Country is rough but the company’s great

June 08, 2018

Veteran journalist Gus Underwood catches up with a former Stanhopeite who has found a challenging job in a remote NSW town.

If you’re a golfer and find you spend a lot of time trying to clear your ball from the rough, then spare a thought for those hardy souls at the outback Pooncarie Golf Club on the Darling River.

At the moment the playing members — the whole three of them — have been limbering up for another winter season on the fairways.

And every time this trio takes to the course, which is usually on a Sunday morning to free-up self-inflicted cobwebs not only from the night before but usually the entire previous week, they face nine holes of wall-to-wall rough.

One of these three regulars is the self-elected curator of the club: Stanhope-raised 68-year-old knockabout Gary Clark.

Clarky, as he is affectionately known, was invited to Pooncarie nearly 20 years ago on a fishing trip and hasn’t left the tiny town of about 70 residents since.

With not a blade of green grass to be spotted anywhere on the course at the moment apart from the tiny rounded watered putting greens, Clarky is first to admit conquering the course can be a real challenge. 

While it’s tough enough trying to master the grassless fairways, removing generous amounts of kangaroo and goat/sheep droppings left by these ravenous creatures seeking a green pick in the current drought conditions also has its challenges and can test even the best and most resilient of outback golfers.

The other sizeable hazard at the moment for Clarky is sharing the weekly round of golf with his good mate — and Pooncarie identity from way back — former shearer Mark ‘Rivo’ Rivett.

The burly Rivo has been known to down two cans of beer per hole ... for all of the nine holes. 

And that’s even when he is hitting the ball deadly straight — so the tally could be even more daunting if he is not on his game.

So, trying to keep pace with him to prevent dehydration setting in can have a decidedly disastrous impact on your final score — that’s if you’ve somehow miraculously managed to complete the nine holes.

Chatting about how he landed the job 15 years ago, Clarky said no self-indulgent appraisals of his credentials for the job were needed. 

‘‘I just took over from the last bloke who did it 15 years ago. I don’t think I even got asked.

There certainly wasn’t a big queue for it, I can tell you that,’’ Clarky said with a laugh.

Clarky also points out it’s not the highest paid job in town.

You get zilch, actually. 

‘‘It’s just part of giving something back to the community you live in and love,’’ Clarky said.

Because it just too hot to play in the summer months, the club is strictly a cooler weather club — but a gradual decline in membership in recent years has resulted in the club reluctantly scrapping its annual tournaments.

In the club’s boom times in the early 2000s these tournaments could attract up to 80 players from as far as Mildura 130km to the south, and from Mendindee 140km to the north — and everywhere in between.

‘‘It would be nice if we could get enough interest to get those days back again, but the way things are going in other sports as well it is probably very doubtful now,’’ Clarky said with more than a hint of disappointment.

A Vietnam veteran, Clarky is so in love with life in this outback town he has even booked a burial plot at the town’s historic cemetery for when the time comes.

Some friends are surprised this inevitable event has not already eventuated, given Clarky’s penchant for what could only be described as a hectic social life. 

Clarky’s home rather conveniently backs onto the historic Pooncarie pub.

If he is not socialising there or entertaining a few mates at his neatly kept home — a shanked golf shot away — you can catch him this time of the year manicuring the small oval grass greens that stand out like a beacon on the grey river flats left when the golf course was carved out of thick bushland along the Darling River in the early 1990s.

But with all its hazards, Clarky still reckons being curator of the Pooncarie Golf Club is still an ace job.

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