Alex and Dave Mercer Interview

Project Name     Australian Golf Heritage Society Oral History Project
For further information and a project brief, please contact: Curator/Collection Manager
Australian Golf Heritage Society: 9637 4720
Interview Length 01:28:11 – archival (1.41GB)          01.23.40 – edited (76.6MB)
Interview Number No.4 of series
Timed log X
Name of interviewees/ narrators Alex Mercer and Dave Mercer
Date of Birth Alex: 17/3/1934
Dave: 14/4/1931
Date of Interview 30/9/2014
Place of Interview Alex Mercer’s home
Rose Bay NSW Australia

Technical Data – Sound Files

Brand and Model of Digital Recorder Zoom H4N
Brand and type of microphones used
(with split cable adapter)
Zoom H4N inbuilt with sock
Sound Storage Medium used – USB, CD/DVD – client History Herstory has back-up copies
Location of Back-up Home – various and Dropbox
Digital Recording Rate     Uncompressed WAV 24 bit 48 kHz  archivalCD (WAV – 44.1/16) and MP3 – edited
Sound Field Stereo

Technical Data – Photographs/Images

Full Title of each item Alex and Dave Mercer portrait
Place/location where photograph was taken Rose Bay
Creator Interviewer
Source Access/Restrictions/Copyright Nil restrictions
Model of Digital Camera Sony Xperia Z2
File Format (eg JPEG, TIFF, RAW) PNG
Pixel dimension 220 x 123
No. of Images Several taken, image abovewas chosen


Signed Conditions of Interview Use Form X
Signed release form for photos provided by interviewee X
List of other relevant documentation Scanned handwritten notes about Alex Mercer written by Shirley Mercer (spouse) and scanned newspaper article. All attached.



Time Subjects Additional Information
0:00 -1:04  Project introduction AGHS –Australian Golf Heritage Society
1:4 – 2:04 Standard Genealogical information: DOB Alex 17.3.1934Dave 14.4.1931 Alexander William Mercer David Mercer (Alex and Dave) Dave known as Perce the punter. Both known by the nickname ‘Merce’
2:32 Mother, Elizabeth, and Father, David: family came from Scotland at turn of the nineteenth century. Forbears came to Australia for a better life / ‘doing poorly in Scotland’. David worked in the shale mines for 6 pence per week at age 11 in Broxburn, near Edinburg to help family. David was very athletic. Mother’s family came from the other side of Scotland near Glasgow. Mother a tailoress, hand-made all clothes for the children; nothing store bought as family was very poor but self-sufficient. Father had various labouring/ iron worker factory job. Alex and Dave from large family of 8 children, 7 boys and 1 girl – ‘a fair team’.   John, James (Jim), Dave, Don, Alex, Jean, Kevin, Ivan Don and John had polio. John very good golfer despite polio, played with callipers and crutches, nearly single figures


Jim excellent amateur



7:03 Lived at North Ryde next to the North Ryde golf course. Actually born on the site of the current golf course then the family moved up the road, both boys caddied as boys and this helped them develop their love of golf. Parents were not golfers, dad played once and said he didn’t want to ‘show them up’
8:04 Dave and Alex loved finding lost golf balls in the golf course creek at North Ryde golf club. They used to muddy the water so the golf members couldn’t find their lost balls and the next morning Dave and Alex would break the ice on the now clear water to get the golf balls to sell for 3 or 6 pence depending on the quality. Played golf all day and night. Headmaster Dobell let them keep their golf clubs at the school because of their obsession. Went to school bare footed and played golf with no shoes. Lived near the 10th green, played from the 11th through to the 14th. Stored the golf clubs in the headmaster’s office, then after school, played from the 15th round to the 10th and then go home. Sister Jean did not play golf. ‘Naughty boys’ but needed the money from the golf balls for the family North Ryde Public School
13:00 Dave good, representative athlete and good runner but not good at cricket. Alex a good all-rounder. Alex went to selective High School Fort Street Boys and sport was compulsory. Alex a good all-round sportsman. Funny story about brother’s cricket game
12:50 Some changes now to design of North Ryde Golf Course, as boys they were covered in paspalum. Three holes over the road where they lived don’t exist anymore (now houses), Lane Cove Rd is cut right through, there is a straight line all the way out to the highway now. Other than that it is the same as when they were children.Not sure who introduced kikuyu, probably an agriculturalist who was also a golfer. Now South African Kikuyu grass. Dave and Alex saw the introduction of this grass as they were growing up Sand based courses use couch. At Killara Golf Course In the 1950s the club was spending 20,000 pounds per year to kill the paspalum
17:20 Alex and Dave both started with hickory shafts – Dave used hickory until the age of 15, given some from a good golfer named Waddam.  Alex was loaned a set of clubs by the man he caddied for on the weekend. He had to maintain them for the golfer and he could use them in competitions such as the Schoolboy Championship which Alex won at 15 years. If they didn’t like the flexibility of a hickory shaft they’d use a broken bottle to shave the shaft to adjust it. They knew how to repair clubs. In 1951 (when Dave went to Killara Golf Club) there were no buggies and people used caddies, 30 caddies were employed. Now it is reversed. With buggies golfers carried more clubs and associated equipment. Then the buggies were canvas and golfers used a maximum of 8 clubs and they were able to improvise. One club was used to do 3 jobs. Probably better shot makers then but not as good putters because of the quality of the greens, Greens now are flawless. Older players developed skills with all sorts of shots using what they had. Mercer curse, both not great putters as younger golfers. Mental focus on putting wasn’t as good as now. Now both good putters. Dave played with Norman Von Nida, he gave advice but also was not a good putter. Norman Von Nida was a great character. Hickory then steel then light-weight steel then aluminium now graphiteEarly 50s still selling hickory shafts at Mick Simmons Sports Store Alex’s description of how to repair a hickory shafted club 

