Victoria Golf Club
There is a unique quality about Victoria Golf Club, our golf club, which is unmatched by any other in the world. And in case the reader detects a parochial connotation in that statement he should be assured that it is backed by any objective analysis or detailed comparison that can be applied. The purpose of delving into the club’s archives and producing this book on the club’s history and achievements is to make members of Victoria fully aware of their heritage and traditions.
Since the late Billy Meader founded the club with the backing of a group of Melbourne businessmen at Fisherman’s Bend back in 1903, Victoria Golf Club’s fame has spread to every corner of the globe. It has produced players of a quality who have brought fame to their native Australia and to the club they represent in the heart of Melbourne’s rolling sand belt country in the suburb of Cheltenham.
Foremost among the great achievers who have set forth from our club in quest of the highest honors the game can bestow is Peter Thomson, winner of five British Open Championships, three Australian Open titles, two World Cups and a host of other leading tournaments. Before turning professional Thomson played in the club’s pennant team and won the 1948 Victorian amateur championship, defeating his clubmate Doug Bachli 6-4 in the final at Woodlands. In the early 1930s the ultimately tragic figure of Harry Williams, considered by many astute judges as the greatest left-hander of all time, burst onto the golf scene and at 16 years of age won the Australian amateur championship.
Six years later he was to win again and in an era of unparalleled strength in amateur golf Williams also won five Victorian championships. Williams’ clashes with Sydney’s Jim Ferrier through the 1930s have become part of the folk-lore of Australian amateur golf. Any mention of Williams automatically brings to mind H.R. (Dick) Payne whose measured stride and meticulous work on the putting green earned him five club championships from 1935 to 1950. Like so many others Payne’s career was cruelly interrupted by World War II, but he achieved his highest links honor in 1947 when he defeated the redoubtable W.A. (Billy) Edgar in the State championship of 1947 over Edgar’s home course of Commonwealth.
Williams and Payne were at school together and were smitten by the golf bug while they were still in short pants. Life member Mr Bill Uren recalls with a chuckle his first meeting with the two schoolboys whose careers were to have such a profound influence on Victoria Golf Club. Mr Uren was a member of Fisherman’s Bend but also enjoyed playing what is now the Elsternwick public course. “I would often be joined on the second tee by two young, fresh-faced schoolboys who came onto the course through the wire fence,” he said. “They would stay with me until the 17th green and then disappear back through the fence. It was sometime later that I discovered that my young partners were Harry Williams and Dick Payne. And they were very conscious of saving a shilling.” But in amateur golf the mighty deeds of Douglas William Bachli surpassed any achievement of his contemporary Australians and the year 1954 is commemorated in perpetuity in the clubhouse bar.
A small plaque is a constant reminder that in that year Bachli was the first Australian ever to win the coveted British Amateur championship and in the same year Peter Thomson became the first Australian to win the British Open. For one glorious year the two greatest trophies in world golf the “Auld Jug” itself and the British Amateur Cup sat side by side on the mantelpiece in our bar. Not only were the two pieces of silverware symbols of Australia’s emergence as a world power in golf, but they focused the game’s global spotlight onto Victoria Golf Club in a way no other club in Australia ever will be able to boast. Those achievements alone would set this club apart from others, but there is much, much more of which Victoria Golf Club members can be justifiably proud.
In 1954 Bachli also helped the Australian team to victory in the inaugural Commonwealth series as part of the bi-centenary celebrations of the Royal and Ancient golf club of St Andrew’s and in 1958 was a member of the Australian team which won the inaugural Eisenhower Cup tournament, also at St Andrews. Twice he was Australian champion and three times the Victorian champion. Our association with the world’s leading body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, is also deep rooted. The link is through the late Lord Bruce of Melbourne, who as Prime Minister of Australia, then Mr Stanley Bruce drove the first ball and opened our present course at Cheltenham back in 1927. Twenty years later, in 1947 he was created Viscount and in 1954, now Lord Bruce of Melbourne, was the first Australian elected to the captaincy of the R and A. It was fitting that he should be the R and A’s captain that year, the year our two members Doug Bachli and Peter Thomson became the first Australians to win the British Amateur and Open crowns respectively.
The glory days of Victoria Golf Club members started way back in 1909 when the left handed Claude Felstead captured the Australian Open title at Royal Melbourne. The official records, published in the English “Golfers Handbook”, claim that Royal Melbourne was Felstead’s club at the time of his Open victory, but at Fisherman’s Bend there was no doubt where his allegiance lay. He was Victoria “through and through” and the club captain of the day, Dr S.A. Ewing, hosted a memorable party to celebrate Felstead’s triumph and also commissioned a framed photograph of the hero to be hung in a “suitable place”.
