Almanac (Country) Golf: Bridgewater on Loddon in the 1970s and today


Neangar Park Golf Club



Golf was strong in central Victoria in the ’70s. Dad, my brother Chris and I played at Neangar Park, Eaglehawk. The Borough of Eaglehawk (as it was then named) was close to, but proudly separate from the major regional city of Bendigo. Jeff Kennett forced the amalgamation of ‘the Borough’ with Bendigo as part of the Greater Bendigo Council in the 1994. Working class Eaglehawk had been fiercely independent from Bendigo. Evidently, little has changed in the quarter of a century since.



Blistering hot summers and lack of water meant poor conditions and only a few stalwarts played golf for the whole year. The main golfing months were April to October. Men and a few women played club competition on Saturday. Early in the season on Sunday was interclub men’s pennant played off handicaps in A, B and C grade. Every hacker got the chance to shine. Later in the season in May through to August, each club had its annual tournament. Marong, Inglewood, Tarnagulla, Jarklin, Quarry Hill, Dunolly, Heathcote, Toolleen, Neangar, Bendigo and many others all ran their own annual events. On the Monday of the Queen’s Birthday weekend, it was men’s day over 36 holes at Bridgewater on Loddon.





The small town of Bridgewater on Loddon is situated some 35 kilometres northwest of Bendigo. Their tournament day began early for us with a quick breakfast of cereal, toast and tea on the run. We would pick up dads’ mate Barry as the fourth of our group. Barry was a gifted player; able to play his drawing, low trajectory worm burners with an ever-present Marlboro – gently trailing smoke – hanging out the side of his mouth.



Compact little golf bags with four sets of clubs and accompanying skinny-wheeled buggies and plastic or two-tone leather golf shoes were piled into the old Falcon’s boot. There was plenty of space. For a player in the bush, having 14 clubs was a rarity. Some used only the basic 2 wood, 3, 5 and 7 irons and a putter. No bunkers and oiled sand for greens (‘scrapes’) meant highly lofted clubs were not required. This has its pitfalls; I still can’t hit any wedge to save myself. Even good players might carry a 1 ½ or 2 wood, a 4 wood and perhaps six or seven irons and a putter. The adventurous carried the cantankerous PGF little slammer. It was a small headed club made of some hard plastic like material. It resembled a 20-degree hybrid but had more in common with a pet rottweiler. Just when you thought you had the little slammer under control it would turn and seriously maul you.



After a sedate half hour drive up the highway contemplating great shots to come and keeping an eye out for early morning kangaroos, we would arrive at Bridgewater in time for a 7:30 hit off. The golf course, established in 1918, sits next to the footy oval. The clubhouse was a small ramshackle wooden building of indeterminate construction sporting two main rooms, a kitchen and a hall. We would pull into the course and see players from all clubs in the district in the half-light standing around 44-gallon drums filled with roaring fires taking the frosty morning chill off. Greetings and introductions interspersed with good hearted ribbing. As part of the pre-game warm up some sipped and passed around bottles of Stones Green Ginger Wine (still a bargain available at Dan Murphy’s for $9.95) and Yalumba Autumn Brown Sherry. Some groups continued imbibing throughout the day. There was an apocryphal tale of one tournament where a foursome came to the 16th green on a warm spring afternoon and found the group ahead of them lying down distributed to the four points of the compass, snoozing in the afternoon sun before tackling the homeward holes.



Bridgewater on Loddon was never Royal Melbourne. If you wanted to warm up, you hit a few balls on the footy oval bounding the course at the north end. The course then was a flat 18 holes, approximately (more on this below) half the holes on one side of the Calder highway and the balance, provided by the good grace of a local farmer, on the other side of that road. Par in those days was 64 (Eight Par 3s and Ten Par 4s). Nevertheless, the course was always presented in great condition for the three days of its annual tournament, a tribute to the hard-working efforts of a handful of dedicated volunteers.



Golf for the day was 36 holes. A, B and C grade 18 holes net in the am and the pm, 36 holes scratch in each grade, am and pm teams’ event, nearest the pins and long drive.



One of the attractions of country golf courses is free-flowing design. Not hamstrung by the dictates of classical golf course architecture, holes just are. No influence of Alister Mackenzie, Alex Russell, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Doke or Michael Clayton here.