Alex played at an Australian Open in North Queensland with couch greens that did not have perfect putting conditions, sand was brought in to even the putting greens out


Now is a different game, now a putting competition / technical explanations / now silky greens

29:05 Used to be professional, graded caddies, men even up to the age of 40. Went in inter-club competitions. Could not play as amateurs because they were professional caddies. Chid caddie pay rates, almost all money earned went to the household
32:33 Alex, academically gifted, went to Eastwood Opportunity School, dux and cricket captain then went to Fort Street Boys, was captain of school and in numerous sporting teams. When he left school he got into Law but gave it up after 18 months to play golf as a career. Alex has never regretted his decision to not follow an academic professional life. Dave was a ‘plodder’, went to North Ryde then Roseville Tech. He was a reasonable student but knew his life was in golf. At Roseville Tech a Sports teacher, named Longman Reeves used to ‘discipline’ him every Wednesday at 11am but actually was setting Dave up to take him to be his caddie at Ryde Parramatta Golf Course. Dave left school at 15 after doing the Intermediate Certificate. Schooling “Stand in the corner Mercer, you’re not concentrating” (Dave Mercer)
38:05 Dave’s golf career began as Trainee Professional at North Ryde, left after 6 months after he won trainee golf tournament event. Got offered job at Killara after winning the tournament and being noticed, told how to apply for a job. Dave went to Royal Sydney to finish his training, then went back to Killara as a professional, was in PGA. Replaced Jimmy Adams at Killara as Professional. To apply for the Professional’s job spent most of his savings on a suit. Borrowed money to stack the shop. Dave stayed at Killara for 43 years as the Pro. Bernie Oakman, excellent golf coach helped Dave, got him the job at North Ryde Both, absolutely no regrets for their lives as golfers. Both contributed to golfing in Australia, teaching, committees, PGA leadership 1953-Dave and 1956-Alex: PGA membership
44:04 Teaching: both Alex and Dave have coached/taught/helped numerous players at all levels. Alex especially loves teaching promising junior players. Dave had to concentrate on his teaching duties at Killara Golf Course. Both currently teach at 80 and 83 years. Over the years if one brother wasn’t available, players, including professional level golfers would work with the other brother because Alex and Dave used similar teaching philosophies.In the early 1950s there were 120 golf professionals and 180 clubs in NSW so the job was highly respected and you couldn’t fail if you had reasonable talent and did the right thing. Not like this now. Now very different.  Golfers mentioned who had lessons from Dave: Ian Baker-FinchWayne GradyVaughan Somers 
47:23 Role of Golf Club Professional in 1950/60s. They could play in club tournaments as the golf representative.  In Alex and Dave’s era good golfers were amateur or professional. If any sponsorship was accepted the player was immediately deemed professional. Amateurs now aspire to be professional tour players. Few make a living as a top player. Norman Von Nida had a retainer from Frank Packer and taught Kerry Packer, he just played tournaments, no club work Others such as:Kel Nagle – PymbleEric Cremin- Roseville

