Almanac Golf (and Weather): Dry

 

 

 

 

A hint of moisture in the sky – but not enough for a storm to brew.

 

 

During Oakey summers, in the old days, you could often see moisture in the vast sky. When you saw wispy cloud on the south-west horizon and maybe to the north, and you could feel the humidity about the place, you knew there was a pretty good chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. Often those clouds would change, like a pappadum in a microwave oven, billowing into cauliflower cumulo-nimbus in the distance. As they headed our way, their black bellies getting darker and darker, we wanted them to burst over us. To break the heat. To fill the tanks. To keep the grass green. So we could run around in the downpour. Often they’d pass by, and some other lucky place would get the rain. But we got enough rain to keep the yard green.

 

There was so much rain in January 1974 that Brisbane was flooded and we all got another week off school. The plains of the Darling Downs were, for a few days, shin-deep in water.

 

It rained a lot in the 1970s. The farmers and townsfolk of Oakey and district, who put in their time (as volunteers) to keep the Oakey Golf Club going, made a huge decision to decommission half the course. It was a trade off. We’d lose the front nine but the oily scrapes of the back nine, on which we’d grown up, would be converted to grass greens. The club was confident that Doctor’s Creek, which runs through that back nine, and flowed most of the summer would be reliable enough and they put down a bore near the seventh tee just in case it wasn’t. The greens were always good – couch mown low with an Atco cylinder mower, grainy but true. We loved that we had grass greens. They arrived about the same time as colour TV.

 

 

The seventh tee with Doctor’s Creek billabong behind – and sulphur-crested cockatoos. No chance of quiet when they settle.

 

 

It kept raining. For a few years there was a swamp on the par 5 eighteenth, 150 metres from the green, around about where your second shot (usually a 4 wood) finished, with swamp plants and water birds. Generally, the fairways were terrific (by Oakey standards). They were never irrigated – not enough water to do that – but that rain kept the bush couch runners spreading and there were other grasses which matted together. For a long time preferred lie was a card length. About a handspan for us sub-juniors.

 

Winters were cold and frosty, which made for magnificent clear days, when the Hot Dots and Rockets flew through the thin air. The fairways retained a hint of green, but just a hint, as the frosts could be severe (-6 degrees). Then, in late Spring, the storms would start up again, and eventually the Summer rain would arrive. Low pressures. Monsoon troughs. After Christmas the remnants of cyclones would give us rain depressions and tropical lows for a few days.

 

The average rainfall when we arrived in Oakey was 26 inches (650 mm). But I reckon we had year after year of much more. We had our own rain gauge, which was on one of the fence posts near the grapevine at square leg until one of my brothers shattered it with a flick off his toes. So we got another one. We kept our own rainfall records. Eric Olthwaite was an early hero.

 

The farmers in Dad’s parish had a run of good seasons – winter crops were reliable and they tried new summer crops which did extremely well. They had ‘tax problems’ which meant they donated to philanthropic causes like student accommodation in Brisbane, a haven for innocent Lutheran teenagers when they headed off to Marxist universities.

 

The course could get dry. A few weeks without rain and the fierce sun would bake the ground and the cracks would open up – to visit even more injustice upon the battered golfer who, while celebrating the relief of a half-decent drive, would watch as it bounced at a wicked angle, often towards the Out of Bounds fence. But after a 100mm downpour the soil would swell, the creek would flood, the swamp would fill and the fairways would be true again.

 

I went off to uni to Brisbane where there was no preferred lie. There was plenty of golf. I discovered Queensland blue couch of the classic old courses – like Indooroopilly, Long Pocket, and Gailes – which was like carpet. Imagine my amazement when intervarsity golf took me to Royal Sydney and Kooyonga.

 

I didn’t get back to Oakey much until the new millennium when we started going back to the Schull family’s (hobby) farm each summer. The decade-long drought really knocked the course – the fairways had many bare patches. But the members never gave up on it. The tees and greens remained well-watered, green and in good nick. The fairways, while often dry, would recover after any rain.

 

Then, for a few years, it rained like it did in the `70s. Brisbane flooded (who can forget the chilling aerial photo of Wivenhoe Dam at 190% capacity). Queensland was wet. For a while Oakey Golf Club was returned to its former glory.

 

We are just back from Queensland, an epic road trip through smoke and dust and whirly-whirlies. And drought. I have never seen the countryside so dry. Around Toowoomba the heavily-wooded range is grey and lifeless. The trees are stressed and some of them look close to turning it up.

