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Emirates Australian Open – Come in Swingers!

Nov 6, 2013  ·  22 min read

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The history of the Stonehaven Cup.

From 28 November- 1 December, the world’s best golfers will compete in the Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney.

It is Australia’s most prestigious golf championship and the one every player wants to win. It has a rich, century-old history and always draws the nation’s best players home to vie for the Stonehaven Cup.

In the time since the first championship in 1904, the Open has evolved from an event of limited local standing to being rated by the likes of Nick Faldo, Raymond Floyd and Jack Nicklaus as the world’s fifth Major. It has been the stage for the game’s greatest ever players as they have battled to claim Australian golf’s most prized piece of silverware – the Stonehaven Cup. It is of no surprise then, that the names engraved on that cup are synonymous with Major championship history.

Three of the sport’s five Immortals are there; in addition to South African Gary Player’s record of seven inscriptions (most indelibly alongside the year 1965 when he plundered Kooyonga to the phenomenal tune of 28 under-par), there’s Nicklaus’s name six times, and also Gene Sarazen for his win at Metropolitan in 1936 where he made good his promise to return and avenge his 1934 defeat by Sydney pro Bill Bolger.

And the other two? Well Ben Hogan was terrified of flying and made the trip to Britain only once – once enough though to claim the British Open, however the thought of a trip to Australia was simply too much. And Tiger, well he’s here to win in 2011.

But what of those who couldn’t win all four of the Majors? For a start there’s Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson, whilst Australia’s five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson is there for his wins in 1951, 1967 and in 1972. Greg Norman and Australia’s greatest ever amateur, Ivo Whitton, are there five times. And sitting just one title shy of Norman and Whitton is the only player to have won three successive Australian Opens – the great Ossie Pickworth. Back to Whitton though, and he is to Australian golf what Bobby Jones is to American golf. Like Thomson, Whitton was able to win the Open in three different decades;recording the fifth of his victories at The Australian in 1931.

The Early Years

It is unfortunate however, that for 85 years Whitton’s 1912 victory by five strokes from Fred Popplewell and Dan Soutar was shrouded in controversy.

Certainly, no doubts have ever been cast as to the solidity of Whitton’s character, rather the accepted reading of history appears to be that Whitton was the beneficiary of an incorrect ruling by the committee controlling the championship and instead of being disqualified, Whitton’s ‘indiscretion’ went unpenalised with the record books telling the remainder of the story. In any case, the 1912 championship wasn’t even the first Australian Open to produce a disputed winner. A quick scan of the Open records will show that the fourth Open Championship of Australia, the 1907 event, was won by Michael Scott with Dan Soutar the runner-up, eight strokes in arrears. History though, casts a rather large shadow of doubt over the validity of Scott’s triumph.

The 1907 Open was played at Royal Melbourne, with the club’s committee controlling the championship. After the first two rounds the tee markers on each hole were moved slightly to a fresh piece of turf, and on every hole,except the 12th, the position they were moved to was to the left of the sand and water boxes. On the 12th however, they were situated to the right of the boxes.This variation led to a number of players playing from outside the designated teeing ground; with the penalty for such action, under the Rules of Golf in 1907, being automatic disqualification.

As it happened, one of the players who had played from outside the teeing ground was Michael Scott, but due to the extenuating circumstances the committee decided to waive the penalty of disqualification and completely overlooked the incident. The ruling provoked a good deal of consternation and as a result, Royal Melbourne Golf Club wrote to the governing body of world golf, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, hoping for a decision that would vindicate its ruling. However, in direct contradiction to the path chosen by Royal Melbourne, the R&A’s decision was that the correct course of action would have been to disqualify Scott and all of the other players who had committed the same breach.

So, in addition to his 1905 title, Dan Soutar should have been the 1907 Australian Open champion, but it was not to be. Now, with the competition more than closed, despite the obvious injustice, the Stonehaven Cup has “Hon. M. Scott” engraved alongside the year 1907, and that is how it shall read for ever more. But what then of Whitton and the 1912 controversy? Again the venue was Royal Melbourne and again the runner-up by the length of the straight was Dan Soutar, this time jointly with Fred Popplewell. What happened on this occasion was that, when faced with a terrible lie whilst playing the 14th hole during one round, Whitton opted to declare his ball to be unplayable. He then, according to the Rules of Golf, proceeded to drop the ball in a wrong place. Of this there is no dispute. There is also no dispute that Whitton was directed by a member of the committee controlling the championship to drop where he did. It also appears that Whitton went so far as to question the decision, but was assured by the official that it was correct.

