“ACCOLADE TO A COUNTRY GOLFING ICON……..”

Betty Mulcahy’s a sprightly 94……..Dignified….Gracious……….

She says she doesn’t feel her age……….until the other day, that is, when she was outside doing some watering……”I’ve got a bit of a problem with my balance, and had a slight bingle….I’ll have to be a bit more careful in future,” she says.

Betty’s name would ring a bell with the older sporting fraternity in Wangaratta. It’s been a pleasure to sit down and have a yarn about her storied golfing career………..

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There aren’t too many locals who can say they honed their skills on the original Jubilee Golf Course……or, for that matter, played on the old Wangaratta Links, on which the H.P.Barr sporting complex is now located.

Betty says it revives memories when she drives down Edwards Street these days.

She won her first Wangaratta Championship there in 1955, and can recall the title being decided on the 15th hole, which ran alongside the rear of the newly-erected Rovers Clubrooms.

The ‘Chronicle’ described her play-off against Mae Buchanan as the ‘most open Final in Club history’.

“I used to get terribly nervous, and I warned Dad, who was my greatest fan: ‘Don’t you come anywhere near the course.’ …….I didn’t realise that he’d sneaked into the Rovers ground and watched the finish from one of the banks……”

At the end of the day’s gruelling 36 holes, she sunk a 30-footer to take out the Match-Play contest 5 and 3……………

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Betty’s dad, Vic Culph, was her sporting inspiration.

His legacy from the War was a ‘mangled’ leg – the result of a stray bullet that had passed through the limb, causing the toes to curl under his foot, leaving one leg shorter than the other.

“I don’t know how he walked sometimes,” she says.

Despite his handicap, Vic was a terrific competitor, and was still adept enough to play footy in Milawa’s 1945 Grand Final side. He took up Golf in his 40’s, and got down to a Handicap of around two.

“Because of his disability, Dad couldn’t get a lot of distance with his shots; but he was straight down the middle every time…….Get him anywhere near the Green and he was on…..And he was a good putter. He was a champion three or four times at the old Jubilee course……so that’s what got me started.”

Prior to this, Betty had been an outstanding junior swimmer. She took out three successive North-Eastern Schoolgirls titles, and was unbeaten in every event she contested at the Merriwa Park Pool.

She was 15 when she gave swimming away, and decided to concentrate on golf. She started to head out to Jubilee to play a few rounds with her Dad, who would always bet her threepence a hole…..It was ‘double or quits’ on the final hole. She never beat Vic, but she learned a valuable lesson about playing under pressure.

“ I loved Match-Play……That was what I was brought up on . Dad and I played it for so long, I regarded it as such good fun……”

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Betty won three Wangaratta Championships – 1955, 1960 and 1970 – and spent many years playing at Yarrawonga, where she picked up five Club titles.

“It’s challenging, Yarra…….Similar in style to the Melbourne courses – particularly around the bunkers”.

Probably her most memorable championship win at Yarrawonga was her last, against the formidable Lorna Zotti, who played off a handicap of 5, was the winner of 13 Cobram/Barooga titles, and hot favourite for the event.

They halved the first hole…Coming to the second, Mulcahy was short……Zotti chipped up close to the pin, but Betty bottled a 30-foot putt to win the hole.

They shared the next….and the next…….and on the long par-5 Mulcahy put her third shot into the bunker……Zotti was on the green with a chance of a birdie putt………but Mulcahy exploded out of the bunker to win the hole……

“We got to the 7th and I was lucky enough to bottle a putt for a two…..”

“I ended up having a good win…..3 and 2……” Betty recalls. “I wouldn’t have beaten her, I’m sure, if it was a stroke-event…….but the fact that it was Match-Play……..That was my specialty….”

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She almost got the opportunity to test herself out at one of the Metropolitan Clubs, when her husband Kevin, who was a Valuer, applied for – and got – a job in Melbourne.

“We started making preliminary plans for the move, and I applied to join Keysborough, which is one of the city’s famous sandbelt courses……….I liked the people there; they were very friendly, and the Club had a nice country-like atmosphere about it.”