 

Oakey had 290mm of rain in 2019, and 150mm of that fell on one March day. I’m told it’s the driest year since they started keeping records in the late nineteeth century. The farm is so dry. The few cattle are cranky. They wait for the next ute-load of hay. The house yard is in a terrible state. What grass has survived crunches under your feet – like it’s stiff with frost. The orchard is virtually gone – only the olive, orange and mulberry trees have survived.

 

Whenever we go back, I head out to the golf course for nine holes. This time I went on my own. In some ways it was sad – the fairways are bare; so bare that in some places the root structure of the grasses has also disappeared. The thirteenth (I call it by its old name) fairway is a moonscape.

 

 

Middle of the fourth/thirteenth fairway.

 

In other ways it was heartening – that even in these tough times those who love golf and love their course continue to maintain it, keep the water on the greens and tees and wait for rain.

 

Oakey is a long way from St Andrews. But the spirit of golf wafts on the zephyr along the creek at Royal Oakey. The holes have so much character (for me). And the eighteenth remains the toughest finishing hole in world golf. I still couldn’t make par.

 

Each day I look at the Bureau’s (wonderful) website to check on the forecast and recent observations in the hope that some rain might fall on the farm and the golf course and bring blessed relief to the good folk of the area.

 

It’s a wish we have across Australia. The bushfires are immediate, intense, terrifying, catastrophic. The drought is slow and drawn out. Both are tests of character and resilience.

 

Could be a shower or two in the coming days.

 

 

The toughest finishing hole in world golf. The eighteenth tee is on the left and points to the Out of Bounds fence up the right. The prevailing breeze is left to right (in the direction of the shadows in this photo). The (former) swamp is 370m up the fairway on the right. This fairway had a good covering of grass when I was a kid.

 

 

 

Read more about John Harms’s sporting memoir Play On HERE

 

 

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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 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 [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie9. 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. Australia is a very tough country. How the original colonists looked across the vast brown space and thought it would be a good place to farm sheep and cattle is beyond me. Let alone crops. Precarious life. I remember reading the book about Ned Kelly by Ian Jones. In places around Baddaginnie in Victoria (near Benalla) they waited for rain to grow their crops and feed their animals to survive. And when it didn’t rain Ned and his brothers felled trees to create more space for next year’s crop. How’s the optimism in that?

    Love these photos. The hardness. I love Australia’s geological hardness. Though I might lose that love if I had to constantly wrestle with it. I especially love the photo of the ball in the middle of the 13th fairway. I’ve never hit the middle of any fairway.

    Rain coming along the east coast this weekend, so Jane tells me. Can’t come soon enough.

  2. Peter Warrington says

    starting Thursday we are hoping for 4 straight days of rain in Sydney and for it to extend down the coast, but also over the ranges. more often than night we find that the BOM range eg 3-10mm translates to 3mm at best – but some places get a deluge eg Terrey Hills in Sydney, 35mm in 30 mins the other day, most of the rest of Sydney got 1-2.

    there is some hope that the ocean dipoles etc are resetting and we might get a wetter autumn. country NSW needs 1-200mm. every where. and over a week or two, not in a day so it just washes off.

    hopes and marrickville wishes are with everyone going through this.

    (one of the great ideas that is floating around as part of the bushfire response is sister villages e.g. marrickville adopts bermagui and we all go down and spend and comfort and rebuild. and play golf and send bands. bring books. paint. this could work for drought communities too, but people would need to bring water, and feed?)

  3. We’ll all be rooned said Hanrahan – his driver sharply drawn

    For years I prayed 300 yards – to hit the thing like Rory
    Now drought has come – the grass has gone – and golf’s another story;
    The other day on Oakey’s fourth I wacked it on the top
    It skidded low – kept bouncing hard – the bloody thing won’t stop.

    It rattled under Murphy’s fence – bounced clear across dry creek
    Rattled round three dying gums – the score was looking bleak;
    And then it found the course again – the dog leg on the eighth
    He held his breath – and watched it scoot – for golf’s a game of faith;
    It took a leap across the road – passed five groups ahead
    The flag was all that killed it – hit hard and stopped stone dead.

