Oakey Golf Club – a story of country golfing

IMG_5072

The Oakey Golf Club.

 

Yesterday on Offsiders I mentioned that I was taking Theo for a hit of golf to celebrate his eighth birthday.

That takes me back to the days when I first struggled to get the golf ball to rise from Dad’s old 7 iron – the first feeling of that sweet spot is something that stays with me.

My brothers and I started to play regularly – around our rugby league and cricket lives – in late primary school.

On October 19, 1975 I scored a hole in one on the ninth at Royal Oakey where I learnt to play golf.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of that hole in one.

I used this Spalding Rocket (No. 2) which sits next to my desk:

JTH Hole in one trophy

Here is the story of the Oakey Golf Club:

 

It is a remarkable coincidence that The Handicapper and I have a significant connection to the little town of Oakey on Queensland’s Darling Downs. I spent my high school years there. Her great great grandparents farmed land just a few kilometres to the north-west, at Hillgrove on the Acland Road.

That land has remained in her family, almost-forgotten for many years. The original house, a verandahed Queenslander, on low stumps just high enough to keep the snakes out, has been rejuvenated over the last 30 years to become a weekend retreat. You can’t make a living on the 280 acres, but you can still try. Some family members did in times past, living the subsistence life of the old Australian bush, until The Handicapper’s grandfather Jack had the sense to try his hand as a pharmacist.

When I first met The Handicapper the name Schull didn’t ring a bell, but when the connection was made to Jack Schull, it really pealed. He had the pharmacy in Oakey when we lived here. Those coincidences invite you to question sensible and rational approaches to understanding the world. The Handicapper was first taken to visit the farm as a new born in August 1972, the very month we arrived from Victoria to live.

As it turned out, we had our wedding reception in a marquee on the farm, after a service at the little Lutheran Church at Aubigny in the middle of the wheatfields, where my father had been the pastor for a decade.

We love going back to Hillgrove, taking the kids.

We arrived this last January [2013 – Ed] to find they’d had good rain around Oakey. At Hillgrove, the grass was knee-high at in places and shin-high in most; it was three weeks since anyone had been there. We got the ride-on mower out and, in the balmy late afternoon, I started to mow.

The smell of cut grass is a powerful thing and given the make-up of this yard – an un-manicured combination of couch close to the house and Queensland paddock grasses everywhere else – I was reminded of some of the yards I used to mow for pocket-money as a teenager.

One particular aroma, I suspect from the cut carrot weed, mixed with the gases released when the blades strike fallen eucalyptus, took me back to Monday afternoons at Zupps Corner at the foot of Gowrie Mountain on the way to Toowoomba. Every week one of my parents took my brother into town for his classical piano lesson with Miss Childe – I grew up in a house of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart as well as Bourke, Barrot and Clay – and most weeks I would be dropped off at Mrs Grant’s place. I’d mow the yard and then be picked up when the Mazda 626 came back along the highway.

Hillgrove and Mrs Grant’s yard have a lot in common and in the happy meditative state into which mowing can place you, I was transported back to that world of youthful hope and possibility.

I was going to be a sportsman. Nay, I was a sportsman.

Mrs Grant was getting on in years. Her husband Percy had died before we arrived. Percy had been a radio man in the war and then served a vital role in the community: he was the technician who looked after the 4AK radio tower on the hill outside Oakey. If there was no transmitter, then there was no ‘You Picked a Fine Time to Leave me Lucille’, no ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You Baby’, no ‘Devil Gate Drive.’

Percy Grant was not just an electronics boffin. He had also designed the Oakey golf course, 18 holes cut from the wilga and mulga and brigalow on a piece of flat land on Doctor’s Creek not far from Jondaryan. The course had sand greens when I first played here in about 1973.

Rain began falling in the early 1970s and didn’t stop for a good while. Doctor’s Creek flowed and deposited pippies the size of your fist on the yabby-holed banks. There was a swamp where your second shot finished on the par five eighteenth.

The billabong on Doctor's Creek - on the 15th.

The billabong on Doctor’s Creek – on the 15th.

The committee, made up of local farmers like Les Wicks (some of whom were cashed up from the good seasons), and businessmen like Q.M. Falconer who had the Ford dealership, and a publican or two like Cornelius Leahy from the Commercial, and a tyre mechanic called Des Bradford, and maybe even a sergeant from the local army-aviation base, decided that it was time to put in grass greens. They started with the back nine, and so the heavily wooded front nine – with its many koalas – was de-commissioned.

