Fast (and slow) times at Wattle Park

By my reckoning Caddyshack and Crackerjack were cinema classics even before I worked in golf and bowls, where I could appreciate just how closely art imitated life. And there was plenty of ‘Crackershack’ material during my time at Wattle Park Golf Course.

‘So where do you normally play?’

I hated that question, last century when it seemed perfectly acceptable to expend countless hours obsessively smacking a little white ball about.

‘Um, mostly Wattle Park’, I’d hesitantly respond.

‘Ha, that old goat track’, would come the standard conversation killing guffaw.

Few appreciated the beautiful scenery, city view, flora and fauna, or the intricacies of the narrow rolling fairways, postage stamp greens and rubber door mats for tees.

Nevermind, I still loved the place, particularly for the absence of loathesome golf club wankery. It was my second home post-VCE, when I scored a handy cash gig running the pro shop on Sundays – and by extension as much free golf, pies and ice creams one could consume.

It wasn’t all ginger beer and Skittles though. Silent and grey winter days were tedious, but it was the frantic, endless summer Sundays when every cent was hard earned. Working solo, from dawn (some nutters were already rounding the 3rd by then) to dark would be spliced with the odd attempted theft, and more commonly, brouhahas inflamed by four hour (9 hole) rounds.

My hairiest moment arose though when putting the flags out one frigid morning. Many a hack came unstuck hitting over the creek on the fourth. When the adjacent hill was too steep for the RV’s handbrake to handle, the marauding buggy headed for the same watery grave. It took all my speed, strength and dumb courage to chase down and save it (and in that split second, I thought, my job). Ironically, the bastard was always nigh impossible to get started.

Wattle Park was a haven for night time shenanigans, and first thing there’d sometimes be a trail of desecration to be discovered. Notwithstanding, filling cups with human poo appealed to a subterranean sense of humour. Turd-in-the-hole anyone?

Personally, as the world’s most impatient golfer, the standard log jam on what was the members’ competition day was too excruciating to contemplate. Nine holes with no booking system, and prices fixed since the introduction of decimal currency ($2.35 for 9, $3.40 to go round twice), at its worst the queue stretched from the first tee, up the path and past the shop.

Suffice to say, Sundays at Royal and Ancient Wattle Park was Hack City, and what was potentially lost on green fees was certainly made up for in food, bev and club hire. Only now I wonder how I wasn’t held up at gun point.

At the time the monthly Tramways band day at the nearby rotunda elicited the most dread for the assembly of seniors who’d muscle past the golfers in the shop to order their ‘cup of chinos’. I wasn’t a barista’s bootlace and had no time or skill to work the dog of a coffee machine (routinely labelled ‘out of order’).

Wattle Park certainly attracted an eclectic clientele. Surprisingly, Jeff Kennett and his offspring occasionally frequented the course, back when he filled me with idealistic rage. The one time I served the then Victorian Premier through gritted teeth he stiffed me on his $2 buggy hire. Barry O’Farrell can count himself unlucky.

A number of AFL players also breezed through (including one who is widely understood to have stiffed the manager on paying for a new set of Calloways), but it was the ordinary Joes I found fascinating. One poor manic depressive played flog for therapy, only he’d invent his own random path around the course. My manager (ripper bloke, Bob Irving) said just let him be, as long as no one gets hurt. Much like the old homeless guy who’d materialise anywhere on the course and regale unsuspecting players with the same lame joke (why are golf and marriage similar? No two days are ever the same), to the point where you couldn’t hide the smirk for knowing what was coming.

But my all-time favourite customer wouldn’t have known a bunker from a divot. One blazing hot day she wandered in from Heaven to buy some refreshments. Suddenly I was in a 1980’s soft drink commercial. I’ll never forget her standing at the counter, juggling those ice cold cans, her sheer white singlet straining to contain those… and um, where was I? Elle MacPherson in her famous Tab commercial had nothing on this honey.

I prefer not to speak ill of the dead but the ultimate mood killer was the aging pro, whom I reckon retired as a player shortly before Old Tom Morris. His claim to fame was coaching a teenage David Graham. Come the afternoon, after his long lunch at the nearby Chalet restaurant, it was the stolid stench of imminent death warmed up by the house red which filled the shop. He’d just sit there at his desk, wistfully staring out the window – the cha-ching of the register exciting him enough to inhale and exhale.

Finally course security/flag collector, Alan – maybe 75, possibly 95 – would arrive and the day was nearly done. His son, who looked like Jesus with the disposition of an introverted Buddhist, provided backup. Good Lord. Toothless Al could gum your ears off for hours with first-hand accounts of footy thugs, Festival Hall pugs and general tales of life on the mean streets of Depression-era Richmond. Even in the last throes of my 14 hour shift I enjoyed the kind of conversations I never got to have with my grandfathers.

Inevitably new management swept in and my card was marked. My next and final golf gig was at Albert Park working for a former police detective, a cross between Caddyshack’s Judge Smales and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket.

That was a much darker sequel.

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Great memories Jeff. As a teenager I knocked around “The Pat” (Patawolonga Public Course) near Glenelg in Adelaide on my school summer holidays. Long waits on the first tee in the days when golf was popular. Wide open sand belt course that at least made it hard to lose balls unless you put one in the pongy Pat estuary.
    The pro in the 70’s was Wayne Letts (brother of Melbourne Cup winning jockey Johnnie Letts). Wayne had a shock of curly blonde hair; tight jeans with a big brass belt buckle; and the same effervescent personality as his more famous brother. Wayne hit the ball a mile despite his small stature, but alas his game didn’t stand up to the pressure of pro golf. He was always fun to watch.

  2. Neil Anderson says

    Memories of Wattle Park in the 1960’s Jeff. Just a couple of miles from home in Burwood.
    The two main features were the chalet were you were photographed outside and the old tram set up in the park for kids to crawl over and in. I think the park was run by the Metropolitan Tramways Board and featured their band on many occasions.
    Can only own up to one game of golf in the 1980’s which was a bit of a failure. The park itself was right out of the 1920’s complete with bandstands etc and great for families in a bushland setting.

  3. It is a beautiful part of Melbourne Neil and it does have an old world charm.

    A story related to the tram in the park which predates myself entails my sister being left behind as a little girl. My mother had taken her and my two older brothers, along with her friend and her kids.

    They were half way home before they realised they were one short in the car. Luckily it ended well when they returned and she was still there, a story rehashed many times at family gatherings ever since.

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