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The Magnificent Five

In three decades as a professional golfer, I've had the pleasure and the privilege of playing many of the world's greatest golf courses. However, coming up with a concise list of my favorites is a daunting task. What resonate with me are not so much specific rounds or shots but rather the personalities, stories and memories that each course evokes.

I have managed to assemble a lineup of the five courses that are most significant to me. I've started with two that most people may not recognize, but they hold a special place in my heart. The others are world-renowned courses that, in all likelihood, would garner lofty positions on the lists of favorites of most golfing enthusiasts.

Topping the list is one of the first courses I set foot on.

A few months after my family moved from Townsville to Brisbane, Australia, my mother joined Virginia Golf Club, a Queensland course that started out as a nine-holer in 1929 and has grown to a twenty-seven-hole facility today. I am still uncertain what motivated me to make the offer, but one day when she was preparing for her midweek round I asked if I could caddie for her. I was fifteen, and more than anything I enjoyed having something to occupy my time.

I trailed behind her, pulling the cart and enjoying the walk. I liked watching her play, but after several outings I decided it was time for me to give it a try. One day, when my mother finished her round, I asked if I could borrow her clubs. No practice fairway for me. I went straight to the thirteenth tee to have a whack. A few balls went over the fence and many more were badly mis-hit, but every now and then I managed to make proper contact, and I wanted more of those. Without realizing it, I was hooked. Soon we started scanning the classifieds for a set of used clubs. To this day I still remember the exact date and price! It was August 8, 1970, and the set cost my parents AUD$150.

I joined Virginia Golf Club as a junior member, and my first handicap was twenty-seven—which was the limit. The game quickly consumed me. My mother would pick me up after school every day at 3 p.m. and she would drive me to Virginia, where I stayed on the practice fairway or played the course until it was impossible to see the ball in flight. When I finished, I would dial our home number and let it ring twice. That's how my parents knew to come and pick me up. I devised that strategy to save myself ten cents.

It was Virginia's head professional, John Klatt, who first instilled in me the value of practice. He drilled me in every aspect of the game, and my new clubs got plenty of work in the succeeding few months. My reward was a handicap that quickly started to shrink. Remarkably, eighteen months later I was playing off scratch.

The Grange Golf Club in Adelaide, Australia's "Cathedral City," is the site of my fondest golf memory—it was the host of the 1976 West Lakes Classic, which was my first professional triumph. It's a course of contrasts, with many holes wide open and thus receptive to my game, which was to play very aggressively whenever the opportunity presented itself. However, there are also a handful of tight, tree-lined holes where I knew I would have to take precautions off the tee.

My draw for the first two days put me alongside Bruce Crampton, whose international accomplishments I had been reading about for years. We were set to tee off late the first day, and a few minutes before we were called to the tee news spread that John Clifford, a fine Aussie player from Perth, had set the course record with a sixtyseven. I remember saying to my caddie, and anyone else within earshot, "Hell, that's a pretty good score. I'll just have to go out and beat it." Well, I did, by a whopping three shots.

That opening sixty-four catapulted me into the national headlines for the very first time. I followed it with a sixty-seven and a sixty-six to go ten shots clear of the field. I stumbled early in the final round, but pieced things together and walked off the eighteenth green with a five-shot victory in my fourth professional event.

The $7,000 check was more money than I had ever seen! It was a magical week, and one that made me believe in myself, believe that I really could compete on the world stage.

One of my favorite courses in my homeland, and arguably Australia's best, is Royal Melbourne, which has existed continuously from 1891 and is thought to be the oldest golf club in Australia. Its Composite course, for many years now ranked among the top ten in the world, came into being in 1959 when Royal Melbourne was asked to hold the Canada Cup (now the World Cup). The powers that be decided to use twelve holes from the West course and six holes from the East to assemble the new layout. Since then, it has hosted many prestigious international tournaments.

One of those events was the 1998 Presidents Cup. I was a proud member of the International team, which handed the U.S. a crushing defeat, 20 1/2 to 11 1/2. Royal Melbourne was magnificent. She showed her teeth for two days and then calmed down for the last. I don't think we could have found a better-conditioned golf course anywhere in the world.

I remember the wild celebration afterward as much as the competition. My good friend Steve Elkington took considerable pleasure in pouring several frosty lagers over the heads of his teammates—myself included.

The Old Course at St. Andrews is the oldest course in the world, and it has so many remarkable features. It's where golf was first played some six hundred years ago and it still remains a challenge to the world's best players. That's a truly remarkable accomplishment, and it goes to show that a well-conceived design, no matter the length, can stand the test of time.


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