Nudgee Golf Club

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POSTED: Fri, 24 April 2020

John Downs Farewell

Dear Members and Friends,

I have been in discussions with the Board of Nudgee Golf Club about my ceasing as the contracted golf professional at our great club. My retirement day was to be 30th June 2020, but after recent discussions with President Paul Rigby, we have mutually agreed I could leave earlier if that suited me, as there won't be much going on for the next few months.

This means that with the much appreciated assistance from the Nudgee Board, I will be retiring from my role, effective in the next week or so. With the coronavirus having a huge impact on our golfing days into the unknown future, it is still unclear when everything will get back to normal golf.

I thought I would write to you as the members about my time here at Nudgee, after taking over from my father Jack in 1986. Actually, it goes way back to my first recollection of coming here on a Cribb Island Red Bus in 1960. We lived at Hendra and in the early days of his time here, Dad caught the famous Cribby Bus from home to work at NGC each day. Starting in his youth, for many years, Dad was a caddy (as many boys were) in his early days at Brisbane Golf Club. He also foxed golf balls for professional Mick Stafford in those days and also won the very prestigious Courier Mail Caddies' Cup - a major event in those days on the golfing calendar. 

He caddied for many fine players during his time, and once caddied for the legendary American Gene Sarazen, in an exhibition match against our own Norman Von Nida. He did his apprenticeship at Victoria Park Golf Club, under the well renowned Arthur Gazzard. This was in the late 1930s, riding his bike from Yeerongpilly to Victoria Park every day. Believe it or not, Victoria Park was the place to be in those early days. He worked there during the war years. I remember Dad telling me he worked every day for 15 months, when, by chance, he was offered the job at Nudgee Golf Club. This was after the War finished, and was offered the position by then President J.P. Mulholland, in 1946.

Nudgee was only a nine hole course in those days and he immediately took on the role as Golf Professional, Barman and Caterer. As time moved on, and we moved to 18 holes, things started to improve slightly. Significantly, with the arrival of television in Australia in 1956, golf really started to take off in Australia. We then started watching a lot of celebrity golf events featuring Sam Snead, Gene Littler, Miller Barber, George Archer, Ken Venturi - just to name a few. Dad was still a one-man band for all those years, before amazingly his first apprentice was appointed, who was our own Wayne Pickering, who started his apprenticeship here in 1964. It was only then, at the age of 42, Dad actually bought his first car. Times were tough in the early days.

He never looked back after that. He had a wonderful relationship with all the presidents in his time - Eric Leach, Cyril Fogarty, Dr. Laurie Parker and John Taylor and was also honoured with Life Membership of the club in 1973.

I started my apprenticeship in 1972, here at Nudgee, the same year as many other notable professionals. Jim Barden, Jim Duncan, Bryan Smith, Ian Triggs, Brandon Coleman, Craig Wallace and Paul Dangerfield were in my year and we did have some wonderful trainee matches together.  I had a wonderful working relationship with Dad for those years, until I decided to give the circuit a shot from 1977. 

I showed some talent in the early days finishing runner up to Randall Vines in the 1975 Queensland Close; again to Wayne Grady in 1977; then Paul Foley in 1980. I did win my share of pro-ams throughout the state. My best performance was a third in the 1982 Queensland Open, behind Graham Marsh and Wayne Grady. I made the cut in many four round events, including four Australian Opens. In later years I proudly won the 1992 Queensland Club Professional Championship at Twin Waters.

It was in the early eighties that I had taken an interest in PGA affairs, particularly golf events. I had done some teaching trips with Denis Brosnan in 1978-79, throughout country Queensland, visiting some wonderful country areas. Towns such as Gayndah, Mundubbera, Jandowae, Biloela, Moura, Emerald, Moranbah, Dysart, Ayr - just to name a few - and they still hold wonderful memories to this day. Golf was booming in these areas. After being elected to the PGA committee in 1979, and given the role as Tournaments Director, I had plenty of ideas of how we could improve our professional circuit.

Having visited many of these country areas and realising their passion for the game, I set off for a month throughout Queensland each year, visiting many clubs, with a proposal of running a Pro - Am event at their Club. I had fantastic responses from most clubs I visited and with a lot of hard work and time, and ably assisted by our then secretary Dick Hazelwood, we put together what would become the Queensland Sunshine Circuit. I vividly remember our first event in Emerald in 1979, with only 16 professionals.