It also appears certain that when the matter was referred to the R&A, in order to clarify what should have happened, the committeeman’s role in the incident was not mentioned (incidentally, the matter was in fact referred to the R&A by the New South Wales Golf Association, not by the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, the body that conducted the event). Hence, the R&A ruled that the relevant penalty of disqualification should have been applied. However, when the entire facts were presented to Australian Golf Union officials in 1997, they were adamant that as it was the committeeman who determined where Whitton’s ball should be dropped, Whitton should indeed have been absolved from any penalty, and that whether or not the committee reached its decision via the correct method, it was perfectly correct to award the championship to Whitton.

So much then for the disputed championships, but hardly even the beginning of the drama. To properly record every noteworthy Open moment would see the compilation of something resembling the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Rather than such a work, what follows here is simply a brief listing of some poignant Open moments to remind golf fans that what will unfold before them at Moonah in November is simply another chapter in the history of Australia’s most prestigious golf title.

Whilst it is impossible to properly compare the ability of players across different eras, it is not impossible to compare their achievements. In 1920, at The Australian, New South Welshman Joe Kirkwood slashed an amazing twelve strokes from the previous Open tournament record score with his wining total of 290. It was the first Open played after World War I and it was also the first time 300 was broken in the event’s history. Again the runner-up was Dan Soutar, and his score of 295 was the second best the Australian Open had seen. It fact Soutar finished in the top two on eight occasions, but was the winner only once – a record to truly rival Greg Norman’s string of near misses around the globe!

Kirkwood’s record stood for fourteen years until the first of the five Immortals arrived in Australia in 1934. At that time Gene Sarazen hadn’t yet won all four of the modern Major championships, however he was well on his way to doing so and had already established himself as one of the greats of the game. Indeed it was assumed he would win the Open, and probably take Kirkwood’s record with him. Given this, nobody was surprised that his tournament total at Royal Sydney of 286 bettered that old mark by four. What shocked the golfing world was that ‘Gene the Machine’ had only finished second. Sydneysider Bill Bolger bettered Sarazen by three to set the new mark at 283, and the golfing media alight. But Sarazen, though gracious in defeat, vowed to return and win the title. In 1936, at Metropolitan he showed himself to be as good as his word. This time he came as the past winner of all four Majors. He also came as the man who had played what to this day remains the most famous shot in the history of the game – the fabulous holed 4-wood to the 15th in the 1935 Masters at Augusta for a double-eagle – with Bobby Jones looking on from behind the green. He left as the 1936 Open Champion of Australia and as the holder of the new tournament record total with his score of 282.

The 1940s and 1950s

In 1939, Sydney amateur Jim Ferrier, later to become the 1947 US PGA champion, completed an unprecedented double-double. He won both the Australian Open and Amateur Championships in 1938 and 1939! It is a feat that will surely never be repeated. After ‘Big Jim’s’ 1939 triumph, the Open took a six-year break for World War II. Competition resumed again in 1946 at Royal Sydney and the championship was won by the then Sydney pro Ossie Pickworth. In 1947, at Royal Queensland, Pickworth was champion again – by this time he had been appointed the assistant pro at Royal Melbourne, and at Kingston Heath in 1948 Pickworth completed what remains as the event’s only hat-trick by defeating Ferrier over 18 extra holes in the event’s first ever play-off.

In the period from 1950 to 1953, the fiery Queenslander Norman von Nida won himself three Open titles, whilst in 1955, the great South African Bobby Locke won at Brisbane’s Gailes despite torrential rains. That year levee banks had to be built around the greens to protect them from the temporary streams that were flowing across the golf course; a common sight for the hardy souls who ventured out to watch the action was players following their balls along those temporary streams as they waited for them to stop so a shot could be played. In 1956, a 20 year-old Bruce Crampton won at Royal Sydney, so matching fellow New South Welshman Lou Kelly’s 1933 effort – Kelly was also 20 when he won over Royal Melbourne’s West Course. Crampton, who went on to twice win the US Tour’s Vardon Trophy and also to become the first foreigner to win $1 million in prize money on the US Tour, later described the Open victory as his greatest achievement in golf.

