Prepared by Phil Roberts
The Ballarat Golf Club has had a fascinating history. It is one of Australia's oldest Clubs and has many points of interest.
Up until it moved to a partially new course in 2008, it was Australia's oldest 18 hole club on its original site, as other golf courses founded before Ballarat moved to other locations during their history.
The Club was founded on Thursday 11 April 1895 at a meeting attended by just two people - ardent Scottish nationalist Thomas Drummond Wanliss, first president and John Corbett, first secretary.
The minute book records: A meeting for the purpose of founding a golf club was held at Mr Corbetts, Union Bank, on 11th April 1895.
The Hon Ths. Drummond Wanliss MLC took the chair
It was resolved to found a club to be called The Ballarat Golf Club
The following gentlemen joined the club: Hon TD Wanliss, JB Pearson, Andrew Nicoll, John Corbett, George H Antcliffe, Thomas M Antcliffe, SF Mann Jnr, Dr Scott, Rev ES Radcliffe, Lindsey Smith, Lt Col Williams, AJ Hare, Dr Salmon, AC Drury, WA Christy, A Bown, Rev Mr Maddern, JJ Cahir, TW Stoddart, Rev Mr Griffiths
Play commenced on an eleven-hole course on 24 May 1895 but this course only lasted two weeks – too short for a match of a single round and too long for a double round. From 8 June 1895 it became a nine- hole course. The course was on Crown Land that was part of the Ballarat common and yearly the club paid a small rent for its use.
The original course architect, club captain Andrew Nicoll, modelled the course on St Andrews in Scotland. “Your links in length of holes and the positions of hazards have been made as like those of St Andrews as possible”. (1899 Annual Report)
In the early years close ties with the Melbourne Golf Club (later Royal Melbourne) and the Geelong Golf Club existed. Ladies were admitted into the club in 1899 and a separate ladies nine-hole course was established. By the early 1900s the Ladies Committee was a stand-alone committee that dealt with its own affairs but was not involved in the main administrative affairs of the club. It was designated that Wednesday was Ladies Competition Day and Saturday was for the men. Golf was a winter sport and each year a gala opening day was held in April.
In 1909 the nine-hole course was changed into a full 18-hole course. Players had complained about the many 'crossings and blockings' when playing the nine holes twice.
Originally the course was like a cow paddock, greens were fenced in summer to protect them from grazing cattle, but by 1907 the course had improved so much that it was regarded as the best inland course in Australia and many professional players came to play on it.
During World War One Club Secretary JC Fletcher, an employee of the Ballaarat Water Board, changed the club name to the Ballaarat Golf Club. The origin of the name is from the aboriginal meaning of "Balla" – elbow (or resting) and "arat" – place. The first time it appears in club records is in the 1917 Annual Report. In 1994 when preparing for the club's centenary, the committee decided to officially revert to the original name of 'Ballarat Golf Club'.
In the 1920s some land was added to the course and holes lengthened. A new clubhouse was built in 1924. During World War Two in 1943 American marine officers used the clubhouse as their Ballarat headquarters and the annual Marines Cup is still a Club event. In the late 1950s ground floor extensions of clubhouse were completed and opened by Victorian Governor Sir Dallas Brooks in November 1960. Poker machines came in 1994 in a separate annex room and then in 2007 a 'smokers' area was added outside on the west of the building.
In 1927 the order of playing the holes was changed so the ninth was in the vicinity of the clubhouse. Under plans from course architect Alex Russell from 1929 a five-year plan brought considerable improvements. From 1927 until 2006 the course layout remained much the same, with the exception that the former "Clarke's trap" ninth hole was removed in 1973 and in its place a new fifth hole was created. Golf remained a winter game and the fairways in summer were dry and hard. From the 1950s increasing numbers began to play in summer and from 1982 the six monthly medals of May to October were expanded to 12 monthly medals.
Approval to locate 20 tennis courts on part of the 18th fairway was obtained at the 1959 Annual Meeting. It was a controversial issue and some members left the club to join Midlands Golf Club in protest. Nevertheless the integration of the tennis club with the golf club was successful and over the years many members have played in both golf and tennis competitions.
Golf was increasingly popular in the district. Ballarat North commenced in 1919 and was renamed Midlands in 1936, both Creswick and Buninyong began in 1926 and in 1948 Mt Xavier started.
A Country Golf Week played on leading Melbourne golf courses was first held in 1924. Sponsored by the Age newspaper, the trophy for winners of Country Week was known as ‘The Leader Shield’. With over 100 country clubs involved, a representative Ballarat District team won the first competition. Ballarat GC had six of the seven members. In 1930-32 Ballarat completed a hat trick of country week wins and again team members mainly came from the Ballarat GC. Further wins came in 1946, 1948, 1949, 1958, 1990 and 1994.
