By Brian O’Hare.
DARWIN golfer Tom Harold doesn’t have much to do with jumpers in his everyday life and had no reason to believe that happy situation would change when he set off for the 2017 Australian Veteran Golfers Union (AVGU) National Championship on the Gold Coast.
Unfortunately for the 61 year old, and for just shy of 500 other older golfers from around the country, he arrived the Sunday of the week-long celebration of competitive golf and socialising to find the Gold Coast had turned on some very wild, windy, wet and unusually cold conditions.
“I was terrified we would have to play wet weather golf because we don’t have to in Darwin, let alone cold, wet golf,” Harold recounted. “Usually in Darwin it rains really heavily, it pours down, you step aside because the course is flooded, but an hour or so later it’s all soaked in and away you go. But here it was driving, drizzling rain that kept coming through. It was cold the wind, because you’re already wet, and my hands were freezing, it was really difficult.”
And Harold had hardly arrived on the Gold Coast prepared for anything other than the usual sunny postcard conditions expected of one of Australia’s top tourist destinations.
“I kept telling myself don’t bring warm clothes, it’s going to be warm, it’s going to be hot, hot, hot; so I had no long pants, no wet weather gear except for one jacket. So when I saw the weather forecast I thought ‘holy shit’.”
It was Harold’s fourth entry into the AVGU National Championship, an annual event for golfers aged over 55 that rotates around the states and territories.
Traditionally the week has included a 54 hole strokeplay championship in three handicapped grades and this year the women also played three stroke rounds. Monday was a warm-up 4BBB team event and there were also a number of stableford and age division competitions included.
In his previous appearances Harold has always finished within the top two or three in the overall championship, including winning in 2015 when the event was held in his hometown Darwin. So he was under a bit of extra pressure to prove he could win away from home, especially against arch rival and three time champion John Ciezki, from Buninyong in rural Victoria.
Conditions for the Fourball conducted over a number of Gold Coast golf courses on the Monday were quite appalling, but Harold had maybe received a bit of backhanded help from the golfing gods going into the A Grade first round on Tuesday at the Greg Norman designed The Glades Golf Club.
“I hurt my neck on the flight down here and the Fourball on the Monday I was going to pull out,” Harold said. “I could hardly swing it at all, it was so painful, but I played with [painkillers] and all that.
“And that helped loosen me up so on the Tuesday in the rain because my neck was sore I couldn’t hit it hard, so I just took extra clubs and swung nice and easy and hit it pretty good and had a good score.”
Harold’s opening 76 in very wet, windy and sloppy conditions saw him open a five shot lead over the field, with Ciezki sharing second spot with four other chasers.
Harold struggled a bit in the next two rounds, shooting 80 at Palm Meadows Golf Club on Thursday and the same score in the final round Friday at the RACV Royal Pines, when the sun finally deigned to shine on the tournament and on many grateful golfers.
Harold may have blown out a little but his comment below shows the type of grit you need to win a national championship – or two.
He eventually won his second title by two stokes from joint runners-up Ciezki and Peter O’Keefe from Iron Pot, Tasmania. Ken Robertson from Ipswich was fourth with another Queenslander in Robin Tonks from Cairns outright fifth.
“I played very ordinary [in the final round]. I hit the ball poorly but I fought really hard. I had to struggle, I could easily have had 84 or 85, but I hung in there and gritted my teeth when I needed to,” the winner said.
In the end, and despite the weather, it proved to be a hugely enjoyable and satisfying week for Harold, for the hundreds of older golfers beside him who persevered through the conditions, and for tournament director Ron Armstrong and his team, whose four years of work in organising every aspect of the tournament, shone through.
“It feels sensational, fantastic, I love it,” Harold said after lifting the championship trophy before some 600 guests at the Presentation Dinner at Royal Pines.
“The vets championships are fantastic, it’s a great scene. Everyone is really supportive, it’s friendly competition, you know there are four or five hundred golfers here, it’s a great atmosphere all around, very positive, friendly, everyone enjoys their golf everyone is competitive, and it is so well organised.”
Harold is certainly putting his name down to attend as defending champion at the 2018 edition of the event, to be based at Port Stephens on the NSW north coast with Dave Flatt as tournament director.
“Yes I’ll certainly be going to Port Stephens, it looks beautiful. These big vets tournaments are so we’ll organised, you know you’re going to enjoy it, you know everything’s going to be in tip top condition, it’s all laid out for you, it’s great,” he said.