The Australian Amateur Championship has changed almost beyond recognition since way back in the day when my contemporaries and I were playing our biggest tournament of the year.
It was the week following the gruelling – 36 holes a day – Interstate Teams matches and they threw in the 36-hole Australian Foursomes Championship for good measure on the day in between.
For most of us, too much golf wasn’t enough and it was a fortnight of golf heaven.
It moved around the country, state by state, just as the Australian Open did and it was where we mostly first discovered the best courses in the country.
The women’s championship was completely separate, but now both are played concurrently in what has been a brilliant and entirely logical step. Indeed the best player to play the championships in the past decade has been Lydia Ko. Easily.
Overseas entrants were unheard of, but they now come from all over the world to play and it clearly adds much to the championship.
Perhaps, though, the biggest change has been to the nature of amateur golf itself.
In the 1970s, it was played primarily by career amateurs with families and jobs and while taken seriously, it didn’t involve the pressure of having to make a living.
Men such as Tony Gresham and Kevin Hartley were world-class amateur players and good enough to play professionally, but both chose to lead stable, sensible lives free of the stresses of playing a game for money.
It’s interesting to look back now, but there was a year when it fundamentally changed. It was 1978, the year I was both lucky and lucky enough to beat Gresham in the final at Royal Queensland.
Until then, only Jim Ferrier, Bruce Devlin, Ted Ball, Bob Shearer, Bill Britten and Terry Gale had moved on from winning the #AusAm to play the pro tour. After 1978 (with the exception of the last couple of winners who, no doubt, will in time) every champion has tried, with varying degrees of success, to play the game professionally.
This week at Kingswood and Yarra Yarra, the field will comprise talented young men and women from around the world, almost all with aims of playing the tour. Many will be full–time players already.
The fickle nature of 18-hole match play makes it something very difficult to win.
So difficult is it that the most recent man to win the amateur more than once was Doug Bachli, the champion of 1948 and 1962 – that’s 55 different male winners in 55 years, which is pretty amazing and now the incredibly fast turnover of amateur players means there is such a short window to win more than once.
Gale was defending at Royal Adelaide in 1975 (in 1974 he had beaten a young Greg Norman 8&7 in the first round at Royal Hobart) when Chris Bonython holed a 40-footer on the last hole to beat him.
Peter Sweeney beat Gresham in 1976, then lost to John Kelly on the 37th in the 1979 final. Gresham finally won in 1977, beating Bonython on the 40th hole in a memorable final at Victoria, only to lose by one hole in 1978 after I completely fluked a ridiculous shot from a bush way over the 34th green and nervously hung on.
Another change of some significance has been to the nature of golf journalism and press coverage of the championship. Almost unbelievably in this age, both the major Melbourne newspapers used to send their golf writers (Don Lawrence and Peter Stone) all round the country to report on the play.
Perhaps it seemed more important than it really was because it made headlines in the paper, but it also taught young players to deal with golf writers and to trust them to report accurately what happened.
They got to know the writers as young players and as a consequence there was a real bond between the best journalists and the best players; a bond, which, in many cases, lasted decades and became true friendships.
The business of newspapers means there are no more dedicated day-to-day golf writers, but instead we have Twitter and places such as this to write. It’s probably not better or worse. It’s just much different, as is the Australian Amateur itself.
The only thing that hasn’t changed is it’s still worth watching.