When David Howie foraged through his arthritic mother's wardrobe to find a set of golf clubs as a 12-year-old, little did he know how many other doors it was going to open for him later in his life.
It started with a few swings in a vacant paddock next door to Howie's family home in Gisborne before mushrooming into countless pristine man-made paradises, not just around New Zealand but also abroad.
For that matter, neither did the now 66-year-old realise a red jacket and matching tie were going to take pride of place in his wardrobe at his Hastings home not long after the turn of the century.
"I was shocked and delighted but it's a recognition of what I've done on behalf of the Eagles since I became a member in 2003, which has reasonably been continuously fun trip," says Howie, who was made a life member of the Eagles Golfing Society of Hawke's Bay Incorporated at the Napier Golf Club on Tuesday last week.
The general manager of Gifford Devine lawyers in Hastings and wife Jane are attending the AGM of the Eagles Golfing Society of New Zealand in Christchurch before he'll step down as national president after the two-year stint to assume the mantle of NZ immediate past-president for another year.
Needless to say, the life membership had caught him by surprise — almost in the mould of a hacker who, to his delight, rattles a cup from the fringes of a green.
"I'm proud to be a member of the Eagles Hawke's Bay," he says of an society that champions the values of fellowship among like-minded people who love golf and help develop the game as administrators, junior mentors or as simply as volunteers around country clubs.
He joins fellow life members Don Davidson (Hawke's Bay GC), John Dorreen (HBGC), Russell Holland (Hastings GC), Arthur Locke (Maraenui GC), Kevin Pike (Waipukurau GC) and Warren Webb (HBGC).
The society musters money for junior golf, helping the national under-17 tournament as well as supporting Bay clubs with grants towards golfer of the year awards. The Bay branch also makes a sizeable donation annually to the Halberg Foundation to help athletes with disabilities.
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"I was lucky to be there to be handing over a cheque for 165,800 odd dollars last Thursday at the Halberg Awards in Auckland," says Howie who was with national secretary/treasurer, Jeremy Ballantyne, of Central Hawke's Bay, as well as Pike, in handing over the cheque to foundation CEO Shelley McMeeken.
The society has 15 districts who run their own associations, with the national body acting as an umbrella.
The late Gladston Wilson was the first Bay representative of the Eagle society in 1964 after a meeting at Wairakei, north of Taupo, had discussed the concept of a national society the year before.
In 1980, the HB branch began staging an annual tournament to support its national body, which in turn had been supporting the Halberg Foundation since 1969.
A tourney is played annually at the Napier club and this year the HB society will host its 42nd one in winter. To date, it has raised close to $500,000 for the Halberg Foundation, which Olympian the late Sir Murray Halberg established in 1963 with the aim of enhancing the lives of physically disabled New Zealanders by enabling them to participate in sport and recreation.
The Eagles' concept was first considered in 1956 when nine Auckland men felt that they should be putting something back into golf. Twenty men held an informal meeting and the name Eagle was adopted.
The national body comprises 15 regions with 104 members, comprising active, non-active and honorary affiliates. The non-profit society also helps Bay clubs with visits, national amateur championships involving men, women and juniors, and promotes junior golf in the province.
In the past two years, Howie says he's spent about a dozen of the 45 Halberg days annually in each of his two years around the country with a bumper cheque that blossoms exponentially.
"It's a really good way to meet the other Eagles," he says. "You go on a Halberg day and then leave again but you get to meet Eagles from other districts who all are like we are — the love the game of golf and there's a reason why they're there [to help raise funds]."
Howie says it's been an honour and privilege to perform at the national level after Pike had tapped him on the shoulder to assume the mantle. It had been three decades since someone from the Bay had served nationally. The late Fred Spinley, of Waipukurau, was president and Davidson, also a Bay society patron and NZ Eagles life member, his secretary/treasurer from 1990-92.
"Thanks, Pikey," he says with a grin. "Yes, there's some work involved and, yes, Jeremy and myself have made some changes in those years because the association needs to continue to evolve."
Ballantyne and wife Pam also will be at the Monday AGM where he'll step down officially with Howie on Wednesday.
"He has done a fantastic job and I really appreciate all he has done to keep the New Zealand society running smoothly," he says of the retired CHB College principal who is a good friend and former Bay Eagles president under whose reign Howie served as Eagles secretary.
That evolution of the society entails a contemporary outlook on including more female members — a number that has been growing.