In 1959, Australia’s Centenary British Open champion, Kel Nagle, won at The Australian, whilst 1960 saw what, until Aaron Baddeley, had universally been accepted as the last occasion ever that golf would witness an amateur’s name being engraved on the Stonehaven Cup. That was the year a young Bruce Devlin won at Perth’s Lake Karrinyup. Four years later at The Lakes, Devlin had a chance for a second title when he stood on the 72nd tee needing only a par to defeat Jack Nicklaus by a stroke. The old 18th at The Lakes was a par 5 with a slightly elevated green and for two Devlin was just short of the green and had only the slope left with which to contend. His first chip reached the top of the bank and then, almost unbelievably, the ball rolled back to his feet. After his second chip finished 4 metres away, he had that putt for the championship. Alas for Devlin, the putt hit the rim of the cup and stayed out. The next day in the play-off, Nicklaus fired 67 to Devlin’s 70 and won the first of his six Open crowns. The next year at Kooyonga, Gary Player shot rounds of 62 71 62 69 for the incredible total of 28 under-par 264 to lower his own Open record total by six strokes. Player won by six from the 1957 and 1961 champion, Frank Phillips, and Jack Nicklaus. Player’s 1965 effort is still the tournament record and it gave him the fourth of his seven Open Championships, also a record.

In 1972, Peter Thomson recorded a victory that completed his achievement of title victories in each of three consecutive decades when he defeated David Graham in a play-off at Kooyonga. Graham, though, won his country’s Open Championship five years later, finishing three strokes ahead of Don January, Bruce Lietzke and John Lister at The Australian in 1977. Graham went on to win the 1979 US PGA and 1981 US Open.

In 1979 at Metropolitan, Jack Newton won his only Australian Open after Greg Norman missed a one-metre return putt following his attempt at outright victory. In between this and another one-shot loss in 1981 (this time to reigning British Open champion Bill Rogers at Victoria), Norman recorded his first Open triumph following a one-stroke defeat of Brian Jones at The Lakes. He won again at Royal Melbourne in 1985 when, for the only time in its history, the Australian Open was shortened and the championship was played over 54 holes after torrential rain had washed out the scheduled first day’s play.

His third title came in 1987 and he won by 10 strokes from Scot Sandy Lyle. The 1987 Open was memorable for more than just the size of Norman’s victory though. Sunday’s fourth round had to be cancelled and replayed on the Monday after fierce northerly winds made a number of greens unplayable. The next two years saw the continuation of the domination trend that ‘The Shark’ had started. American Mark Calcavecchia blitzed the field at Royal Sydney in 1988 to win by six, and Queensland’s Peter Senior made the 1989 event his own when he won at Kingston Heath by sevenThere the trend expired however with The Australian playing host to the tight 1990 title battle which was ultimately decided in a play-off between Craig Parry and America’s John Morse. Morse prevailed at the first extra hole, further extending Western Australia’s period without an Open champion.

In 1991 at Royal Melbourne, Robert Allenby produced the unbelievable when he won the Open as an amateur – almost! The title was his until Wayne Riley produced his unforgettable birdie, birdie, birdie finish (including a monster putt across the 72nd green) to win by a stroke. 1992 saw the silken swing of Steve Elkington emerge triumphant by two strokes from Peter McWhinney at The Lakes, whilst the silken putting touch of American Ryder Cup player Brad Faxon was simply too good at Metropolitan in 1993.

In 1994 at Royal Sydney, Robert Allenby and Brett Ogle almost bled emotion as they stumbled over the closing holes at Rose Bay, both dropping shots and neither apparently aware of how to arrest their respective slides. It was a finale that will never be forgotten and it ultimately saw Allenby limp over the line, a single shot ahead of his rival. 1995 saw Norman win his fourth title as McWhinney again finished two strokes behind one of Australia’s modern-day greats, and in 1996, Norman – on the back of an eight-shot triumph – issued a golfing lesson to a field that included superstar Tiger Woods – ultimately making it five. As for 1997, well it was a classic. The tournament started with arguably the year’s best field in an event anywhere in the world outside of the four Majors, and the quality of the golf played was befitting the talent on show. On day one, Peter Lonard produced one of the best rounds in the history of the sport in this country. He ripped a specially toughened Metropolitan apart on his way to a 63 that was two strokes better than Norman’s and Faxon’s previous course record.

