Blog: My Longest Day of Golf

2016 Longest Day

When Longest Day Challenge instigator Andrew Buxton and representatives from Cancer Council Victoria visited Golf Victoria earlier in 2016 to discuss initiatives to more strongly promote raising skin cancer awareness and the need for accompanying research to Victorian golf clubs & golfers, I was immediately captivated by the concept.

For a start, skin cancer is unfortunately common amongst those of us that love the outdoors and golfers must always be mindful to 'slip, slop & slap' to protect themselves from the sun. However, despite everyone's best intentions, the unfortunate reality is people get cancer and the goal of the Longest Day to raise funds for the fight against skin cancer resonated with me.

The other attraction was the golf challenge itself - could I play 72 holes in a day? Even though I've been gym training for a while and felt quite fit, could I last the distance physically and mentally? As a teenager, I spent many summer days with school mates playing up to 54 holes in a day but that was over 30 years ago. How would I go now?

Perversely on those long past, idyllic summer golf days, we neither wore hats nor put on sunscreen very often. Getting sunburnt on our golf marathons was our badge of honour. It was pretty silly now looking back and all the more reason as to why the Longest Day really motivated me to be part of it.

The Golf Victoria Board similarly embraced the Longest Day Challenge and proactively worked with Cancer Council Victoria to promote the concept across the golf community with a fundraising target of $100k established.

The overall basis of the Challenge was simple. At least one person at a club had to play 72-holes of stableford in one day in the two weeks leading up to Christmas. An individual or teams of multiple people can be sponsored in any way - from a straight-out donation to 'incentive' support based on scores.

The end result in 2016 is that over 90 individuals and/or teams participated raising the target figure of $100k. An outstanding result and a significant increase on 2015. Response to the Longest Day has been so overwhelmingly positive, there's no doubt it'll grow significantly from here.

The worthwhile cause and the challenge of the golf marathon has proven an undeniable lure to golf tragics like me.

My own involvement in the day started with a phone call to good friend and Commonwealth General Manager, Peter Parks to see what day would work best at my golfing home of the last 35 years. We settled on Friday 23 December which also matched the spirit of the occasion.

With a large pre-Christmas field on the course, Peter's knowledge was crucial in developing a plan to both allow me to get around quickly while not overly disrupting member/guest play on the day.

I played each of the rounds as a pair, co-opting various other golfing mates in Club Captain, Steven Craig, Phil Corbett, Ian Richards and Peter himself as partners. Everyone was supportive albeit dubious that I'd last the distance.

In my favour was that I'd been getting fitter for months under the watchful eye of friend and personal trainer, Glenn McLachlan. The many early morning early sessions at the John Donehue gym in Notting Hill which Glenn manages stood me in good stead for the physical challenge ahead.

The day itself dawned fine, warm and sunny with only a moderate breeze - perfect if you were only going to play once. Setting multiple alarms, I was up at 4am, donned the yellow and black dress theme for the day (yes – I’m a Richmond tragic too) and after the obligatory McDonalds coffee & bacon-egg muffin, I was outside the Commonwealth gates as the first glimpse of daylight appeared in the East. A few hits in the practice net to make sure the back was in working order and all was in readiness. Steven Craig, Club Captain and regular golfing mate for 35 years and I took off at 5.30am for Round 1.

2016 Longest Day - 2
Round 1 & 2 playing partners - Steven Craig & Phil Corbett

Being the Friday before Christmas, my playing partners and I played the white tee competition course for each of the rounds from my Daily Handicap of six. I walked the entire four rounds and for the most part pulled my clubs on a buggy. In essence, I wanted to complete the challenge in the way that I played golf normally.

Having been in poor form in recent months, it was somewhat of a relief to hit the opening tee shot down the middle and make a sound par on the first. The excitement of what I was attempting had clearly inspired me as I went through the opening eight holes one under par before making a mess of the 9th to bring me back to earth.

Steve & I sped along and finished the opening round by 8.30am. So far so good, especially as I'd had 38 points which was the best I'd played in months. Most of my mates were humorously concerned that my rubbish recent form would make the 72-holes a misery.

Little did they know that I'd prepared five questions to ask each of my partners through the various rounds to both learn more about them and provide a distraction if the horrible golf of recent months continued.

One of the best things about golf is the people you meet and the stories that they have to tell, especially about themselves. Even though my ability to play the game like I used to has faded considerably, it's the social and human side of golf that I’ve always enjoyed and valued the most. Fortunately, on this Longest Day, I had the pleasant experience of playing mostly decent golf as well as having wonderful conversations with each of the playing companions.

2016 Longest Day - 3
Rd 2 & 3 playing partners - Phil Corbett & Ian Richards

Given I knew each of them pretty well anyway, I wanted to learn some things which I either didn't know or had forgotten. The five questions asked of my playing partners were:

- As a child, what occupation did you want to do when you grew up?

- Either golf or personally, what is the number one item on your bucket list?

- When & where did you first play golf & who taught you how to play?

- What is either your greatest golfing achievement or the best thing you've seen on a golf course?

- Outside of Commonwealth, what is your favourite course and why?