Ossie (Horace) Pickworth-Royal Melbourne were professional tournament players


Alex had his traineeship with Eric Cremin at Roseville

50:05 Dave won 56 pounds in the Killara Cup, 36 holes played with 40 professionals and 40 amateurs competing together; Dave came first.Club purse prizes, not tournaments – 18/36 holes for100-200, even 50 pounds approximately. In the past, major world players competed every year in Australia, for example, champion golfers such as no. 1 Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer built up Australia’s circuit for the love of the game. They were given a caddy, air fares and maybe the hotel accommodation, though not extravagant, and possibly the wife’s expenses. Tiger Woods wanted 5 million to play in Australia. Other players expect similar amounts. As a result the international players don’t play in Australia. 

Champion tour players now don’t give back to the game. They isolate themselves from the broader golf world.

Ridiculous prize money today, for example 14 million dollars won in 3 weeks 
57:10 Alex’s work with a champion player with a disability and the enormous satisfaction from the process. Player rang from Hong Kong to proudly tell of his winning a medal. Alex talked of working with NSW squads. Alex explained the satisfaction of following the careers of successful and not so successful players; they become part of the family. Dave loves the bond as well that lasts to this day. ‘A lifetime of interest’.


Dave and Alex both spoke of rapport.


Alex coached all levels and sexes in New Zealand for 20 years – Girls, Ladies, Juniors and Men and recounts a major international win for NZ (1994 World Amateur Team Championship) in Vancouver, 47 countries played.


Dave had to concentrate on working within Killara Golf Club and appreciates the satisfaction from the thousands he has taught over the years. Families have lessons through the generations. Alex left Royal Sydney because he had felt restricted with teaching club members only.


Dave: 43 years commitment to Killara Golf Club.

Steve ElkingtonPeter O’Malley NZ player: Michael Campbell (US Open Champion was coached as a 14 years old in NZ) 

Others as well

1:03:27 Golf equipment. ô       At Killara there was a fulltime club maker employed for 20 years, making and mending golf clubs. They both had to do a practical exam to become a golf professional and a member of the PGA – for example, make a driver with a shaft, block of wood, a brass plate, a piece of fibre inlay and some screws. They also had to make a grip from scratch. Unless you had practical skills you were of no use as a Club professional.ô       1976 still optional to play with small balls in Australia. Had to change to big balls (1.68) in England as Alex found when he played a tournament in Britain in 1976.ô       Alex and Dave used to reconstruct balls and put on a new case/cover during the war years because of the rubber shortage. Covers can’t be cut on modern balls. A uniform ball size made the game around the world a better game. New balls behave consistently for players; balls don’t go dramatically off-line unlike in the past. ô       Tees are much longer now because drivers are so deeper in the head. The sweet spot has changed to higher. Low tees would not work with modern heads.

ô       Clothes: Players wore shirt and tie up to the 1960s / 1970s, eg Alex for Pro-Am tournaments as a Pro at Royal Sydney. Clothes are now purpose designed and this makes the game more comfortable.

ô       Green-keeping has changed because of the introduction of Science. In the past a green-keeper could achieve excellent and sometimes better results with a hose, a hand mower and a Lambretta schooner. The green-keeper worked ‘on feel’ – a green-keeper would get up at 11pm and hand water if needed.

1950s at least until 1960Alex did the test in 1956 Edgar Oakman noted as excellent at making clubs 



Dunlop 65 one of the best balls ever played




Amusing advertising for the distance balls can be hit


Specialised gym work assists players


Best tactic ever is attitude




Hickory shafts now feel dreadful to play with and Dave and Alex wonder how they played with them as kids



Lambretta Schooner is an Italian motor scooter

1:18:35 Costs have escalated for membership of the PGA. Significantly cheaper than when Alex and Dave began. From oversea came the idea to have 2 membership associations. One group for club professionals and another for tour golfers. Has returned from 2 factions to one body: professionals and tour players combined. As PGA chairman Alex didn’t want the PGA to separate into 2 groups. System works in USA because of the much larger population much greater financial backing for golf. The Tour players faction went broke. They lacked infrastructure to organise tours without the PGA club professionals.  
1:21:23 Alex: If you don’t love the game get another job. You must contribute to the game, teaching or playing. Dave: Get a good education before you turn to professional golf. You must love the game.  
1:23:40 Thanks from ‘two old golfers’. Conclusion of interview.