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Not your average Bear: The Brad Forrester Story

While some new Members may not realise it, Yarra Golf Professional Brad ‘The Bear’ Forrester has a golfing resume few can match, and a lifetime of stories to share.

For those in golfing circles, there wouldn’t be many Yarrawonga people that could rival the sports yarns of the bloke affectionately known to locals as the ‘Bear’.

Born and bred in Yarrawonga, Brad Forrester has enjoyed a golfing journey unlike many.

He’s toured the world as a professional golfer, made lifelong friendships on and off the course, and played alongside some of, and potentially, THE best of all time.

Asked what drew him to the game, he suggests the primary reason is that, well, “There wasn’t much else to do in Yarrawonga in those days!”

On any given Saturday, Forrester would caddy for his Dad, Allan, a single figure golfer at Yarrawonga Golf Club.

After an afternoon on the fairways, Allan would enjoy a drink in the Clubhouse and send young Brad, unable to enter the Club due to licensing regulations, out with Dad’s clubs to hit a few balls.

Not long after, Forrester was golfing his own ball at every given opportunity. He loved the game, being outdoors, and his mates at Yarra Golf.

Never the scholar, he left school at 16 with hopes of turning his love of golf into a career as a greenskeeper. His application to join the Yarra Golf ground staff was in the mail.

Though a stable career choice for any lad, for those in tune with his ripening golf talents, it most certainly should not have been his first choice.

Yarrawonga Head Professional Phillip Droop had watched Forrester develop over many years. From chopping it around as youngsters, Forrester and Droop’s son Evan had emerged as two of the top junior golfers in the state. The kind of potential that deserved an opportunity.

In a sliding doors moment, Brad’s ground staff application was pulled off the table.

“Phillip pulled me into the Pro Shop that afternoon and told me my application for the grounds staff got rejected, and I was starting a traineeship in the Pro Shop on Monday, Brad recounted.

“I was a little surprised, but I was really appreciative that Phil had my back and gave me the push.

“Phillip and Tony Elliott looked after me so well. Showed me the ropes, made sure I knew all the aspects of being a Pro, how to deal with Members and customers.”

In 1991, after a successful traineeship that included wins at the NSW Trainee Championship and the Rich River Trainee Classic, Forrester began his tour journey on the Asian Development Tour in Malaysia.

“Phillip and the Club managed to acquire a barbeque that got raffled off. The money raised helped cover my airfares and accommodation on that first trip. It was humbling to have that support”.

For a 19-year-old kid from the country, on his first overseas adventure, Asia was an eye-opening experience.

“I was lucky there were ten other Aussies over there; we looked after each other pretty well. I was the youngest and pretty naive, so they took me under their wing.

“I had initially planned to stay 6-weeks, but I made my first four cuts. I rang home a few weeks in and told them I was staying on, and 6-weeks soon became 4-months.”

In 1992, Forrester qualified his way onto the Australian PGA Tour and was reacquainted with a familiar face, new trainee graduate and good mate, Evan Droop.

Evan and Brad’s journeys are remarkably connected, with the two sharing a special bond. From schoolyard chums at Yarrawonga Primary, teammates at Yarra Footy Club, to Pro Shop trainees and touring professionals, their relationship is as long as it is strong.

“We grew up together, did pretty much everything together. School, footy, golf. It was a race to the Golf Club every day for a hit after school.

Back where it all started with childhood mate and fellow Pro Evan Droop

“We were just two lads from Yarrawonga on tour together. It highlighted how well Phillip developed his players, and that’s continued today with Evan now bringing in the next generation with guys like Adam Burdett, Dale Crothers, Jamie Stapleton, and sons Frazer and Baxter.”

Beginning his professional traineeship 12-months behind Forrester, Evan quickly emerged on tour and proved to be the catalyst for Forrester’s rise at the 1992 Malaysian Masters.

“I’d missed the cut, but Evo was in the final group with a chance to win. I followed him around in the gallery all day. It was just so good to see one of your best mates compete at that level.

“After that, I just remember thinking to myself, ‘if Evo can do it, why can’t I?’ It gave me that little bit of belief that our skills were good enough.”

Two weeks later, Forrester had his best result of the new season, finishing 12th in a great field at the New Zealand Open, and playing in front of eventual winner Nick Price.”

