Mass is gathering on the 1st tee during the final round of the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open on 13th Beach Golf Links.
I speak like an old fan of everything that is Australian. Not the spiders and the snakes, of course. But almost everything else, especially when it comes to golfing. There is a lot to be proud of. The best courses are almost as good as anything you might find elsewhere. The best players – men and women, but especially the men – have been competitive throughout history at all levels throughout history.
Aussies have a well-deserved reputation because they are good company away from the course and are fiercely competitive. That is how we should all be. The proper recognition of the place of golf and sport in the broad spectrum of things that are called life has always struck me as one of the greatest and most engaging powers of your average Aussie. One or two of your tennis players may already miss that general point with a big margin – and let's not go into that cricket case too deeply – but the golfers wear the sports burner with, in general, a similar Corinthian-like stance sport embodied by the likes of Jack Newton and Bob Shearer.
The best players from Australia on both sides of the gender passage have presented themselves and their place with striking distinction. The late Peter Thomson was the master of left wave and perhaps the most rounded and well read player / person of all time. Only Bobby Jones is the rival of the five times Open champion in that erudite category. And it is difficult to imagine a more admirable person and ambassador for golf than Karrie Webb. Her influence continues to reach far beyond the inspiration that her unmatched career record offers. It would be quicker to list the events that the Queenslander did not win, rather than the events that she has.
The latest generation has also produced natural hero characters. Adam Scott, the first Australian to win the Masters, is nauseatingly talented and even more nauseous. Nevertheless, he remains in some way approachable, personal and just about any other kind of "competent". And Scott's good friend, Geoff Ogilvy, has a 21st century spokesman, a man who is well able to comment on issues with the indisputable authority that comes with being a US Open champion.
Ogilvy may have been born in Adelaide, but he grew up in Melbourne, home to your famous Sandbelt courses. Royal Melbourne. Kingston Heath. Victoria. Metropolitan. Woodlands. Commonwealth. Huntingdale. Yarra Yarra. Perhaps only Greater London and New York can surpass that range for a consistently high quality. Throw in the beautiful Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm on Tasmania and I'm drooling even more.
So yes, I'll tell you things that you know. But I tell you as an outsider. Golf in Australia is damn good in many ways. Do not let anyone tell you anything else.
But let us not get carried away. Nobody and nowhere is perfect. Not even Scotland. It has often been said and it remains true even in these times of jet age. The best of Australia is also the worst: the location. My heaven, it takes a long time to get here from almost anywhere, although the upcoming piece is always worth waiting.
That brings us to the reason for my last trip from the other side of the world. This week's Vic Open, a pioneering collaboration between the European Tour, the LPGA Tour, the Australian PGA and Australian Ladies Professional Golf, allowed men and women to play side by side on two golf courses on the 13th beach of the picturesque Bellarine Peninsula. And, now famous, for the same prize money. Okay, no huge money according to current standards – $ 1.5 million each – a situation that has certainly led to the absence of some notable names, both men and women. But this Vic Open remained a fascinating indication of a more enlightened future for professional golfing.
"There is no downside to this event," confirmed European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew, whose Vic Open debut ended in a T-40 finish. "It's really an inventive initiative and a nice format, I enjoy the different atmosphere that comes with having the men next to it.The only depressing aspect is how far they all hit the ball (laughs) But I'm all for it that everything falls away from the normal 72-hole stroke we see almost every week. "
Others have been just as enthusiastic.
"The boys 'and girls' thing is just logical", argued Ogilvy, a native Victorian who finished 35th in what was his first appearance in his home state Open since 1998. "Two real tournaments played simultaneously on the same lanes are logical. I wanted to be part of it, and everyone has praised this event for the past four or five years, that's all I've heard in the locker room.
"The people who walk the fairways, boys and girls in the same tournament, varied groups, a cool location, two different courses, it's all great, they tick each box, and the field gets better every year."
He could also have talked about Australia.