Australian golf has lost a genuine legend with Peter Toogood dying overnight, aged 89.
Toogood, a member of Australia’s winning team at the original Eisenhower Trophy at St Andrews in 1958, is survived by his wife Berenice, sons Christopher, Anthony and Bernard and five grandchildren. He passed peacefully, surrounded by his family.
Amid a swag of tributes to his golf, Toogood was also remembered as one of life’s “true gentlemen” and among Tasmania’s great educators. He was awarded an MBE for his services to education and golf in 1981, was an inaugural member of the Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame in 1987 and was later awarded an OAM at the same time as his brother, John.
Toogood was recently recognised by Golf Australia for his life’s achievements when he came from his nearby house to attend the Australian Interstate Series at his beloved Royal Hobart Golf Club.
It’s understood he was combining his two great passions outside his family as recently as last week when passing on some instruction to a younger member at his home course.
Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt sad it was a sad day for not only sport, but the Australian community more broadly.
“Peter has been a regular topic of conversation over the years for his golfing deeds and not one nasty word has ever been uttered about him as an athlete or, more importantly, as a person,” Pitt said.
“He was one of life’s true gentlemen, kind to a fault; and it just so happened that he was very, very good at golf.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone matching some of his sporting feats, but today we’ll miss him as an invaluable lifelong contributor to golf and the Tasmanian and Australian communities as a whole – and we send out deepest sympathies to Berenice and the Toogood family.”
Toogood was destined to be a golfer of note. His grandfather, Alfred, was born on the Isle of Wight and was a good enough professional golfer to finish fourth at The Open in 1894 aged just 22.
His father, Alfred Jnr, emigrated to South Australia and became professional at The Grange in Adelaide, where Peter was born. There are images of a young Peter, aged about 18 months, swinging clubs around The Grange.
Alfred Jnr twice won Tasmanian Open – in 1938 and 1950 – after moving to Hobart in 1936 to become the professional at Kingston Beach Golf Club. And it was there where Peter first dabbled with golfing fame.
Peter spent much of his time in the greenskeeper’s shack beside the seventh hole where the all-purpose roles of club professionals of the era meant that Alfred Jnr was a regular as he prepared to mow the fairways.
Peter, with his trusty hickory sticks, had previously hit the flag on that par-three green, and now, on 30 January, 1938, he was determined to go one better, aged just seven.
He would later recall of the shot that catapulted him into the Guinness Book of Records for almost 20 years as the youngest player to ever have a hole-in-one: “It was the last day of school holidays, I used to go out and play by myself, so I was anxious because I’d hit the pin a couple of times and I thought I’d try.
“Fortunately the secretary-manager and another chap were walking past when I hit the shot, otherwise it would never have been verified. I hit a hickory-shafted 3-iron, 130 yards and it went in.”
And they never stopped going in.
Toogood’s resume is almost beyond peer. He chipped in for eagle on the penultimate hole of the 1949 Tasmania Open to force a playoff with Victorian Ron Smith, whom he ultimately bettered for the first of eight state championships, a record he still shares with the great Len Nettlefold.
But that was the tip of the Toogood iceberg as he would stay an amateur and incredibly win 10 of those state titles, too. Remarkably, after the first of those came in 1948, Toogood’s last came in 1978.
All the while, Toogood was also going about what he believed was his true calling, becoming a teacher. Having finished high school, he moved to Victoria to attend the University of Melbourne where he graduated after studying physical education and psychology before returning home to Tasmania.
As many of his golfing peers embarked on professional careers, Toogood forged another remarkable path that culminated in him becoming the senior master of the highly regarded Rosny College on Hobart’s eastern shore.
Before that, he had been in charge of both physical education and social psychology at the school and essentially the leader of the PE curriculum of all Tasmanian secondary schools.
Legendary Peter Thomson first became friends with Toogood as both embarked on amateur careers and many times the five-time Open champion exhorted him to turn pro, reasoning that his game would stand the global test.
But Toogood could never leave the teaching profession, instead playing golf when his schedule permitted around family and other obligations.
Not that it stopped his burgeoning list of golfing accomplishments.
He was leading amateur in the 1954 Open Championship, finishing 15th overall at Royal Birkdale, the same year he beat his brother John in the Australian Amateur final, prompting the legendary headline, “Toogood too good for Toogood”.
He was the 1955 Tasmanian Sportsman of the Year and beat future champion Bob Charles 3&1 in the 1956 final of the New Zealand Amateur.
All of which meant he was an automatic selection for Australia when available and that culminated in his most memorable – and possibly finest – golfing achievement.
Toogood was chosen to play in the 1958 Eisenhower Trophy, the first edition of the world team championship still contested today, alongside Doug Bachli, Bob Stephens and future superstar Bruce Devlin.
Devlin said it “took 52 hours for this group of kids” to fly to St Andrews, but worse was to come for the Australian team which drew a later tee time on the first day as remorseless winds swept the Scottish coast during the afternoon’s competition.
Toogood once recalled: “There was tremendous wind and rain and of the 116 players, only seven broke 80 and they’d all hit off by 7.30 in morning.
“The wind was blowing the ball off greens, we’d hit ‘em on and they’d roll off, so we were 17 strokes behind after the first round.
“But we gradually caught up, tied and won in a playoff (a full day against the Americans). That was pretty special.”
Devlin said his mate had been critical to that victory, in aggregate medal play format, having shot the only score under par of the tournament played in devilish weather throughout – a 71 in the third round that even prompted the legendary Bobby Jones, then American team captain, to marvel at Toogood’s swing and temperament.
“I’ve got nothing but fond memories of that event, hard to believe it was 61 years ago,” Devlin said.
“Peter was a hell of a player … a very straight hitter and, with respect, I’d put him on the intense side, because he was very meticulous about each shot he was trying to play. There was definitely no `cavalier’ about him … but boy, could he play.
“But I think more than that, he was just a genuinely nice person as well … known and respected by all in Aussie golf and around the world, for that matter.”
That reverence was never clearer to Toogood’s oldest son, Chris, who recalled marvelling at his father’s fame – largely unknown because of his modesty – when Jack Nicklaus won the Australian Open at Royal Hobart in 1971.
“I was just a little fella, but I remember seeing Jack approach Dad and the two of them talking like they were long, lost mates … which I suppose they were,” Chris said.
“He wouldn’t like me talking about it, but I remember thinking, That’s Jack Nicklaus – and he knows my Dad, asking him all sorts of questions … that’s amazing.”
But the thing that made Toogood a genuine Tasmanian legend is that he willingly and happily rejected that fame and played with great passion for his home state, being a part of Tassie’s only three teams to have won the Interstate Series – in 1968, 1974 and 1977.
He also developed a passion for golf course construction and later in life was passionately involved in the Australasian Golf Museum at Bothwell in central Tasmania.
All of which came through the glory days of his on-course domination. Of the 36 club championships that Toogood won, 19 came at Royal Hobart after nine in earlier days at Kingston Beach and two more at Huntingdale while he was studying in Melbourne.
Remarkably, he won 15 straight titles from 1966 at the Seven Mile Beach club that he called home for 56 years with Royal Hobart general manager John Mendel today reflecting on an enormous loss for the club.
“The best thing I could say to describe Peter is that we have 1000 club members and not once, ever, did anyone say a bad word about him – that’s remarkable,” Mendel said.
“He put Tassie golf on the map, but you wouldn’t have found a nicer gentleman anywhere, just taking generations of juniors under his wing to help them out and teach them something along the way.
“There’ll never be another Peter – it’s a huge loss.”
Details of plans to honour Toogood’s life in coming days will be shared when they are finalised.