By Brian O’Hare
TOM HAROLD didn’t quite realise the long term ramifications when he first picked up his dad’s golf clubs as a teenager.
Most troubling, the clubs were left handed and Harold played all other sports, including batting in cricket, as a right hander.
“It’s the biggest mistake I ever made,” the soon to be 59 year old Darwin golfer says.
“In my opinion, I’ve got no touch with my left hand. What’s the word for it? … dexterity!”
The other long term effect of the then 14 year old hitting dad’s golf clubs around the backyard was that some 45 years later his love affair with golf would still be growing.
The relationship deepened recently when Harold, showing all the dexterity you’d like, won the 2015 Australian Veteran Golfers Union (AVGU) National Championships in Darwin.
“I’m thrilled to bits. It’s magic. I never thought I’d win an ‘Australian’ anything, so it is fantastic,” a not so subdued Harold offered.
Some 200 golfers from around the country participated in the week long event in the Top End, with the three championship rounds conducted at the Darwin and Palmerston Golf Clubs.
Harold led by one stroke after the first round at Darwin Golf Club, his home course, and extended it over the next two to end up streeting the field by 13 strokes.
Runner up was Chris Rose with Ken McNamara, who was tournament director of the very successful 2012 national vets championships on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, outright third.
Harold was just happy to get his hands on another trophy to add to what is obviously a very full cabinet.
“I didn’t watch the scores closely [in the final round], I thought I might be leading, if not I’d be very close to it because it was pretty tough at Palmerston [in the second round]. I knew I had a one shot lead after the first day. But yeah I was as nervous as hell, I was really tight.”
Though he began knocking around golf balls at home and playing with school as a 14 year old, Harold didn’t get serious about the game till his early 30’s when his career playing Aussie Rules in Victoria’s second tier competition came to an abrupt end when he lost a kidney due to an on field injury.
He was soon off a handicap of four and played off just 1 during the recent championship.
Over the years he was won his share of club championships, state league events and the like (he won the 1997 Northern Territory Amateur Open), but has really blossomed of late.
“I can’t believe how many fantastic golf opportunities are out there for seniors and vets, you know over 55’s. I didn’t realise it and I missed two years,” he says.
“I love the competition; love the blokes you meet, fantastic people. I can’t wait for next year.”
Harold, who is due to retire as a teacher soon, is kicking himself he didn’t know more about veteran golf, which usually includes more graded, handicapped events, and the more elite senior amateur golf, which includes a national Order of Merit run by Golf Australia.
“Up here golf is relatively small,” Harold says. “It’s not like down south, I didn’t know about the seniors or vets. My first event Joe Smith [NT Vets President] said: ‘Oh Tom you should come up and play in the Australian vets’, which was two years ago at Canberra. So I went and played in that and had a ball, really enjoyed it, got close but not quite and then someone there told me about the seniors so I’ve been playing in the seniors big events since then. I got in the Australian team this year which was an absolute buzz.
“I played [in the Australian team] at Sanctuary Cove against the Kiwis. It was fantastic, a great experience.”
The AVGU National Championship is another great opportunity for 55 years and over amateur golfers in Australia. It has rotated around the states and territories since 1990 with Darwin this year being its 26th edition.
AVGU National President Dick Farrant was full of praise for tournament director John Baylis and his team from the NT Veteran Golfers Association for the obvious effort that had gone into organising the week.
“This is my third visit up here to the Top End to play in these championships and I can honestly say that each time we come up here we see both the improvement in the golf courses and the event itself. To the course superintendents, they have done a wonderful job in presenting the courses and trying to keep the water up to the courses at the same time. Not an easy task.”
The next championship will be in the Adelaide hills in South Australia from the 6th to 11th November, 2016.
Courses involved will be The Vines of Reynella Golf Club, Flagstaff Hill Golf Club and Blackwood Golf Club, all courses within a 10 kilometres radius from each other and just 20 kilometres from the city and from the McLaren Vale wine growing region (if that is an added incentive).
There, Tom Harold is committed to defending his title and will likely run up against Ballarat golfer John Ciezki, who won the past three championships in WA, ACT, and Victoria but was unable to make it Darwin.
Harold isn’t fazed.
“You bet!” he said of defending his title. “I can’t wait. Come on John, bring it on!”