The Good Sport

by Michael Meagher

If Forrest Gump had been handed a golf club he may have chased a little white ball around American golf courses until he grew a beard and set a few records on the way. But even the indefatigable Gump would have had trouble keeping up with the frenetic pace of Australian marathon golfer Gary “Smokey” Dawson.

For more than 12 years Dawson had literally run around courses and on the way earned more than $2 million for charities – mainly for children suffering from cancer.

Dawson’s golfing horizons grew and grew, until a week of golf in Sydney produced 67 rounds of golf at an average of just seven over par.

No one quite believes him but Dawson says enough’s enough. Once he putts in after a 24-hour fundraiser, for the annual Channel Seven telethon in Western Australia on June 6 and 7, Dawson says he’s putting the marathons behind him. The Foundation, Bear Cottage, the Children’s Cancer Institute and the Women and Infants Research Foundation in Western Australia won’t be happy with the decision. They’ll be hoping for some sort of comeback.

The chase began for Dawson in 1988 when he played 288 holes of golf at his home base at Northbridge Golf Club in Sydney, helping to raise money for a work colleague whose husband had broken his neck. Twelve months later it was 530 holes in 48 hours, a fundraiser for Australia’s Paralympic Team.

In 1992 it was 607 holes in three days and three nights. This time the charity was bear Cottage, the hospice for terminally ill children. Before he hit off Dawson met up with six-year-old cancer patient Meaghan. A day and a half into the marathon, with Dawson suffering from fatigue and blistered feet, they met again.

As the young girl thanked him on behalf of the other children at the Cottage, Dawson wiped away tears. “Meaghan broke my heart. She died six months after the event and I thought that while I was fit this wasn’t a bad thing to be doing with my life,” he says.

It was time for Dawson to lift the pace. In a week of golf at Northbridge in 1995 he completed 1180 holes including a hole in one at hole 776 – on the law of averages it probably would not have been fair if he hadn’t notched one.

For the last four years Dawson had featured in 24-hour fundraisers at the Burswood Park Golf Course in Perth. That’s 125 kilometres on the hoof in temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius.

Golfers who break out the magnums of Moet when they total less than 100, or even 90, should consider that Dawson’s best over 24 hours (of which some 16 hours is spent at a jog) is 343 holes at an average score of just 71. The quickest of those “sprints” was 41 minutes, when his total was one over par.

Charity is lucky Dawson is partial to exercise. His speedometer has registered close to 100 triathlons and before each golf event he trains three to four hours a day. Is he fit? There was the time business associates were astounded when he met them at the top of Mount Wellington in Hobart for a business meeting. While his colleagues took a bus, Dawson ran the 26 kilometres to the top.

Although this may be the last of the marathons, Dawson’s new venture Bullant Sports a corporate Golf business that is linked to charities, means he’s still fundraising.

“A lot of people have heard about the bloke who runs around fold courses for charity,” he says. “Some of them think I’m a little crazy but the whole point is to inspire people to care – to get up and do things.”