His magic deserted him on day two though, and by early on day three it was Norman who appeared set to storm to his third consecutive Open title after reeling-off a rapid-fire six-under start for the first six holes. 24 year-old Englishman Lee Westwood was the one player able to go with Norman, and by day’s end it had become a two-horse race. Day four was all it was billed to be – a dual between two of the finest players in the world that had the potential to go right to the wire. 18 holes proved not to be enough, and just when it seemed as though the deadlock would never be broken, Westwood, seemingly impervious to pressure of any kind, finally emerged the victor at the fourth sudden-death play-off hole. 1998 belonged to Western Australian left-hander Greg Chalmers and the trivia buffs. Chalmers became the first left-hander to win the Open since Claude Felstead way back in 1909; remarkably he also became the first Western Australian ever to win the Open; and he was the first Australian Amateur champion to win since Bob Shearer in 1982. It was also the first time Royal Adelaide had hosted the event since 1962, and the first time it had been outside of Sydney or Melbourne since 1974.

As for Royal Adelaide itself, whilst it was undoubtedly fair, it was also brutally tough. In fact the resultant test, combined with the event’s history, moved Nick Faldo to follow the sentiments previously uttered by Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd, and proclaim that the Australian Open should be made the world’s fifth Major. He additionally expressed his amazement that such status hadn’t been bestowed long ago. Between them, these three players have won 28 Majors – maybe it’s time someone started listening….. 1999 was the year of a fairytale entitled ‘Aaron Baddeley’. The 18 year-old started the tournament as an amateur with a huge billing – Gary Player had rated him as better than Jack Nicklaus at a similar age – but who no one really believed could win; not on a stage this big….not yet. But he did; he achieved the unthinkable – he won the Open as an amateur in the modern era. The first amateur Open champion since Bruce Devlin in 1960, and that wasn’t the end of it….. At 18 years, 8 months and 11 days, he’d surpassed five-time Open champion Ivo Whitton’s 1912 effort by becoming the youngest champion in the history of the event. Whitton had been 18 years, 9 months and 5 days of age when he won his first title at Royal Melbourne.

Was it a stroll in the park, or a rapid-fire run over the final holes to emerge from the safety of obscurity? Hardly, he led for virtually the entire weekend and on the final day went head-to-head with Scotland’s world-number-3 Colin Montgomerie. He also had to deal with the presence of eventual runner-up Greg Norman, who was surging on the back of a third round 64. But the young Victorian handled it all – his closing 69 equalled Norman’s effort, and eclipsed Montgomerie by 2. Whilst modern-day reporters are prone to hyperbolise, this time the praise was justified – Baddeley’s effort was arguably the greatest performance in the history of Australian golf.

The 2000s

And then in 2000, at Kingston Heath, the kid did it again – but this time as a pro. Two Australian Opens and not even 20 years of age. And again he did it from the front – playing in the final group on both Saturday and Sunday and dealing with the spotlight the whole way. Whilst the record books will show that second-placed Robert Allenby finished only two shots behind, the real story was the relative ease of a win that no one, at least no one outside of the Baddeley camp, realistically thought was possible. Baddeley had again made news that made its way around the globe, displaying that whilst he may not yet have developed consistency, he was most certainly the real thing.

In 2001 the Open was played at The Grand on Queensland’s Gold Coast – the first time the event had ever been held outside of a state capital city. It was also the year Stuart Appleby, Australia’s sentimental golfing hero, finally won his country’s Open Championship. He’d been close a few times, most notably when he finished a shot behind Greg Chalmers in 1998, but 2001 proved to be his time and he did it in style. His closing 65 equalled the lowest round of the week and left him three clear of runner-up Scott Laycock – South Africa’s world-number-4 Ernie Els was two shots further back in third.

2002 took us back to Victoria Golf Club for an event with more than its fair share of drama. After the cancellation of the first day’s play due to unplayable greens, an outstanding championship unfolded from which local star Stephen Allan, playing courtesy of an AGU exemption, eventually emerged victorious. In a tense finale, the former German Open champion was able to hold off the fast-finishing trio of Parry, Baddeley, and reigning US PGA champion Rich Beem to win by a single stroke.

