THE WANDERING GOLFER: BRENDAN MOLONEY
AUSTRALIA’S foremost golf writer, Jack Dillon, was recently inducted into the Victorian Golf Hall of Fame at a dinner hosted by Huntingdale Golf Club.
You are excused for not knowing of him because he was born in 1893, retired from writing for the long gone Sporting Globe and Herald newspapers in 1961 and died in 1976.
Despite the passage of time and the ease of getting information out with modern technology, no one in the craft disputes that he was and remains our best. His career stretched over 40 years in which time he estimated he walked 64,000 kilometres of fairway.
He started as a part-timer with the Evening Sun and then caught the eye of Keith Murdoch, Rupert’s father, by stealing his car so he could get to a phone during the 1924 Australian Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne.
In the days before everyone carried a mobile, getting to a landline was essential if the story was to make the deadline and get into print. In the quarter-final Alex Russell caught the pressmen on the hop when he unexpectedly beat the great Ivo Whitton at the 16th. The reporters were all stranded on the course and Dillon, spotting Murdoch’s chauffeur-driven car outside the fence, jumped in and told the driver to take him to the nearby Red Bluff Hotel because it was closer than the phone in the clubhouse.
The driver was expecting a golf writer and took off as the scribe from Murdoch’s Herald jumped in as well and watched in disbelief as Dillon was first driven to the pub. The disbelief turned to despair when he finally got to the phone in the clubhouse and found he had missed the deadline. The next day Murdoch was back watching the semi-final and he fronted Dillon in the bar. “A dastardly thing you did yesterday,” he said. “Have a drink. If you ever want a job, come and see me.”
The Evening Sun folded soon after and he took up the offer. For four decades he covered the game and kept golfers abreast of just about everything happening in the sport. Until the advent of television in 1956, the only other sources of golfing news were radio and magazines.
Dillon covered everything from the biggest tournaments in Australia, to the progress of the Australian players like Norman von Nida, Jim Ferrier, Joe Kirkwood and Peter Thomson and even the inter-club pennant matches. In fact, the papers took pennant so seriously that Dillon employed a crew of his family and friends to attend the matches and phone in the results.
Son Eoin, who played golf into his 90s, recalled earning 10 shillings for doing this and an extra thruppence for public transport to the course. He always asked to be assigned Albert Park because the tram fare was only a penny each way and he finished a penny ahead on this. Ten shillings was the equivalent of $1, which was pretty good money for a kid at a time when a tradesman’s weekly wage was under $10.
The son, who died in in 2014 aged 93, also gave some insight into Dillon’s attitude to grand theft auto.
“My father never drove a car,” he recalled. “He had a friend, Harold Kidd, who used to play the trombone and had a car big enough for the trombone and himself. I don’t think he had much work during the Depression.
“He used to do the running while my father walked around the course. He’d write out his story and give it to Harold to phone through from the clubhouse. By the time he’d finished, father would have something else for him to send. I don’t know how he read it because his writing was not very clear.”
Another lovely recollection came from John Munro, who was a member of the famous pennant team of Royal Park, Peter Thomson’s old club. The whole team went through the season undefeated in 1954 and Dillon did what we’ve all done by leaving the press tent to go out and
watch a bolter whose brilliant run collapses at the sight of the scribes and photographers.
“We played Patterson River at Victoria in the final,” Munro recalled, “and Jack Dillon said, ‘Son, is it true you haven’t lost a hole all season?’ I said, ‘Yes, that’s right, Mr Dillon’. Then every second hole he’d jump out of the bushes and ask, ‘Have you lost one yet?’ It got to me. I had two putts for the match at the 12th hole, knocked the first one six feet past and missed the one coming back. That was the one hole I lost for the season but I wrapped it up at the 13th.”
In 1926 Dillon had the scoop on Dr Alister MacKenzie coming out to build a new course for Royal Melbourne. He met him when the Otranto berthed at Port Melbourne, got the exclusive interview and impressed the great man so much that he gave him a copy of his book, Golf Architecture signed: “To J.M. Dillon with the author’s compliments.”
MacKenzie, then 55, told Dillon, 33, he believed he did more good for people’s health by building golf courses than he ever did as a doctor prescribing pills and potions in his consulting rooms. Outlining his philosophy of making golf a pleasure, not a pain, for average club players, he insisted fairways should be generous in width, rough should be minimal and there should always be an alternate route to the hole for the high handicapper.
As well as being a writer, Dillon was a trusted confidante of the best players of his era and his family still has a telegram from Joe Kirkwood asking him to organise a tour of exhibition matches with Walter Hagen throughout Australia in return for 20 percent of the lucrative gate takings. Initiatives like this enabled him to educate his seven children (he was one of eight) in private schools on a journalist’s wage.
Not that he was a silver tail. His golf club all his life was Northern in the working class Melbourne suburb of Glenroy and his friends included axeman Jack O’Toole and four-time Australian Open champion Ossie Pickworth, who was an army cook in World War II and organised two-up games before his career took off.
At times Dillon was the bane of the establishment clubs who sought, unsuccessfully, to refuse him admission to their courses during big tournaments because of his forthright views. Dave Andersen, who succeeded him on the Weekly Times, described how he had to ghost write eight syndicated articles for Hagen while he was in Australia. He could not get him to dictate a single a word so in exasperation he sat down and wrote all eight articles in one night.
“He repeated many of the contentious things he’d already written,” Andersen reported. “Then he signed them, By Walter Hagen, four times British Open champion, five times US pro champion etc. Under Jack Dillon’s name they were regarded as foolish, but written by Hagen they were the essence of golfing wisdom.”
The Hall of Fame induction was a proud night for Huntingdale. Also honoured posthumously were Sam Berriman, the superintendent who built the course; David Inglis, club member and founder of the Australian Masters and the National and Heritage clubs in Melbourne; Vi Teesdale, club member and noted administrator; and Bill Richardson Sen., long-time Royal Melbourne manager and Australian Golf Union secretary; Claude Crockford, the superintendent who maintained Royal Melbourne magnificently for 40 years; Rosemary Wakeham, Victorian Ladies Golf Union president; and Southern club pro for 43 years Harold Knights, who taught Bob Shearer to play.
HE STARTED AS A PART-TIMER WITH THE EVENING SUN AND THEN CAUGHT THE EYE OF KEITH MURDOCH, RUPERT’S FATHER, BY STEALING HIS CAR ...
Dillon organised a series of matches in Australia between Walter Hagen and Joe Kirkwood.
Kathy Gould with her grandfather’s Imperial typewriter and his portrait on her computer screen and (right) a caricature of the legendary scribe.