HE CAME out from Scotland and was the gifted golf pro at Barwon Heads for a record 57 years. LAWRENCE MONEY recalls the life and times of the great Bud Russell:
WHEN I GROW up, I want to be like Shane McCarthy. He plays at Melbourne’s Latrobe Golf Club like me – but that’s where the similarity ends. Shane recently scored an eagle three on the par-five 18th hole – and a six-under 66 the previous Wednesday. A fair hand with the sticks, this bloke.
Of course, he had an advantage from the start, having come under the tutelage of the legendary Bud Russell decades ago. William James “Bud” Russell was the pro down at Barwon Heads Golf Club for more than half a century. You’ll find him in the old newspaper files. Stuff like this from the Argus of 9 May, 1950:
“Bud Russell on Sunday returned a brilliant 65, the lowest score in the club’s 30-year history. Russell was out in 31 and home in 35. He had a birdie two at the 4th, an eagle three at the next hole, and another birdie at the 5th. His score, which is three strokes better than the competition record of 68 held by Ossie Pickworth, would have been better had he not dropped a stroke at the second last hole.”
I sent Shane McCarthy an email after his recent efforts: “Bud’s legacy lives on!” Shane replied: “It’s all in the wrists, Bud would say, it’s all in the wrists.” (Reckon I must have been born with a different sort of wrists.)
Bud Russell was hired by Barwon Heads in 1930 after a world-wide search with advertising that stated, “Scotsman preferred”. Former Australian prime minister Stanley Bruce, who was in England at the time, assisted.
Bud was nicknamed “Boy” as a youth, a moniker upgraded to “Bud” as an adult. He had been born in Gullane, Scotland, in 1909, son of a manager at the local golf club. He was given a two-year contract at Barwon Heads but remained in the job for an astonishing 57 years.
It was during that time that Shane McCarthy, from around 10 years of age, would earn pocket money finding golf balls at the Barwon Heads course. “My family lived in Ocean Grove,” says Shane. “My mates and I got around two bob a ball at the pro shop if the balls were in good order. And a dollar a round to caddy. In the high summer we’d do three caddy jobs in a day.”
When there was no caddying, the boys would hang around the course anyhow and Bud Russell would use them to fetch the balls if he was giving a member a lesson. “That’s where I would pick up tips and learn,” says Shane. “And at the end of the day Bud would take us out for six holes, sometimes with just one club like a seven iron. Funnily enough, you’d often end up with the same sort of score you got with a full set of clubs.”
Later on, when Shane played competition golf, Bud would straighten out any problems in his swing. “If I’d had a bad round he would take me around the back of the pro shop and go through the basics. He’d throw a golf ball at you now and then if you didn’t listen to what he was saying.”
Bud was the first Australian golf pro to forge his own irons. Shane helped Bud make the wooden heads of the Bud Russell drivers. (In fact, my father-in-law, Bill Barnett, still playing with me at Latrobe each Sunday at age 90, still has a Bud Russell nine iron.)
Shane’s late brother, John, learned from Bud too and became a golf pro but Shane decided to go into retailing in Melbourne, starting off as a window dresser. “I actually drifted out of club golf a bit between the ages of 19 and 25 – more chance of meeting girls as a surfer.”
After Bud retired he remained in his house, named Gullane, on the Barwon Heads course and Shane and his family would drop in for a cup of tea whenever they were in the area. “He became a very good family friend,” says Shane. “He was very supportive when brother John passed away.”
So Bud’s retirement was spent in Gullane, on the course. The golf club committee had not expected that. “Where will you live?” they asked after a new pro was appointed.
“Here in the house,” Bud replied.
“But that’s owned by the club,” said the committee.
Bud went to a drawer and pulled out the title to the house, which he had purchased through a club manager decades earlier.
“But we’ve been mowing your lawn and weeding your garden all this time,” said the committee.
“Yes,” said Bud, “thanks very much.”
Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria's best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age -- and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines -- before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.