• Roos and the day Bill Clinton came to town

The cyber world has gone viral with the photograph of play being held up while Karrie Webb and American Jennifer Song waited for a mob of kangaroos to cross the fifth fairway of Royal Canberra in the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open but what of the day the resident roos stopped a US Presidential cavalcade.

That was on Wednesday, November 20, 1996 when President Bill Clinton visited the Federal Capital and called at Government House to pay his respects to Governor General Bill Hayden. Clinton had been told, most likely by Greg Norman, that the grounds of the big house would be literally leaping with our unique marsupials.

Unfortunately, over a period of time before the visit, there had been a culling and de-knackering programme, carefully supervised by animal experts, and the grounds were light on for roos. Those that remained were probably hiding, for fear of a similar fate, or maybe just having a siesta.

Clinton was dismayed. Air Force One doesn’t fly half way across the world without the “Eagle”, the Secret Service codename for the President, without him seeing a kangaroo.

“Go to Royal Canberra Golf Club,” Bill Hayden said. A phone call was made. The President is coming your way. The trouble was, RC didn’t have a three-seat golf cart to accommodate the most powerful man in the world and his security detail that never left his side.

So, Clinton ordered Cadillac One and his whole vehicular parade to drive down Dunrossil Drive to the fence near the 14th and 15 holes directly across Lake Burley Griffin from Government House. There they stopped and Clinton stood on the roof of Cadillac One (Barack Obama now calls it The Beast) to gaze at the kangaroos.

Mike Wolveridge, who partnered five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson in the course design business at the time, was walking the course with its superintendent and looked across, saying, “What’s that?”

“Just the President of the United States,” was the reply. Yes, in the minutes available before the big bloke arrived the Secret Service had done its security sweep and told club personnel of the nearby visit to the course.

Just to end the yarn on Clinton’s visit that week, the following day was the first round of the Men’s Australian Open at The Australian GC in Sydney. Greg Norman was defending; Tiger Woods was making his first visit to
Australia as a rookie pro.

Norman played in the morning – pre-arranged of course – for that afternoon he went to the NSW GC to play a round of golf with Clinton. I was there, Secret Service clearance badge prominently displayed on my shirt, and Norman, after seeing Clinton’s first tee shot said to his caddie Tony Navarro: “Go and get two dozen more balls for Mr President from the pro shop.”

But, enough of that, let’s hop back to the mob of kangaroos, rather than the collective noun of a “court” of kangaroos that some of our American media brethren have said of the Webb/Song photograph.

Years before the culling when the male kangaroos were rampant, both in number and sexually, they’d swim across Lake Burley Griffin from Government House for, well, a bit of action. As time went by, and after the roos had lost their balls, there were still little joeys (baby kangaroos for our American friends) still appearing. Yes, the women were swimming across the lake as well.

Now, the kangaroos live in harmony with the golfers at RC. Visiting diplomats from other countries are quite often taken to the course by foreign affairs officials an, on arrival, are handed a golf club before they walk onto the course.

Anyone carrying a golf club can get within a couple of metres of a kangaroo, but without one they’ll head to the scrub quick smart.

The pity is that we can’t have the other member of the national coat of arms – the emu – also in residence at RC but if you’ve ever visited Canberra in mid-winter you’d know why any self-respecting emu hasn’t come this way. For that, you have to head to Western Australia where the coat of arms mix freely with golfers on the course.

Australian coat of arms

But, more’s the pity that the Internet wasn`t up and fully running in 1988 when the ESP Open, sponsored by Japanese money and telecast live in Japan, was played at Royal Canberra. If you think this latest photo was viral, it would just a blip on big and small screen compared with an incident then.

The course was fully roped, and roped taut, and as we’ve seen this week the hundred and then some more kangaroos treat the course as their own. A procession of them came hopping across the 18th fairway, jumping the ropes, but one poor chap hit the rope with his chest and went arse over tit and keep hopping.

“Aah,” said one of the Japanese folk, “you have trained your kangaroos to do somersaults.” Japanese TV, and to be honest Australian TV, replayed the shot countless times through the years.

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