Member Profile – John Beckwith
Posted on: 1 August
John is one of those larger than life characters at the golf club who is always up for a chat and has many interesting stories to tell. Before the shutdown, Saturday morning upstairs was a favourite spot. Together with his long term friends (known as The Country Women’s Association by Tim Ive) they would discuss the events of the week, reminisce and of course have a chat to the staff and every member who walked past. It’s true to say that although he is keeping himself busy at home while the clubhouse is closed he can hardly wait to get back for that first cup of coffee on a Saturday morning.
One of John’s happiest recollections is the three month golf tour that he and Bev took in 1978. Golfing heaven. Scotland first – St Andrews, Muirfield, Gleneagles and Carnoustie followed by Ireland – Portmarnoch, Royal Dublin and Lahinch then off to the United States staying at Pebble Beach before finishing in Hawaii. While playing at Kauai Golf Course he bought a box of the ‘American’ golf ball as it was known, at 1.68 inches diameter it was larger than the ‘English’ ball (1.62 inches diameter) that was in play in the UK, Europe and Australia. Playing the two balls on the Kauai Course, John came to the same conclusion as the American pros, that is, the smaller ball went further and was more workable in the wind. Interestingly although the R&A decreed that the larger ball had to be used in the British Open from 1974 onwards it wasn’t until 1990 that the USGA and the R&A finally agreed on using the same sized ball for all golf.
Both Bev and John joined VGC in 1953. Bev joined first because she knew June Anstee, one of the best women golfers in Australia at the time, as well as Liz Jones, a pennant player and daughter of one of the club’s directors. John recalls that it was probably Liz’s father who got them into the club. He and Bev made wonderful long-lasting friendships at the club including when she caddied for one of the pennant players. The end of the pennant season was great fun; it was usually celebrated with 18 holes of golf at Flinders Golf Club and a BBQ afterwards at the nearby home of Edna Lucas.
John describes his love/hate relationship with the 4th hole. In the early days he could hit a six iron off the back tee but when the new ‘American’ ball came in to play he had to go to a four iron. This was a much harder shot because it was more difficult to get the required elevation. Finally he decided that he had to get new clubs so he bought a magnificent set of Callaway woods. Unfortunately the five wood was too much so he bought the seven wood, called the Heavenwood. On the tee he announced to his playing partners that he had bought this club especially for the 4th hole. He hit the shot and it landed about one inch from the hole. After that he says he never got close!
There were many happy days out on the course but several events stand out. The first was playing number 2 in a minor pennant team in 1954 with one of VGC’s famous golfers, Vic Sleigh as number 1. They had a great season but unfortunately in the final the number 3, 4 and 5 players were defeated by Patterson River before he and Vic came in. Another memory is winning his first Monthly Medal in 2003, 50 years after he first joined. Two years later he was playing with Vaughan Somers’ brother who had come down from Queensland. One particular shot is etched into his memory. His drive off the 15th landed in one of the left fairway bunkers. He came out of the bunker to about 4 feet from the pin. At the end of the round playing off a 13 handicap he had a nett 67 to win his second medal.
John is of course better known for his football prowess than his golf. He started playing with Melbourne in 1951 and for the next ten years played during Melbourne’s glory years including being their captain from 1957 to 1959. Melbourne were in the Grand Final against Footscray in 1954 and Jack Merrick, the Club Secretary became a great friend that year. (Incidentally Footscray won by 102 points to 51). Very few footballers can say that they played in seven Grand Finals and won five Premierships. New Melbourne players were brainwashed to do everything they could to beat Collingwood. A highlight for John was going back into the Collingwood rooms at Victoria Park and seeing the players visibly upset after they lost to Melbourne. Collingwood on the other hand were notorious for treating visiting teams badly. Both John and Geoff Southby who played for Carlton (Brenda Cuthbertson’s brother) recall the cold showers at Victoria Park after the game.
When his playing days at Melbourne finished John coached at Colac for five years then came back to Melbourne as Assistant Coach under Norm Smith for two years. After Norm had a heart attack John took over as Senior Coach for the next three years. John’s involvement with football didn’t finish there. He joined 3KZ with Ian Major and was part of the ‘around the grounds’ reporting team in the days when all football was played on a Saturday afternoon.
In 1966 John bought a nursing home in Kew and gradually extended the home to 60 beds. John says that he loved looking after the people and they were particularly well fed. As chief taster he enjoyed a hot meal at lunch time then went home to Bev’s home-cooked meal at night. After selling the nursing home in 1988 he joined up with Ian Monks, Ray Wigley and Ray’s brother-in-law to start a new business in Dandenong making steel frameworks. In the first 18 months they landed some major construction jobs but business slowed markedly during the Credit Squeeze in 1990. The four eventually sold out in 2003 and John retired from work at that time.
Victoria Golf Club is a very special place for John. The club has shaped his life in many ways and he has made many wonderful friends. He and Bev had so many marvellous years at the club and he loves the fact that Karen his daughter is now a member and that they can muse over the comings and goings of a place he holds so dear.