Recollections From A Past Member...
My Memories Of Early Golf In Taihape
The following is what I remember of the early history of the Taihape Golf Club. My father was not a foundation member and I was too small to caddy for him the first two or three years he played. I believe a Mr. Todd was the first Champion and a Mr. Black was runner up.
My mother saw two men hitting a golf ball to one another on the road by the school. She had never seen golf played and wondered what they were doing. She was to know a lot more about it later. She believed the two men were bank clerks and were boarding at one of the two storied houses just past the Masonic Lodge. I think it highly likely that they were instrumental in getting enough interested to form a Club.
When I was big enough to watch the ball I started to caddy each Sunday. First for my father and then for Mr. Dave Neagle, who was a close friend of my fathers. They had served their apprenticeship together in Dannevirke. Mr. Neagle was very lame and really had to have a caddy. He rode to the Links on a horse and I rode behind him. Several others rode horses, including Mr. Donald McLennan but the rest walked. Mr. Donald McLennan later had a race horse which had developed leg trouble in training which he asked me to exercise for him. The race horse’s name was Beeline and was the fastest horse I ever rode and I really enjoyed riding him.
Most golfers those days used only four or five clubs, namely a Brassy (No 2 wood), a mid iron (No 2 iron), and a Mashie (No 5 iron), a Niblick (No 8 iron) and a putter. Some had light Canvas bags and others just carried their clubs in their hands. Later some added more clubs to their kit, such as a Driver (No 1 wood), a Spoon (No 3 wood), a Baffy (No 4 wood), a Cleek (No 1 iron), a Jigger (No 4 iron) and a massive Niblick (No 6 or 7 iron).
The golf ball, which was much lighter than our present one, would float in water. The cover was thinner and more easily cut, and the centre was a ball of light rubbery elastic, or sometimes a ball of liquid about the size of a marble taw (shooter in the game of marbles), which had hundreds of yards of thin elastic wound around it. These golf balls were more affected by the wind. Slices and hooks were exaggerated. It was much harder to keep a ball down when playing into the wind.
Some golfers I met much later in Wanganui and Palmerston North used a running up iron just for approaching in preference to pitching. All clubs were, of course, wooden shafted.
I don’t remember any sort of Clubhouse at the Beban's Hill Course, but they may have used on of Mr. Steve Bebans sheds. Nor do I remember any mixed foursomes being played there, although the women turned up on opening and closing days but played their own game. Here again, I could be astray as I was going to school and did not attend Thursday games which were the main days of play, being the half holiday.
The nineteenth was restricted to any bottles of beer or whiskey carried to the links, or perhaps at the hotels in town. The latter I would not know about. I remember one time I was waiting for Mr. Neagle to finish the nineteenth when a player went in to Mrs. Beban and borrowed a spade. Having nothing else to do I followed him over the bank and just above the road he dug a hole about two feet deep, put his golf ball in it, covered it in, and returned the spade to Bebans. It is the only time I ever saw a player really hole-out at the nineteenth. Of course if a player had that a bad a round on Ngawaka Links ,he would not still have his original ball. As it was this chap must have been a right handed slicer as he had negotiated the Metal Pit three times.
Another incident I remember well, my father had picked out a new Brassy for a Mr. Tom Garrett. T.A. Garrett was the local chemist. Tom used to get very annoyed with himself if he had a bad round, but he was always first at the Links on Sunday morning and full of smiles. This particular morning he was trying out his new Brassy. When he got to the fourth hole, his drive just trickled down the hill. He walked across to a nearby stump, smashed the club across it, picked up the pieces and broke them again across his knee. Then he said, ‘That is what I think of your club, Jack Evans.’ I watched in astonishment. I could not understand anybody smashing a brand new club like that.
I do not remember any cups or trophies being played for there. I think the winners received a voucher to purchase, which was redeemed from the Club.
I only remember the names of two other caddies. They were Bertram and Wallace Knox, two brothers who lived handy to the links. I also only remember one professional coming here in those days. His name was McEwan and he had not been long in New Zealand. He came from Scotland. I have a photo of him taken in the workshop of Nicholls the Jeweller (now Doug Bonds). Iremember him giving my father a lesson on the recreation ground. They were hitting the balls with various clubs, and I was collecting them and bringing them back to them. Then they got onto short approaches. The Pro put his hat on the ground and they were trying to pitch into the hat. Then they sat down and starting yarning. Having nothing to do, I picked up the club and when the eighth ball in succession landed in the hat the conversation had finished.
The Course was grazed by sheep. There were stumps beside the fairways but not many logs. The ball had to be played where it lay, or lifted with a penalty of one stroke. A free lift was allowed from a sheep track or a rabbit scrape.
The Greens were cut with a hand mower and occasionally rolled with a roller.
Professionals had to have knowledge of club making and repairing, as well as teaching.
