The Australian Golf Heritage Society Oral History Project
Since 2013 I have had the great privilege and pleasure of recording oral histories for the Australian Golf Heritage Society Museum. Although I come from a family of golfers with the ensuing garage full of golf equipment and amusing familial boasts of golf expertise and ability, my handicap is closer to snow-capped than scratch but I love the sport and the people involved in it.
As an oral historian working with the Australian Golf Heritage Society Museum, my aim is to work with them to record ‘the untold history’ of the game by interviewing prominent people in Australia’s golfing world. We aim to record the personal stories behind great golf and as well we try to uncover the stories behind golf artefacts housed in the museum.
The world of golf is superbly documented in Australia. Excellent records have been kept of facts and figures. The museum uses oral history to learn even more about the game including charming vignettes into times gone by. Who would have thought that in the past golfers had to be wary of a train interrupting play as it passed through the course (champion golfer, Margery McWilliam), or that house bricks served as putting holes on a major Perth golf course, or that lessons were taught by a golf pro with his rifle beside him that he sometimes fired to warn off ball thieves (golf professional, Dan Cullen, interviewed in his 99th year)?
Initially the oral history project was established as a one off project to learn more about the provenance of some of the vast collection of items in the Australian Golf Heritage Society Museum. The Australian Golf Heritage Museum used the oral history narrative to check the provenance of some of the artefacts at the museum. Donations to the museum do not necessarily come with specific details. Oral history narratives can also be confirmed according to established factual, historical background such as the known dates, facts, documents and figures of museum artefacts.
The narrators were asked very specific questions about golf equipment, clothing, golf course design and maintenance, the type of grass used, caddies, clubhouse usage, training methods and the organisation of Australian international tours and prize purses among others. Today we’re aware that golf playing champions win enormous prize money for tournaments but in the past winnings were very modest. Frank Phillips played for Australia in the 1950s and 1960s and competed against Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus – the best three players in the world; Frank was ranked fourth. He won 3,800 pounds in 1957 (top of the money list) after winning numerous major events and made the headlines. Today a winner can earn more in a tournament than a professional of Frank’s stature won in a lifetime of playing golf.
The project is now ongoing and the same specific questions to support museum items’ provenance are asked but as well the golfing lives of the narrators are focussed upon. The Australian Golf Heritage Museum interviews are digitally recorded, usually in the narrator’s home, sometimes an aged care facility or at a golf club. All the standard oral history collection methods are followed. Some champion golfers have scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and memorabilia and these details are passed on to the museum in case they can be included in the museum’s collection or to gain access to.
Ultimately, the most important factor in oral history is the audio narrative but the Australian Golf Heritage Museum audio interviews are supported with a very comprehensive and detailed written summary of several thousand words for each recording. All the oral histories are uploaded to the museum’s website. Apparently the interviews are very popular and listened to often. Oral history is a powerful method of recording history, especially individual life stories and recollections. The interviews with golfing champions have been especially illuminating because they provide fascinating insights into the mindsets of some of Australia’s and the world’s most celebrated players. What does a champion think about as he or she approaches the 18th? Listen to his or her oral history to find out and as you listen, experience the pleasure of hearing the champion’s own voice. It’s even more enjoyable than getting a hole in one, or in my case, sinking a two-centimetre putt!
For the narrators, oral history has been a relatively easy way for them to record their knowledge of the game. For some, writing a record would not be an option.
Listening to a golfer retell a life in golf with the accompanying vocal tone, accent, pronunciation, inflections and nuances of speech is wonderful; the appeal of listening to and learning from a significant and real story is generally appreciated and valued. Most people love listening to stories, especially those that are true, unique and personal. Like a knowledgeable caddy advises his player, oral history speaks to us. The oral histories can be listened to at:
Carol Mckirdy has worked as an oral historian for 10 years. As well as interviewing for the Australian Golf Heritage Society Museum she interviews for the Australian Golf Club, family histories, library collections, organisations and for a series of interviews with immigrants from the different people who have made the Sutherland Shire their home.