Date: November 07, 2014
Author: Graham Eccles

The Australian Masters that almost wasn’t

t had not been for the owner of one of our country's most famous racehorses, the Australian Masters most probably would have remained just "a damned good idea” of the late David Gair Inglis back in 1979.

A former Box Hill Council recreational officer, the visionary Inglis had just about sewn up the staging of his first Masters at Huntingdale with Lee Trevino as the big drawcard when a serious shortfall in prizemoney put the tournament in jeopardy.

Indeed, the Chairman of the Huntingdale Match Committee, Don Carmichael, was about to announce the cancellation of the event when fellow member David Haines, owner of the great racehorse Kingston Town, rang to say his company would help sponsor the event.

With a cheque for $10,000, Haines, in the nick of time, enabled the the Inglis dream to take root and his sloganA New Tradition soon became The Tradition Continues with Metropolitan now set to stage the 36th Masters over the coming four days.

Former Age golf writer Peter Stone recalls that Inglis and businessman Frank Williams, who covered a $50,000 loss on that first tournament for a half share in future Masters events, visited the real Masters at Augusta in 1985. There they were confronted by the late Clifford Roberts who created the US Masters with Bobby Jones.

Roberts, a difficult man at the best of times, handed the pair a list of alternative names for their tournament and in no uncertain terms told them to "please use one of them”.

 Inglis and Williams had no intention of ditching their "Australian Masters” that, by then, was drawing huge crowds, due largely to the magnetism of Greg Norman, who won six gold jackets between 1981 and 1990.

In the middle of Norman's hot streak, Williams bought out Inglis for $440,000 in 1987. A year later, Williams sold to IMG and the international marketing giant has controlled the tournament's destiny ever since.

 Inglis died of motor neurone disease in 2003 leaving behind an impressive legacy to Australian golf. As well as creating Australia's own Masters, he founded the National Golf Club on the Mornington Peninsula, developed The Heritage golf course and established the Johnnie Walker Classic.

What he would have thought about winding up Huntingdale's 30-year grip on the tournament is anyone's guess. However, professionals and fans alike would surely agree the sandbelt rotation policy has added a new stimulus to the event, this year bringing the Masters for the first time to Metropolitan.

The event, which will be televised to over 40 countries, will add further to the club's world-wide reputation for showcasing a golf course that is both challenging and spectacularly beautiful.

Metropolitan has been the stage for many of the world's greatest golfers to strut their stuff since the club's first major – the 1930 Australian Open. In the ensuing years, the club has been the venue for six more Australian Opens, eight Victorian Opens that included five in a row, two Australian PGA Championships, the extraordinary 1934 Victorian Centenary Open, The World Matchplay in 2001 and a Women's Australian Open in more recent years.

And now the Masters, which has rarely failed to excite, particularly over the final few holes. Ever since unheralded New Zealander Barry Vivian stumbled across the line with a final round 80 to beat local star Bob Shearer by a shot in that first Masters 35 years ago, there have been many memorable finishes.

Who can forget Colac's baby-faced Craig Spence pin-pointing a six-iron to tap-in range to deny Greg Norman a seventh victory in 1999, the last time the Shark played in the Masters.

And, of course, Tiger Woods added more lustre to the event when at Kingston Heath five years ago he became the ninth overseas player to hold aloft the distinctive globe-shaped trophy.

Now it is over to defending champion Adam Scott to attempt to win for a third successive time. Last year, he became only the second player to successfully defend the title, edging out American Matt Kuchar on the final hole. Norman had done it twice before.

But three in a row. If Scott can pull it off, he will have created Masters' history – now isn't that worth coming to Metropolitan to see!