Reflecting on his childhood, Howie recalls finding very old wooden-shafted clubs at the home of his parents, the late Val and Noel Howie, a schoolteacher who also became an education ministry inspector based in Auckland.
"I went outside to this paddock and started hitting around golf balls — oh, I can hit the balls so that's good."
A family friend and member of the Poverty Bay GC got wind of Howie's prowess and urged him to enrol at the club as a junior. A group of fellow talented youngsters became catalysts of each other due to their competitive demeanour so, not surprisingly, Howie had whittled his handicap down to single-digit figures in his late teens.
A Poverty Bay age-group representative hockey player, it didn't surprise him that his hand-eye skills and co-ordination enabled him to yield baby draws and fades on the fairways.
"By then golf had just started taking over."
Nevertheless, it was Howie's penchant for administrative duties that were beginning to whet his appetite as much as reading the lie on the manicured prime real estate before reaching for the putter.
"I became the first VP [vice-president] of the New Zealand Junior Golf Society when I was about 18 years old," he explains, revealing becoming an organising committee member for a junior tournament in Gisborne had compelled a group of oldies he was the right bloke to take the baton as young blood.
Mindful voluntarily picking up gear after a sporting event can be a task in itself for the young generation, Howie believes it helped that he had an accounting background.
Balancing ledger books took him to accounting firms in Sydney before he started managing a law firm in Ipswich, Brisbane, which all provided the platform for him to add value to golf administration.
It was there a colleague had brought to his attention Gifford Devine were in the hunt for a general manager and the rest is history.
The one-time Poverty Bay men's interprovincial amateur representative joined Hastings GC in the late 1980s because Gifford Devine partner and retired judge Richard Watson, an avid golfer, had impressed on him the therapeutic importance of dutifully replacing his divots at the immaculate Bridge Pa course.
Howie, who got on to the Hastings GC committee in the early 1990s and went on to become a vice-club captain/club captain in a stint spanning a decade, says Robin Daley got blamed for his ascendancy into the golf administrative pyramid.
"I said to him last week after this [life membership] happened — "I said it is all your fault'," he says with a laugh of Daley who was ordained third honorary member of the Bay branch at his home Dannevirke GC last year. The 86-year-old had followed former All Blacks great, the late Sir Brian Lochore, of Wairarapa, and American tycoon Julian Robertson, who owns Cape Kidnappers Resort and Golf Course at Clifton.
Howie revisits his pledge to his wife this time two years ago that the national office bearer's role was going to be his last.
The couple, with the Ballantynes, have relished trips to Halberg days as well as the memorable Auckland awards. In fact the four were at Paraparaumu GC, a 45-minute drive from Wellington, to collect a $40,000 from the capital city district towards the foundation charity.
A former Hawke's Bay Golf councillor and ex-director of New Zealand Golf (early 2000s), Howie had served as Golf HB delegate on the former NZ Golf Council after Dailey had nominated him.
"He said they wanted someone younger to do the job and looked at me so I had no choice," he says of a decade-long term that saw him go on to become council board director.
The former Golf HB president also has served — on two separate occasions — on the board of the HB Golf Referees' Association.
He has fond memories from his decade-long stints as team manager with national junior and senior golf teams.
Howie considers himself lucky during a tenure when he managed a junior mixed gender, four-member team that included a 12-year-old Lydia Ko to Perth.
"I caddied for her in the first nine holes that she played so at that stage she had already had that great ability to turn on and turn off [her game].
"She'd get over the ball, turn on, hit the shot," he recalls of the 22-year-old South Korean-born Kiwi. "She'd turn off, bounce down the fairway, talk to someone, get to the next shot and turn on again."
Howie reflects on returning to tell his mates he'd come across something really special in former world No 1 professional Ko who is still plying her trade in the LPGA.
"I told them, 'You wait and see'. The next few years she was the boss," he says of Ko who became the youngest professional — irrespective of gender — 17 years, nine months and nine days — to become the world's best.
His other memorable moments include taking away PGA professionals Ryan Fox and Danny Lee when they were elite amateurs, something he believes is an endorsement of a thriving culture at that time.
Howie sees his year-long interim position as a time to wind down to relax. It'll involve helping his successor ease into his role and fulfil any travelling obligations the incumbent may not be able to attend.
"I'm going to go back to fix my golf game, which has deteriorated majority in the last number of years," says the 16-handicapper who had managed Saturday afternoon club days with Jane who competes in the women's section.