I was particularly disappointed because a hole that meant a lot to me was no longer in use. In October 1975 I was playing with two of my brothers – Peter and David – and Noel Leahy. I took out my five iron at the 138 metre par three ninth (it was too far for a seven and too short for a three) put down my Spalding Rocket (number 2) and caught it in the screws. It went dead straight and Noel Leahy said: “That’s gunna go in.”

It landed before the sand green, bounced truly, and headed straight for the pin.

“It’s in,” we yelled.

I threw my five iron in the air and four boys, the oldest being me at thirteen, bolted to have a look. There was the track on the sand green, and there at the bottom of the cup was my ball. A hole-in-one.

About a season later, after I stopped playing junior rugby league, I started competing against the men. There were some great characters. A couple of footballers: Lenny Lockett who had just finished his career helping out in reserve grade; Cec Docherty, the first Aboriginal man I really got to know; Sandy Hoopert (who survived 50,000 volts through him in a work accident but was killed when struck in the temple by a cricket ball) and his son Boof, (who once stood in front of another kid’s drive when denied the honour and wore a B51 in the chest) among others.

Looking back now, I realise some of the old blokes would have been born in the 1890s. They had lived colourful bush lives. My favourite was a bloke called Stan Hart who was born in 1900. He’d come to the big smoke, Oakey, to retire. He had been everything a bushie from Up North could be, from drover to crocodile hunter (long before Paul Hogan was one), and probably a cane-cutter and a railway man. Stan had the skin to prove it. Left-handed, his trick was to slice a ball around the telegraph pole, which was out of bounds, on the thirteenth, and bring it back onto the fairway.

One day Stan got to the course early and, I’m not sure why, said, “Come on young fullah, let’s go.”

Just the two of us whizzed around and it was barely half past two when we putted out at the eighteenth. Dad wasn’t coming to get me until after five. We sat together as he told me stories for all that time. I can’t remember them specifically but he was jumping trains, and playing cricket and living upstairs in pubs. He drank thirteen six-ounce beers, and he bought me thirteen six-and-a-half ounce bottles of Coke (the classic little bottle of yesteryear). The empties were lined up on the bar when Dad arrived.

I learnt to play at the Oakey Golf Club, in my own way: a cricketer with a smack over long-off or, when I tried to correct the push-slog, an insipid slice. And no mental strength whatsoever. My failing was enforced almost weekly when, having played well enough to be in contention, I would look down the eighteenth with its out of bounds all the way up the right, and feel the pull of the fence; a pull that was just too strong for me. I was in the hands of the golfing gods, and they liked to toy with me, as my drive would bobble around, deviating towards the wire.

There was one moment of triumph. I was playing in the mixed foursomes championship, where you play alternate shots, with Mrs Sowden. Mona Sowden was sixty, short, and bosomy in that 1970s grandma sort of way. She was a good golfer and we’d had a very good day. Reports were that a couple of other pairings, already in the clubhouse, had too. Coming down the last we thought we’d need a birdie to be anywhere near the mark. Mona teed off, a low, scuttling line-drive to third base which put us just on the edge of the trees – on the left. I had absolutely no shot. I would have to aim out of bounds and hook one back.

I hadn’t hit a hook in years. In fact, possibly, ever.

We surveyed the shot.

IMG_5043

The 518m final hole. Note the orientation of the tee and the pull of the out of bounds. Mona drove in behind the big tree on the left.

“What will I do?” I asked, thinking I could bunt a three-iron about 80 metres up the fairway.

“Go for it,” said Mona.

I recalled what Billy Casper’s manual had said. I turned my left hand over, I closed the face of my Slazenger 4-wood (with the red plastic insert), took it back inside, and ballooned one out over the gum tree on the right, and over the fence. It started to hook, and kept hooking, and kept hooking until it landed just in play and kept running. Mona chipped from 60 metres to about 8 feet and I drained the putt for a birdie. We won by a shot. It was The Percy Grant Memorial. I still have the trophy: a set of pewter champagne coupes.

What I remember about those people is their dedication to the cause: their determination to keep that little course going despite the tough conditions (farming conditions and golf conditions) which followed for years; despite the cracks from which your ball might ricochet; despite the crows which would come and steal your Slazenger B65 on the seventeenth; despite the decade of drought.

**

Having mown the lawn, we are free to enjoy the following evening, so I play the nine holes of the Oakey Golf Club. I seem to finish in the same places I always did.

