Australian Ladies Professional Golf
Redbacks, kangaroos and great women’s golf
Date: 28th March 2013
By: Christine Wallace
Karrie Webb and kangaroos
Stefan Postles' photo of Karrie Webb waiting for kangaroos made international headlines. Photo: Getty

It’s fair to say that Australia isn’t generally prominent in international media coverage, and that when we do get attention wildlife is usually the trigger.

This story begins, then, in the usual way. On Wednesday during Women's Australian Open week the Los Angeles Times ran a story headlined “Swedish golfer digs out venom with tee after black widow bite”.

Who’s not going to read that story?

It concerned young Swedish golfer Daniela Holmqvist getting bitten by a spider during a pre-qualifying round for the Women’s Australian Open Golf in Canberra.

A couple of details in the LA Times report were wrong. Holmqvist got bitten playing at Federal Golf Club where the pre-qualifying round was located, not at Royal Canberra Golf Club where the championship itself was held. Nor was the spider a Black Widow but rather a good old-fashioned Redback – still nice and venomous.

But who’s counting? Facts, that is. The story caught on and primed the world media for what was to come.

The day after the Black Widow story took off, a bunch of Canberra kangaroos hit it out of the park.

Getty Images photographer Stefan Postles led the New York Times’ Sports Section “Photo Replay” gallery with a shot of Karrie Webb and her caddie, out of focus and with their backs to the camera, standing in the shade waiting for a herd of nearly thirty in focus, and jumping every which way, kangaroos to clear the fairway before her next shot.

The caption noted Webb, Australia’s most successful golfer ever, had shot a two under par 71, and was 8 strokes off the lead, on the tournament’s opening day.

Postles’ photograph took off like wildfire online, a dream image for foreigners inclined to have an interest in Australia.

Living in the bush capital, we Canberrans tend to take our abundant wildlife and birdlife for granted, but it’s unusual even to many of our fellow Australians.

A Melbourne golf industry figure I sat next to at lunch that same week told his American industry peer sitting alongside that it was bunkum about kangaroos jumping down Australian main streets. I set them both straight, having seen them myself occasionally bounding down Mugga Way and Hobart Avenue; most other Canberrans have similar stories.

Between the spider bite story and the kangaroos covering the fairways story, the Women’s Australian Open Golf championship at Royal Canberra was all over the internet. With the world’s eyes on us, the actual golf could hardly be avoided.

That’s when Big Story No.3 took off: 15 year old New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko shooting an incredible 10 under par on Day 1 and leading the tournament for most of its four days.

The golf world was agog, Ko hitting just 21 putts in that first round (par allows for 36 putts in an 18 hole round). Ko looks more like a sweet, quiet library monitor than a killer golfer and she succumbed in the end to the comparatively ancient Jiyai Shin and Yani Tseng (both 24 years old) on the last day but, coming third, she had still wiped the dials of the all the world’s best women golfers bar two.

ABC-TV covered all four days of the tournament beautifully.

The stunning Royal Canberra course – which many during the championship were calling Australia’s Augusta – looked incredible on screen.

Viewers around Australia got a new view of a Canberra they hadn’t seen before and were impressed, as were the out of towners who came in person for the tournament. And a lot came. In the words of one visitor who came down from Sydney for the golf, having never stopped on any of the scores of times she’d passed Canberra driving to and from the snow with her family every year: “It’s not a toy city, it’s a real city!”

Then came the cream on the cake.

The US Golf Channel cancelled its scheduled Saturday night programming to take the final day of the Open at Royal Canberra live.

What with the spider story, the kangaroos covering the fairway story, the Lydia Ko story, the amazing course and the incredible golf itself, it was irresistible. Those upscale, educated business decision makers across wintry America – people who have money to travel and play golf – loved it.

All up, 175 million homes in 150 countries had the chance to tune in to the television broadcast from Royal Canberra on Day Four, and we’ve never looked so good.

Could Canberra’s birthday party have got off to a better start? I think not.

Christine Wallace is a journalist, author and Board member of the ALPG

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