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.”

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