IN A game of infinite unpredictabilities, there’s a certain comfort in the things you can count on.
Each December falls an event in golf like no other. The Jack Newton Celebrity Classic – now officially know by its nickname, ‘The Jack’ – is the sport’s unofficial Christmas party. A gathering of a couple of hundred players spanning professionals, celebrities, sponsors, everyday amateurs plus friends and associates of the man who founded the event, in many ways The Jack represents everything great about this game.
Yes, it can get a little wild. The 36-hole golf competition is semi-serious at best while the dress code is downright casual. The array of offbeat and madcap outfits on display is the event’s hallmark.
In late December I made my eighth appearance at The Jack, spanning 15 years, three different venues and two states. The 2016 edition might have been the best one yet. Jack definitely has a loyal following for his year-end frivolities and seeing familiar faces – many of which remain unseen for the full 12 months between stagings – is an indicator of just how quickly a year can evaporate. Former AFL player and ‘Jack’ regular Richard Champion refers to it as a “family” and his description is apt. And the great news is any keen golfer can become part of it.
Many elements you know will recur. In his opening-night address, Jack Newton will undoubtedly remind participants that the two-and-a-half-day event is more like the lengthy Melbourne Cup than the fast-paced Golden Slipper. And an ailing Bob Hawke’s annual rendition of “Waltzing Matilda” simply has to be seen and heard to be believed. What began as a once off for the tournament patron is now a tradition that tingles the spine every time you witness it.
Evolving later was the tradition of prize winners taking a post-presentation plunge into the swimming pool while fully clothed. Unhappy at the number of garments being discarded before entry one year at Cypress Lakes, former rugby league player Don McKinnon sparked a minor controversy when he began hurling shoes, keys and wallets in after them. At least one pair of $500 shoes took an unscheduled dip.
In 38 years, The Jack has raised almost $7 million for the two charities that motivate the host: junior golf and diabetes research. That Matt Stieger, a past product of Jack Newton Junior Golf, captured the 2016 tournament is testament to the efforts of Newton and his loyal followers these past four decades.
The charity component cannot be overstated. Jack’s daughter, Kristie, designed a new logo for the event that reinforces the intertwining elements of the tournament: charity, golf and people. Each year participants are touched by the heartfelt stories of diabetes sufferers whose tales serve as powerful reminders of that disease’s rising impact on society. Yet we’re simultaneously uplifted by the stories of the top juniors who participate in the event and provide a window to the future stars we’re likely to be seeing on the world stage in the years to come. Running concurrently with The Jack last December was the Ladies European Tour’s qualifying tournament in Morocco at which Celina Yuan became the first JNJG junior to ever successfully navigate a qualifying school on any circuit before the age of 18.
Parallel with the serious side of The Jack is the not-so serious aspect. Without putting too fine a point on it, this is a golf event where the 15th club in the bag is a spare liver. Some participants revel in the nighttime functions a little too hard and pay the price the next day. Others are more resilient – at least to begin with.
My favourite story in this department came a dozen years or more ago when, after a dismal first round, veteran Queensland pro Ryan Haller declared to all at our table during the mid-tournament dinner that he intended to show up for his 6.30am tee-time straight from the bar. Upon seeing Haller the next afternoon, I asked whether he in fact made it to the tee on no sleep and a system running on ample alcohol. “I sure did,” he replied. “And what did you shoot?” was my next question. “Just a 66,” he said with a grin.
These days The Jack makes its home at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley after previous stints at nearby Cypress Lakes and Twin Waters on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Taking the event to Newton’s backyard in the New South Wales Hunter Valley a decade ago was a great fit, while the less-demanding Crowne Plaza course suits the many once-a-year golfers who participate while remaining an adequate challenge for the pros. The off-course facilities – function rooms, accommodation, pool, etc. – are tough to top as well.
You too can get in on the action next December, as the support of everyday golfers is paramount to the event’s continued success. Visit www.celebrityclassic.jacknewtongroup.com for more details.