Grafton?s mighty golf link
By MAX GODBEE
MAX DENTON, a man whose name is synonymous with the progress of golf in the Grafton area over many years, will shortly celebrate his 90th birthday.
He doesn't play golf anymore but still loves the game.
So many Clarence Valley golfers past and present owe a great deal to this dedicated sportsman.
Max introduced so many of them to golf and taught them the rudiments of the game, improved their play with demonstration of the finer points and, just as importantly, added encouragement.
Some of his proteges went on to become champions.
Others, never meant to be champions, found the sheer enjoyment of playing golf. Their great aim was to improve their game and reduce their handicap, in other words to play and enjoy.
Max Denton was 22 and played off a scratch handicap when he came from Sydney to Grafton in 1937 with his appointment as a golf club professional.
At that time the Grafton Golf Club was registered with the Northern Rivers Golf Association and had a nine-hole course inside the racing and training tracks of the Grafton racecourse. These days the Grafton club is a member of the Mid-North Coast Golf Association.
Max was the club's professional through a number of changes, including shifting the course to the present day 18 holes venue at South Grafton.
Forty-two years after coming to the Jacaranda City Max retired in 1979 as the club professional. Besides his coaching role Max helped in other spheres including 12 years as course manager.
His work for the sport brought him well-earned life membership of the Grafton District Golf Club. He is also a life member of the Clarence River Jockey Club, rarely missing a Grafton race meeting and has been a financial member of the club for more than 50 years.
As well as his contribution to sport and citizenship Max is proud of being 22 years registered on the local jury list.
The span of 42 years with the Grafton Golf Club included three during the 1940s when the golf club was closed as World War Two raged in Europe and the Pacific.
During those years of club closure, with so much in Australia turned towards the war effort in its many facets, Max retuned to Sydney to work in the munitions factory built into the Slazengers Tennis Workshop. He was also in the Australian Army Reserve.
In 1945 with peace declared and things back to a sort of normal, Max returned to the job as Grafton Golf Club professional and immediately restarted his project of promoting golf, showing the sport to more and more people, particularly the young.
He helped co-ordinate junior tournaments at the Tweed, Lismore, Ballina, Casino, Kyogle, Grafton and Coffs Harbour clubs.
One of his hardest tasks was obtaining sporting equipment as the manufacture of such goods had virtually dried up during the war years and factories were only slowly getting back into operation.
Maxwell Gordon Denton was born on October 5, 1915 in Sydney in the early years of World War One, the son of John and Margaret (nee Mahood) Denton.
His mother Margaret was deputy matron at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and his father John was production manager for the WJ Smith Bottle Company of Sydney.
The family lived at the Sydney suburb of Roseberry not far from the then Roseberry Racecourse and the nearby Australian Golf Club. Thus Max, as he grew up, was introduced at an early age to golf and his everlasting love of horses and the racing industry.
His schooling education was at Roseberry primary and high schools in Gardners Road.
He was one of the top students and received excellent marks in the Leaving Certificate (equivalent to the Higher School Certificate).
His main sports at school were rugby league, usually as lock, and cricket, where he held an indelible spot as wicket keeper/batsman. He represented the schools regularly in each sport.
While golf was not a school sport, Max played whenever he could, after school, at weekends and on holidays, mainly at The Australian Golf Club which was 'just across the road' from where he lived.
He was a quick learner, dis- played plenty of skill, regularly reduced his handicap and won several junior tournaments along the way.
On leaving school Max became a golf apprentice to The Lakes Golf Club Professional, Arthur W East, and after his two years with East qualified as a club professional.
It was in 1937 that he moved north to take up the position as professional at the Grafton club, where Dr Eric Preston (EP) Holland was club president.
The Grafton Golf Club was then 36 years old, having its beginning in 1901.
It was originally a nine holes course within the Grafton racetrack but also with patrons having to hit over the track to reach a couple of the greens. Later the course amazingly was extended to 18 holes and then in 1932 was reduced back to a more sensible layout for the space with nine holes.
Thus it was a nine holes course when Max came to Grafton in 1937.
"I recall there were plenty of crows around the place and they at times created havoc with their obsession for the white balls," Max said.
"It was no fun making a shot only to see your ball flying thought the air in the beak of one of the crows."
It was in 1942 that Max Denton married Grafton girl Zena Schafer at Grafton's Christ Church Cathedral.
Zena was a great help to him in many ways, particularly through involvement with the Golf Pro Shop.
Tragically Zena died in the early 1990s.
From the marriage there is a son, Robert and daughter Pamela. Robert lives in Brisbane and he and his wife have given Max four grandchildren.
Pamela, whose husband died a few years back, has a son, popular former Daily Examiner journalist Craig McTear. Craig these days is a highly respected reporter with The Advocate newspaper in Coffs Harbour.
"When I first came to the Clarence, South Grafton also had a nine holes course," Max said.
"It was at Musk Valley, on the South Grafton Municipal boundary, just below the railway line. That club went into recess in 1947 and later amalgamated with the Grafton Golf Club which then became The Grafton District Golf Club.
"In the mid 1960s a number of us revived that Musk Valley course for a while. We formed a group and called ourselves Musk Valley Golf Club and we played competition golf there each Friday."
Before World War Two broke out Max, beside his invaluable coaching work with senior male and female members, had tutored and encouraged quite a number of young members.
After the war he expanded the juniors' project helping introduce tournaments throughout the North Coast.
Because the racetrack course was of just nine holes and therefore restricted, with the winds of change it was decided to look for an alternate site which could accommodate 18 holes and more players.
The project steering committee decided on a site on the hill at South Grafton at the end of Bent Street and Chester Shaw, on behalf of the golf club, purchased the land from owners, the Paul family.
One of Australia's leading course architects, Albert Howard, designed the new layout and the firm of White and Thompson did the construction work.
Just under 12 months after the start of the construction, the first competition was played there, on April 1 1954.
At that time Carl Schaeffer was club president, Cyril Soloman captain and Peter Langham club champion, while the women's trio was Nell Blood president, Mrs C J Shaw captain and Mrs B J Page champion.
Max Denton had played a significant part in the coaching of both Peter Langham and Mrs Page. Peter Langham went on to win the NSW Amateur championship at Manly.
"Peter was a credit to the game," Max said.
"He was, and still is, a true sportsman with a great game, great attitude, well-mannered and always neatly attired."
Max proudly remembers pairing with Langham for a win against the great Norman Von Nida and another of Max's protege's John Page to win an exhibition game at Grafton.
"Among the men, besides Norman Von Nida, we have had some great Australian professionals and many fine amateur golfers appear at Grafton course during my time," Max said.
"These include Eric Cremin, Fred and Bill Bolger, Billy Holder, Ted Ball, Kel Donohue Tony Gresham, Sommie McKay, Greg Norman as an amateur, along with the local champions such as John Campbell Graham Dewberry, Shayne Hayman, Neil Farrington, John Clarke and many others.
"Two of the stand-out women players would have to be the late Annie Bawden who was already advanced in her career when I arrived and the remarkable Jean Dahl, who keeps on keeping on."
Although so busy while still playing and coaching, Max still found time to do a correspondence course as devised by the PGA, Professional Golfers' Association, and passed examinations to gain double A PGA rating.