Four past Australian Golf Digest editors reflect on their time in the chair.
“MY GIRL”: COVERING – AND MANAGING – THE METEORIC RISE OF JAN STEPHENSON
By Geoff Prenter, editor 1971-1975
It was one afternoon in early 1971 when this blue-eyed blonde bounded into my Sydney office.
Clever kid. I knew her as golf’s teenage wonder girl. She approached my desk, oozing confidence, flaunting eyes that would melt the snow off a Thredbo mountain.
“Yes,” I said. “Looking for a golf partner?”
“No,” she laughed. “I want to write a column for your golf magazine.”
I asked her to submit a column. I gave her no advice to the content material. She eagled it. The column was a gem. A great mixture of comment and tips.
We would get together once a week for nine holes at Woollahra Golf Club that was usually followed by dinner at a Greek restaurant. The more we met the more I realised her commercial potential. She had the looks, she had the personality and she sure had the game.
I told her I would like to be her manager. We met with high-profile Macquarie Street solicitor, Jim Comans. Jim drew up a contract. Our first client was Polaroid. All this time “my girl” was winning championships.
It all came to a halt.
She had outgrown what Australia could offer and colleagues were highly jealous of her success and the publicity she generated. They couldn’t accept the fact her game, and her looks, were providing massive interest in ladies’ golf.
America was begging. Jan flourished, winning three Majors and tournaments all over the globe. She amassed an enviable bank account.
I saw her four years ago at Concord Golf Club. She came home for a sponsored tournament. She saw me approach her on the practice putting green. A shriek and a big hug.
Seeing Jan Stephenson looking a picture of good health and as vibrant as ever made my day. The same Jan who, upon returning to America, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
EYE OF THE TIGER: COVERING GOLF’S BOOM
By Michael Court, editor 1996-2000
Naturally, it was all about Tiger when I was in the chair at Australian Golf Digest nearly 25 years ago.
Golf was still on the crest of a boom… thanks to the Great White Shark. Yes, Greg Norman was No.1 in the world and Peter Thomson was widely regarded as the greatest golfer Australia has produced. He probably still is.
And the Presidents Cup? Well, there was much fanfare when it was announced that it was coming Down Under to Royal Melbourne. Woods would be there, Norman too – and Thomson was named as captain of the Internationals.
We produced a bumper edition in December 1998, one of our best. I have kept a copy of that issue of Australian Golf Digest, which I still regard as the best one I was involved with. I still look back at it occasionally with a degree of satisfaction.
In 1997 I made the most of my position as editor and applied for accreditation to attend the Masters. I still recall sitting beside Tiger’s dad, Earl Woods, at the press conference after Tiger won his first Major championship while legendary Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly whispered to Earl as his superstar son answered questions on the podium.
That was a week to remember. I was introduced to golf legend Gene Sarazen at Augusta, played half a dozen fabulous courses with the late, great Australian golf writer Tom Ramsey and followed Stuart Appleby for four straight days while walking beside his late wife Renay. On the way home, I had a night out in LA with Aussie actor Bryan Brown and a man who wields a bit of power in racing and rugby league circles these days, Peter V’Landys.
I had always regarded Golf Digest as Australia’s golf ‘bible’ and to edit this great magazine was a dream I’m glad to say I was able to fulfill. The late Phil Tresidder had just stepped aside and was now editor-at-large. He had cut back his contributions to the magazine as he shared his time between us and writing books and gathering anecdotes about the likes of Norman, Thomson and a youngster named Karrie Webb.
I enjoyed several lunches and a few hits with Tresidder nearby at The Australian Golf Club, where he frequented, and my love for the game was only enhanced by having worked at the magazine.
I still remember ‘Tres’ and I taking the then-Australian Amateur champion David Gleeson to The Aus to try out the latest TaylorMade 7-wood. I birdied the first hole to his par to give me a brief lead over a terrific young guy who went on to a successful pro career.
My fondest memories, though, had to be sifting through the content that was sent to us from US Golf Digest each month. That was one of the most enjoyable roles I have experienced in all my years of journalism. Their content and access to the best players in the world was simply the best.
GREAT WHITE AFTERMATH: LIFE AFTER THE SHARK
By Rohan Clarke, editor 2000-2004
Having joined Australian Golf Digest in 1995 as assistant editor to Michael Court, it has been a privilege to witness the ever-changing golf landscape in Australia over the past 25 years. Back then Greg Norman was Australian golf [top]. But upon taking over as editor in 2000 the realisation sank in that Australian golf could no longer rely on the Great White Shark to be our torchbearer.
The era of Tiger Woods had begun and it wasn’t unusual for him to feature as a cover subject four times a year. But while we could enjoy Woods’ exploits on the PGA Tour through Foxtel, it just wasn’t the same because Woods never competed in Australia for a decade (1999-2008).
I feel sorry for young Australians who missed the ‘Norman Years’ because it was an electric period. One personal moment stands out from the 1999 Australian Open at Royal Sydney where Norman shared second behind teenage sensation Aaron Baddeley. Following Norman in Saturday’s third round when he shot a blistering 64, I was among the gallery behind the green at the par-5 seventh where the Shark and playing partner Raymond Russell were preparing to play their third shots.
