By David Nagel
Champion golfer Shirley Roberts will soon have a new home-away-from home – but the friendships she has made at the Pakenham Golf Club will last her a lifetime.
Shirley and her husband Greg are about to embark on a new journey, a move to Drouin – and membership of its golf course – after 37 years of calling Pakenham home.
They have raised their two boys, Garth and Wes, on their five-acre property in Pakenham and now have six grandchildren to love and cherish.
Pakenham has dominated their lives – as much as Shirley has dominated her time at her local golf club.
In West Gippsland and the surrounding districts – Shirley Roberts is a golfing legend.
At Pakenham she has won a remarkable 16 club championships.
Add a B and C Grade title on her rise through the ranks and it’s a record that will stand the test of time.
She has won championships at State, All-Gippsland and West Gippsland levels – in Mixed, Women’s and Individual events – and has traversed the Victorian landscape in representative teams throughout the years.
But, guess what, none of those rates as her biggest achievement in the game.
“Over and above any trophies, which are always a bonus, are the friendships I’ve made along the way … heaps of them,” Shirley, now 66, said as she reflects on her 26-year membership of the club.
“I’ve been on lots of girls’ trips, lots of mixed trips, I’ve got a really good friendship base in the golfing world, and I treasure that and I put it way above anything else.”
Shirley, who still plays off a handicap of 7.4 and has a best score of one-over par 73 around Pakenham, was a netballer who started playing golf randomly in the late 1970s, playing with Greg in the Gas and Fuel Social Club on its annual trip to Tocumwal.
Greg’s dad George was a two-handicapper and gave Shirley some pointers, before joining her up at Pakenham as a present for her 40th birthday in 1991.
“That was great, but I worked on Thursdays so I couldn’t play until I convinced the boss that it was much better for both of us if I worked Wednesday instead of Thursday,” Shirley said with a giggle.
She rates her long game as her strength but has struggled around the greens in recent years.
She has had lessons to rectify the problem, something she hasn’t done consistently over the journey.
“I’ve had a few formal lessons but they’re a waste of time for me because I hate practising,” Shirley says with her trademark grin.
“I just try and pick up tips from low markers and put them into practice, but I have had some putting lessons of late. Scotty (Professional Scott Laycock) actually left a putter for me to try out and I won the state title with it in 2015 – I told him he’s not getting it back.”
Shirley rates her first club championship in 1995 as ‘very special’, but regrets it came not long after her instructor, and father-in-law, George had passed away.
She rates Merimbula and Tocumwal as her favourite courses and has soft spots for Metropolitan and Sandhurst – the venues of her two state titles.
“The highest achievement was to win the individual state final,” she said of her triumph at Sandhurst.
“Liz Garvey and I also won a team’s event at Metropolitan and they’re achievements that I’m very proud of. I’ve been very lucky, to win trophies and have two hole-in-ones, but as I said earlier – it’s all about the friendships for me.”
Shirley said the support from the Pakenham Golf Club had been amazing, with no sign of jealousy despite her being clearly the lowest marker and the most successful player at the club.
“The girls at Pakenham are just the best, they really are,” Shirley said.
“It’s probably half the size now as it was when we started, but it’s still great fun and the girls have been such a wonderful support for me, they’ve always had my back. Jean (Hoare) or Kay (Jones) have always caddied for me in country teams – people would always laugh at the height difference between me and my two short caddies (laughs).
“Marg Blake was always a huge inspiration and I love what Leanne Barker has done over the last few years, we’ve had some great times together. But it’s really hard to individualise, those girls have been great but so has everyone else at the club. The friendships won’t finish but I just won’t see them every week from now on.”
Shirley said she would never have believed that golf could make such a huge impression on her life.
“I’m really happy with the impact that golf has had on my life,” she said.
“I just want to thank Pakenham for accepting me, for dragging me onto the committee and for getting me involved early because it’s been a fantastic journey,” she said.
“I wish the club well with their future plans and I hope it all works out really well for them in the future.”
And does she have mixed emotions about the 20-minute drive down the highway?
“Definitely,” she said.
“The girls at Drouin are already my mates, I’ve travelled with them and actually been known as Drouin plus-one over the years, because they’ve always asked me to tag along to tournaments and things like that.”
“But I’ll miss Pakenham, we’ve raised our family and created some special memories here – the friendships will last a lifetime.”