When the Course was changed to Mr. Sam Shergold’s property on Papakai Road, the fairways had to be cleared of logs and stumps. Jack Kilkolly and his team of bullocks were hired to pull logs to the side of the fairways and many of them were burned. However, plenty were left off the fairways to make it expensive to stray too much. The Greens were dug, levelled, and sown. They were enclosed in fences, square in shape, for now they were on a cow farm. Clubs were still the same wooden shafted, but most players now carried about seven clubs. However, they still played half shots with most irons when necessary. The art of playing half shots is now lost with the greater range of clubs, and the trundler to carry them. If you don’t think it was an art, try playing a half shot with a five iron and see how exact you have to be to get the right length and direction.
The stumps and logs made many of the golfers play shots, quite expertly, that you would not see played today.
Now with a swamp to the left of No 7 a new shot had to be perfected. If a player duffed his Tee shot on No 8 it would finish in the swamp. We caddies would run to the swamp to mark the spot where the ball went in. If the water floated the ball then a couple of pieces of wood (usually left handy from a previous occasion) were placed in the swamp to stand on. Then the ball was played out in the same fashion as an explosion shot from a bunker. The main difference of course being the wetness and the coldness of the water compared to sand. Also the skill required in maintaining your balance on the pieces of wood while making your shot, otherwise you were wet both ends. You could of course incur a penalty and take it back and drop it over your shoulder. Placing was prohibited. If it rolled into a bad lie, you could be back in the swamp next shot. I might mention at this stage, that the art of dropping a ball was something to watch. The attitude some golfers got into trying to reduce the distance from their shoulder to the ground to reduce rolling was amazing.
Another problem which arose from playing on a cow farm was whether to take a free lift or not. A ball touching dung could be lifted and dropped not nearer the hole. The same applied if the fence round the green interfered with your swing or stance. However if the ball was lying fairly good it might not pay to take your free lift. Fortunately the players made up their minds quickly. A free lift had to be inspected and approved by his card marker or opponents. Had he behaved like a lot of our modern golfers before they play their shots or puts the day would not have been long enough to complete the round in daylight. I think I should explain to some of our younger players who may read this and who would say “Why play on a cow farm?” that in those days you either walked or used a horse to get to the Links. Bankers, Policemen, Farmers, and a few town residents who had enough ground owned a horse. Most of the Business people neither owned a horse nor could ride one. Therefore, the Course had to be in walking distance. If you look at the topography around Taihape, you will see how difficult it was.
The six-hole course was too small for the growing Club. Furthermore the metal pit was encroaching further and further to the second green and into the third fairway. If you care to stand by the rose garden at the south end of Hautapu Street and look at the metal pit you will see how far it eventually encroached.
However, about this time Charlie Currie started a cab service. He would pick up the golfers from the Post Office and deliver them to the Course and brought them back for a further shilling. Mostly it took him three trips. This service continued until hereplaced the Cab with a Taxi. The membership must have risen considerably at this time. I remember a lot more women playing and mixed foursomes were quite common. Most competitions could be played either on Thursday afternoon or on Sunday. Therefore, the winners were not known until the next week. My father and other golfers mostly played their competition game on Thursday, and on Sunday played a friendly morning round with a mixed foursome in the afternoon. They took their lunch with them. This saved time and two cab fares.
Now the women those days were just as shrewd as their daughters of today. They turned up with a basket of cakes and a thermos of tea. Thermos flasks were something new and popular. Afternoon tea would then be partaken, at the second hole, sitting on the log beside the fairway on the second nine holes. This situation was highly satisfactory to us caddies as we got a share and a spell. After about a year the situation changed. Some men players asked on of the Gillies boys if they could get some afternoon tea from their mother if they paid for it. This she did so successfully that repeats were called for and it grew until she was supplying afternoon tea to a considerable proportion of the Golf Club. Mrs. Gillies daughter, Elizabeth, would take orders for afternoon tea and deliver it when and where it was requested. This excellent service continued until the Links were shifted from Papakai Road. Now however, the men were supplying afternoon tea for the ladies, but to be fair to the ladies they did not pass the buck. However, we caddies saw that nothing was wasted and quite approved the break.
There were quite a few caddies now, Jack and Bill Gillies, Arthur, William, Harold, Doris and Irene Bosher all lived handy and were available. We received a shilling a round and by keeping an eye on our employer’s opponent’s ball, we often collected a shilling from him as well. Rounds were nearly always played in twos and not in fours.
