Article reprinted from Golf Victoria Magazine - Feb/March 2018 - Vol 59
When Sophie Byrne became the 2017 Ladies Champion of the Ballarat Golf Club, she not only confirmed her place among Victoria’s most promising young golfers, she kept alive a family tradition of achievement and involvement unheard of in Australian golf.
Sophie, 17, represents the current generation of Ballarat’s Titheridge family, whose name has adorned the game for more than 60 years, appearing with extraordinary regularity on honour boards in her club and in others around the state.
With her win in November she became the fourth generation of the family to win the Ballarat club championship, following late great-grandmother Jean Titheridge, grandfather Neil Titheridge and uncle Ross Titheridge.
Neil Titheridge is one of the best amateurs to have come out of country Victoria. He is the winner of 26 club championships at Ballarat GC and another two, 25 years apart, at Victoria Golf Club (1962 and 1987). At Ballarat he is also a four-time winner of the Open Tournament Scratch and his name appears on just about every other board event in the club.
Neil also won two Victorian Amateur titles, represented Australia in the Sloan Morpeth Trophy matches, captained Victoria three times in the Interstate Series, was a regular Country Week representative for Ballarat, is an Eisenhower Cup captain and was a state selector for 14 years.
In 2015, the Ballarat Golf Club, one of Australia’s oldest, named the Titheridge Room as a permanent tribute to the family – although it may need to be extended. Neil’s first club championship at Ballarat was won as a 19-year-old in 1957, a year before his mother Jean took the ladies’ title and 31 years before he beat his son Ross in the 1987 men’s final. He also toppled his brother Garry in another championship final.
Ross Titheridge, an outstanding golfer and regular Ballarat pennant and Country Week player from his teens to his 30s, duly won the first of his three club championships in 1989, winning again in 1990 (defeating his father in the semis) and again in 2009.
In all, the Titheridge and Byrne names appear on Ballarat Golf Club honour boards 70 times for their golfing achievements alone.
On top of that, Neil’s father Bill was Ballarat Golf Club President in 1949 and ’50 and his mother Jean was Lady
President in 1961 and ’62. Brother Garry was captain in 1970 and ’71 and is also a life member at Lonsdale Golf Club, while another brother, Peter, is a 50-year Ballarat GC member.
The next generation carried on the trend and not just with Ross. Neil’s daughters Simone Byrne and Kristine
Vandertop have also had a life in golf. Kristine is the current Ladies Captain and a pennant player at Victoria
Golf Club and Simone has twice won the C-Grade championship at Ballarat.
And now there is Sophie. Even before her crowning success of 2017, she had her name on the club boards. At the age of 14 she took out the first of her four Ballarat Junior Girls Championships and was Ladies B-Grade champion in 2014.
On the way through she accompanied parents Stephen and Simone to success in the 2015 Powell Trophy, the club’s major mixed event, and picked up a succession of other titles, tournaments and credits. Late last year she and her cousin Sarah, daughter of Kristine, finished second in the women’s section of the Golf Victoria Family Championship.
Sophie has also won tournaments in Victoria and Queensland and is a member of the Ballarat Golf Club team that took out the area’s junior pennant title for the past four years. She’s been in the State Junior Development
Squad for the past two seasons, she’s a member of the WestVic Academy of Sport and she’s also an accomplished rower, as were her mother and uncle.
For all the proud traditions she represents,
Sophie, above all, represents herself. "I started to play golf when I was about 11, in grade five when Tony Collier from Golf Victoria came to my school and I had a hit on the oval," Sophie said.
"I never really had much interest before that. I’d see Dad watching it on the TV, but I never really wanted to get involved until I got a club in my hand. It was then that I decided I’d like to take up golf. It’s different from other sports, it’s also a social event, you’re not huffing and puffing all the time."
While she looks with pride at her grandfather’s record and appreciates his gentle praise, her game has evolved her way with guidance from coaches Jess Bramble and, more recently, from Ballarat club pro David Wallis.
