Casterton Golf Club: Honesty Box Golf Courses of Western Victoria

An excerpt from coffee table book, 'Honesty Box Golf Courses of Western Victoria'

Casterton in far Western Victoria is the ‘Birthplace of the Kelpie’ and the large signs as you enter town on the Glenelg Highway tell you so.

More understated is the status of the local Golf Club as a fascinating rural layout.

“We are very, very proud of what we’ve got,” says Club president Shane Gill.

“For a little country town to have a golf course like this is magnificent and I don’t believe we would have it unless the members put in 100 per cent and they do.”

But the kelpie is not forgotten at Casterton Golf Club which, only a couple of years ago, changed its club logo from a cockatoo to the famous Australian sheep dog.

Casterton’s 18-hole par-72 course - 5591 metres for men and 4953 metres for women - features stunning pine trees and redgums believed to be more than 200 years old.

There’s a sponsor board on the first tee promoting a local funeral services company, and if that doesn’t unsettle you, a blissful few hours await on one of the most scenic courses in Western Victoria.

The par-five seventh hole at Casterton Golf Club.

“It’s a course – in my belief – you don’t get sick of,” says life member Ken Bibby.

It’s not too hard but it’s not too easy. No one comes here and takes it apart.”

Hares dart across fairways, there’s the occasional kangaroo and whistling kite in the skies above.

“It’s not unusual to spot a koala in the high branches,” says member Kay Johnson.

Before the Golf Club was founded in 1923, several properties in the area had their own small golf courses and the owners would gather for lunch, a few whiskeys and a few holes of golf.

“One particular day, the Station owner decided to play a bit of a trick on his guests by substituting a water bore shaft for the putting hole on one of the scrapes,” Bibby says. “Imagine the astonishment and reaction of the players when they went to pick their ball out of the hole.”

Originally a nine-hole course, Casterton Golf Club was extended to 18 holes in 1967.

More than four hours’ drive from Melbourne and slightly longer from Adelaide, it remains underappreciated to city golfers and 2020 has been a tough year for both Club and town.

The Golf Club’s annual Melbourne Cup Calcutta - one of its biggest fundraisers - was cancelled due to the pandemic along with the town’s annual Australian Kelpie Muster on the June long weekend.

“It attracts thousands of people, they come here from nearly all parts of Australia and they buy dogs from nearly all parts of Australia,” says Bibby who knows what he’s talking about.

He’s a retired stock agent who conducted the very first Australian Kelpie Muster auction in 1998.

Back then, the top dog fetched just over $2000. Today, kelpies are sold for more than $20,000.

Bibby is just one of the Golf Club’s many dedicated volunteers and cuts an unmistakable figure on the course, riding a one-seater scooter-style golf buggy.

“Back in the 80s or 90s before there were many golf carts or ride-ons about, we had a little squadron of five or six motor-biking golfers who mounted their bags on bikes ranging from four-wheelers, three-wheelers, two-wheelers and I think one may have even tried a ride-on lawn mower,” he says. “They would take-off with a rev, a roar and cloud of smoke.”

On the afternoon this writer visited, the Club was preparing to host a night golf event with an age demographic much younger than that of a typical country golf club.

“Traditionally, it’s been an older membership club, but I believe probably in the last 10 years, that age group has come down and continues to do so,” says Gill, a veteran nurse at the local hospital who's been involved with the Golf Club for 25 years.

A major coup for Casterton Golf Club came in October 2019 when it hosted more than 100 golfers over three days for the Victorian Veteran Golfers Association’s State Championship.

“I think we surprised a lot of people statewide with the capability that this golf club can provide in leadership and in hosting,” says Club captain Kevin Etherton who was the driving force in bringing the event to Casterton.

Pictured (from left): Club President Shane Gill, life member Ken Bibby and captain Kevin Etherton.

“We couldn’t get them to leave in actual fact. On the last day, normally when it’s a shutdown, we had the clubhouse full of people who didn’t want to go home, it was awesome.”

Etherton only moved to Casterton 10 years ago.

Since then, he’s spent seven years as captain and required open heart surgery.

“I had a heart condition where I had my aortic valve replaced which involved open heart surgery,” Etherton says.

“I’m still playing off single figures but I’m just pleased to be able to still walk around a golf course because, five years ago, I probably should have been dead.

“I wake up every morning and go, ‘you beauty’.”

Etherton has won two club championships.

The record is held by Bill Johnston who won 15 titles between 1964 and 1990.

Liz Sylvester won 14 women’s Club Championships including an amazing 13 in a row until 2011 and her husband, Greg, has won 11 men’s titles.

Another prominent member was the late Val Ross who long fought for an on-course toilet. Her cries were heard and, only a few years ago, the outhouse between the seventh and 13th tees was updated with a modern flush toilet and a sign on the front which reads “Rossy’s Rest”.

There’s some debate about which is the signature hole at Casterton.

The short dog-leg right par-four 15th is a favourite for many while the short par-three 17th, which features a raised green, is also popular.

“The green is an upside down dish and deflects any tee shot not hit with authority,” Etherton says.

If you’re playing at Casterton for the first time, the 17th green might reject you but the Golf Club will welcome you with open arms.

To order a copy of 'Honesty Box Golf Courses of Western Victoria'', click here