“A Slice of History, Blackwood Golf Club 1980 – 2005”

Outside influences

The end of the 1980s was a boom period for Blackwood with all membership categories full and a waiting list of more than 150 reported in November 1990. Most members were playing often and making frequent use of the clubhouse and facilities which were at times taxed beyond capacity.

However South Australia’s parlous financial situation in the 1990s contributed to membership declining from a high of 1,450, with lengthy waiting lists in most categories, to a low of 1,265 in November 2001. A clever and sustained marketing campaign initiated by the General Committee saw the decline arrested in 2001 with even a modest resurgence in 2004. Nonetheless it was realised that reliance on membership fees only to fund all aspects of the club’s activities was a high risk strategy. Sponsorship and promotion of use of the facilities by outside groups became essential to provide regular, additional income.

Social, economic and legal developments in the 1980s and 90s impacted on many aspects of Blackwood and other golf clubs. Changing work patterns led to many more women in full and part time employment; young people were extending their time both at school and in higher education, and many people were retiring earlier and living longer. All of these changes affected usage of the course and facilities.

Legal changes throughout the period similarly had a great impact on the club. In the mid 1980s, the law relating to sexual discrimination in sporting clubs changed, requiring membership in all categories to be available to both men and women. As a result, in 1986 Blackwood was the first South Australian golf club to admit a woman, in fact two women, as full members. From this first small step for womankind, in 2001 women members were permitted to play in the field on Saturday and in 2004 Sue Pearce was the first woman to be elected to general committee.

Of equal significance were changes in the laws relating to alcohol and driving. The introduction of random breath testing and the .08 (later .05) limit saw a reduction in the amount of time club members spent in socialising at the bar after their round of golf. This in turn contributed adversely to the club’s financial situation. Some staff in clubs, hotels and bars exposed over long periods of time to cigarette smoke began to initiate legal claims against their employers for the impact it had on their health. To minimise the possibility of any such claims, the Blackwood committee enforced a non-smoking ban in the clubhouse with smokers relegated to the balcony, where they enjoy the best views of the course.

Greater sensitivity towards the environment brought golf clubs around the world into disrepute for their use of chemicals to control pests and weeds. At Blackwood this led to the redevelopment of storage areas for the greenkeepers’ materials, specifically the sheds adjacent to the 4th hole. And so the new Green Shed was born.

Changes to the constitution were proposed in October 1997 and again in 2001 to allow all members to vote, stand for general committee (2001) and generally have more influence in club matters. Surprisingly, considering the other changes which occurred during the 1980s and 90s, on both occasions the proposals were rejected by the full members. It was not until 2006 that a special meeting of 7 day members, convened after the AGM failed to provide the necessary quorum, supported a motion to give 5 and 6 day members the right to vote and stand for general committee. Following this change, Sally Graham joined Sue Pearce on the general committee at the 2007 elections.

The course

On the one hand the problem facing the committee was how to get enough water; on the other hand the problem was how to get rid of the excess water in the wet Cherry Gardens winters (Slice of history).

Average rainfall at Cherry Gardens is 937mm. As a result, ridding the course of the excess water is a problem which has continued to plague club management every time there is a wet winter. Throughout the 1980s course improvements aimed at moving the water as quickly as possible away from the wet spots into the dams.

In September 2004 a detailed article in the newsletter reported that the greens and tees held up well during the wet winters of 2003 and 2004, despite well above average rainfall, ie 334mm in June/July 2003 and 321mm in the same period in 2004, in comparison with the average of 265mm. However, as has been the case since the early days of the club at Cherry Gardens, water retention on most of the fairways was disappointing.

The winter of 2006 and the following spring/summers provided a very different challenge. South Australia entered a period of drought, arguably the most severe in 100 years. In addition, the wall of the 15th dam sprang a leak. For almost two years the area around the dam, one of the most picturesque sections of the course, was a dismal sight. Members and staff therefore welcomed the news late in 2007 that the wall was to be repaired, be it at considerable cost. Now (March 2008) all that is needed is rain.

As the president reminded members in the July/August 2003 newsletter,

Without this resource [water supply] which is sourced from a number of bores around our golf course tapping into various aquifers below ground level, we would not have our golf course in first class condition during spring, summer and autumn. …Our founding members had the foresight to not only seek a picturesque site but they made sure there was adequate water to meet the club’s needs. In these times when water is becoming a more valuable resource I acknowledge the vision of our foundation members.

Despite this foresight, the continuing drought forced the committee to announce a $55 water levy to take effect in the 2008 subscriptions. Unlike many of the state’s golf clubs, Blackwood has been able to offer excellent fairways throughout this period. However some of the greens, particularly the original ones which are now more than 25 years old, struggle to survive in the harsher conditions.

As early as 1990, the committee recognised that some pines, wattles and cypresses needed to be removed. A different strategy for the management of the trees and other plants is proposed for the future development of the course.