Bridgewater is like Yarra Yarra; its Par 3s are outstanding. However, not for traditional design reasons.  One of Bridgewater’s memorable holes was the 90-metre eighth. The green was protected by a row of gums about 15 metres high in a line across the fairway like a picket fence, spaced about three metres apart. Like any fine hole you were presented with options. You could try and hit over the trees but need to make sure you hit the ball sufficiently high that it would stop somewhere near the scrape, just beyond the trees. Alternatively, you could go low and try and kick a goal between the tree trunks. Players would tackle this hole using anything from a putter to a wedge. Now that’s a challenging design!



There was another intriguing Par 3 on the Southern boundary of the course. It was straightforward with the only danger being out of bounds farmland on the right side of the fairway. This problem for the right hander’s slice was significantly magnified by the neighbouring farmers large pig pen just over the fence. Like hitting near a water hazard or a threatening bunker, that pig pen had magnetic qualities (and not in a good way). We all know pigs are omnivorous, but I am unclear under which food group ‘golf balls’ are classified. During one memorable afternoon round each of Dad, Chris and Barry ‘fed the pigs’ in succession.



Bridgewater’s signature hole was a short Par 3, perhaps the seventh. Unbelievably in the safety-conscious 2020s, the tee sat on one side of the Calder Highway in the main block of the course and the green was on the other side of the highway. Taking a lead from Hogan’s hole, the third at Narooma, where you hit over the ocean to the green, here you would hit over the main Bendigo to Mildura thoroughfare instead. Before your shot you would check up and down the highway for approaching vehicles. If the ball hit the bitumen, the surface made short work of a B51 Non-Cut (my candidate for the greatest product misnomer of all time) or a Hot Dot, only the granite-like Spalding Rocket was unscathed. A ball which stopped on the bitumen could be dropped on the verge of the highway without penalty, everywhere else was play it where it lies. During the morning 18 holes traffic was not too bad, but it picked up during the afternoon round as vehicles streamed South homewards at the end of the long weekend.



After your morning round scorers pencilled up the results on a large notice board for general viewing. Lunch was roast served by the associates with about 100 players squeezed in and around the small clubhouse. We would play another 18 holes in the afternoon and then assemble for one of those unforgettable country afternoon teas; party pies, sausage rolls, scones, sponge, slices and other cakes, tea and coffee. Kids got soft drinks while Dad and Barry had a couple of stubbies. Trophy presentation followed. This usually included stories of misadventures of the day, at the good-humoured expense of various players.  We won the morning teams event one time and Barry won a nearest the pin. Chris and Dad both won events in B grade in different years; Chris who had over-consumed the afternoon tea was too ill to accept his trophy, six orange plastic-lined drink coasters valued at $1. Dad was diplomatic about his trophy; some out of date road maps.



After conclusion of both presentations and lubrication and well after dark, the golfers would disperse. On the way back to the Borough, Chris and I would doze in the back seat of the car while Barry and Dad talked about good shots and misfortunes of the day.



Last week accompanied by my brother Chris and our old mate Brenzo I revisited Bridgewater on Loddon.  The town looks reasonably prosperous. The bakery serves an award-winning vanilla slice and the pub overlooking the river provides good beer. The golf course has changed significantly. The old clubhouse is gone replaced by a modest but functional steel galvanised structure with a veranda. The course is in pretty rough condition; only nine holes today of Par 33 – holes on the other side of the highway are gone. Pleasingly the eighth survives (it’s now the fifth) and the line of gums are both broader and higher. The pig pen hole is the eighth, but its most outstanding feature has been replaced by a large storage shed. Sadly, the highway hole is gone and the B-Doubles on the Calder are now safe from errant golf balls (more’s the pity) but green fees are a bargain at $5 a round. There are other better courses 15 minutes’ drive away. Presumably, local numbers and volunteers have decreased, and people want more out of their golf than the shared camaraderie of a good little club.