Contending with Price, who had hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy only months earlier with a win at the 1992 PGA Championship, proved to himself that he had the potential to match it with the world’s best.

Forrester became a regular fixture on the Australian tour for the next ten years. Filling out his calendar with stints on the Papua New Guinea Tour, New Zealand Tour, Troppo Tour in Queensland, and South Pacific Tour. He was chasing the sun and cashing cheques.

While never claiming a big title, his tour life provided many priceless experiences.

At the 1997 Australian Open at Metropolitan, Forrester teed it up in one of the strongest Open fields in memory. The starters sheet featured world number one, Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Darren Clarke, Australians Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby, and another major winner, American Mark Calcavecchia.

After making the cut on the number, and a solid Saturday round, Forrester was paired with Calcavecchia on the final day.

Mid-field and out of contention, it was clear from the chat on the first tee that Calcavecchia had enjoyed the local hospitality on Saturday night.

“Calc got on the first tee, and his caddy immediately asks him, ‘So, how’d you pull up?’.

“Calc turned to me and said, ‘Hey Brad, you like those Crown Lagers? Man, I must’ve had about 19 or 20 of those suckers last night!’

“It’s fair to say we enjoyed a great chat walking around Metro together. I actually played really well and almost snatched a Top-10 finish. But he was a hell of a player, incredible short game.”

A few months later, Brad was in another star-studded field at the 1998 Greg Norman Holden International, at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

Paired with Allenby on Saturday, Forrester played in the group ahead of tournament host Greg Norman.

“There were people everywhere, moving about trying to get a good spot to see the Shark. It probably wasn’t the greatest for my concentration, but it was a bit of a buzz to see it all play out.

“On Saturday night, I got a phone call from the Australian PGA Tour, who wanted to give me a heads up on my final day playing partner.

“The bloke said, ‘we don’t normally do this, but we wanted to give you the news first; you’re playing with The Man tomorrow.’

“I said, ‘The Man? Who’s the Man? Do you mean Norman?’ And he said, ‘Nah, not the bloody Fish, the MAN! You’re playing with Jack Nicklaus!”

58-year-old Nicklaus, returning to a course he had redesigned back in 1976, was playing one of his last events in Australia.

“It was the most nervous I’d been before a round of golf. I was worried about my first tee shot, about embarrassing myself in front of a legend. But honestly, I was more nervous just to introduce myself!”

“I got called over to the putting green by a mutual friend, and he introduced me to Jack. Well, he was an absolute gentleman.

“He made me feel comfortable and told me we’ll just get out there and enjoy ourselves.

“We both played pretty well, honestly. I shot 2-under, but I think Jack got me by two.

“He was pretty proud of his design work around the course too. As we walked down 17 fairway, Jack put his arm around me and said, ‘So what do you think of this hole?’

“I said, ‘Well, I’m not sure I’m the best judge – I made a seven here yesterday!’ And doing my best not to sound like a knob, I said, ‘But it was the best seven I’d made in my life because it meant that I got to play 18 holes with you!’

“As we approached the 18th green, there were just thousands of people giving the great man a standing ovation. I stood back and actually started to join in on the applause too!

“Jack quickly turned around and waved me up to join him on the green. It was such a surreal moment and one that will live with me forever.”

After finishing his time on tour and bouncing around a few different Pro Shops and trades in Victoria, Forrester returned to Yarra Golf in 2020.

Finally getting his shot as a greenskeeper on his childhood track, Forrester took a part-time role on the ground staff. But it wasn’t long until Evan, who had taken over from Phillip as Head Professional in the early 2000s, gave his old mate a tap on the shoulder and asked him to rejoin the Pro Shop team again.

“Evo’s a beauty and runs a great show. I’ve been a member of Yarra for 42 years. It’s great to see some old faces, but there are plenty of new ones. I don’t think too many know who I am either. I keep getting questions about the PGA badge on my shirt. They think I’ve broken into Evan’s wardrobe!

“So I guess a few might be surprised to read about me in this story!”

There’s no doubt ‘The Bear’ has plenty more stories to share. After sitting down with him to write this story, I’m also pretty confident he’d be only too happy to share a few of them the next time you have a browse in the shop.

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