The grain harvest has just finished at Neville and Ann Keating’s 800-hectare farm outside Cressy, on the Western Plains south of Ballarat. It’s been a pretty good year, albeit after the odd sacrifice.
“My driving range paddock had crop in it so that was a no-go,” their daughter Stacey laughs. “The golf holes are well grown over, they’re definitely gone.” Only a makeshift hitting net remains. “I’ve had a little bit of a practice, but we haven’t been there much at all this trip.”
She’s had a good excuse. Since the 2016 Ladies European Tour season finished in Dubai in early December, Stacey and her long-time partner and caddie Darren Peters have been to South Africa for a friend’s wedding, helped Darren’s visiting English family adjust to a Melbourne summer after leaving the northern winter behind, and tied the knot themselves on the first weekend of the new year.
“Everything we hoped for and more,” she says of the celebration. “In our line of work you don’t often have all your friends in the one spot at the one time. It was awesome, the best weekend ever.”
A professional golfer’s lot means a honeymoon can wait; Stacey has work to attend to by way of the RACV Gold Coast Challenge at Royal Pines from February 2 before tackling the Victorian and Australian Open tournaments. After that the not-so-newlyweds will treat themselves to a week in Vanuatu, but for both the best holiday of all is simply getting back to the farm.
“Darren goes there even when I’m not there,” Stacey says of her husband, whom she reports is a “big time” converted Aussie right down to his lost accent. “I can’t come home (to Australia) for a week without ducking to the farm, I just love it up there.”
It was down the road at Lismore that her grandmother introduced her to golf, and where she won the first of five club championships by beating mum Ann in a play-off. But it was on the family sheep and crop farm that her game was crafted, smacking balls towards a horizon that stretched as far as her dreams.
Neville Keating carved half a dozen rustic holes through the paddocks, and was rewarded by Stacey draining the battery of his ute as she used the headlights to illuminate the pre-dawn gloom every morning before catching the school bus into Colac. A star amateur, she “arrived” as a professional in 2012 with back-to-back wins in the Spanish and French Opens, won the Victorian Open at Barwon Heads the following summer, and enters her seventh season on tour loving what she does as much as ever.
“It’s not for everyone, living out of a suitcase,” the 30-year-old says. “Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments where you think, ‘God, wouldn’t it be easier to just be at home?’ ”
She’d love to lift more trophies, but tempers her goals with the knowledge that golf is a hard art to master. “You can have a great tournament and come third. I think it’s nice to say, ‘It’d be great to contend half a dozen times.’ In this game you can’t win every week. As long as you’re contending, it’s just a nice feeling to be in the mix.”