IAN VIDLER wasn’t a bad golfer in his day – at 74 he still hits a mean ball – but these days life is about much more than just sinking the odd birdie putt.
These days Vidler is on a bit of a mission, spreading the word on the joys of veteran golf.
The former school teacher reckons he’s got a lot out of golf in more than 60 years involvement with the sport, but fortunately for many is one of the ones who doesn’t mind putting a bit back in.
Vidler, a long time resident of Nambucca Heads on the NSW mid north coast, is president of the NSW Veteran Golfers Association (NSWVGA) and in that voluntary role oversees a statewide schedule that includes some 54 veteran “Week of Golf” tournaments.
As well as day to day administration and regular trips to Sydney to meet with his vets committee colleagues, Vidler also spends some eight months of the year on the road attending tournaments across the state, officiating at presentations, getting feedback from participants, and working on new initiatives.
The NSWVGA oversees various events for men and women aged over 55 and over 50 and currently has more than 15,600 active members.
Vidler’s work with the vets comes on top of years of voluntary local and district golf administrative work.
As we write this he had also just finished organising and hosting another very successful Veteran Week of Golf at his home club, the very alluring Nambucca Heads Island Course.
Despite it all Vidler does still manage to play the odd round of golf (just ask his wife) … and to spend a bit of time reflecting on some past glories.
We caught up with Vidler one sunny Monday lunchtime at the Nambucca Island Golf Club. With the course clubhouse perched no more than a short chip from the beautiful Nambucca River, it is not a bad place to sit and talk about the golfing life.
Charlie Earp “took me under his wing and showed me the ropes and how to hit a golf ball”
For Vidler it all began as a 13 year old in the northern NSW rural town of Lismore, and by chance involved the legendary PGA Pro Charlie Earp, who was later credited with launching Greg Norman to international stardom and, as an Australian and state coach, also working with the likes of Wayne Grady, Karrie Webb and Jason Day. And Ian Vidler as it turns out.
“I was one of the first sub juniors at Lismore Golf Club and then I had a couple of years where Charlie Earp was the professional at Lismore Golf Club and he actually took me under his wing and showed me the ropes and how to hit a golf ball,” Vidler recalled. “When [Earp] shifted to Royal Queensland and I was about a 15 year old I went up to the Queensland Caddies’ Championships a few times and stayed with him.”
Unlike some of Earp’s other protégés, life sort of intervened on Vidler. In his later teens he got into football and rowing surf boats and then went to teacher’s college where golf was on the backburner.
In 1967 he got a teaching post near Macksville and settled in Nambucca Heads. Golf made a comeback and in his early 20’s he was down to a 2 handicap.
“Not for long because I started a family and had a lot of time with them,” he says. “But I was never a serious practiser. 1972, 73, 74 were probably my better years. In 73 I won the NSW Country Championship [at The Australian golf club in Sydney] in what they used to called Country Week, which was organised by the NSW Golf Association.”
In the intervening years Vidler has won his share of events, including some 10 club championships, but was also getting heavily involved in golf and sports administration. That included at a school level but also as a long time board member at Nambucca, as club captain, and other roles including nine years as President of the Mid North Coast District Golf Association.
After turning 55 he travelled to a few veteran golf events, winning the popular Bill Meade Tournament Rich River on the Murray one year and beating some stiff competition in 2004 to win the New Zealand Veterans Match Play.
He only played a few local vets events before realising there was a lack of north coast and country representation on the NSWVGA committee.
He became a committee member in 2009, a vice president four years ago, then took over the presidency when the long-time incumbent Richard Farrant retired in 2016.
Now into his second term, Vidler is looking to consolidate on what has been, and to continue to work on some new initiatives.
Of late there have been some new NSWVGA Medal events offered for tournaments played at a group level over several clubs, most NSW local golf clubs stage their own regular vets events on a weekly or monthly basis, but the jewel in the crown in NSW is still the “Week of Golf” schedule that usually starts in February and ends in November.
It means travelling veteran golfers can spend some 10 months of the year going from tournament to tournament … and some just about manage it. There is a 500 kilometre rule so there are no tournaments clashing with each other in the same general area.
So what is Vidler’s message on the joys of veteran golf?
“The social side is brilliant”
“The social side is brilliant,” he says. “Every week there is a golf tournament it is like a school reunion. You meet people perhaps that you saw the week before, but you might meet people that you haven’t seen for 12 months. And it is just a wonderful community to be part of because in that main people enjoy what they are doing. They enjoy the social side of things, they enjoy playing the golf as well but the social side seems to take precedence, in that if they were at home they wouldn’t have this social interaction to the degree they do at a week of golf.
“You only have to go to a happy hour at a caravan park and they can have up to 40 or 50 people at them sometimes. And it is all just good fun, the golf is not taken all that seriously, when you get on the course it is but if you don’t win it doesn’t matter. The attitude is great it is not hard core stuff.”
And the traveling and golfing keeps people “young”, he reckons.
“We’ve still got people at the age of 82, 83 travelling and golfing … a lot of them in their 70’s.”
“Last year Urunga [on the north coast] had a guy who had just turned 100 and he had started veterans golf in Urunga. I read about it in the lcoal paper so I got a certificate printed and I went up and presented it to him. He was one of the most interesting characters I have sat down and spoken to. He said it kept him going for so long, even when he could no longer drive a car, he still had an involvement in vets golf. Even when he was no longer playing he still went to all their presentations when they played their golf. The most interesting 100 year old I’ve ever spoken to.
“It helps keep them young. Even here at a local level a lot of the blokes wouldn’t play as much golf as they do if the opportunity wasn’t here to play vets.”
The NSW “Week of Golf” events attract players from across the country, but Vidler is well aware there are many local vets players who have never tried it. He urges them to give it a go.
“If you want to travel you can play some of the best courses in NSW for a reasonable fee,” he says. “The price of veterans golf is around $140 a week. That’s four games of golf, that’s generally some sort of meal included, whether it be an evening meal or a luncheon after the last day, and you meet lovely people, you meet all these people who are like minded and enjoy each other’s company. I often say when I am doing presentations at the weeks of golf that if we weren’t here what would we be doing? Probably sitting at home getting grumpy, or not catching fish.
“I think it’s great and that’s why I have sort of embraced it and taken it on so much myself.
“I’ve got a lot out of golf over the years and in the different stages I have travelled over my golfing career. I felt I needed to put something back, and I had the experience and the skills and the knowledge in golf administration and sport administration at different levels, so it would be a shame to be sitting at home with all that doing nothing with it … I keep saying that to my wife anyway.”