The Aussie's Awesome Gesture
January 18, 2011
By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff
The irony is not lost on Steve Elkington. He’s spending this week in the California desert, one of the driest places in the U.S.
The Palm Springs area in Southern California receives an average of a little more than five inches of rain per year, and Elkington has arrived in this desert oasis for the Bob Hope Classic knowing that arcane fact.
But just because the 10-time PGA TOUR winner is half a world away from where he grew up, playing golf in a completely different hemisphere, don’t think for a second that Elkington is not acutely aware of what’s going on in his home country. A mere four weeks ago, Elkingon, his wife, Lisa, and son and daughter, were in and around Queensland and its capital city, Brisbane, experiencing the beginning of what would turn into a natural disaster and a national calamity. Rain from Tropical Cyclone Tasha that at first was more a nuisance than anything during the family’s Christmas vacation continued to fall until it eventually paralyzed parts of the continent country, with death and destruction following.
For Elkington, the memories—a lousy pun notwithstanding—came flooding back.
Thirty-seven years earlier, a 12-year-old Elkington had climbed on the roof of his house to escape the ravages of Tropical Cyclone Wanda. He was there with his parents and his brother—and his birds. He had to take his birds. That was a must.
The pre-teen’s family, like many others in the neighborhood, had gone to the rooftops not just to stay dry but to survive the torrential rain that pounded the area in January of 1974 and caused widespread flooding. The roof was the family’s only recourse for safety, and a young Elkington was mostly worried about his parrots and parakeets that were now in peril.
He took the birds he used for mating purposes—his breeding stock—with him to the roof, but as he remembers, “The rest of his parakeets and parrots? We had to let them go.”
There’s a melancholy sound to his voice, even that many years later. Grow into adulthood, have a beautiful family and a successful career as a professional golfer and some feelings just don’t go away.
“I always bred parakeets. We’d trap them and breed them and sell them. I just remember how traumatic it is to go through a flood,” he says.
And Elkington doesn’t really want to talk about Bouncer, his Australian terrier, who didn’t survive the flood. “That was the worst,” he says, his voice trailing off.
With that experience, and another flood two years later vivid in his mind, a torrent of water from Tropical Cyclone Colin that again sent the family to the roof until the water subsided, Elkington understands what floods can do and stresses that his gesture “isn’t all that much.”
Don’t believe him.
The two-time PLAYERS Championship winner has pledged $1,000 per birdie he makes at this week’s five-round Bob Hope Classic, to help those devastated by the Australia flood. He established birdiesforqueensland.com to raise even more awareness.
In his last six Bob Hope Classics he’s played, Elkington has made 107 birdies, including 26 a year ago when he tied for 15th. He fully expects to make a bunch this week, with his previous successes at the tournament suggesting the same thing.
“I’m going to play sensible golf. But I know that there’s a good chance I might be able to put 25 grand into the kitty from out of my pocket toward something—even if it’s just bottled water for these people in Australia.”
The tragedy there also touches Elkington not only because he was there when the rain started but because his mother and father, his brother, sister-in-law, their four kids and other relatives, though safe and largely unaffected by the flood, still live in the area.
“My uncle is a gold miner. He’s up north, and his whole camp was destroyed. It’s gone,” Elkington said. “You can imagine what happened to a gold mine in a flood like that. Then again, my Uncle Bob would say the flood might bloody help with the mining.”
Elkington, who clearly hasn’t lost his sense of humor, notes that his parents live on a hill, a location that spared them from the destruction. “But I saw on TV, Toowoomba, 2,200 feet above sea level, had a tsunami-like thing come through there that town. They don’t even have a river in the town. They do now.
“The rain is just ridiculous,” he continues. “It’s Biblical.”
While damage and reconstruction estimates in Australia have reached upward of $1 billion U.S., with Anna Bligh, Queensland’s premier, calling it “The worst natural disaster in our history and possibly in the history of our nation,” the sky above La Quinta, Calif., is clear Tuesday morning, with zero chance of precipitation predicted and a week’s worth of sunshine awaiting. Elkington is ready to kick off his 2011 season, but his heart aches for what’s going on in Australia.
“I’m just trying to do one small thing to shine a little light. Maybe someone can watch some sport. Australian people love watching their sport. Maybe they can watch me with the golf and get their mind off it for five minutes. We just lost The Ashes in cricket (a celebrated rivalry between Australia and England), which was bad enough. Then we had a bloody flood, and Christmas was no good up there because of it. The people in Australia are feeling pretty down. Maybe I can do something.”
Elkington remembers the aftermath of that 1974 flood. His father, a banker, was trying to help secure loans for sugarcane farmers, men who lost their livelihoods. “Those people were wrecked, wiped out,” Elkington says.
A generation later, it’s Elkington’s turn to help, and he’s hoping that in each of his Bob Hope Classic rounds this week, the sun shines brightly, he gets hot on the greens and his putts start falling like, well, rain.
To get involved or to donate to this cause, click here
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