After winning the Australian open in 1979 I was invited to play in a pro-am at the Tewantin, Noosa Golf Club. Following a long year in the U.S. I didn’t want to go – another flight, another hotel. Jackie, who had not long had our first baby, Kristie, convinced me otherwise.

A message from our host

Jack Newton jack_newton_family jack_newton_playing

Introduction to the Jack Newton Celebrity Classic:

From your host JACK NEWTON – taken from the 30th Anniversary Book (2008).

After winning the Australian open in 1979 I was invited to play in a pro-am at the Tewantin, Noosa Golf Club. Following a long year in the U.S. I didn’t want to go – another flight, another hotel. Jackie, who had not long had our first baby, Kristie, convinced me otherwise.

The location was great and the event itself had the right “feel” about it to pursue some ideas I’d witnessed in America. The ingredients were all there to explore an end of season celebrity style event with some quality professionals participating.

Early on Ronnie Corbett, The English comedian, and the great Ricky May – the minister for music I called him – along with other friends Bob Shearer, Ian Stanley, Ian Baker-Finch, Roger Davis, Brett Ogle, Wayne Riley and Payne Stewart began to participate, which gave the event a huge kick along and coupled with publicity and the “bush telegraph” many of the celebrities and professionals began to diarise the event as part of their end of year holiday.
Most importantly the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, became the patron of the event and my foundation and has given his unconditional support from the time he was Prime Minister by participating in the classic.

The next move I had to make was selling the concept to the corporates and perhaps television, as I’ve said many times, these sort of events don’t run on “fresh air” and while there was plenty of contra around at the time I needed to cover expenses for the event and ultimately wages for a tournament co-ordinator and my expenses by selling corporate packages.

On that note, I have been extremely lucky to have worked with three very different, very competent tournament co-ordinators – Dianne Henshall, Suzy Piercy (formerly Meikle) and Judy Brady – Formally and employee of Henshall – who has been involved with the event for 20 years. All have played a significant role in the development and ongoing success of the classic. Basically it was my responsibility to raise the money and invite the guests – many of them were friends – and I could rely on the rest to fall into place with my wife Jackie’s help.

While Noosa was a wonderful place to host the event, logistically it became a nightmare at that time to accommodate the guests. Participants were housed in a myriad of locations so transportation to and from the course became an issue with people driving cars to the angst of the police.
The role of the marquee as a catalyst for the “fun Meter” to be turned up should never be under-estimated. I first introduced this concept in the car park of Tewantin Noosa Golf Club initially to house the sponsors hundred (and growing) guests for a sit down dinner. Since I first saw this concept at the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, Texas, work really well – they wouldn’t allow women in the clubhouse – which led me to the conclusion that people tend to relax and enjoy themselves more in the less formal surroundings of a marquee rather than a ballroom. That week on tour was a hoot!

In more than thirty years of attending functions and dinners of varying dimensions I have never had any doubt about my original conclusion – the celebrity classic has been no exception!!

IN 1992 I reluctantly moved the event to the Novotel Twin Waters Resort on the Sunshine Coast just outside Maroochydore. After a few inevitable teething problems the new venue proved a run-away success on many fronts. The golf course was better – although that didn’t always matter to some of the golfers – and the marquee went to another level in presentation. Most importantly – and the reason we had to move – was that all the guests could be housed under the same roof. The collaborations, the stories, the lasting friendships (some from then unluckiest quarters) and business relationships became legendary. Largely because we were all in the same environment for three days at the end of a long year. Convivial circumstances can only lead to plenty of “crack”, as the Irish would say, and there has been!!

Over the years I’m sure the regulars at “the Jack” – as the regulars call it – would tell you that they have seen plenty of cabaret shows in the marquee which would be priceless. Special mention should be made of all the celebrities who have given up their time to support the event and provide the “colour” and different viewpoint. The entertainers who have performed have often mentioned to me how “fired up “ they get to perform at the classic in front of their peers, sports personalities, actors and actresses, Television personalities, music directors, politicians and corporates as well as other guests which now numbered 450 in the marquee. The performers wanted to put on a good show, just like many of the professional golfers wanted to win the golf tournament.

