Denis Hutchinson has played golf with Ben Hogan and seen him hit every shot in the book on just one hole. He’s been around the game long enough to have seen Dale Hayes as a baby in a carry cot. And this week he’s back at Sishen Golf Club, a course he last played with a then 13-year-old Des Terblanche.
Hutchinson is the guest of honour at this week’s Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament on the Sunshine Tour, and the man known worldwide as the ‘Voice of Golf’ for his commentary on the European Tour never thought there would ever come a day when he’d see a R700 000 tournament being played in the Kalahari.
‘I would never have believed it possible. It’s amazing how the prizemoney has increased worldwide. But the professionals are giving a lot to the game through pro-ams and such, otherwise the sponsors wouldn’t keep investing.
‘I remember playing in my very first tournament in America in 1960. I played with Dave Marr, who went on to win the PGA Championship. The tournament we played in was the first of the $50 000 tournaments. We all thought that was so much money. I was lying third at one point, and Dave said to me, “Hutchy, another round like that and the car won’t be big enough for the money you’ll take home”. Today’s pros wouldn’t walk across the road for $50 000.’
Hutchinson won the South African Open as an amateur, added three South African Masters titles and also an SA PGA Championship title amongst his 15 professional victories.
As he sits under the shade of a kameeldoring tree outside the Sishen clubhouse, the 84-year-old “Hutchy” delights in remembering the rounds he played with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and so many others and the times he beat some of them, rather than the fact that an 11th-place finish in the Dutch Open earned him zero prize money in those days.
And with the millions in prize money on offer now, Hutchinson often cannot comprehend how modern professionals would skip some of the big tournaments.
‘Everybody’s tired these days. Ben Hogan used to say if you’re tired then just go to bed earlier. They make a lot of money very quickly these days. But you know, Hogan and Jack Nicklaus and all of them were right. The win is what’s important. A lot of golfers today make a fortune never ever winning a tournament. Good for them, I suppose. But I think we came from a time when the win was what was important.’
With South Africa’s last Major victory coming in 2012 courtesy of Ernie Els’s win in the Open, Hutchinson says he isn’t too concerned about the lull at this level.
‘I don’t think it’s a problem. We’re in a very good spot as far as our professionals go. We’ve still got a lot of talent coming through. Haydn Porteous, Zander Lombard and I also think Trevor Fisher Jnr. have got the games to do great things if they just get the right break here or there.’
Yet if there is one thing he could change about the game, it would be making it easier for the average golfer.
‘It’s become to difficult for the ordinary golfer. The ball goes so far for the modern pro, but the ordinary club golfer still struggles.’
And then he recalls how far Sunshine Tour campaigner Merrick Bremner hits the ball and adds, ‘I don’t know how he does it, but I do know that everytime he does, that little golf ball says “ouch”.’
By Michael Vlismas