Sophie’s independent approach was evident in the 2017 Club Championship final when she chose to carry her own clubs. "When I played in the Championship final in 2016, Dad was my caddy," Sophie explained. "There was nothing wrong with having Dad, I just felt like I needed to make my own decisions and make my own mistakes this time. Somehow, I managed to win.
"I always look up to our family and all the good golfers there have been before me. But golf can be a very independent sport, so you’ve got to do some work for yourself."
Simone and Kristine recall that the game always had a large presence in the Titheridge home, but there was never any pressure to take up the game. "Of course, there was always plenty of talk at home about golf, especially between Ross and Dad, but we were never pushed into it," said Simone. "We were involved in other sports apart from golf. I was quite keen on rowing and so was Ross. But I’m glad now that I took it up. To be able to play with your mother and father, your husband, your brother, sister or your daughter is a really great thing."
Kristine only took up golf as an adult. "I actually resisted taking it up," she said. "I went to a few clinics but it wasn’t until much later that I started playing seriously."
Now that she is so thoroughly involved at Victoria, Kristine has a deeper appreciation of what the game has meant to her father and her family. "The enjoyment that Dad has always got from golf, and that he continues to receive, is something we all want to share and enjoy at whatever level we choose. It’s much easier to enjoy when we all make our own conscious decisions to take up the game without any pressure.
"We’re all so very proud of his golfing achievements." Brother Ross was a keen and capable rower until his late teens when golf ‘got in the way’.
"I decided to stick with golf and I’m pleased I did. For me, Dad was a great encouragement and a great example," Ross said. "Dad beat me in that final of the club championship in 1987, which didn’t please our mother, but I beat him in the semi-final in 1990. Whichever way it went, he was always a great competitor and great company."
With the help of a bulging scrap book, the Titheridge family can recall other events that typify their father’s approach to golf, and to life.
Like the day in 1960 when Neil shot a course-record 65 in the second round of the Victorian Open at Metropolitan, only to pull out of the tournament to honour a commitment he’d made to the Governor of Victoria.
"Dad had made this arrangement long before the Vic Open to play with Sir Dallas Brooks, who was opening the new Ballarat clubhouse," said Kristine.
"He might have gone on to a good finish in the Vic Open but he didn’t hesitate to honour his commitment." Another reflection on the abilities and the character of Neil Titheridge is provided by five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson after their first match together in the 1953 Victorian Close Championship. In a newspaper article of the day, Thomson, who lost the match, wrote that he had encountered an opponent, then a 16-year-old, who gave him "the hardest seven holes I’ve ever played". He went on to praise both Neil’s" fresh, uncomplicated approach" to the game and his "unpretentious" manner.
Nothing much has changed, including the swing of a man who doesn’t have much trouble shooting under his age, and an inherent modesty. "I take no credit at all for what Sophie has achieved,"
Neil said. "But I take a lot of pleasure from seeing how golf has helped her mature into a lovely young woman.
"I don’t interfere or try to give her any advice. I’ve always believed that if you have a teacher, you should only listen to them. "To see her enjoy the game is enough for me. And I like the way junior golf is run, that it is still a sport. It’s a character building thing for these players."
Sophie’s golfing progression has been startling. She played her first full round of golf at the age of 12 off a handicap of 45. Within a year she had lowered her handicap to 17 and by 15 years old she was on single figures.
"By then I was practising all the time. I wanted to play every day, nothing else really mattered," she said.
Sophie graduated to playing in open ladies’ competition at Ballarat when she was 15, displaying an attitude as impressive as her golf. "I was probably the only junior girl playing at the club, so I was usually playing with older women."They taught me a lot about etiquette and manners and I think that’s helped me. I bonded with them a fair bit."
With Year 12 studies in 2018, priorities might have to be re-arranged but she doesn’t see that as an obstacle.
"I think I can balance it," Sophie said. "I’ve obviously got a bit of study to do, but I think I can play golf in the afternoon and study at night." After that, further decisions.
"I’ve thought about college in America. I’ve had a few talks about it with girls who’ve done it before. What I’d like to do eventually is something in sports, potentially golf, physio or sports medicine." And perhaps add another dozen or so Ballarat Golf Club championships to her name.