After completing the round, I find the old ninth, which is still identifiable, however sadly. They slash the front nine every couple of years.

 

IMG_5066

The old 9th with the remnants of the sand green.

Later we bring the kids for a stroll:

 

The kids on the 17th.

The kids on the 17th.

*John Harms does not play enough golf.

Add your hole-in-one yarn to The Official Almanac Register of Holes-in-One

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo9, Anna7, Evie6. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. JTH – delightful way to start the day. You had me in. I got tense wondering if you and Mona Sowden would win the trophy! A great golf shot is so cruel because it keeps you coming back for more punishment.

  2. I reckon freshly mown grass is responsible for more detailed memories than any other sensory input.

  3. Great piece John.

    The publicans at Drysdale are (and have been for at least the last 25 years) Leahy’s.
    I wonder if there’s a conenction.

  4. Lord Bogan says:

    ” I grew up in a house of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart as well as Bourke, Barrot and Clay”. Brilliant

    Harmsy, a good christian can always spot a great triumvirate.

    I had to be content with Black Sabbath, Johnny Cash and AC/DC as well as Carman, Picken, Wearmouth. Twisted christians the Dimitriadis clan.

    My golf at age 11 was playing snooker at Lindrum’s with my mum’s brother Uncle Louie who is 92 and still kicking. He left Greece in 1937 and vowed never to return to that poverty. He hasn’t left Australia since.

  5. Beautiful start to Lent Harmsey!!1

  6. Dave (hungry) Baker says:

    Nice one John , keep writing mate, your children will enjoy learning about their Dad down the track when the Bundy kicks in and you no longer remember !

  7. Wonderful memories John. You had me back on the black oiled slag scrapes of SA’s Yorke Peninsula in the early 70’s, where I learned to play with similar blokes.
    The Wool Bay scrapes had wire around them to keep the sheep off. If you hit the wire you got to replay your shot.
    Their big day was 9 holes at Yorketown in the morning with the half hour drive to Wool Bay and then the afternoon 9. Followed by kegs and BBQ. When everyone was in; those most under par went out to play as far as they could and plant a flag.
    If you were 6 under you got 6 shots. The par 4 first. Par it and you got 2 shots on the second. Someone 5 under for the 18 could birdie the first and get 2 on the second.
    The great difficulty was if you got in early and had to stay off the grog, until the playoff eventuated. Many tried and failed. So a good late score generally beat a brilliant early one.
    The boozed up crowd followed the play off groups like the final holes of a British Open.
    Great memories.
    P.S. I particularly liked that the Ford dealer was a Mr Falconer.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Why is Carl Ditterich in a Geelong jumper?

  9. Peter Fuller says:

    John,
    I’m surprised that I don’t recall this when it was originally published on the Almanac, because there are a number of resonances for me. In a generally inglorious golfing (late( life, I too have a hole in one story (mounted ball and laminated score-card signed by the playing partners) though anti-climatic. I was convinced the ball had run through the green into the bunker, and was looking there and in the surrounding area. One of the blokes paying with me had a look and found it in the hole.
    The punishing truth of Dips’ reference to the occasional good shot which teases and draws you back to the golf course is a powerful reminder of human frailty.
    Your mowing references are more powerful than Vin Buckley’s “Cutting Green Hay”, in his case on the farm at Romsey.
    I’m not sure if Pete is still an Almanac regular or lurker, but I’m related to the Drysdale Hotel Leahy’s. As far as I know, we are not related to the Queensland Leahys, but I’ve always wanted to explore the connection and see if there is any remote link. You have an occasional rugby contributor to the site, so I would like to communicate with him.

  10. Nice yarn Peter. Please add your hole-in-one story to the Official Almanac Register of Holes-in-One. http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/official-almanac-register-of-holes-in-one/

    Also send me an email and we can sort out a contact for the Leahys.

  11. I live a decent 1 iron from the Drysdale Pub

  12. Beautiful read, JTH. I’m pretty sure a hole in one will elude me forever so I’ll have to rely on bragging about my two hat tricks. Which makes me wonder who out there might have achieved both a hat trick and a hole in one and which ranks more highly for those that have achieved both. JTH, did you ever take a hat trick?

  13. Peter Flynn says:

    I once sunk a 4 foot putt with slight left to right break and dropped a catch on a hat trick ball.

    Limited contributions from me on this thread.

    PF

Leave a Comment

*