There is no doubt in the minds of the researchers of this book that Felstead was the forerunner of the club’s achievers and the same photograph commissioned so long ago has now been dusted off, faithfully restored and is hanging in its original frame in a corner of the clubhouse. Felstead was still in his teens when he won the championship and his victory was hailed as a huge upset. The man who finished second was Dan Soutar who left his native Carnoustie in 1903 to work as a carpenter in Sydney. But in 1905 he set aside his tools of trade and turned professional, winning the Australian Open of that year. He was vastly more experienced than Felstead, but the Victoria Golf Club member emerged a two-stroke winner. Melbourne’s left-handed golfers were so delighted with his victory that they presented him with a purse of sovereigns and to this day he is the only left-hander to have won the Australian Open. In latter years the Victoria Golf Club flag has been kept aloft by players such as Neil Titheridge, Ray Jenner, John Lindsay, Chris Tatt and Roger Cowan.
They have formed the backbone of successful pennant teams and brought additional glory to Victoria Golf Club with victories in Australian and Victorian championships and representative selection. Jenner won the Australian title in Perth in 1973 and went on to take the 1979 Victorian championship. Lindsay won three Victorian championships and Titheridge two. Titheridge earned international honors in 1965 when he was selected to represent Australia in New Zealand in the Sloan Morpeth trophy matches and three times he captained Victoria in the interstate series. He was a State selector for 14 years stepping down from that position in 1986. A measure of the esteem in which he was held in golf circles was shown when Titheridge was appointed non-playing captain and manager of the Australian Eisenhower Cup team which played in Fiji in 1978. While we reflect on the brilliant achievements of our members on golf courses abroad and the length and breadth of Australia, we should pause to honor another of our members whose handicap never reached single figures, but who is forever remembered for his outstanding war record. Flight Lieutenant William Ellis Newton was awarded the Victoria Cross in Salamaua, New Guinea, in 1943 and the citation read: “His many examples of conspicuous bravery have rarely been equalled”.
Doug Bachli is one of a handful of contemporary members who can recall Bill Newton’s company and says: “He was a handy and devoted player whose untimely death robbed us all of an excellent golfing companion”. The golf careers of A.W. (Gus) Jackson and his cousin M.J. (Mick) Ryan started almost simultaneously as caddies at our original home at Fisherman’s Bend and both men went on to links fame and later in their careers were outstanding administrators. Jackson had first picked up a golf club at Royal Park where Peter Thomson’s incredible career also began. Jackson stayed with Victoria until the mid-’30s and won seven club championships as well as the 1926 and 1933 Victorian amateur titles. Ryan went to Kingston Heath and won the 1929 Australian Open and is the last amateur to have won our most prestigious crown and remain in amateur golf. The two cousins had a huge influence on Victorian and Australian amateur golf. Jackson left Victoria and joined Kingston Heath in the mid-’30s. He had given dedicated service to the club and served as a director for a long and valuable term.
We enjoy superb playing conditions and a wonderfully warm environment in our grand old club house but it behooves us all to pause and reflect on the genesis of all the good things around us. Friday, March 6, 1903, was the date the Victoria Golf Club was born. It is an unexplained mystery that the inscription under the portrait of our founder hanging in the foyer reads that he started our club in 1901 when the undeniable fact is that Victoria Golf Club was formed in 1903. On the initiative of Billy Meader, a group of influential Melbourne businessmen gathered in the evening for the express purpose of forming a “good” golf club to play over leased links land at Port Melbourne. Meader, a stocky, dour character, is widely regarded as the “father of Victorian golf” and although the threads of time are thinning nobody will quibble at the accolade.
Two years before he founded Victoria Golf Club and in the same hotel where we had our original roots, Meader was one of a small group of golf devotees who set up the Victorian Golf Association. He was the V.G.A.’s first treasurer and later was appointed secretary of that organisation which he controlled, firstly from our Fisherman’s Bend site and in latter years from the office where our present secretary, Mervyn Ross, works. Meader’s tireless contribution to golf in this state cannot be over emphasised. He was appointed secretary of the V.G.A. in 1907 and held the post until 1932. There are many traditionalists still in golf who believe Meader’s contribution to the game has not received the recognition it deserves and even at this late stage the Victorian Golf Association could take steps to remedy a glaring oversight.
We pass Billy Meader’s portrait every time we come up the stairs from the locker room for our after-golf sojourn at the 19th hole and it would do us all good to pause and study the steely countenance of the man whose vision contributed to the enjoyment of thousands of members. After a life devoted to golf and Victoria Golf Club Meader died on July 27,.1940. The captain Mr G.S. Brearley, President, Mr P.W. Whybrow, and his predecessor Mr J.B. Westacott, are to be congratulated on their foresight in the commissioning of this work as hopefully it will be an enduring reference to the deeds, not only of the players to emerge from Victoria Golf Club but to the dedicated band of administrators who have guided the club so successfully towards its first 100 years.