There’ll be almost 100 players at the Interstate Teams Championship next week – but none more excited than eight ground-breakers from the Northern Territory.
For the first time in the 111-year history of the storied event, the NT will be represented in the men’s division – and the excitement from the Top End is almost palpable.
“We have eight very excited guys on our team, it’s fair to say,” manager Brett Rankin said.
“In fact, we’re all really excited by the opportunity that’s in front of us.
“The guys have their blazers in hand – it’s becoming very real now.”
Rankin’s crew are understandably underdogs heading into a week of competition against the best amateur talent in the country.
But by the same token, from a pool of just 11 courses, you can back them in to punch well above their weight.
More importantly, Rankin says, it’s a twofold chance to see exactly where golf stands in the Territory.
“For the individuals, they get to pit themselves against the best in the country and see how they compare – a great reward for them and recognition of their own achievements,” he said.
“But for the NT, it’s a chance to really develop into the future by testing ourselves – to get this opportunity finally is like the cherry on top of our pathways.
“It’s all part of learning for future years – and we’ll get better whether or not we have success this time around.
“Our board of Golf NT has tripled our funding into the high performance programs and this is the first step of being able to test it all.”
The NT team is an incredible mix of youth and experience – all of whom have been doing additional practice for next week from as far back as November.
Five of the eight players come from Alice Springs, with club legends Leigh Shacklady and Kerryn Heaver, both off scratch, expected to play high up the order.
Their three clubmates, at the opposite end of the experience spectrum, are all players of the future. There are high hopes for power-hitting 20-year-old Jake Hughes to develop into an NT stalwart, while 16-year-olds Daniel Brown and Mitch Gridley will both rely heavily on experience they’ve gained in the recent junior interstate championships.
Brown, who attends the Hills International College near Brisbane to further his golfing exposure, won two of the four matches the NT won in South Australia.
Gridley, remarkably off a handicap of 32 just two years ago but now down to one, also won a match and is another who’ll benefit greatly from the exposure.
And then there’s the Darwin Golf Club triumvirate of veterans Mark Steven and Peter Hargreaves alongside ace in the pack, William Hetherington.
Steven and Hargreaves, aged 48 and 50 respectively, have won countless club championships between them and are regarded as savvy matchplay exponents.
Hetherington, 19, has moved to Melbourne to play pennant for Yarra Yarra and, after reaching the final 32 of the Australian Amateur Championship in January, already has the exposure for which some of his younger teammates crave.
His younger brother, Josh, has tied his colours to Victoria for whom he played in South Australia in the junior teams’ titles.
But it’s the capacity for William and those who follow him to stay and play for the Northern Territory that enthuses Rankin in the long term.
“There’s a lot of pride in representing the Territory, particularly for the older guys who thought it might never happen,” Rankin said.
“They, in particular, are under no illusion about the challenges ahead next week, but they’re eager for it.
“And if we can inspire a few more (youngsters) to see a way to get to this level (by staying in the NT for a while longer), then we’ll have won already.”
The men’s Interstate Championship begins at Huntingdale in Melbourne from Monday, with the women’s event will be played at Royal Melbourne’s East Course.
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