History of the club

Golf has been played and enjoyed in Heathcote since the 19th century. The Heathcote district was a prosperous goldmining area and in 1860, the town’s population reached 35,000 as prospectors arrived in search of their fortune. Some of the early inhabitants found open ground to shape some holes for golf and one of the early sites was the nine-hole course at Bald Hill whose 1st tee was located not far from the corner of Kyneton Rd and the McIvor Hwy.

However, to appreciate the history of the Heathcote Golf Club (HGC) as it is today, we must first talk about horses. Horseracing was recorded in Heathcote as far back as 1854 (and from 1867 at the current HGC site). Racing Clubs were formed and then lapsed over the years from 1867 to 1914 when, with the commencement of World War I, many recreational activities ceased. The Heathcote Racing Club reformed again after the war in 1924.

During the war years, golf was played on the Bald Hill course in Heathcote although the small club was mentioned in the 1919 McIvor Times as being “Virtually Defunct”. Nevertheless, the club battled on. In his address to the golf club members at their 1927 AGM, Secretary Mr T Baker revealed the necessity to find an alternate and permanent site for the club for it to survive. Manganese mining and the construction of houses had reduced the playing area of the Bald Hill course.

In 1927, the Racing Club received a proposal from the golf club for them to relocate to the recreation reserve, which was flatly refused. Mr Baker suggested that although their first attempt to move to the racecourse site has failed, this would be pursued again as it was seen to be the best and most logical location. A second proposal in January of 1928 was accepted by the Racing Club Trustee’s and Mr Harold Cates who was the resident Golf Professional at Bendigo Golf Club was commissioned to design the new links.

The new course was opened on July 15th 1928 and, from all reports, those who played believed it may one day become “one of the best golf courses in the country”. A “dainty” afternoon tea was provided by the ladies in the kitchen under the grand stand which became the clubs first clubhouse. On that day, an invitation was extended to Heathcote members from a Mr Shanahan of Pyalong for a competitive match at the Pyalong links.

During the early 30’s the club was becoming more active, competition golf was flourishing and the Lady members were asked to form their own committee. The “White Horse” Trophy was a major event being played over 3 Saturdays by the men while the ladies played for the Farleys Trophy over the same weekends. Strangely enough the 1932 Farleys Trophy was won by a man while the ladies played for the “Doctors” trophy.

The club Championships in the 30’s were decided over several elimination rounds of Match Play. By 1932, Subscription Fees had leaped to an amazing £1 / 10 for the men while the Ladies paid 10 & 6 pence and in 1934 that the club joined the Victorian Golf Association. As with most recreational pastimes of the early and mid 30’s, golf took a back seat to the great depression.

When war broke out in 1939, those who were able, took up arms, while the rest stayed and provided what assistance they could for the war effort. Activities at the golf club continued through the war years, providing a much needed break away from the continual and often sad news from battlefields far away. Golf Day competition fees were regularly donated to the Red Cross. In fact, after the war the Red Cross Medal event became a most sought after trophy.

By 1950, things were starting to look up again. In 1953, the club received a visit from “The Oakleigh Boys” – Bill Edgar, Laurie Duffy, Bill Higgins and Eric Wishart. Bill Edgar formed the group from friends, fellow pennant players and local caddies in 1939, to travel around Melbourne and raise funds for the war effort. The Boys proved so popular the troop stayed together long after the war was over and eventually played matches in Ballarat, Geelong and of course, Heathcote.

The Golf Club continued to prosper throughout the late 50’s and 60’s, however, the same could not be said for country racing. The cost of maintaining a number of country race venues became too much for the VRC to bear and in 1969, the Heathcote Racing Club was forced to close for the final time. This was an enormous change for the golf club who had always been a tenant and played second-fiddle to the race club. Now, maintenance and custodianship of the Recreation Reserve was in the hands of the Golf Club.

During the summer of 1969, the club used some of the material from the demolition of the grand stand to erect a clubhouse – built mainly with volunteer labour at a cost of $3000. The 70’s and 80’s were an exciting time in general and a busy time for the club and the minute secretary as you’ll appreciate from some of the following extracts from the minute books.

Early in 1970 the Lady’s committee voted in favour of a telephone connection. Of course, this was knocked back by the General Committee. Instead, the Club purchases an electricity generator at a cost of ($250) which was great for two reasons…the beer would be colder and you could stay up later drinking it.

1971 saw the 1st running of the “Big Chip” tournament, a triangular tournament played between Heathcote, Pyalong and Elmore. In 1972, entry into the September Tournament cost $3.50 and included “a Luncheon & Afternoon Tea. In 1974, Tom McCarthy purchased a tractor on behalf of the club valued at $850 (the club eventually paid Old Tom back) and later that year a Pool table purchased for $250.

