An estimated 60 million people around the world regularly play golf, and astonishingly at the highest level it remains self-regulated. Generally, they own up to the slightest of infringements to the rules that nobody else may see; they strike the ball, not their playing partner.
We won’t mention cricket’s Steve Smith & Co. No thugs. Boring, actually if you believe controversy is needed on a playing field. That’s golf; even the lowest score wins.
It’s also one of the few sports where every member of the family can play; from grandma to grandson, and you don’t aim to beat your opponent, just the course.
According to Phil Tierney, who was a trainee professional at 15 in Sydney, and was the professional at the Victor Harbor Golf Club for 37 years until 2014, golf is different because you need to have a sense of humour.
“I used to ask people that who came to me for lessons, because if you are going to take up this game you are going to need a sense of humour,” Phil said. “I draw on it all the time; you have to otherwise you’ll throw your clubs.
“It’s only a game, but it gets to you. The beauty is that you wake up the next day and you want to play again; you can’t wait.”
Phil, 66, will be as enthusiastic about the game he loves more than ever, and rekindle a few old tales from the course, when he joins more than 40 long-time professionals during the Victor Harbor Legends Pro-am Championship on Wednesday, May 9.
The VHGC is only one of three South Australian clubs part of this national series, with The Vines and Mount Gambier.
Phil calls these events a ‘Field of Sweet Swings’, everyone searching for the magic putts to take a share of the prizemoney. There is $11,000 up for grabs in this event, with the sponsorship generously led by club member Judy Hyde. There are also prizes for local amateur players in a team of four including the pro.
Last year’s event, which featured players like Rodger Davis, who won the Australian Open and tied for second in the British Open, and recent Legends tour winners Peter Fowler and Glenn Joyner, was a huge success with the VHGC winning a Golf SA Industry Award for presenting the SA PGA Legends Pro-Am of the year.
“The Victor Harbor Golf Club was renowned for hosting professional events with the West End Open years ago,” Phil said.
“I played in the last one in 1974 – and the people in this town are getting behind these pro events again. It’s just wonderful.
“I love these senior pro-ams; you catch up with a lot of guys from years gone by. In golf you make friendships for life. I asked Rodger Davis why he continued to play in these Legends events when he has won big tournaments all over the world, and he said he couldn’t think of anything better in life to do. He just loves playing golf, and at the end of his round he tells some great stories; he’s good for the game.
“These Legends players still play sub-par golf. Look at this year’s US Masters and Fred Couples still qualified at 58. Age in some respects doesn’t stop you playing golf. There’s Norm Ginn at this club; he’s 90-plus and he still plays on a handicap of 26. And he still volunteers on the course helping to core the greens.
“The seniors pro-am is an event designed for local members. I say to them, don’t shy away; the pros fully understand the average member is going to play a bad shot; some more than others. That’s golf, and nothing surprises them. This is a good event to come out to play or watch; everyone is welcome, you don’t need to be a member.
“We are more understanding than your average member one-to-one. We can sympathise, but some members shy away from these events because they feel they need to play a great shot every time.”
Phil was on a scratch handicap as a teenage professional golfer, and he’s still on scratch. He’s had eight holes-in-one, including five on this course. He played the circuit in the 70s, including the 1976 West Lakes Classic, which was Greg Norman’s first tournament success as a professional.
“Golf is special because you can play it almost for a lifetime,” Phil said.
“You also stick to the gentlemen’s rules – golfers draw penance on themselves. There have been some unfortunate exceptions, but very, very few at top level. It’s a shame more kids don’t play golf. Other sports are great, like footy, cricket and netball, but they just don’t take you right through life.
“Golf is fierce competition between you and the course, and whether you’re playing for a dollar or a thousand dollars you seem to put the same amount of effort into every shot.
“I’ve seen guys walk into boardrooms dealing with millions of dollars, but put them over a two foot putt in a friendly dollar game and they go to pieces. It’s what golf does to you sometimes. The pressure can be huge, and people deal with it differently which makes the champions.
“They say the sun always comes up the next morning; for golfers there’s another putt to be missed. And you get up the morning after feeling confident you’ll sink it the next time. It’s why you play golf.”