Golf course designer, cricketer Michael Cooper dies at 84

Michael Cooper playing at Pine Valley.
Michael Cooper playing at Pine Valley.

Former Newcastle Golf Club president and captain Michael Cooper will be remembered as a gentleman and “great Novocastrian” at a memorial next week. 

Cooper died last month in Tasmania after months of declining health. He was 84.

He was a former NSW Country cricket representative and top-order batsman for Lambton-New Lambton who came out of retirement at the age of 40 to captain University’s first-grade side for several seasons.

The Gosford boy had moved to Newcastle in the late 1950s after marrying Ruth Owen, whom he met at the NSW Country cricket trials in Tamworth in 1957.

He became a partner in the surveying firm Pulver and Cooper in Newcastle in 1960 and developed an interest in golf course architecture, teaming up with former British Open champion Kel Nagle.

He and Nagle designed many courses, including the last seven holes at Hawks Nest, but Cooper was most proud of their Tuncurry layout. He also was involved in design work at Charlestown, Catalina (Batemans Bay) and other courses in Australia and overseas.

Cooper also maintained his interest in cricket and toured India, Canada and Europe with the Australian Old Collegians in the 1970s.

He was president and captain of Newcastle Golf Club in the mid-1980s but was also a member at one of the world’s best courses, Pine Valley, in New Jersey.

Membership at the exclusive club, voted No.1 in the world by Golf Magazine in 2012 and 2015, is by invitation only. Some of Cooper’s Pine Valley alumni include George HW Bush, Sean Connery, Ben Crenshaw, Bob Hope, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. 

Close friend and former Newcastle president John Twohill said Cooper’s Pine Valley invitation dated back to the mid-1970s, when he embarked on a nine-week world tour with fellow Newcastle member Keith Brown.

“They wrote letters to every one of the top 50 golf courses in the world and got to play on a lot of them,” he said. 

“That doesn’t happen these days, but in those days it did.

“They got to play on Pine Valley with the fellow who was the president and they just got on.

“After 12 months they got a letter asking if they would like to be overseas members.

“The best golf course there is, that doesn’t have tournaments, that no one knows of, and he’s been a member there for 40 years.

“Amongst all his other sporting attributes, he was a member of the most elite golf club. Not money elite: they paid five English pounds a year for full membership.”

Cooper retired in 1999 and moved with his wife to Tasmania, to a small farm in Mole Creek, near Deloraine.

Twohill will host the memorial on Friday, September 22, at the Beach Hotel in Merewether.

“He was a great man, a great Novocastrian, and one of few in his era who just excelled in what they did.”

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Newcastle’s young guns continued their winning form at the state PSSA championships last week at Camden Lakeside Golf Club.

Kurri Kurri Golf Club’s Harry Atkinson, who is also a member at Charlestown, won by four shots from good mate Jake Riley (Toronto), shooting 77 and 84 in strong winds.

Harry Atkinson gets his name on the state PSSA trophy last week.

Harry Atkinson gets his name on the state PSSA trophy last week.

Both will be part of the NSW primary schools team at the national titles, which are part of the Pacific Schools Games in Adelaide in December.

Jake Riley cranks one off the tee at Camden.

Jake Riley cranks one off the tee at Camden.

Atkinson, who is in year 5 at Macquarie College, made the state side last year and will be eligible again in 2018. Riley, who shot 84 and 81, also made the NSW team last year.

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Jack Newton Junior Golf officials have confirmed Charlestown and Belmont will host next year’s state age championships next July.

Newton himself leaves on Thursday for a fact-finding mission to the inaugural Junior Presidents Cup between the USA and International teams at Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey on September 25 and 26.

The International squad comprises the top 12 junior boys, excluding Europeans, on the World Amateur Golf Rankings and includes Aussies Fred Lee, Joshua Armstrong and Karl Vilips.

Newton told DTF he would catch up with USA honorary captain and “good old mate” Jack Nicklaus, run his eye over the teams event then dash back to Australia in time for the Jack Newton International Junior Classic at Cessnock and Cypress Lakes in early October.

One area of particular interest for the former US Masters and British Open runner-up is how young American players develop their short game.   

“That’s a big part of the game,” he said. “Some of our better younger players, all they want to do is get on the tee and bash the driver 300 metres, when the short game is about 61, 62 per cent of the game.

“Generally speaking the US have got quite a few really good just short-game coaches, and that’s all they do, putting, bunker play.

“I think generally speaking our guy and girls swing the club well, but it’s the short game that lets them down.”