The magnificent Open Course at Moonah Links made its debut on the international stage in 2003. Highly-praised by the senior R&A officials in attendance, Moonah also produced a fitting champion – New South Welshman Peter Lonard. After a final afternoon that saw Lonard and Stephen Leaney engaged in a dual which was constantly threatened by the combined challenges of young Queenslander Chris Downes, 1983 champion Peter Fowler, and charismatic 2002 US Amateur champion Ricky Barnes, it was Lonard who emerged to secure the most precious victory of his career.

And in its centenary year of 2004, a long way from the tournament’s humble beginnings at The Australian Golf Club’s old Botany Course, that club’s current, and somewhat more regal, home at Kensington played host. It was the 16th time The Australian had been the Open venue and, not for the first time, it took more than just a few prisoners. Only the high-quality quartet of Rod Pampling, Steven Bowditch, Stuart Appleby, and Peter Lonard finished the championship under the card, and in a tense finish, two shots was all that separated them. Ultimately though, after Appleby’s 10-foot birdie putt at the last slid by, it was Lonard who outlasted them all to retain his title.

In 2005 we were back at Moonah and the story of the week, in fact the Australian sporting story of the month was Robert Allenby. He won his second Australian Open in the first leg of what was to be dubbed by the media as “The Triple Crown” – the Open, PGA, and Masters titles in consecutive weeks. It was a remarkable achievement that finished with a play-off win at Huntingdale, but the finest of his wins was undoubtedly at Moonah. After opening with an unbelievable 63 on one of the best tests of a player’s mettle in world golf, Allenby ultimately held on to win by one from Nick O’Hern, Paul Sheehan, and John Senden. Perhaps though the toughest challenge came from his own mind as his final 21 holes were played whilst battling a painful hand injury. Ultimately though he held the repeated “knife-like” pain at bay and, in typical Allenby fashion, got the job done.

2006 saw one of the most exciting Open’s ever with 10 to 15 players in contention for the crown throughout the thrilling final round. The leaders traded blows as the finale drew ever-closer at the prestigious Royal Sydney Golf Club. Eventually, it was John Senden who broke through with a clutch birdie to win his first Australian Open by one stroke from US Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy and two shots from Stuart Appleby and Gavin Coles. It was one of the closest Open’s in decades and one that enthralled the tens of thousands of people that poured through the gates at Royal Sydney for four magical days in November.

In 2007 it was time for a firm crowd favourite to break through at The Australian Golf Club for his maiden Australian Open victory.

Craig Parry took hold of the Stonehaven Cup for the first time after holding off fast-finishing trio Won Joon Lee, Nick O’Hern and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Brandt Snedeker by one shot to claim victory.

South African Gary Player’s legacy to the championship is enormous. And it was compatriot Tim Clark who became the first South African winner since Player to win the championship when he held the trophy aloft at Royal Sydney Golf Club in 2008.

In a nail-biting play-off, Clark defeated Australian Mathew Goggin on the first play-off hole in a championship that marked the return of American Major winner John Daly for the first time since 1995.

In 2009, Queenslander Adam Scott lifted the Stonehaven Cup for the first time, presented to him by his childhood hero, Greg Norman.

It was a battle of wits on the final day at New South Wales Golf Club as Scott and Stuart Appleby dueled for the crown.

In 2010 it was Victorian Geoff Ogilvy’s first time of raising the Stonehaven Cup after he plundered The Lakes to the tune of 19-under par.

2011 marked a landmark year for the championship as international stars Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Fred Couples, Bill Haas, John Daly, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and David Toms joined Aussies Greg Norman, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, Aaron Baddeley, John Senden and Robert Allenby in a field many described as the finest in the history of the championship.

Despite the international elite arriving in Sydney, the Stonehaven Cup would leave The Lakes Golf Club in the hands of Australia’s Greg Chalmers.

Chalmers, who won the title for the first time in 1998 at Royal Adelaide, held off Senden and Woods to finish at 13 under par and win by one stroke.

Speaking after the win, Chalmers said: “I think I stumbled into it when I was 26. I had no idea how big a deal it was then but I know more now.”



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