THE WAN­DER­ING GOLFER: BREN­DAN MOLONEY

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - | BY BREN­DAN MOLONEY | GOLF AUS­TRALIA C OLUMNIST

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.

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