The clubhouse was extended in 1976 at a cost of $6000 and officially opened for the 1977 season by district President Kevin Stagg. It was stated the new clubhouse had “a very large hall which would accommodate the largest of crowds”. The same year, Tom McCarthy Moved the motion: “No practise swinging inside the clubhouse!”

In 1977 R. Mason Moved the club jumper change from yellow – this was defeated. The following year – 1978 W. Manton suggests the club write to reserve trust to remove the “sheep” from the course. Also that year McCarthy Medal begins and John McGillivray moves: The club purchase a Howard rough cutter valued at $1460. 1979 saw a toilet erected at 7th tee (which came in handy until 2006 when it began to “list” to one side and became unsafe. Also in ’79 the 36 Hole Foursomes Championship begins sponsored by the Drummond family.

Electricity is finally connected to the building at a cost of $5780, primarily raised by the social committee at the time through bingo, raffles and other activities. By 1981 the club has just over 100 members. At the following year’s Annual General Meeting, club jumpers are to be changed from Yellow to Brown with Gold emblem. The same year the 1st tee is moved back 15 metres to become a par 5 and the machinery shed which was situated on the first fairway (which was regularly peppered with shots that weren’t that far off line), is relocated to its present location.

In 1983 with golf’s popularity approaching an all time high, it became possible for the club to invest in an automated irrigation system. Priced at $65,000 (48,142 for material only) a Govt grant of $45,000 was received so the club borrowed $20,000 to make up the difference. Volunteer labour was used as well as participants in the Commonwealth Community Employment Program. Several members paid into an interest free debenture system to ensure the project was completed.

To help store the recycled water that water about to be sent to the course, Hank King built a new dam for the extraordinarily exorbitant fee of $1. In fact, holes were being dug all over the place. The 2nd and 6th holes also grew water hazards overnight. In Sept 1984 a further $1600 was raised for materials to irrigate the tees of the Back nine.

1987 had a summer to remember. We nearly lost the whole lot in a fire that swept over Mt Ida in a matter of minutes. Legend has it, that it was the quick thinking of our ground staff – turning on the fairway sprinklers on the 7th hole that stopped the fire getting to the township although a change of wind direction may have also been a factor.

Now that the club had water, an irrigation system, a tractor, rough cutter and a pool table, the next logical step was for grass greens. The first motion put forward for grass greens in February of 1988 was defeated by a vote of 67 to 48. The proposal included a $12,000 Recreation Grant on a $2 for $1 basis and use of Shire of McIvor equipment at no charge.

Assistance was also offered from Heathcote Plant Hire and Hank King once more. A Second motion was put at an extra-ordinary meeting in May 1988 and was passed 112 to 66. The back nine greens would be made first and temporary greens would be mown to enable continuance of 18 hole play. There was much discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of grass greens. Obviously, having grass greens would lead to more Green Fee revenue, more Members and Full tournaments.

The Official opening of the greens was held on October 14th 1990 – a brass plaque commemorating the day is on display outside the clubhouse. The club had much to celebrate in the 90’s including a visit by the then Victorian Governor General Dr Davis McCaughey. We also had a visit from the rain with a torrential downpour flooding the lower part of the course (10th & 11th Fairways).

Green fee revenue did increase. Membership numbers also jumped from 170 members in 1986 to 325 in 1991 and a reputation was being formed. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Without going into too much detail, the club found itself making headlines outside of the sports section with the Dismissal of the ground staff ending up in the Federal Industrial Relations Court.

The Greg Norman induced boom years provided regular income for the club with a healthy membership base and consistent green fee revenue – and it was time to expand once more. Construction of a new section of clubhouse commenced early in 1993 and was complete by the spring of the same year. The cost of the project was well over $100,000 that was shared by the Shire of McIvor – contributing $15,000, and $15,000 from the Commonwealth Govt courtesy of a now famous White Board – Both grants being on a $2 for $1 basis. With the remaining $50,000 being paid off by the club through a low interest loan – now managed by the City of Greater Bendigo. Again, volunteer labour and donations of materials from a number of businesses, took the project from a vision to a reality.

Early in 2001, Coliban Water replaced the mainline of irrigation system and increased the number of sprinklers on the course. In the same year, the club traded in its old turf equipment in favour of a new fleet purchased from John Deere. In 2007, work began on replacing sections of the clubhouse damaged by termites. This brings us to 2008 in which the major focus of our attention, other than surviving one of the harshest droughts in living memory, will be the replacement of the maintenance shed that has served the club well for 26 years.

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