The trophies played for were donated and I can remember quite a lot of them. (And possibly have forgotten some!) Mr. Jack Mortland donated a rosebowl which was for competition in bogey matches. It was held by the Club until someone won it twice in succession or three times at intervals. It was then presented to the winner to keep and replaced by Mr. Mortland Mr. George Bray donated a silver cigarette case, with the same conditions, for stroke play. They also played for Silver Buttons. Other trophies were Wakeman Cup donated by Mr. Percy Wakeman, O’Callaghan Cup (juniors) donated by Mr. H.H. O’Callaghan. Peacock Rosebowl donated by Mr. Peacock, Shergold Cup, donated by Mr. Sam Shergold Snr and of course the Senior Championship Cup.
By now some of the golfers would travel to Wanganui and Palmerston North to compete in Golf Tournaments, mostly unsuccessfully. However, they enjoyed playing on better fairways and cursed the sand bunkers. I usually went along as caddy and enjoyed the trips. I saw A. S. Duncan play at Belmont on two occasions. He was in the final both times. I was impressed by his consistent play. He was not a very big hitter but he played very few bad shots. He was not a young man and I would think he was past his prime. I also saw many good Wanganui golfers playing such as Gonville and Hurley Saunders, a Mr. Harold and Jack Goss a Tobacconist. Jack Goss had lost an eye in the First World War but he played good enough to win the Belmont Club Championship, and give a good account of himself in the National Champs.
I caddied for my father Sunday mornings and for Mr. Neagle on Sunday afternoons. Mr. Neagle, in spite of his deformity was now one of Taihape’s leading Golfers.
Some of the young ladies were also playing very good golf, especially Miss Spooner, who later became Mrs. Windle and shifted to Raetihi. Nora Murphy and Ida Mortland were also good steady players.
I don’t remember any inter-club games being played. No doubt transport would make this difficult.
One time when the Taihape Golfers were playing on Belmont Course at Wanganui, Sam Powell was playing the hole called the encampment, when a magpie attacked him. Sam who was very bald would address his ball, then the magpie and its mate would fly at his bald head. We had to go to his assistance and fight the magpies off while he had his shot. Furthermore every time he came to that hole in subsequent rounds they attacked him again. Naturally he got a lot of barrack about his ‘birdies’.
In one of Wanganui’s Tournaments, however, Taihape had a lot of success. They shared most of the Trophies between them. I was not there but I heard the weather was very wet before and during the Tournament, so much so that the balls were suckering. No trouble to the Taihape players. The Wanganui players, with their sandy seaside Course, couldn’t handle it. They had not experienced suckered balls before.
I had finished school by this time and after working for two months for Donald McLennan on his Auction Mart I took a job at Erewhon Station. Mrs. McRae, the Manager’s wife was an invalid, and had an ex Matron of a hospital working there. A middle aged woman named Miss Kiernan. She played golf and had her clubs out there. She had Sundays off and nothing to do, so I set out a small Course for her to play on. It must have been rough, and putting just a matter of luck. I don’t know how it played as I was whole fourteen years old with a Repeater Pea rifle and plenty of rabbits. I had more interesting things to do, thinning out those rabbits.
I took a job at Mr. F. J. Hintz farm and Tirraukawa. A Mr. E Allen was Manager. Here I had Sundays off work. It was too far to ride in to Taihape each week so I took out some golf clubs and balls. I was denied the use of the Tennis Court for a putting green, so I set to work to clear six circles up and back in a long valley. The holes were short, the greens impossible to putt on, so I amused myself by playing onto the green and allowing myself two putts for a score. In a few months Mrs. Allen was to have a shot at it and Ernie Allen was busy making himself a club on the lathe. This was eventually finished and was a fine piece of work. He made it all in one piece out of Maire and polished it. However, he did not get much length out of it. Probably too stiff in the shaft. I could not try it myself as he was left handed, that was why he made it.
Shearing time came and so did the epidemic flu. Taihape was badly hit and many people died. Mr. Allen would not let me go to town and when shearing was finished, I told him I was going in to see my people. He said “If you do, don’t come back.” The shearers said if you want a job come with us. So I went to town saw my people, who were recovered from the flu, got fumigated, and continued on with the shearers till the end of the season.
Then I worked for Wilson & Co, grain merchants in town. I was now sixteen and joined the Taihape Golf Club as a member. My experience as a caddy stood me in good stead, and I rapidly reduced my handicap winning the Junior Championship that year.
Meantime I had a trip to Wanganui playing in a Tournament over several days. I tied for a trophy and had to play off over eighteen holes. I won and brought home my first Trophy. I remember playing with a Wanganui player and when we got to a hole called Bunkers Hill, I duffed my drive. My ball went into a big ditch at the foot of the hill. The ditch was about two feet wide and two feet deep. My fellow player said “You can pick it out of there with a penalty of two strokes”. I said “What’s wrong with playing it. It’s a bogey match and I might still get a half?” He said “You can’t play it out of there.” If he had played at Taihape he would have known better. I played a cut shot out, put my next by the green, approached near the hole, one putt and with the handicap stroke, I got a half!
Notes written by Albert John Evans; 2002.
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