Heywood Golf Club: Honesty Box Golf Courses of Western Victoria

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

They’re an industrious bunch at Heywood Golf Club north of Portland.

For the past six years or so, a small band of members have been cleaning close to 30 different Telstra exchange buildings throughout the region in return for money, all of which is put back into the Golf Club.

“We get paid per site to mow them, clean them, broom them out, poison and everything,” says club president Brad Koenig who has been spearheading the operation.

“We organise three or four blokes, we tow a trailer with two push mowers, pack sacks of spray, brooms, shovels, whatever we need. We normally do them twice a year.”

Koenig – a three-time Heywood club champion with a handicap of three - says the cleaning has yielded close to $50,000 and financed the purchase of a tractor and machines to core and top-dress the Club’s impressive greens.

Before the Telstra ‘job’, members raised money for the Club by collecting wood from fallen trees around the golf course, cutting it up and delivering it to customers.

The volunteer labour helped paved the way for the installation of solar panels atop Heywood’s modest clubhouse.

“That’s for our future, that’s for my grandkids,” Koenig says. “Hopefully that $1,000 a year we’re going to save, is going to be for the next 20 years.”

Slipping $25 into the honesty box will get you a game at Heywood.

If paying $49 to play a round at Port Fairy is the best value golf in Australia, Heywood isn’t far behind.

Its 18-hole course was carved out of rolling terrain beside the Mount Clay State Forest in the early 1960s and features a variety of uphill, downhill and dogleg holes. Some holes border farm paddocks and there are no bunkers.

Club president Brad Koenig tees off the first hole at Heywood.

Originally a sand scrapes course, Heywood switched to grass greens in 1979.

“Everyone loves our layout. It’s up and over but not steep,” says Stephen Cocks, the Club’s non-drinking bar manager.

Non-paying members of the Club include koalas, kookaburras and kangaroos.

“You think you’re out in the middle of nowhere some days,” Koenig says.

“We get really good comments from people who have never played here before and they’ve played Melbourne courses and they [say], ‘what a little gem you’ve got here, we didn’t know about it’.”

Greens director Peter Novotny was drawn to the Club in the late 1990s.

“I got a bit old for scuba diving so I thought something a bit more sedate would be the go,” he says.

Novotny’s favourite hole is the 16th - a dogleg-right par-four which plays to the Club’s northern boundary and highest point.

“You see Mount Eccles and Mount Napier and then all the plains all the way to the north,” he says. “It’s wonderful and you’re getting closer to the 19th hole then.”

Like so many other golf clubs, Heywood has witnessed immense social change since the 20th century, boasting far more women’s members today.

“The women used to come out and make sandwiches for the men on Saturdays,” says long-time member Sandra McKindley.

“There’s a big effort now for everything to be mixed and inclusive,” Cocks says.

Earlier this year, Heywood’s number of members was floundering at about 100.

It released a new and cheaper membership deal and the membership swelled beyond 150.

“We put it out at $250, full membership for 12 months, first time member or a past member that hasn’t been a member for two years,” Koenig says.

“Obviously with COVID, no football, no other sport, [it] was pretty attractive.”

“Our normal fees are $470 but with more members, we’re hoping that $470 is going to turn into $460 and $450 and $430. The more members we get, we’ll put the benefits back into our members and get our membership down. We’re not greedy.”

One paid-up and passionate member is Sandra McKindley.

A 10-time club champion, McKindley has enjoyed many memorable duels against life member Wendy Rogers and Meg Hayden.

In 2001, she defeated Rogers in a Tuesday semi-final to qualify for a 36-hole final on the Sunday - the day after her 50th birthday party.

“I’d taken the week off,” McKindley says.

“The semi-final, I [was] thinking, well, I don’t really want to win this because I’m a bit busy at the weekend.

“I had to play the final on the Sunday after partying the night before. I was up but I was getting tired. I think I ended up winning on the 30th hole.”

McKindley’s on-course execution was seamless but she let her guard down after returning home.

“I stepped down off the veranda to say goodbye to the kids who were going back to Melbourne and I ended up in the garden,” she says laughing.

“I told the doctor it was fatigue. I actually broke my wrist.”

“That one I never really lived down because I had to ring my workplace and say, ‘I won’t be in for a few weeks’”.

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