In 1947 the Victorian Ladies Golf Association organized country teams to play for the Alice Coltman Cup in recognition of Mrs Coltman's sterling administrative work for country golfers. That year the Ballarat district team were the first Cup winners followed by wins in 1949-52, 1956 and 1968. In each of these district teams Associates from Ballarat GC were prominent.
As well Phillipa Retallack was Victorian Country Champion 1912, Alice McKay Victorian Amateur Champion 1924 and five times Country Champion and Dawn Dehnert was Victorian Country Champion 1961. Paddy Gleeson was Victorian Country Champion in 1932 and 1936 and Neil Titheridge was Victorian Amateur Champion in 1961 and 1962.
On the club championship honour boards there are two prominent gaps – the Associates for 1924 and the Men for 1935 have no name recorded. There is an explanation for each. There was no female club champion in 1924 as Alice McKay was so dominant no Ballarat GC women entered the club championship, thus denying her the chance to win the title. In 1924 she was Victorian Amateur and Victorian Country Champion and won at Ballarat North.
In very heavy conditions in the 1935 second round Paddy Gleeson had 72 (par for the course) and was 11 shots ahead of the second placed Alan Crawford. After Gleeson's card was passed around for other competitors to view, tragically it was lost and he was subsequently disqualified. In a generous gesture all leading contenders withdrew from the event and the committee decided that no men's club champion would be declared.
In the 1930s and 1940s many international men and women golf champions came to the Ballarat GC to play exhibition matches and also many of Australia's leading players played.
After World War Two this trend continued and a highlight was Greg Norman's visit in 1983 when his 64 broke the course record.
Major change to club administration came in March 1993 when the first female, ladies committee president Elizabeth Chatham, was elected to the general committee. She commented "its time".
The Centenary was celebrated in style in 1995. Special events including the launch of a 128 page book Golf at the Arch: A Centenary History of the Ballarat Golf Club 1895-1995 by Phil Roberts.
During its history the Club has had many volunteer women and men who have made a major contribution. One person in particular stands out – life member Peter Hoskin, committee member 1957–2002, president five times, captain twice, treasurer 11 years and fund-raiser extraordinaire.
As the Club didn't own its land on occasions such as in 1968 members discussed the possibility of moving to another location. At the time of the centenary members realized moves needed to be made to purchase land or in the future the course may be lost. Through considerable effort of committee members and protracted discussions with the Department of Lands at first the clubhouse land and a few years later the full course land was purchased in the late 1990s.
A further major change occurred early in the new century when local Ballarat firm Roadcon proposed an exciting development.
It offered to purchase the eastern part of the course in return for creating a new quality championship course on the western portion of the old course and on former common land to the north. After a detailed briefing of plans to Club members in early 2002, the vote was 310 to 10 to move ahead with the proposal.
The many barriers confronting Roadcon and committee members included solving water and highway access issues, producing acceptable designs for a new course and new clubhouse and obtaining land leased to the University of Ballarat. An historic land signing occurred on 31 Januray 2008 when the golf club and Roadcon exchanged land titles. Roadcon now owned the eastern part of the old course and the golf club owned the land for the new course.
As a result in 2008 land titles were swapped and a new Championship Course was constructed. Architects were Peter Thompson and Ross Perritt and the official opening was in November 2009.
Small parts of the original course are retained – parts of the old 3rd, 7th, 13th and 14th and the new Clubhouse is on the 15th so it can still be claimed as Australia’s oldest 18-hole course of original land! By 2015 more than 400 new homes have been built on the old course land. Developers ‘Integra’ have landscaped the area attractively with waterways and walking tracks.
Ballarat is fast establishing itself as one of Australia’s premier courses. With the black tees at 6193 metres and blue tees at 5817 metres (old course 5462 metres) and 50 bunkers, golfers at all levels are challenged by the links-style layout that boasts heavily undulating fairways and contoured greens.
The 120 years was celebrated with a Gala Dinner at the Club on 8 August. Guest speaker was Paul Sheahan, AM and a highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a plaque denoting the golfer’s room in the clubhouse at the Titheridge Room.
Besides the wonderful achievements of Neil Titheridge with his 26 Club Championships, this honour also acknowledged the contribution of other family members to the Golf Club: Neil’s parents – Bill, Club President 1949 and 1950, mother Jean Ladies President 1961 and 1962 and Ladies Champion 1958, brother Garry Captain 1970 and 1971 and son Ross Club Champion three times. As well, Neil’s brother Peter, daughter Simone and her husband Stephen Bryne are long time Club members. Neil’s granddaughter Sophie Bryne is a promising golfer who was B Grade and Junior Champion in 2014.
Ballarat is already a premier course and is rated in the top 50 in Australia. Club head professional Dave Wallis thinks with the growth of the trees and surrounds the course will be at its very best within the next decade. Come and have a hit and enjoy the new layout.