The strategy is informed by several principles:

  • The course must continue to provide challenging, interesting and enjoyable playing conditions for all club members
  • For economic reasons, this must be achieved with the minimum level of maintenance and expenditure on water, including the gradual replacement of many exotic trees and shrubs by indigenous plants
  • In a number of places trees needs to be removed since they encroach so far onto the fairways as to make the tee shot for the average golfer very daunting.

Good stewardship is the term now used internationally to describe the desired relationship between golf clubs and the land which they occupy. An example of this is Blackwood’s role in a long term plan to develop a corridor of appropriate trees across the Mount Lofty Ranges, providing a path for migratory birds. Similarly, run-off from the dams goes into Sturt Creek, where it is monitored regularly at the bottom of Ackland Hill Road to ensure that no pollutants from the course enter the water.

Bird boxes and logs have been placed around the course—60 all told—to encourage the bird life to stay and increase.

One of the great pleasures of playing at Blackwood is that, even when the golf is frustrating, the surroundings always offer a wide variety of pleasing experiences for the senses. Astute and visionary planning will ensure that the next 25 years at Cherry Gardens will provide as much pleasure as the last 25 years.

The clubhouse

Early in 1994 estimates were being received for the extension of the clubhouse and by the middle of the year the serious matter of how to finance the extensions was exercising the minds of the committee, and of the members. At that time the committee decided that the minimum extensions would be to the ground floor only and include the pro shop, offices and locker rooms. Nonetheless two options were explored and costed. Option 1 would see a two storey extension at a cost of $1.3 million financed by a call on members of $100 each year for 20 years. Option 2 was for a ground floor extension only at a cost of $766,000, later rising to $780,000, financed by a call of $50 each year for ten years. Option 2 prevailed.

During the final planning stage, problems were identified with the electrical circuitry and the septic tank. The first sod was turned in November. Alas, it was for the new septic system, a topic dear to the heart of many hills dwellers, rather than for the clubhouse extensions.

To celebrate the opening of the new pro shop, aka the Blackwood Hilton, the club’s professional Bruce Milgate sponsored an open night on April 4 1996 which included a sausage sizzle and tour of the new facilities. From that date the club gradually took over the new sections of the building—the office, locker rooms, and the club bar to be known as McTaggart’s Sprig Bar as a reminder of Blackwood’s beginnings in 1930.

At the official opening in March 1997, architect Andrew Ford explained the philosophy behind the design of the extensions. The roof of the ‘single pavilion’ structure made any further expansion of the existing building difficult and expensive. The best alternative was simply to build another pavilion alongside. One of the biggest challenges came in designing a transition space between the pavilions which would be successful for both a one and two storey option. In the end, an atrium proved to be the best (and very attractive) solution.

Later the wall at the eastern end of the upper storey was replaced with glass, providing members with a view of the stile from the McTaggart’s course, the practice putting green and the first tee. Competition for the tables in this section of the clubhouse immediately became fierce among Sunday evening diners.

And finally…

Sporting clubs depend equally for their success upon a loyal band of voluntary office bearers who spend their spare time developing a vision of how the club should function, and a group of hard-working employees who spend their working hours interpreting and implementing the volunteers’ vision. The most successful organisations are those where trust and respect for each other’s roles exists between the two groups. From the beginning Blackwood has been fortunate in this regard.

Three times since 1980 the bell has rung in the clubhouse to celebrate Blackwood teams winning top grade pennants: the first time in 1988 when the women’s A1 team defeated Kooyonga, the second time in 1993 when they again defeated Kooyonga. The third time the bell rang was in 1996, when the men’s Simpson Cup team defeated Grange. On each occasion past and present players and supporters were rightly overjoyed, considering the number of years the club had competed, on several occasions reaching the finals only to fall at the last hurdle.

One thread which runs through all the changes which the club has experienced in its management since 1980 has been the increasing impact of technology. Automated watering systems, electronic payment of fees, computerised handicap systems, and use of the Internet for communication such as email and the website are just some of these changes. Without resorting to crystal ball gazing, it seems likely that technology will have an even greater impact on the management of the club in the next 25 years than it has had in the past 25 years.

The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st saw great changes at Blackwood—a complete revamp of the back nine including three new holes, major extensions to the clubhouse and increased provision for parking. No longer do people talk about the new Blackwood golf course, as contrasted with the old course at McTaggart’s. For many members the course at Cherry Gardens is the only Blackwood course and the red brick, double-storey building is the only clubhouse. While still the most prominent building in the locality, the clubhouse no longer dominates the landscape, as the red bricks have gradually mellowed and the surrounding bushes and trees have assisted the blending.

As was seen in A slice of history (Hazell: 1980) and A second slice of history (Hazell: 2005), Blackwood Golf Club has always been, and still is, a place ‘Where challenge and friendship meet’.

Anne Hazell

Click here to download Part One of
“A Slice of History, Blackwood Golf Club 1930 – 1980”

Click here to download the complete document
“A Slice of History, Blackwood Golf Club 1930 – 2005”