While I encouraged the use of new relatively unknown acts – many of the young comedians we’ve used have received additional work via exposure to the corporate world. However, the common denominators at the classic have consistently been Wilbur Wilde – saxophonist extraordinaire, Pat Welsh and David Fordham – the best M.C.’s in the business. Harold Gilder and Billy j. Smith providing their considerable auctioneering skills and the incomparable sharp wit of John Blackman have all provided their priceless in out in taking the event to a new level. They cannot be thanked enough. Also to Rrray Maguire who not only oversees our scoring system but for years has stage managed all the cabaret shows, often under difficult circumstances – heartiest of thanks.

After fifteen successful years at Twin waters an unsavoury incident and a new manager, who had never experienced a “Jack”, forced another move in 2006 to “God’s country” as I like to refer to it – the Hunter Valley and Cypress Lakes Resort. A vastly different vista to the Sunshine Coast, the resort set amongst the vineyards of the lower Hunter with the Brokenback Ranges as the backdrop, not far from where I was born, Cessnock. Some sceptics might have suggested it was a personal decision given I live less than an hour from the resort in beloved Newcastle – all parts of “God’s Country”!! However, in truth a facility needed to be found that fulfilled the main pre-requisites of being able to accommodate the guests under one roof and a marquee big enough to hold the numbers for the sponsors dinner and Cabaret shows. Not an easy task, as there isn’t many such venues with the required attributes.

It is true we have a lost a few Queensland based sponsors and participants, however, being so close to Sydney and Newcastle, new avenues have opened up. While sponsorship is tough with the economy the way it is at present, I am confident this year’s celebrity – in its third year at Cypress – will be another great success in not only raising much needed funds for the Diabetes and the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation – the main recipients of funding from the event since I took over running the classic in 1985.

From where this event started, the support I’ve had from sponsors, many of whom have been involved for years, the amateurs who religiously play in the event, the wonderful array of celebrities who have experienced the event and want to come back and some of the best professional golfers in world who have joined in the fun and of course make the golf component more exciting for the participants. The whole thing has been quite a humbling experience for both myself and my family.

While everyone has their favourite stories from “the Jack” – there have been plenty – my favourite goes back to the early days at the marquee in the car park at Tewantin Noosa. It was very late, most people had gone home, apart from myself and Jackie the crew left consisted of Vince Jones of Jazz with trumpet fame – who earlier had won the celebrity sections of the golf tournament and acquired a new set of clubs and bag for his feat – Ricky May and arranger piano player Jamie Rigg, the Chantoozies who were a hot band at the time, Red Symons with guitar, Wilbur Wilde with sax a few other retrobates including the president of the club – John Piercy. The other important ingredient was a tub of left-over ice cold beer. Suddenly a jam session began where everyone joined in. The sound, with such a talented bunch of singers and musicians, reached unforgettable proportions. At the height of this impromptu session I realised I was experiencing one of those special moments in your life and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world at the time. As the sun rose Vince sang a solo with just Piano and sax backing which was truly mind-blowing. At its conclusion everyone agreed his efforts couldn’t be topped and it was time to head back to Noosa which was about fifteen kilometres away.

Vince, hyped-up from the jam session and still thoroughly chuffed at winning the clubs then exclaimed: “Let’s play golf back to Hastings Street. I’m in the mood and I want to try out my new clubs.” The rest of us looked at one another and unanimously agreed it really was time to head home.

IN closing I think the greatest legacies of the Celebrity Classic has been the camaraderie, stories, and most of all friendships, with such a variety of personalities involved, egos were left at the front door. Some of our guests, because of distance, don’t see one another from one classic to the next but instantly the rapport reignites. On the other hand many of our celebrities and professionals first came unattached. It has been fascinating to see their children – now of an age they can experience “the Jack”. I know the event has helped my children develop and mature and I’m pretty sure the same applies to Judy Brady – in her 20th year – and son, Dean, in the same way. Well done Judy.
Long may those traditions continue.

JACK NEWTON

O.A.M.