We have changed too. Until last week, I hadn’t played at Bridgewater and on Loddon since a very wet tournament day in 1978. By then Chris and I were at uni and in the early 80s Dad’s work took the family to Sunbury before he retired to Geelong. I was with Dad when he played his final game of golf at Barwon Valley Golf Course in 1987; his hands crippled by arthritis no longer able to grip the clubs. Dad died in 2018. Chris, very much his father’s son, also troubled by arthritis limits his golf to chips and putts nowadays. We lost track of Barry and his Marlboros after we left Eaglehawk, but Google tells me he passed away a few years ago.



If you are going up the Calder to Charlton or Mildura just before you come into Bridgewater, look out for the golf course, it’s on the left and signposted. The course is nothing to look at, but just recall that thanks to the efforts of a few dedicated stalwart volunteers over generations, many golfers have had tremendous enjoyment there. That’s the true spirit of golf for me. Think of that every time you go past some small town’s non-descript course in the bush. If there’s time, drag your clubs out of the boot and play nine or 18, it will be pleasant, the club will appreciate your green fee and you never know what innovative hole design you might encounter.



P.S If  you’re driving down the Bridgewater/Maldon road which borders the first hole and you find a Number 4 Pro V1 in the table drain, it’s Brenzo’s!





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  1. I loved this, Mark. Great stuff.

    My grandparents lived at a Boort, so Bridgewater on Loddon was a regular milkshake stop on the way. I never went to the golf course, but I have memories of the course at Boort – wedged up against the corner of the Boort-Charlton Road and the Wychitella Road, not far from the town cemetery. It was a far more conventional layout, with well-defined fairways.

    A quick google search tells me that the club was established in 1890, which means conservatively five generations of volunteers. I can’t imagine how much time and dedication would have been required to keep the place going. These towns have some quiet heroes!

  2. Wonderful memories. Thanks Mark. So many parallels to my learning golf on the oiled slag scrapes of Yorke Peninsula SA in the early 70’s. Like you I would like to get back for another hit some day.
    I came across the wonderful Billy Collins poem “Night Golf” a few years ago. To my surprise I have clear memories of every hole on the 9 hole Yorketown golf course where we lived and I still play it in my mind when struggling for sleep.
    Instead of a pig pen we had a turkey shed behind the third tee. Great fun timing a noise in your mate’s backswing that would immediately be joined by a chorus of “gobble, gobble, gobbles”.

  3. So, so, so true.

    Brilliant piece – generating so many memories for those of us who grew up in the bush. Many, many important observations and insights – including the role of volunteers.

    Many great lines but one of my favourites: “Holes just are”

    Thanks Mark.

  4. PS That would be Paul, not Ben!

  5. And one more, on the Darling Downs we had a similar run of club tournaments, often 27 holes, with stew and mashed potato the likely lunch.

    The Warwick (junior) tournament in 1977 was held the day of the drawn Grand Final.

  6. Mark Poustie says

    Chris,Peter,John I appreciate your responses.

    Chris, I knew there was a golf course at Boort but have never played it. Boort had fantastic tennis courts next to the lake. Mum and my brother Chris used to play in the well known annual tennis tournament.

    Peter, gotta love those sand scrapes – line up the cup and hit those puts firmly. The poem Night Golf you refered to is brilliant and so very appropriate .Do all old blokes replay the golf courses of their youth when struggling to sleep? I certainly do. Night Golf describes the 7th , the Tester. That could have been scripted for the old 7th at Neangar Park in the 70’s. A par 5 with a 90 degree right hand dog leg about 190 metres from the tee. The inside of the dog leg protected by about 5 rows of closely planted gums.Many potentiol good scores destroyed as players merrily hacked away amongst the eucalypts.

  7. Mark- having played some country golf here in SA I loved your story and related to the characters and the quirky holes. It was all about the scrapes here too. When living in Wudinna I played a bit down at Kyancutta and it was quite an interesting course, designed, I think, by the pro Allan Telford. Lots of scrub but made good use of the hills and sand. Google maps tells me it’s permanently closed now. Hope not.


  8. Ian Grummitt says

    Memories, just great Poust.
    “Bridgewater is like Yarra Yarra” – have they got reciprocal playing arrangements?

  9. Mark Poustie says

    Not as yet Grummo – the members at Bridgewater are probably concerned that their dress standards are too strict for their Yarra Yarra counterparts.

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