12 Jan 2023 | Participation |

Red Cliffs racking up new golfers

by Dane Heverin

Red Cliffs' Cook Islander golfers gathered in front of the clubhouse.
Red Cliffs' Cook Islander golfers gathered in front of the clubhouse.

“It’s nothing to see half a dozen carts driving down the fairway in one group.”

General committee member at Red Cliffs Golf Club Deanne Davis knows that they do things a little differently at the club on the outskirts of Mildura in regional Victoria, but the club’s flexibility has proven to be one of the biggest attractions for its new members.

The majority of which have come from the local Cook Islands community and they have loved the ability to play Ambrose golf in the evenings and on Sundays in groups ranging from eight to twelve.

There is one strict rule however: they must let other groups play through. Not that it concerns them.

“They are fast as,” club president Kevin Leach said.

“There’s no looking for a ball for three minutes. They don’t mess around. A group of eight when they’re playing Ambrose can be quicker than a group of four.”

The Cook Islanders first came to the golf club about three years ago when Red Cliffs held a membership drive and now they make up nine per cent of the club’s membership.

“One of them heard about it and next thing there were about 20 of them here,” Leach recalled.

In the past six months, the Cook Islands community has been a big part of Get Into Golf with them making up most of the roughly 150 participants that have taken part across three introductory golf programs.

Many of whom have become members and now take part in the famous farmers versus concreters Ambrose matches.

Most of the club’s latest crop of golfers work at a nearby table grape farm, while another group work as concreters and the contests between them have become the stuff of legend amongst the Red Cliffs’ membership.

Other golfers will spot a bunch of carts heading towards the eighth tee - the shortest par-3 on the course - and know that means one thing: a playoff.

The decider involves every player taking one shot and the closest to the pin wins it for their team.

There has yet to be a hole-in-one to claim victory, but there have been some mighty roars for shots that have gone close.

Off the golf course, the concreters recently helped lay concrete in the club’s outdoor area which has become a meeting place for the whole family.

Birthday parties, picnics and other get-togethers are a regular occurrence and the club has purchased a new playground - which will be assembled soon for the children to run amuck on - to add to the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere at the club.

Red Cliffs boasts 35.84% female membership and the playground will give parents the chance to socialise with other adults while the children play.

“They’ve volunteered to do a working group too,” Leach said. 

“Ecky (who is secretary of the Cook Islands Society and plays pennant for Red Cliffs) is organising that and he’ll rally the troops. They’re also going to put dinner on at the club one Friday night.”

Ecky went undefeated in the most recent pennant season, while Norman is another Cook Islander who tees it up on a Sunday morning for the club with his only loss coming in a playoff in the pennant finals at Mildura.

“Norman is an enormous hitter. His power is unbelievable. Ecky is the same. Big hitters and they’re powerful off the fairway too,” Leach said.

“They’re both very keen to play again this coming season and another bloke, Ula, is keen to join one of our teams as well. He is the president of the Cook Islands Society here.”

The Cook Islanders are not the only golfers that have been welcomed with open arms at Red Cliffs however.

Many clubs in the Sunraysia district - the area surrounding Mildura in northwestern Victoria and southwestern New South Wales - have been flood damaged and Red Cliffs are allowing the members of those clubs to come and play in their Wednesday and Saturday competitions for no extra cost than the standard competition fee.

It is expected that the open door policy will be a long lasting one due to unclear time frames surrounding the reopening of clubs as they attempt to pump water out and bring fairways and greens back to a playable condition.

That is presenting some obstacles for Red Cliffs but they are simply getting on with things.

“We generally have 70 on a Saturday and last weekend we had 152,” Davis said. 

“That comes with challenges because we’re not used to those numbers. Staffing is probably our main issue. People have been respectful of the course but it’s still extra work for our volunteers who look after the course.

“Everyone is really good because we say ‘it’s a first for us, just bear with us’.”

Whether you are familiar with the sport or just a first-timer, Get Into Golf is ready to show you the ropes. Get Into Golf clinics run Australia-wide, find your nearest one here.

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