Almanac Golf: Royalty over and on the golf course

At the time when the Kerr letters to the Queen are released, this is a golf story that goes back to the year after QEII was inaugurated:

Alex Wilson spent his entire working life at Metropolitan Golf Club. At the tender age of ten his family moved from the ghetto of Richmond to the new ghetto of Oakleigh. Alex and a number of his brothers commenced caddying at the golf club, a short walk along Golf Links Rd from Queens Rd where they lived. Shortly after turning 18 he was offered a job working in the clubhouse behind the bar. There he stayed until retirement in 1980.


“Mad memories of Metropolitan”


By John A. Wilson


The plane was flying low as it traversed Metropolitan Golf Club in March, 1954. Dr Springthorpe, high profile Melbourne psychiatrist, about to hit off, throws his hands and club in the air, yelling: ‘I can’t hit a golf ball with that bloody plane just about touching my head.’

I was a 10-year-old caddie with one whole year of experience. I’m now accustomed to these wealthy golfers and their strange behaviour such as stopping off at the water taps dotted around the course. A quick gathering of the group, whiskey nip, add water, down the hatch, and off to the next hole. I’m also getting used to the big bets they seemed to have on every second or third hole. ‘So this is how adults behave,’ I thought to myself.

At the second tee all four players and caddies shade our eyes and crane upwards. The plane has Union Jacks and Royal Crown insignia on the wings and tail. The recently-crowned Queen Elizabeth II was on board as it flew low over the suburbs heading for Essendon Airport. This was the first visit to Australia and New Zealand for our 27-year-old Queen after being crowned in June 1953. The nation was thrilled and the flag-waving crowds were expected to be gigantic for the motorcade in the city.

Our group made their jokes about stopping their golf for the Queen, but nobody else. Dr Springthorpe, who was seriously eccentric (to say the least), did a little jig in his plus fours. Dancing down the par 3, second tee, he pulls his tweed hat off his head and sits it on his 5 iron like a trophy. Hoots of laughter, shrieks and wise-cracks follow as the plane drifts out of sight over the trees while our spritely Doc dances around.

Finally, he settles down. ‘Quiet Gentlemen, this is serious. Back to golf.’ But the good doctor is not quite finished as he addresses the ball. He has a bizarre habit of jiggling his club over the ball. Up and down, front and back. It appears to us caddies that he couldn’t convince himself to hit the ball so he kept jiggling.

Then he suddenly pulls his cap off his head again, does a very low bow towards the green and the direction the plane has taken. ‘To Her Majesty’ he screams as he shakes his cap and club at the clouds. We stand in silent disbelief as he jiggles and jumps his club another 16 times.

Mercifully, he swings and hits it. The ball soars towards the deep right hand bunkers but draws back to catch the edge of the tiered green. It rolls seven metres, has a look at the hole and pops in like a mouse going home.

The shrieks, laughs and hoots of joy are heard all over the course. Out comes the whiskey and the shot glasses and Dr S wants to give a speech but by now there are 16 golfers on the same tee. He warns them all that they will hear all about it for 15 minutes in the bar later that afternoon.

But the hole-in-one didn’t help his score as he finished with 92. Then he paid me seven shillings for the four-hour round and didn’t tip me. But I wouldn’t have missed it for quids.

The Wilson Christmas Cup

This brings back memories for Ken, and his brothers who all caddied at Metropolitan. They all also worked part-time behind the bar at the Club at various times along side their father.

There is a family portrait that is special. Taken in 1975 on Christmas Day, standing on the 18th tee looking back to the 17th green from left to right it shows:


Martin (the youngest), Alex , Ray, Bob (plays off 9 at Flinders) Ken (7 marker at Metro), and John (the eldest at 77, off 12 at Burleigh Heads). Behind the camera was the only daughter Colleen who is now the matriarch.


The course used to be closed on Good Friday and Christmas Day. “Alex had a key to every door in the place, “ said Ken. “While he wasn’t a particularly good golfer he loved to get out on those two days with all his sons. The Christmas Day event became a huge competition with a trophy named the Wilson Cup. You might guess from those handicaps it was a very competitive affair with no quarter given. Martin still has the cup stashed away somewhere.


“We would all head off to midnight Mass at St Michael’s, Ashburton, and be up at the crack of dawn preparing for a 9 am hit-off. This meant Mum was left at home to prepare the Christmas lunch without help or hindrance until there were plenty of in-laws around to assist.


“We played a six-ball and just kept moving to finish by midday and be back home by 12.30 pm for lunch. In the first seven years the Wilson Cup had seven different winners (the extra was Colleen’s husband who joined the group and didn’t want to miss out on a chance to play at Metro).”


John’s recounting of the Springthorpe right Royal ace comes with some personal nostalgia. He was one of Ken’s first guests when he joined the club in 2014.


“I sensed as he stood on the first tee that he was a little emotional as thoughts of his youth, caddying and of Dad came flooding into his mind, “ Ken said. “He had composed himself by the second tee, but I remember him walking up to the tee and he stood there for what seemed an eternity looking towards the green, then skyward and then to the left of the tee. “Eventually he turned and said: ‘There used to be a tap over there somewhere’ pointing in the direction of the ball-washer, rubbish bin and sand bin.”


A week later after returning to Queensland he sent me the story of that day.


About Ken Wilson

Left footer, golfer, runner, well travelled, sometime writer, volunteer, live arts/music lover, self employed, school drop out and Tiger tragic.


  1. Great yarn. Dad (88 and off 21 – broke his age off the stick twice last year) and my brother Neil (4) both play at Mt Barker in the Adelaide Hills. Our annual golf get together is both a joy and the highest pressure match of the year.
    Psychiatrists are mostly pretty mad. I figure they wanted to understand how their crazy mind worked, so specialising in mental health and practicing on patients is pretty logical.

  2. Thanks PB. Where are you a member KGC by chance?

  3. A wonderful yarn.
    Thanks, KN.

  4. Ripper piece. Thanks KN.

    The world needs more eccentrics – psychiatrists will do. We had a few eccentrics at Indooroopilly GC, but it would have been a significant benefit to the club and the members had there been quite a few more. There were, however, some eccentric olde worlde practices in the days when the club was at St Lucia. Enjoying the first couple of rounds of beers in the locker room was one of them. On 34 degree, 90% humidity days it was medically dangerous for 70-somethings not to start putting fluids back into themselves at the first opportunity.

    Love the brothers (and sisters) events. Ours is called The Brown Slipper. Played annually.

  5. Thanks JTH. Often on the golf course I remark about “schizophrenic golf” as one regularly hears people doing everything from mumbling to themselves to screaming expletives, and it’s always because the voices in the head made us do it! A delayed start this morning due to the fog but very pleasant once it cleared.

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