By Brian O’Hare
(This story will also appear in the May edition of Inside Golf)
ON a sunny Sydney afternoon Denis Dale looked out over the 18th hole at the Stonecutters Ridge Golf Club with obvious affection.
It was an affection felt not just for this particular hole on this particular course, though both are admirable, but probably for most holes on most golf courses everywhere.
We were sitting on the Stonecutters clubhouse back balcony and Dale, a two-time Australian Senior Amateur Champion, was reflecting on a relationship with golf that goes back more than half a century.
Inside, organisers of the 2016 NSW Veteran Golfers Association (NSWVGA) Strokeplay Championship were preparing to present Dale with his latest trophy before a packed celebration luncheon.
Once again Dale would be in the limelight; be handed a winning trophy, asked to make a speech and have his photo taken.
It has happened quite a bit to the now 68 year old, ever since he began his love affair with golf as a youngster caddying for his father.
“I started as a cadet member when I was 10 years old at Cabramatta Golf Club, so that’s 58 years I have been playing golf,” he said.
“I used to go and caddy for my dad when I was seven or eight and then I was allowed to play 9 holes when I was 10 and then I was a junior member when I was 14.”
He was soon off a two handicap which he maintained for most of his golfing career until the new system sees him close to scratch.
With a family and a teaching then education administration career he says he didn’t play in many open events or state titles originally.
“I played Saturdays. So I wasn’t a representative golfer, I was a club golfer,” he said.
All that changed when he turned 55 and discovered senior golf. He had his own computer and technology business by that time and had more time “to practice and play in multiple events.”
“I was living in Queensland and in my first event I played the Queensland Seniors. I remember I broke par. I was 2 or 3 under the first round and I was leading with one to go but I didn’t win. I forget what I had but I didn’t win. That got me interested and since then I have played golf all over Australia, and actually internationally as well, in senior golf, so I have had a lot of fun.”
The fun has included the two national senior amateur titles we mentioned, a national matchplay championship, representing Australian in international teams events, topping the Australian Order of Merit a couple of times and winning the NSW Order of Merit nine times. (“I’m going for 10 this year”.)
Back on the Stonecutters balcony, Dale had just competed in and won his first ever “veteran golf” event, the three day 54 hole state strokeplay championship, conducted this year at the Greg Norman designed Stoncutters, as well as Richmond and Penrith golf clubs.
The difference between “veteran golf” and “senior golf” can be a little confusing to the uninitiated, but basically whilst “veteran” events, particularly at a state or national level, have a very competitive low marker scratch component, they also cater for higher handicappers usually in three handicapped divisions. “Senior golf” is all about scratch scores and there are usually strict handicap entry requirements.
The NSWVGA strokeplay event blurs the lines further now after Golf NSW recently awarded it State Senior Order of Merit status. That new status helped attract Dale and a number of other very low handicappers and as NSWVGA president Dick Farrant was to remark inside, its biggest field in its 24 event history since inception in 1993.
Tournament director Les Knox from the Western Sydney Regional Veteran Golfers Association would express his joy at the event’s first capacity field and the fact the event would be remaining in western Sydney at least for the next four years.
Dale, from Twin Creeks Golf Club, had played three rounds of almost flawless golf to beat Penrith Golf Club member David Limbach with defending champion and four time winner Col Kenning, from Kiama Golf Club, third.
“I putted for a birdie or an eagle on the last 11 holes that I played, so that must have been good golf, and I was 4 under par for the last 10 holes,” Dale said.
“The first few holes were a bit … I had three three putts early and Col Kenning, who was my closest rival (and playing partner), got pretty close, just one shot, but then I played really well and he missed a couple so I ended up in front.”
But for Dale golf is obviously not all about winning tournaments and giving victory speeches.
“I actually play golf now occasionally on my own, and I love it,” he reflected. “I physically like being on the golf course. And I like being on the golf course on my own, in a bunker, mucking around, and if people come around and say I will join you for a few holes I just say no, keep going. I just like the atmosphere of being on the golf course.
[Pointing over the Stonecutters finishing hole] Imagine being out there on your own, and you are playing two or three balls down the 18th. Could there be anything better …. that’s better than watching TV or going to a movie or anything isn’t it.”
Apart from his on course golfing exploits, Denis is also a regular columnist for ASG, Inside Golf and also started and runs the very successful AUSOOM website that provides news and resources for senior amateur golfers on the national and state tours. You can see all of his ASG columns by clicking on the Denis Dale tag