    They scratched their heads and marked the card – five holes been played in two
    Some said to ring the R&A – Hanrahan said he’d sue;
    Golf is like the weather – a game of chance you see
    Five out of bounds – six putts – played the last in twenty three;
    We’ll all be rooned said Hanrahan – this golf’s a funny game
    Five years of drought and misery – five minutes for the fame.

  4. Steve earl says

    Gotta love the bush , the dust , the grit of the folk that live there and call it home and wouldn’t have it any other way
    but comm’on middle of the fairway – the ole foot scrape or wedge musta been used unless it was ya playin partnas agate FORE

  5. I am sure there are lots of rural golf course sharing the same fate of not having a consistent water supply to help the course stay in “good nick”. I can relate to the issue of suddenly being confronted by green lush courses after playing at rural courses when I first moved to Brisbane I played St Lucia, Indro and Gailes and could not believe the lush green fairways – but even they are now suffering in the drought!!

  6. Dips, certainly a different experience living in harsh conditions. I am always amaed at how weathered people in the Queensland bush are – but then, spend some time in that 10am to 3pm sun and you can see why. It is fierce.

    Peter, like you I’ve been keeping aneye on the BOM’s observations. Some interesting figures for the Qld bush from yesterday. Of course we’re all hoping for rain across the fire areas.

    PB, I’ll pay that.

    Steve, I prefer the two-ball ambrose when playing on my own. That always inproves the odds.

    Richard, the courses in Brisbane are haning on- as are the yards in some places. The storms are hit and miss. Around Camp Hill/Coorparoo they had two storms of 100+mm so it’s pretty lush (believe it or not) but in someother parts it’s still parched.

  7. Steve earl says

    Aha the good old Ambrose in a pairing of one / even our mate from that little Asian democracy would be proud – perhaps the first Lutheran to be welcomed for piss talks

  8. Steve, I have tried to crack the code, but I’m still scratching my head?

    PS I find that ambrose the best form of golf by far. I prefer the four ball individual ambrose, late afternoon, when no-one else is on the course. My only chance of making par.

  9. Promising at 4.10pm Qld time. http://www.bom.gov.au/products/IDR662.shtml#skip

  10. “We had our own rain gauge, which was on one of the fence posts near the grapevine at square leg until one of my brothers shattered it with a flick off his toes.”
    Magnificent jth.
    Powerful observations of Our Country, too.

    I overheard this phrase recently: “drought is like a bushfire in slow motion.”

    Not sure if anything can build resilience. It’s an interesting idea. I can’t comprehend the difficulty of drought to someone On The Land. So tough.
    I guess any loss (including of hope) allows us to discover new things about ourselves.

    I really enjoyed this. Welcome back Down South.

  11. Thanks ER

    Some people I met on this trip said it so well.

    https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=200508891;res=IELAPA;type=pdf

  12. Marcus Holt says

    I used to play in the Chook Run at Rosewood on Sunday mornings, a nice little 9 hole course with preferred lies of a club length. It was Stableford, the winner took home a frozen chook.
    Played Nambour with my Dad a couple of times, lush rainforest course. Gatton and Boonah occasionally. We played a good public course in Brisbane sometimes but the name escapes me, Victoria Park maybe?
    I played 9 holes with Zach at Mullumbimby over Christmas, it is in very good condition, nice flat straight course, ideal for hackers like us.

    NB. Peter B, that interpretation of Hanrahan is solid GOLD. Do you mind if I share it?

  13. All yours Marcus. Said Hanrahan (John Obrien) and Mulga Bill’s Bicycle (Banjo Paterson) were the two poems I mimicked for my golf verse.

  14. Great observations, JTH.

  15. Marcus, I’ve played Gatton many times. Home to Andrew Dodt.

    Steve, I now get it. ‘Piss talks’ = ‘peace talks’. Thanks for the text message.

    Thanks Smoke.

  16. Bernard Whimpress says

    Absolute gem, John. From the heart as always.

  17. Thanks Bernard.

  18. 41mm of rain today at Oakey as of 5.45pm.

    26mm fell in 11 minutes, and a further 10mm in 7 min.

    Have just seen some photos – looks like it was pretty wild.

    [There was 18mm yesterday]

  19. The rain will come. We don’t know everything yet.

    Hope the farmers make hay.

  20. Luke Reynolds says

    Best description of a cumulonimbis in the distance since the 1988 Neil Finn lyric.

    Love a country, volunteer run course. Enjoyed the read, great pictures, hope the rain keeps coming.

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