THE WANDERING GOLFER:
WE’VE come a long way since the last “Women and Dogs Prohibited” signs were removed from clubhouses in Scotland but the issue of animals on the course can still produce animated debate.
Dogs were permitted at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne until the 1950s and club stalwart, piano importer and boxing champion Alf Brash ignored the newly imposed ban. The irascible club manager Jack Merrick repeatedly told him he was in breach of the rules by sneaking his mutt onto the course and the reply was invariably: “Don’t tell me, Jack. Tell the dog.”
Kingston Heath relaxed its rule some time back when Bob Shearer and I took a blind man out for a game. When asked if the guide dog was welcome, the young assistant manager said it could go anywhere on the course except the right side of the first fairway, “because I walk home along there in the dark”.
This dog had an unerring ability to track and find his master’s ball and several times in the round when there were two balls lying close together, it went straight to the correct one.
A cat, generally, is less of a problem but a growing band of strays fed by the associates at a club in Melbourne’s east required action, in the view of some of the men. At first they were rounded up, put in a box in the back of a station wagon and released a few miles down the road. They darn near beat the car back to the course so a gung-ho member took matters into his own hands.
Just on dusk he turned up with his trusty 12-gauge shotgun. Anyone who has tried to shoot a cat before will tell you it is not as easy as it looks. They are much smarter than you give them credit for and have a highly honed survival instinct. A split second before our man squeezed the trigger, the feline bolted and when he opened his eyes again all he saw through the smoke was a fountain spraying 10 metres into the air.
Instead of bagging himself a cat, he’d hit the water main. The upshot was that the bar had to be closed and a plumber called who charged emergency rates as he toiled late into the night. According to legend, one member who had never left the club sober before was bitten by his dog when he got home. The next morning the plumber pressure tested his handiwork while the manager looked on. He’d missed a bit and the water that came out under extreme pressure tore off the manager’s suit jacket.
The whole affair had cost the club dearly in loss of bar sales, plumber’s bill and a new suit for the manager. When writing the story for The Age newspaper, I rang the RSPCA and asked what they charged for removing cats. “We don’t charge,” the lady said.
Not so lucky was Horace the emu, pet of the Deniliquin Golf Club. My sports editor was disinclined to let me stay on for the club pro-am there the day after Shearer won the 1986 Rich River Classic by eight shots. Horace used to eat golf balls – only new ones – and the kids would find his droppings, extricate the balls and sell them back to the pro. The boss grudgingly accepted my extra day away and the pro-am preview in the paper revealed the sad news that Horace had been accidentally run over in the car park, broken his leg and had to be put down.
At Deni someone asked: “Are you the bloke from The Age? You got the Horace story all wrong.” Why, was he still alive? “No, he was trying to (insert earthy term here implying romance) the associates and we had to shoot him.”
When Commonwealth Golf Club got its first tractor in 1950, the stately draught horses that used to pull the mowers were destined for the knackery at the end of the street. The manager, Sloane Morpeth, came under attack from his wife, Susie, a dual Australian amateur champion, over this. If she wanted to save a horse, he said, she had to organise it herself. So Susie, lucky to be five feet tall in high heels, decided to ride one home bareback to their farm at Mount Martha, nearly 50 kilometres away.
Her daughter, Simone Kelly, recalled the epic ride on a visit to the club recently: “I doubt if the horse, old Dolly, had ever been ridden before but off they went. She was worried what would happen when crossing the train line. When the train went by she was lucky because Dolly just stood there and shook. She knew if she fell off, she would never get back on. The horse was so tall, she was very small and there were few people around. We had Dolly for many years. I’ve heard that she did not get home until midnight. I don’t know about that but she would have arrived in the dark.”