As the 2017 Oates Vic Open drew to a cold and blustery conclusion on a supposed late summer’s day, looking back on the week, the overwhelming feeling is one of positivity. While the final round was more reminiscent of an Open Championship in Scotland, the 2017 Championship still met expectations.
Without exception, the players enjoyed the experience of men and women playing a Championship together, the Beach and Creek courses were presented in brilliant condition, crowds were good, a friendly atmosphere flowed throughout and an enjoyable week was had by most, save for the tournament snake catcher who never quite managed to capture the two-metre brown snake that lives in the bushes behind the 12th green. He did touch its tail though as it slithered into a dune hole late on the final day.
The overall week of the Open is a golf mixture of new and old and collectively this creates the overall unique experience. A regular comment expressed by spectators in the mini-bus shuttles between the clubhouse and main car park was how much they enjoyed the experience of walking along the fairways with the players.
Since the late 1960’s most professional golf tournaments, including many that don’t have anyone watching at all, fully rope every hole cordoning off the players from the fans. Originally done for the benefits of television coverage in the non-remote era, it’s had a residual effect of disconnecting spectators to a degree.
For the last 26 years, the Oates Vic Open has bucked the trend. The fairways haven’t been roped off, thus allowing golf fans to get up close to the players, listen to the deliberations with caddies and study the shot execution first hand. It’s a wonderful insight into how the best players play the game and doubly so this week with ready comparisons between men and women.
As a kid getting interested in golf, I remember going to the Vic Open at Metropolitan in the early 1980’s and standing just behind a young Greg Norman as he warmed up on the practice range. To see and hear his ball striking from such a spot as well as hear his banter with star struck onlookers is a lasting memory. Hopefully those that experienced the same thing at 13th Beach this week, both on the range and on either course, will have the same memories to draw on.
The players have also embraced the closeness with their followers, routinely talking to spectators as they wandered along the emerald green fairways, patting dogs being walked by their owners (another welcome feature of both the 13th Beach site and event) and giving aspiring juniors golf balls together with words of encouragement. It’s an old-fashioned feature of an event that is priding itself on doing things in a different way.
However, there were other newer initiatives happening across the week that made it feel more like a golf celebration than just the simultaneous staging of dual major State Championships.
On Thursday and Friday, joint Golf Australia/Golf Victoria Inclusion Manager and PGA member Christian Hamilton staged a two-day workshop at the neighbouring Barwon Heads Golf Club for twenty Australian PGA Members undertaking the PGA and Golf Australia Blind and Disabled Coach Accreditation.
The training and accreditation will provide the skills and knowledge for PGA members to establish effective golf programs for people with physical and intellectual disabilities and engage more people with our game.
Golf Victoria’s team of regional and junior development officers conducted multiple clinics for local school groups from Tuesday to Friday in addition to a junior MyGolf clinic for primary age children from many parts of Victoria on the final day.
Alongside Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews and Minister for Sport, John Eren, Blake Dempster from the Eastwood MyGolf program and Melbourne Golf Academy’s Zoe Brown were also included in the Oates Vic Open presentation to eventual winners Melissa Reid and Dimitrios Papadatos.
The golf itself was suitably classy and colourful, especially given the difficulty created by the 50 kilometre an hour winds that blew throughout the last day. Coincidentally the winning totals for both the men and women were an excellent 16-under-par, providing a high-quality display for all that attended over the four days.
The growing international flavour of the Women’s Oates Vic Open, especially via the new co-sanction arrangement with the Ladies European Tour, shone through with England’s Reid outlasting Germany’s Sandra Gal in an epic three-hole play-off. A par was good enough for Reid to secure her maiden Australian win after Gal slipped with her bogey on the third visit up the par-five 18th.
The Men’s Oates Vic Open lived up to the ‘Where Stars are Born’ slogan with victory going to the muscular, long hitting New South Welshman, Papadatos. It was the 25-year-old’s second Australasian Tour win following on from his success in the 2014 New Zealand Open. With style, charisma and a booming golf game to match, a bright future beckons.
The Oates Vic Open returns to 13th Beach again in February 2018 with minimum prizemoney of $650k for both the men and women thanks to ongoing and appreciated support from the State Government, the City of Greater Geelong, Oates, TAC and a vast array of additional sponsors. The Geelong and broader Bellarine community have embraced an event that now rightfully holds a special place not just in Australian golf but World golf too.
Men and women playing golf together – who would have thought. Something old is indeed something new and exciting.