JACK Newton would rather watch a junior golf tournament than the Australian Open nowadays.
Four of the game’s brightest prospects will be front and centre when the Jack Newton Celebrity Classic tees off at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley on Tuesday.
Harrison Crowe, Jye Pickin, Kim Grace and Belinda Gi are flag bearers for the Jack Newton Junior Golf foundation, which was founded in 1986 and has produced a conveyer belt of stars.
"The Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation is all about boys and girls . . . it’s a great thrill to have them at the tournament,” said Newton, who won the Australian Open in 1979 and covered it as a commentator for more than 25 years. “We probably have the strongest group of junior golfers in the country based largely around the financial results we have had from the celebrity classic. That has allowed us to develop our program in advancement from the other states. To be honest, I would rather watch a kids golf tournament than go and watch the Australian Open.”
“The Jack” as it is known turns 40 this year. The 36-hole tournament – the longest running celebrity pro-am in Australia – has raised more the $6.3 million for junior golf and diabetes – causes close to Newton’s heart.
“When we started it at Noosa in 1979, I didn’t think it would last this long,” Newton said. “It’s got bigger and bigger and from that perspective, we are all pretty proud. Initially, we had a couple of pretty good celebrities at the tournament and it grew from there with people I knew. The message got passed on that it was a good couple of days.”
As well as the leading professional golfers, most of whom have come through JNJG, the event attracts some of the country’ biggest sporting names as well as stars of the stage and screen.
Dawn Fraser, Wally Lewis, Rod Marsh, Craig Johnston, Dermott Brereton and Wendall Sailor headline the list of sporting royalty this year.
“It’s great for the young golfers,” Newton said. “In some cases, they get an experience and they meet people they thought they would never meet. Blokes like Wally Lewis who has an incredible history. It’s great for those kids to learn it’s not just about golf, it’s about people.”
Comedians Jimeoin and Adam Spencer, actor Peter Phelps and musicians Wilbur Wilde and Kram are among the entertainers.
Fun and frivolity has always been at the forefront of The Jack, features a gala dinner on Tuesday night.
“Everyone who has been there knows it is a fun time, bit of golf included, and terrific entertainment,” Newton said. “There is a school teacher who comes from way out in the boondocks in the bush and never misses. He is there every year. They get here and mix with everyone. That is one of the things that has made it successful. I have always pointed out when I usually speak on the Monday at the welcome barbeque, we won’t stand for any dickheads. We expect people to enjoy themselves but they can’t act the goose.”
Some of the stories, on and off the course, have become stuff of legends.
Tournament patron, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke performs a stirring rendition of Waltzing Matilda each year. Unfortunately Hawke won’t be in Cessnock this year.
“I spoke to Bob about a week ago and he was not feeling the best,” Newton said.
“Early on, a lot of the entertainers would hang back a day and they would put on a bit of a bash among themselves. They were some of the best nights we had. There are many stories like that.”
On the course, Ian Baker-Finch, Rodger Davis, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley, Wayne Riley, Peter O’Malley, Bob Shearer and Peter Senior have all shared the fairways with celebrities and amateurs of varying backgrounds and ability.
“I played with Peter Lonard one year and at the last hole he had a 10-foot putt to shoot 59,” Newton said. “It hit the biggest part of the hole and spun out. It was some of the best golf you will ever see. “
This year’s field includes former US PGA tour-winner Nathan Green, European tour-winner Andrew Dodt, Dimi Papadatos, James Nitties and O’Malley.
Newton hopes to raise $150,000 this year as well as awareness, especially around diabetes, which Newton has.
“Last year a young girl with type-one diabetes, who has to inject herself five times a day, got up on stage and went through her daily routine and it stunned the 350 people in the room,” Newton said. “It was good for the general public to hear those kind of stories.”
Like most things for the Newtons, the tournament is a family affair. Jack’s wife Jacki, along with tournament co-ordinator Judy Brady, does much of the leg work. Jack’s son Clint and daughter Kristie are also involved
“There is always a fair bit of work that goes into it,” Newton said. “I don’t do too much of it. It is basically the girls. Luckily we have support from a number high profile corporations.”
Not surprisingly, Newton expects two of the rising stars to perform this week.
“Harrison Crowe shot 10 under at Bonville (JNJG Champions Trophy). That is damn good playing,” he said. “I think he would have some chance. In the women, Belinda Gi will be hard to beat.”
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