In each of the rounds, the questions stimulated interesting and in many cases surprising answers as well as leading into discussions on several other things. Golf Victoria CEO, Simon Brookhouse walked the last round with Peter and I for moral support and we posed the same questions to him too.

Amongst the various discussions, I learnt that: -

- Having been taught by his brother Jon how to play as a kid growing up in Taree on the New South Wales central coast, Steven’s golfing highlight was winning the Charles Lane Trophy (Honour Board singles knock-out) at Commonwealth in the mid 2000’s after reaching the final on two previous occasions without success. His bucket list ambition is to explore both Africa and the inside passage in Canada;

- Phil Corbett grew up in Adelaide and was taught how to play by Peter Crafter, brother of the legendary golf professional and commentator Brian. Joining Kooyonga as a junior, a cherished memory for Phil was being joined by Don Bradman by chance for a few holes one summer evening. After completing high school, Phil left Adelaide to study Law at Monash University, became a successful barrister and joined Commonwealth;

- A finance and management professional, as a young child growing up in English West Midlands, Ian Richards harboured a goal to actually be a children’s school crossing attendant. He always respected the way the ‘lollipop’ men and women were so helpful in getting children to and from school and wanted to help people in a similar way. He was taught to play by his godfather Sir William Francis and spent a lot of his youth playing summer golf in North Wales whilst on school holidays;

- A horse racing devotee from childhood due to his brother’s interest in the sport including being a jockey at picnic meetings, Peter Parks harboured similar ambitions to be a jockey when growing up. His bucket list ambition these days is to travel to the UK with wife Majella and attend Wimbledon, the Lords Ashes Test, the British Open and conclude with a race meeting at Royal Ascot;

- A similar fan of horse racing, Simon Brookhouse’s bucket list includes going to a Kentucky Derby. Having learnt to play golf hitting seven irons on a school friend’s property at Baxter on the Mornington Peninsula, the best course he’s played outside of his home club of Huntingdale is the renowned Shinnecock in the United States.        

In the midst of these great conversations, the shots, holes and rounds quickly piled up. Round 2 with Phil started at 8.45am and finished three hours and 37 points later. A quick change into shorts as the day heated up and it was straight into Round 3 at just after noon. While feeling fine physically, it was here the mental battle kicked in as for whatever reason I struggled to concentrate on the opening 4-5 holes.

Perhaps my energy levels were down even though I'd been drinking plenty of water and munching on bananas and muesli bars throughout the day. Having passed halfway, maybe I just became distracted at being closer to the end than the beginning. Nevertheless, after a bag of jelly babies, the head seemed to kick back into gear and I improved on the closing holes for 31 points in a strengthening southerly at around 3.15pm.

A quick shower and change into a fresh yellow shirt to match the black shorts of my Tiger’s theme, Peter & I set off for Round 4 at just before 4pm with Simon encouraging us on.

2016 Longest Day - 4
GV CEO Simon Brookhouse and Rd 4 partner Peter Parks

The last round was a battle as no matter how hard I tried, I just struggled with both my application to shots and overall swing rhythm – more like my recent poor golf. On reflection, I was probably just trying too hard. Something to work on for next year. Still playing in the late afternoon summer sun, with the variations of light and shade creating a wonderful purple hue along the undulating fairways, was a reminder about what makes the game so enjoyable.

Thankfully I saved a great drive and a decent four iron to the par four 18th and 72nd hole and narrowly missed a birdie putt of around four-metres to finish with a par and a tally of 29 points for the final round.

With the sun closing on a day that had come and gone in the blink of an eye and reflecting in the clubhouse over a drink or two (another of golf’s great attractions), it was great fun and truly gratifying to be part of something special that raises much needed funds into skin cancer research. I’m particularly grateful to everyone who sponsored me individually as part of the Challenge and can’t thank each of them enough for giving the day even more meaning.

Special thanks to Commonwealth for allowing me to undertake the Challenge; my four playing partners who were all wonderfully supportive; Glenn McLachlan for getting me fit enough to play four consecutive rounds of golf and Peter Parks for all his work in coordinating the logistics needed at Commonwealth on the day.

It’s an experience I’ll never forget and something that I’d encourage all golfers to consider. I’m already looking forward to the 2017 Challenge!

Any interested person that would still like to make a contribution can simply visit the 2016 Longest Day Challenge page on the Cancer Council Website at:

https://www.everydayhero.com.au/event/longestday2016

Some interesting facts about Cancer Council Victoria:

- Each year more than 750,000 Australians are treated for skin cancer. Cancer Council. Victoria needs $100,000 for research at Monash University that could lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of tumours including melanoma.

- With more than 200 types of cancer, it is the only organisation in Victoria that works to find answers to all of them through research, prevention, and support.

- Our specialist cancer nurses responded to more than 11,700 enquiries from patients and families. We provided information and support and connected them to our many services such as financial and legal advice, peer support, holiday break program and free wigs.

- It is the largest provider of non-government research funds in the state. Every year it spends almost $19 million on cancer research.

- It provides well-known prevention and education programs like Sun Smart and Quit to help people reduce their cancer risk.

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