A steep, two-metre bank stood before them and the flagstick several paces from the back edge of the putting surface. The Scotsman pitched his ball almost to the top of the bank only for it to run back to his feet. Up stepped the Shark who proceeded to hit a delicate pitch, which bounced, bounced and spun before rolling into the bottom of the cup for eagle. The crowd roared its approval and I can honestly say I’ve never felt such an adrenaline rush on a golf course as that moment. Sheer brilliance.
While Norman’s playing career dwindled post-2000, he played an instrumental role in the golf-course construction boom that flourished here. Dozens of new courses were built as part of residential golf communities across Australia. The digital age provided a wonderful opportunity to better showcase these new courses. But if not for Norman’s inspiration as a golfer, I doubt many of these courses would ever have been built.
Appreciating Greg Norman is all the more relevant in 2020 when newspapers no longer employ golf writers and rarely publish golf stories. Despite his flaws, Greg Norman was – and always will be – the Pied Piper of our fairways.
BACK AND FORWARD: PEERING AHEAD WHILE REMEMBERING THE PAST
By Steve Keipert, editor 2004-2012
Early on in my time as editor, I collated what those of us at Australian Golf Digest knew as the forward features list – a common planning tool for any magazine. Primarily, it outlined the upcoming features for the next few months but usually stretched out to cover the entire year.
I stretched it a little further.
In 2004, I remember typing the year 2020 on that features list with thoughts of incredulity. The very notion of 2020 seemed so distant 16 years ago, yet here we are – virus and all. Having joined the magazine in May 2000, I knew October 2020 would mark our 50th anniversary/600th issue and didn’t want to overlook a reflective celebration worthy of the occasion. So onto the features list it went. I left Australian Golf Digest in March 2012, but returned four years ago pleased to know that plans for this issue had remained intact. I can’t take credit for the assembled features in this commemorative issue, but I can claim a long-ago planting of the seed.
My combined time with the magazine spans nearly 16 years, half of those as editor, and input into 189 of the 600 issues. Others have sat in the chair for longer, and while the baton has been passed from editor to editor, today there remains a connection between almost all of us. However, there is one past editor I wish had been here to see this issue and pen a column in this space.
During my early days with the magazine, we still saw a fair bit of Phil Tresidder, the longest-serving editor of Australian Golf Digest. ‘Tres’ took an enduring interest in the magazine even when he was no longer on staff and instead contributed columns and features on a freelance basis. Much like Mike Court has recalled on the previous page, on many a Friday, Phil’s morning office visits would culminate in lunch at The Australian Golf Club – his home club and the nearest golf club to our offices at the time. Plenty of wise old heads of golf gathered there and their knowledge added plenty to an eager assistant editor in his mid-20s.
Tres struggled with technology. When he finally graduated from a typewriter to a computer, he couldn’t work out how to save his stories onto a disk to bring into the office (we were no chance of getting his head around e-mail!). As I lived only a few suburbs away from his Coogee home, once or twice a month I would call by his house on my way to work to copy his contributions for the next issue onto a disk.
Another Tresidder curiosity: his old typewriter was a warhorse, and in its last days the ‘L’ key no longer worked, so Tres would type a ‘1’ in the place of any ‘L’ or ‘l’. It was a habit that continued into his computer days, which mattered little given that the replacing was easily done during the sub-editing and editing process. But the odd one slipped through. Even today we can peer back into a few late-1990s issues and find the occasional rogue ‘1’ in Phil’s stories. My eyes are now well-trained to pick up such errors and the meticulous side of me hates spotting them whenever I delve into our back issues, but another part of me smiles, remembering “The Great Man”, as we used to call him (partly reverentially and partly mock praise), and laughs at the quirkiness of it, because it was such a perfect Tresidder-ism.
Golf lost Phil in October 2003, which gave me only three-and-a-bit years’ overlap here. I wish it had been longer, but equally I’m grateful for that time. His longevity with and contribution to our magazine should not be overlooked.
When it comes to broader recollections, I noted in the May issue this year that my time with Australian Golf Digest began as Tiger Woods really hit his stride, so in any reflection it’s difficult to ignore the dominant force in the modern game. Through highs (the Tiger Slam and freakish shots) and lows (injuries, infidelities and arrests), it’s been a wild and captivating ride for anyone in the golf media this century. We’ve marvelled at Tiger’s ability to dominate courses and fellow competitors. But this is the Australian edition of the global Golf Digest family and I prefer to reminisce about the great players and golf courses to emerge from our country – and there have been plenty of both.
Those 2004-2012 years also represented a tumultuous time on the local tournament scene. A fellow golf writer remarked to me at one point during that period how Australian golf had never looked so great from a player-performance perspective yet so meagre from a tournament standpoint. The Australian Open wrestled with the conflicting forces of tradition and innovation, while the PGA Tour of Australasia battled for its place at the global table (and still does). Equipment manufacturers seemed to uncover new materials and push the limits they’re governed by on an annual basis – and sometimes more frequently than that. But tellingly, that’s an observation a golfer could make of any portion of the past 50 years.
So, much like with my initial forward planning, I’m left wondering: what will golf look like in another 10, 20 or even 50 years from now?