“Then the official confirmation came through to Kevin about the job……We were sitting there that night, and he said: ‘I don’t think I could bloody-well live in Melbourne’……….I said: ‘What !……But you’ve already accepted it.’ “

“He replied: ‘I know…..I couldn’t live there.’ I said: ‘But I’ve already joined Keysborough ! ‘……‘ That’s alright…..you can keep up the Membership….’ “

“So we never left Wangaratta………I did play there a couple of times, and actually won a Trophy there………….”

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Ballan’s Rae Hicks was one of the many excellent golfers that Betty came across in a career which spanned 30-odd years.

They met in a Country Championship Quarter-Final at Victoria Golf Club; a match that the ‘Sun’ golfing scribe Kitty McEwan described as a ‘contest deserving of a Final’.

“It was torture in those days,” Betty says. “You had to play 18 holes in the morning to qualify, before lining up again in the afternoon. It was important to be fit…….and I wasn’t fit enough.”

“I hit the ball as if I had it on a string, but I couldn’t putt to save myself……….And Rae was sinking putts from everywhere. It was an interesting comparison of our games.”

Their match extended to the 23rd hole, before Hicks sunk the putt to advance to the Semi. Both players were out on their feet.

“Rae was about my age; played off 5……I really enjoyed playing her…….She was a lovely person……She said: ‘I wish you’d won it. I don’t think I could do another 18……’ But I felt exactly the same.“

Betty played Pennant for both Wangaratta and Yarrawonga, won four North-East Championships, was N.E Champion of Champions on five occasions, and shared a N.E Mixed title with Mike Murfitt.

She was hailed for one of those North-East title wins over Jean McCullough – another top-notcher of her era – at Jean’s home Club, Mount Beauty. Naturally, it’s a hilly course, and a real test of stamina – particularly when you’re obliged to play 36 holes for the day.

Jean held a commanding six-shot lead after the morning round.

“I was so tired at that stage, that I could have given it away. Thankfully, someone volunteered to caddy for me in the afternoon, which was a huge help.”

Coming to the final hole, a sizeable crowd had gathered to watch the event’s climax. Betty was told that if she had a par-3 she’d break the course record.

“I thought, goodness, I knew I was going well, but that surprised me…….Anyway, I hit a really good shot, just above the green, but fluffed the approach shot……So I’ve had a 4, to equal the course record, and win the championship.”

“But in those days, if you’d played 18 holes on the same day, it wasn’t an official record, because you were deemed to have had prior knowledge of the course.”

“The same thing happened at Beechworth…….I equalled the record but it wasn’t official……..”

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Betty’s mind flicks back to many of the fine golfers whom she opposed over the years….One of the best was Marian Dwyer, of Gippsland, who won several Country Championships.

“Gee, she was a good player……She was one of the stumbling-blocks we faced when the North-East team headed to Country Week……We never had enough good players to do all that well down there…..But we loved the experience of playing the Melbourne courses, against good competition……”

Other stars included Nan Armstrong (Benalla), Lorna Zotti, Joyce Broadbent (Shepparton), Lorna Kavanagh, Mary Odgers (Wangaratta), Di Ferguson (Albury), Barbara Sloan (Jubilee) and Elaine Cowan (Benalla).

Betty was reluctantly forced to retire from golf in her late-forties, whilst still in her prime. She’d developed a back injury which forced her to wear a brace……And a clot in her leg was causing all sorts of problems.

“I did my best to keep playing, but the last time I tried I lasted nine holes, and suffered for quite a while afterwards…….It just wasn’t worth it.”

She was also involved in Table Tennis whilst playing Golf, and won three Wangaratta singles championships.

Her enthusiasm for sport – all sport – certainly hasn’t waned..

She got a great kick out of watching her son Mark play cricket ( with Wangaratta and Whorouly ) and football with North Wangaratta.

“Mark inherited a fair slice of the determination that Dad handed down to me, I think……and so did his sons Christopher and Josh.”

In latter years she’s followed the Soccer fortunes of grandson Josh, who won the AWFA star Player Award in 2014, whilst playing as a mid-fielder with Albury United.

Betty Mulcahy’s eyes still light up when you start talking sport. She’s no different to the 15 year-old who stood on the tee at Jubilee and waged a battle with her father for three-pence a hole………..

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