Golf is proving to be a game for the ages in Central Victoria, as a crop of prodigious youngsters take on – and conquer – the fairways and greens of Bendigo and beyond. With their sublime swing and precise putting skills, the kids are showing their adult clubmates that age is no handicap.
At just 16, reigning Belvoir Park Golf Club junior and senior ladies champion Jazy Roberts has already broken the ladies’ record on her home course four times, with her current best score an impressive 66 off the stick.
“I practise pretty much every day, either at Belvoir Park or at home,” says Jazy, who is also dual champion at Heritage Golf Club in the Yarra Valley and a member of their winning team in the Victorian Pennant division two ladies’ competition.
“I can hit at home with a shorter club over the back fence into the bush, where there are a couple of trees to aim for about 90m away. And I have a little putting green set up inside my bedroom, made of fake grass and about three metres long.”
Jazy has a better-than-scratch handicap meaning strokes are added to her carded score, rather than deducted as is the case for the vast majority of players.
She’s been swinging a club since she was six, following in the footsteps of grandmother Margaret Roberts, a former ladies president at Neangar Park, father Jason and brother Tom. “My earliest golf memory is sitting in the buggy being pulled around by Dad when he and Tom were playing.”
Now she’s part of Golf Australia’s high-performance program, a three-time Victorian team representative and one of the sport’s brightest talents.
“She’s a bit of a perfectionist,” explains mum Sharon, “so if she’s going to do something, she likes to do it right and she’ll practise and practise until she gets it. She also keeps her cool and doesn’t show her emotions when she’s playing, so if she’s disappointed with a shot, you don’t see it on her face.”
That mental toughness is likely to be crucial as Jazy chases her ambition of playing professionally.
Sixteen-year-old Morten Hafkamp is also on the high-performance pathway and spends every afternoon from the time he finishes school until dark on the golf course close to his home.
The South African-born youngster started hitting a ball for fun at just two, encouraged by dad Johan, but became more serious after migrating to Bendigo, joining the Neangar Park junior development program and making the state primary school team, which won gold and silver medals at nationals. He was the 2020 junior champion at both Commonwealth Golf Club in Melbourne and Neangar Park.
He plays pennant locally and for Commonwealth in the Victorian Colts division, with long travel times to tournaments often adding to the hours spent on the practice greens.
“It can be challenging for kids from Central Victoria to access the same opportunities as those in Melbourne,” says mum Angelique, “especially when you have to get up at 3.30am to tee off at 7 in the morning. We’ve done that a couple of times!”
But there is no shortage of support from the local golfing fraternity, especially at Neangar, where he has finished as high as third in the men’s championship. “The guys are great with him on the course – they all know who he is and are very supportive of his game.”
Archie Alston is another local young gun who’s been turning heads since he was a tiny tacker. Now 12, he’s been driving, chipping and putting for eight years and is obsessed with the sport.
“It’s so unexpected if people haven’t seen him play before – this little fellow who hits the ball so well,” says mum Michelle. “He’s always been small for his age, but his swing has been great from the word go.
“When he was in prep, he played in the Bendigo primary school tournament and qualified for the regional final in Heathcote, even though they weren’t meant to play until grade three.”
Archie was given special permission to attend and played well. But he has gone on to qualify for the 18-hole state championship final every year since grade one, against boys up to six years his senior.
“There was an older boy the first year who came up to him in Bendigo and said, ‘good on you little fellow, hope you had a good day out’. When he realised later that Archie had finished in the top five – ahead of him – his jaw just dropped!”
Nowadays it’s not unusual to see Archie, whose handicap sits at 14 and falling, tee off alongside and against men in their 60s and 70s, enjoying their company and joining in the banter.
He’s been part of Belvoir Park’s winning open men’s pennant team for three consecutive years, including 2021. And his achievements also include winning the boys’ nett title at the Victorian Country Junior Regional Championship in Ballarat in December, and his club’s singles knockout event this year, which saw his name added to the clubhouse honour board.
Archie was also a member of the successful Central Victorian team that won their region of the Victorian Junior Pennant competition in 2020, played “virtually” on home-club courses due to COVID. The team, which included Jazy and Tom Roberts, went through undefeated against Cranbourne, Yarra Yarra, Eastern and Woodlands clubs.
The families of our local stars agree golf is a great sport and are keen for more youngsters to give it a go.
“It’s actually very social, even though it’s an individual sport,” says dad Matthew Alston. “I think it’s good for kids because they meet adults from all walks of life and learn to communicate with them, show respect and take on all the etiquette that surrounds golf.”
To find your nearest club, visit www.golfcentralvictoria.com.au