Amazingly, the field included Ian Baker- Finch, Wayne Grady, Peter Senior, Peter McWhinney, Peter Fowler, Jeff Woodland, Gerry Taylor, Paul Foley and our own Nifty Mullin. Just a great group of fellows who showed the amateurs a great day out. This event really set the tone for future events, and hard to believe, from 16 events in 1979 it grew to 86 events by 1986. We were the envy of every other state.

It grew that quickly that the PGA employed me to organise Calcuttas, distribute the prizemoney, do the presentations and liaise with the clubs regarding future events, while also trying to play golf as well. It grew so big eventually, that we arrived at a stage where we could employ extra staff to continue on with the groundwork that had already been done. I moved on to become Chairman of the Association from 1986-1989, and received a PGA Centenary Award in 2011 for my services to Professional Golf in Australia.

While all this was going on, I was always back at Nudgee at every opportunity mainly helping Dad out as much as possible as things were getting busier each year. The club went from 18 holes in 1950, to 27 in 1964 (that was a great nine) and then to 36 holes in 1991.

It was early in 1985 that Dad was considering slowing down and I became more involved with the day-to-day running of the shop. He loved his fishing and races so this gave him an opportunity to do both a bit more often. I was very keen to keep the business going, and with discussions with then President John Taylor, was offered the job with Dad's blessing in 1986, which I readily accepted. Dad then became my employee and I did have plenty of things for him to do. I still played some events when possible. I enjoyed Club life and the wonderful people that I have met here, some that I have known for over 40 years

In 1992, they were having a Skins match at Port Douglas with Greg Norman, Ian Baker-Finch, John Daly, and Joe Ozaki. I spoke to a few members about going and before I knew it 16 of us made the trip to watch the golf, and also have a couple of games. It was such a success that I organised a trip the following year to Melbourne, and then to Sydney. Suddenly, I realised this was a great avenue to take many members away on golfing holidays and visit some of Australia's best courses.

Hard to believe that 27 years later, I have done over 80 trips not only throughout Australia but over 10 international countries also. We have been privileged to see Adam Scott win the 2013 Masters; and again last year saw Tiger Woods win again.  We have done the British Open 5 Times; played some of the great courses in Scotland, Ireland, USA, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan and South Africa. I look forward to exploring many new destinations in the years ahead.    

Hard to believe I have been at Royal Nudgee for 34 years this year, a club that has been very good to me both financially and socially.  I was so fortunate to meet some of the great characters of the club, including Dudley Von Nida, John Hay, Happy Howes, Norm Carby, Chilla Goodchap, Tom Price, Ron Chaplin, Dave Rose, Graham McDonald, Dr Laurie Parker, Cyril Andrews, and Theo Godsell to name a few.

There have been so many wonderful people at the club and these past members are just a few who made an impression on me (I could name many more) in the early days and were great supporters of the club.  I can only thank from the bottom of my heart the humble, supportive and empathetic John Taylor who was instrumental in allowing me take up the role as professional here from 1986.

I must pay tribute to all the Presidents I have served under - Stan Rawlings, Ron Chaplin, Steve King, Vern Smerdon, Greg Dunne, Robert Sang and Paul Rigby. All of them have shown me great respect over my many years here; and I thank them for making my time here at Nudgee not really like work, but an environment that is happy, pleasant and healthy.

I have seen Nudgee transform from 18 to 27 to 36 holes, and to see what lies ahead for the club is going to be truly amazing; and I'm sure we all can't wait to see the finished product in some 18 months' time.

I will miss many of you terribly - the many who come in for a chat, the ladies who have been so wonderful to me. I will miss running the Summer Comps but hopefully we'll keep the Summer Foursomes going and also hope the Men's Summer Cup (an event founded in 1987) can also continue.  With the club's blessing, I will still take charge of the Thursday Club and look forward to many games on the new complex moving forward.

Hard to believe the Downs name will be gone from Nudgee after 75 years. However, I am so lucky to have been able to work at a club for 34 years that I love, when many of my fellow pros have been through some difficult times.

This is not good-bye. It is simply a most heartfelt, immeasurable and life-sustaining "Thank You" to you all. I am not departing the great NGC, simply ceasing as your contracted golf professional. I will still be around most of the time. I will still be playing here with many of you. I will still enjoy the wonderful company of many of you over the coming years on the golf trips.

So, it is not "Au Revoir", but a tearful, nostalgic and heartfelt expression of gratitude to NGC, its Boards and huge number of members.

Luckily and proudly, I will see you very soon, and often

God bless. Take care and stay safe.

John Downs



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Nudgee Golf Club Incorporated
1207 Nudgee Road
Nudgee, Queensland 4014
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