A short while after I arrived in Australia one of my new found friends asked me if I played golf. Regretfully I had to admit that I did not. “That’s a pity”, he said, “because I belong to one of the finest clubs in Melbourne, Kingston Heath and I heard yesterday that they are looking for some new younger members.” Then he said, “Why not put your name on the waiting list anyway. It takes 7/8 years to get through and by that time you may well be playing golf and be happy to join.” So I put my name down, as he suggested.
3 months or so later, I received a telephone call from the Secretary of Kingston Heath informing me that, following a recent committee meeting, they had decided to admit a dozen new members, one of whom would be me.
Accordingly, I was to present myself three weeks ‘to play myself in’ with the Captain and another committee member. The point being, as I discovered later, that this ‘playing in’ was, in effect, an interview to see if I was the right sort of chap etc nothing to do with whether or not I was a champion golfer, although, having said that, I subsequently gathered that one was expected to have no worse a handicap than 18, ironically the same handicap as I play off today, as I write this, approaching my 70th. birthday.
As I say, I learned all this later on. Having thanked the Secretary and meekly agreed to the assignation I replaced the hand set and felt quite numb. The reason for this and my catatonic state was that, during the intervening three-months since my discussion with my golfing friend, I had done nothing to remedy my total lack of golfing experience. In other words, I had never swung a golf club in my life and yet was expected to present myself, three weeks hence, to play with, what would undoubtedly be, a couple of fine golfers, at what was, considered by some to be, the best golf course in Australia.
When I had recovered my wits, I realized that in order not to let down my friend, who had supported my application to join the waiting list, I would at least have to put up some sort of show. I seriously considered having my right arm encased in plaster and turning up for the match with the Captain pleading the excuse of a broken arm which was so bad that I had been told it could be at least the year before I would be able to use it again. This subterfuge would at least have given me time to learn to play the game. However, I decided that this would be a cowardly way out and so there was nothing for it but to learn to play in the three weeks left to me, or slightly less as it was by this time. After all, I thought, it can’t be that difficult as thousands of people play every weekend.
I purchased a secondhand bag of golf clubs and decided that I would present myself at the local recreation ground to complete my initiation and, possibly preserve my anonymity. I should explain, to those who are not familiar with recreation grounds in Australia, that this is where the general public play who cannot afford to join one of the expensive golf clubs.
So keen is the Australian working man to play golf that hundreds of them turn up at these public courses at sunrise, just off the 4 a.m., in the Australia summer. They pay a pittance and get to play on what are, inevitably, fairly basic and indifferent golf courses.
On this particular summer’s morning there were probably 100 or so golfing enthusiasts patiently waiting their turn to tee off. The system worked like this. On arrival, having paid the necessary fee, the aspiring golfer, places his ball in a metal race located near the first tee.
As the sun rises above the horizon the first ball is extracted by the local government employee who is charged with controlling the games. The ball is held aloft and the owner identified. A single player is then paired up with the next single player from the race and then the next pair until a four ball is made up.
So it was with me. “Dunlop 65”, he said. “Mine”, I said. “You on your own”. “Yes”, I said. “Next single, he said, and so I found myself on the tee, in front of this mass of humanity, with three other chaps, none of whom, of course, I had ever met before. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. My three companions drove off. It was then my turn. I teed up my ball, as I have seen the others do. I took my stance and proceeded to attempt to drive the ball towards the first green. My club whistled over the top of the ball leaving it totally unscathed. If you have ever heard 100 people take a sharp intake of breath you will understand my mortification. I steadied myself & tried again with the same result. Pandemonium broke out amongst the spectators. Following a third unsuccessful attempt to move the ball from the tee, to the delight of the crowd, the little man in charge, in the greasy trilby hat, came over and tapped me on the shoulder and refunding the modest fee that I paid, said, ” Here sonny, I think you had better go t’ the practice fairway”.
Blushing furiously, I bent down removed my ball and slunk off, realizing, as I left, that this game was a little more difficult than I had originally thought.
As a postscript to this unhappy event, I can report that, by dint of some considerable practice, I managed, three weeks or so later, to play myself into Kingston Heath. Six months or so after that I turned up once more to the same public course, in front of the same little man, and drove the first green. I doubt if he knew that I was the same rabbit who had failed so dismally on the previous occasion. But I knew, and that was all that mattered.
I remember one amusing incident shortly after I started playing. I came in one day to the locker room and saw a notice which said ‘Keep a Six off Your Card’. Having just completed a round with no sixes I studied this notice a little more carefully. A generous ball manufacturer was inviting golfers to send their sixless card in and receive the award of a free golf ball. I thought that was splendid and so sent off my card. After all it was true I had no sixes. I did have some sevens, some eights and even a nine but no sixes. I honestly did not realize that the idea was that you are not supposed to have taken any more than five shots on any hole. However I did receive a free golf ball with a rather amusing letter accusing me of being cheeky or words to that effect.