mining management regarding the use of the mine’s property to establish a shooting range.
In April of that year Mr. Keeny reported that negotiations with mine management were successful, and that a range could be established at No.16 Shaft. The rental for the ground was to be six guineas a year. Initially a Skeet and Trap range were built as well as a club house. It was also decided that the existing range in Aeroton would be maintained at a fee of one pound per year in case it would be required for additional practice! The club patron that year  was Sir Patrick Duncan and the club’s vice-presidents included General J.C. Smuts and General J.B. Hertzog – both prominent politicians in our country’s history.
With the intervention of the Second World War (1939-1945) shooting was placed on the back burner. The SAFTC fared well on the shooting scene with the “A” team winning the Ellis-Brown trophy at the first S.A. Skeet Championship in Westville, Natal in 1952.
During its existence on the Crown mines property the range was relocated in 1958 to an alternate site, still on the mine property, north of the Baragwanath Airfield. The new range built in 1958 consisted of six clay target layouts: Two ‘back to back’ skeet, three Down-the-Line Trap and an Olympic Trap range. Most of the equipment was imported from the USA and were mechanical i.e. cocked, loaded and released manually. as there was no electrical power on the range. It was thus very labour intensive. In addition a pistol range was established at the extreme western boundary of the shotgun ranges by Herby Deeb.
Major changes occurred at the club in 1971 when the ERPM club in conjunction with the Highveld Gun Club staged the SA Olympic Trap and Transvaal Open Championships in Johannesburg. This was the first competition held at the Crown mines since 1966 after the ban imposed on it by the CPSASA. New Rossini trap machines were installed into the Olympic trap range and it was also the first time in the country where the targets on the Olympic range were released by a voice activated microphone system!
The club remained on the Crown Mines property until mid 1975 when a further unfortunate incident occurred involving the pistol and flying clubs. The pistol club was given notice by the mine management to vacate the land. Regrettably the clay club was also served with a similar notice! An invitation by Durban Roodepoort Deep Mine near Roodepoort to locate its new clay range at the mine was gladly, graciously and immediately accepted. A satisfactory site adjacent to the No. 8 Shaft was selected and towards the end of ’75 and into 1976 work commenced on the establishment of one of the largest clay shooting ranges in the country.
Out of courtesy to the mine management the name was changed from the Highveld Gun Club to the Durban Deep Skeet Club. In 1979 the CPSA SA celebrated the twenty-fifth year of its existence by holding a Silver Jubilee Shoot at the club and it became necessary to further improve the facilities.
In the 80‘s the Doornkuil Gun Club built by Dan and Brian Silcock (south of Johannesburg at Grasmere) and the ERPM & District CPS Club in Boksburg amalgamated with the Durban Deep club when the two smaller clubs were under pressure from vandalism and encroaching residential development.
At the end of the 90’s the Roodepoort Municipality commenced the relocation of a group of shack dweller’s from the city centre to occupy a part of the club’s land. This action resulted in the club losing half of the shooting ranges which effectively excluded it from staging any further major competitive events. A monumental decision was taken at this point to rather purchase land as previously the club had hired/leased land and this had resulted in great financial loss to the club after repetitive forced removals.
Alec Kalell returned to the committee, and after an extensive search, found a suitable site on a farm near Bapsfontein, east of Johannesburg. The land measured 269 hectares with a strong borehole and a large dam.
In March 2001 a promotional shoot was held on the land and members were invited to view the property. A group of dedicated clay shooting enthusiasts then formed a company – Pointofact Holdings. An offer was made to and accepted by the owner. The funds raised were utilised as a deposit and the balance of the purchase price was to be raised by the club over a period of years. Due to dense wattle forestation on the property the club was named Wattlespring Gun Club.
In August 2001 three ranges: an ATA/DTL Trap, Skeet and an Olympic/Universal/ Olympic Double trap range were built by a small construction company. The club has an average annual membership of approximately 130 and although attendances at local shoots is said to have decreased recently, major provincial and national competitions and corporate and sponsored events remain well supported. Presently there are three permanent ATA/DTL, two Skeet/Sporting, two Olympic/Olympic Double trap/ Universal ranges, with in addition numerous Sporting layouts. The equipment is top of the range automatic clay launching machines, electronic scramblers, microphone release systems etc. Further expansion to the west of the land is possible to accommodate additional ATA/DTL ranges if required.
Towards the end of 2015 an entrepreneur, Marc Armstrong, approached the directors of Pointofact Holdings and indicated an interest in purchasing the land and shooting club. He had in 2008 demonstrated his bona fides towards clay shooting by establishing the Al Thandiwe club on his game farm in the Limpopo province which resulted in the tremendous growth and expansion of the sport in that area. The club and province have subsequently presented many major events since then under the aegis of the CTSA SA including the prestigious interprovincial competition, the ‘Chairman’s Cup’ in 2015. A Special General Meeting of club members was held in January 2016, and here was overwhelming support by the club membership for the sale of the property.
The current owner, Marc Armstrong’s intention is to develop the present facility at Wattlespring into a multi-centric life-style centre encompassing not only clay target but other shooting disciplines. Also envisioned is expansion of the existing club-house with a permanent restaurant, bar and a gun shop. The inclusion of a gentleman’s whiskey and cigar lounge to accommodate the history of this famous club in memorabilia and photographs is also in the cards. Further changes could include a swimming pool, tennis courts, as well as additional outdoor facilities.