One of Sydney’s first golf courses was laid out in the grounds of Grose Farm; land on which Sydney University was later built. We have proof of an official club being formed in a 1839 diary entry by the prosperous young merchant Mr Alexander Brodie Spark. He and his friends formed the New South Wales Golf Club. ‘We decided on the plan of laying out the grounds round St. Peter’s Church. The N.S. Wales Golf Club instituted.’ The celebratory dinner Alexander gave that night at his mansion Tempe House went on into the small hours.
The original club did not last long, but it was a start. There was a period of severe economic depression in the colony during the early 1840s, which would not have helped the growth of the game. In 1844, poor Alexander was declared insolvent. He owed an incredible £45,000 to the Bank of Australia, of which he had been an early board member.
A NEW BEGINNING FOR GOLF
On November 24, 1857 The Empire Newspaper (Sydney) ran an unusual advertisement;
GOLF,GOLF, GOLF – The undersigned is prepared to play any man in Sydney in the above game for fifty pounds H.K., Brisbane Inn, corner of Kent and Druitt Streets.
H.K. referred to a Captain Kirk. I wish I could tell you more about him, but I can’t. I do know that the licensee of the inn was Elizabeth Creagh. Now surely it was no co-incidence that the person who took up the challenge was Mrs Creagh’s son-in-law, David Robertson. Mr Robertson was brother to Allan Robertson, the most famous golfer of the era and the reigning champion of Scotland. David was a draper, but had been a caddy at St Andrews in his youth. He had arrived in Sydney in 1848.
The match took place that afternoon at 4.00pm in Hyde Park. An impromptu ‘course’ was selected, stretching from Lyons Terrace in Liverpool Street to St James Church….. and back again.
The winner was David Robertson, who covered the distance in 18 shots to Captain Kirk’s 20 (Kirk demanded a replay a few days later, but he lost again.)
As the men stood at the eastern end of Market Street after the competition, a crowd of little boys congregated. They were hoping to score a souvenir ball. Captain Kirk drove his about 200 yards, and off the little fellows went in pursuit. David Robertson hit a lofted shot that soared straight over St James Church. Some onlookers reckoned that with a bit more effort he could have landed the ball down at Circular Quay.
Enthused by his win and the interest generated, Robertson said he would write home to his brother Allan in St Andrews, Scotland and request a supply of clubs and balls. He also offered to give free lessons to any young man wanting to learn the game.
David Robertson eventually went back to Scotland, where he died on Valentine’s Day, 1864. His brother Allan had died without issue in 1859. Allan’s widow passed a collection of golfing memorabilia on to her late husband’s nephew and namesake. Thus, the relics ended up in Sydney’s Bondi, with Allan- the -Younger.
Allan Robertson-the- younger died in Sydney in 1929. He was never a golfer, so what became of his famous uncle’s collection? Well, it took a bit of detective work, but I managed to find out. The city’s most prestigious golf club is The Royal Sydney. On a hunch, I keyed that name plus Allan Robertson into TROVE, the wonderful archive of Australian newspapers and eureka……up came an article about the club house burning down in 1920. It read in part;
It is a matter for congratulation that many if not all of the cups and historic – if they may be so called – heirlooms have been saved, chief among them the clubs and balls used by Allan Robertson, admittedly the greatest golfer of his time – he died in 1859. These relics were labelled and kept in a glass case and never ceased to be of interest to the members. (Referee, Wed 28 April 1920)
So there we are, a generous donation. The collection is still greatly treasured by Royal Sydney.
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