I speak as a long-time fan of just about all things Australian. Not the spiders and the snakes, of course. But nearly everything else, especially when it comes to golf. There is much to be proud of. The best courses are almost as good as anything you might find elsewhere. The best players – men and women, but especially the men – through history have been competitive all over the planet at every level.
Aussies have a well-earned reputation for being good company away from the course and fiercely competitive on it. Which is how we all should be. Proper recognition of golf’s and sport’s place in the broad scheme of things called life has always struck me as one of your average Aussie’s biggest and most endearing strengths. One or two of your tennis players may be missing that general point by a large margin right now – and let’s not delve too deeply into that cricket thing – but the golfers are carrying the sporting torch with, broadly speaking, a similar Corinthian-like attitude to sport epitomised by the likes of Jack Newton and Bob Shearer.
Australia’s very-best players on both sides of the gender aisle have represented themselves and their spot with notable distinction. The late Peter Thomson was the master of links golf and maybe the most rounded and well-read player/person of all-time. Only Bobby Jones is the five-time Open champion’s rival in that erudite category. And it is difficult to think of a more admirable person and ambassador for golf than Karrie Webb. Her influence continues to extend far beyond the inspiration provided by her peerless career record. It would be quicker to list the events the Queenslander has not won, rather than those she has.
The latest generation has also produced natural hero-figures. Adam Scott, the first Aussie to win the Masters, is sickeningly talented and even more nauseatingly handsome. Yet somehow he remains approachable, personable and just about every other kind of “able.” And in Scott’s close friend, Geoff Ogilvy, Australian golf has a spokesman for the 21st century, a man well able to comment on issues with the undeniable authority that comes with being a U.S. Open champion.
Ogilvy may have been born in Adelaide, but he was raised in Melbourne, home to your famous Sandbelt courses. Royal Melbourne. Kingston Heath. Victoria. Metropolitan. Woodlands. Commonwealth. Huntingdale. Yarra Yarra. Maybe only Greater London and New York can outdo that line-up for consistent high-quality. Throw in the wonderful Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm on Tasmania and I’m salivating even more.
So yes, I’m telling you things you know. But I’m telling you as an outsider. Golf in Australia is bloody great in many ways. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Let’s not get too carried away, though. No one and nowhere is perfect. Not even Scotland. It’s been said many times and it remains true even in these jet-age times. The best thing about Australia is also the worst: the location. My goodness it takes a long time to get here from almost everywhere, albeit that the arriving bit is always worth waiting for.
Which brings us to the reason for my latest journey from the other side of the world. This week’s Vic Open, a ground-breaking collaboration between the European Tour, the LPGA Tour, the PGA of Australia and Australian Ladies Professional Golf, had men and women playing alongside each other on two golf courses at 13th Beach on the picturesque Bellarine Peninsula. And, famously by now, for equal prize money. Okay, not huge money by today’s standards – $1.5m each – a state of affairs that surely led to the absence of some notable names, both male and female. But this Vic Open remained a fascinating hint of a more enlightened future for professional golf.
“There is no downside to this event,” confirmed European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew, whose Vic Open debut ended in a T-40 finish. “It really is an inventive initiative and a fun format. I’m enjoying the different vibe that comes with having the men alongside. The only depressing aspect is how far they all hit the ball (laughs). But I’m all for anything that gets away from the normal 72-hole stroke-play we see almost every week.”
Other have been just as enthusiastic.
“The guys and girls thing just makes sense,” argued Ogilvy, a native Victorian who finished 35th in what was his first appearance at his home state Open since 1998. “Two real tournaments played at the same time on the same courses makes sense. I wanted to be part of that. Everybody has been praising this event for the last four or five years. That's all I've been hearing in the locker room.
“The people walking on the fairways, guys and girls at the same tournament, alternating groups, a cool venue, two different courses. It’s all great. They are ticking every box. And the field is getting better every year because of that.”
He could also have been talking about Australia.