Trevor Russell retires as Ballina Golf Club pro

When retiring Ballina Golf Club professional Trevor Russell, pictured, took a call from fellow pro Brian Smith late in 1975, a club legend was born.

Toowoomba pro Brian was one of about 20 professionals approached by Trevor to play in Ballina’s inaugural pro-am on New Year’s Day in 1976.

Brian said he had an up-and-coming young pro staying with him after a couple of days of pig shooting, and he wondered if he should bring him down to Ballina.

Trevor readily agreed.

The young pro duly won the event, which was played in a howling northerly wind, shooting par figures to win by a shot from Trevor.

He was a long hitter, too. With the strong north wind at his back, he hit driver and nine-iron into the long par-five 13th – the dam hole.

It was only his second professional win and he picked up the lion’s share of the $1000 booty.

His name?

Greg Norman!

It’s now a source of great pride for Trevor and the Ballina Golf Club that the first name on the pro-am honour board is Greg Norman, the man who, along with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson, has done more than any other professional to put Australian golf ‘on the map’.

It’s also an honour for Trevor to have such an association with the player he ranks as the best of his era.

Trevor points out that Norman in his heyday played in an era before technology added a new dimension to the game even for the longest of hitters.

“Greg’s distance and accuracy was outstanding,” he said.

Current world No 1 Tiger Woods, while being a long hitter, does not have Norman’s accuracy off the tee, says Trevor.

But Trevor says Tiger’s short game ‘is unbelievable’, and that’s the reason he is the dominant figure in today’s game.

Trevor took up the professional’s position at Ballina in June 1972. That was at the ‘old course’, bounded by Cronulla Street, Links Avenue and Manly Street in East Ballina.

His first ‘pro shop’ was a tin shed, but despite the humble surrounds, Trevor says it was a highlight of his career.

“The people were just great,” he says of the welcome given to him and his wife Vicki in those early years after he moved to Ballina from Coffs Harbour.

Those early impressions stayed with Trevor and Vicki, and despite opportunities to move to bigger courses, the lure of Ballina’s laidback coastal lifestyle was too strong.

Trevor has seen many changes at the course, which expanded from nine holes to 18 holes during his early years at the club.

He and his fellow pros rate the course highly.

“The course is a very good members’ course,” he says.

But the pros also love it because it presents different challenges to the resort-style courses most play on.

“It’s a tribute to the greens staff. They keep the course in fantastic condition,” Trevor said.

Trevor has seen many good amateur players during his 36 years at Ballina, but three young club juniors rate a special mention.

Dean Larsson, Scott Hayter and Justin Saxby learnt the game at Ballina, and went on to win the Australian schoolboys championship, gaining the right to represent the nation at the world titles, held at the home of golf, St Andrew’s in Scotland. The boys came third in the world.

“The three boys put Ballina on the map,” Trevor said.

“It was a very proud moment for Ballina Golf Club.”

Trevor’s best rounds have been a nine-under 64 at Ballina (when it was par 73, as opposed to today’s par of 72) and a nine-under 61 at Tenterfield.

At 58, Trevor is still fit and his golf game remains sharp – if he was an amateur, he’d be playing off a handicap of one or two.

He now intends to practice more and take a shot at the Seniors tour.

He hasn’t retired completely, and has been offered a casual coaching role with Ossie Moore at Sanctuary Cove. But that will have to fit into a schedule of a bit more practice and a lot more fishing.

Trevor and Vicki still haven’t lost their love of the Ballina lifestyle and will remain in the town.

Brad Saunders, who has had a couple of stints as assistant pro at Ballina, has been appointed as Trevor’s replacement.

Farewell drinks for Trevor and Vicki will be held at the Ballina Golf Club on Sunday from 3pm.

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