Fifty years. It’s a golden milestone in anyone’s language.
For those of us at Australian Golf Digest, it’s the culmination of hundreds and thousands of articles, interviews, flights, hotel rooms, hits and misses over 600 adrenalin-filled deadlines, all met with the same rigour and enthusiasm to see our hard work laid bare in its most natural form – print.
A lot has changed since the brainchild of two high school students found its way onto newsstands across the country in November 1970 under the name “Australian Golf”. While the clunky typewriters have made way for personal computers, rotary-dial telephones ditched for hi-tech handheld devices, and all those grainy negatives now a distant memory in a world of digital photography, one thing has remained constant since that “first great issue” [pictured below] hit the press: our love – and unrivalled coverage – of the greatest game on earth hasn’t waned.
As poorly timed as it is, we find ourselves in strange circumstances. Social-distancing and travel restrictions are by no means conducive to a team celebration befitting such a monumental achievement in Australian sports media. Alas, we must begrudgingly take a raincheck on those party plans for now. But as 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott told us in a 2018 interview: “As you keep achieving, you’ll realise you’ve got to enjoy that (celebrating) part of the process too, because it gives you more satisfaction with the result.”
And we will.
While compiling our special collector’s edition, on sale now at all good newsagents and supermarkets, a colleague asked me what I put the magazine’s success down to. I told them our longevity is a testament to the observation made about sports writing by American scribe George Plimpton: “The smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature.”
It’s my favourite quote and sums up why golf writing stands head and shoulders above the rest. From legendary penmen like Peter Dobereiner, Tom Callahan and Dan Jenkins, to our very own Peter Thomson and Tom Ramsey, Australian Golf Digest has been truly blessed to be the “home club” of golf’s greatest wordsmiths.
It’s clearly meant something to you too, as evidenced earlier this year when we received a letter from long-time subscriber Bob Cheek. It read:
Dear Australian Golf Digest,
With regret, I wish to advise that I no longer require your magazine. My wife and I now reach into our 90s, have given up the great game and will not be subscribing after these many years.
We would like to thank you all for your magnificent attention and for an unmatched magazine. I am certain it helped our respective games no end, as well as providing hours of great general reading material!
We wish you the very best for the future prosperity of Australian Golf Digest.
With kindest regards,
Bob’s kind words reinforced that golf is indeed a game for life, and echoed the importance for us to continue creating content that informs, amuses and, ultimately, inspires you to stay in the game, whether you’re nine or 90… to Think Young, Play Hard, something Bob will be able to continue to do as an ‘honorary subscriber’.
Bob, like you, will also have his senses ignited by the smell of golf this issue via our special scratch ’n’ sniff cover. Have you given it a try yet? Nothing quite like the whiff of freshly cut grass before that first ball is struck, right? It’s that same richness and mystery to golf that keeps us excited to cover it and for you to read about it.
As our resident historian Geoff Armstrong writes of former Sydney sporting publication The Referee [see page 178], “When The Referee published its final edition on August 31, 1939, the editor, JC Davis wrote of his ‘deep regret’ at having to close. ‘It would have been possible to cheapen the quality of the paper and to curtail its cover of the sporting field,’ he said, ‘but it would not have been The Referee’.”
The day we drop our standards here is the day we will walk off the course for good, too. It’s astonishing to say it and mean it, but I’ve never proofread nor written the same story twice in my nearly 10 years at Australian Golf Digest. Which makes me, of course, a short-timer standing on the shoulders of many giants dating back to Geoff Prenter, a founding editor of this magazine, who would go on to strike a deal with Golf Digest in America for world-class instruction content (“A game-changer,” he says. “We sold like hot cakes after that!”) and pave the way for the arrival of its most treasured captain, Phil Tresidder.
On the following pages you’ll relive some of our great covers, many under the watch of Prenter and ‘Tres’, right up to the 2000s and today. Together, they reflect a superficial but true sense of how the game has evolved across five decades. Though there’s a charm to the enduring nature of certain problems (slow play is a recurring theme), and the cycles of plaid, polyester and pleats are laughable, what’s most fascinating is the change in mood. Colour TV and stars like Arnie and Jack ushering in an era of the game as entertainment staged for the masses and managed according to business principles, leading the way for raw talents like our own Greg Norman to make real money and even pose with his guns out (August 2017).
The attitudes towards gender on display in the February 1983 cover and May 2020 cover suggest we’ve either come a long way or no distance at all. Then again, maybe the August 2014 cover proves nothing is more timeless than a wiry old dude stretching promiscuously like a praying mantis.
What’s to come in the next 50 years of golf, or even civilisation? The editor who made Golf Digest the global juggernaut it is, Jerry Tarde, once wrote about golfers and big anniversaries: “The question we ask ourselves inevitably is, will the grass be greener on the other side?”
As the world paused in this pandemic, never before has the phrase “the other side” rung so sharply. The way we live and work and play is teed up for change of historic proportions. I’m optimistic. Our game, which can be played alone yet parallel, happens to be oddly well-suited to a future where contagion is top of mind. And if the record-breaking rounds and equipment sales we’re seeing in Australia are of any great measure, our future is looking bright.
We can only wait and see. In the meantime, this feels like the right moment for reflection. The contents of this issue are a mix of classics from our archive plus new treatments, and together are a celebration of golf as we knew it.
A huge and sincere thank you to all of our loyal subscribers, advertisers and talent over the past 50 years. Like the previous 599 issues, this one is for you.