The only thing as astonishing as Mike Callaby’s 50-year stint in the pro shop at Carnarvon Golf Club is that he’s only ever had a handshake deal.
In many ways, it sums up the affable PGA Professional’s manner, methods and loyalty as a fixture at the popular club in Lidcombe in Sydney’s inner west.
It’s always been about the club members, doing the right thing by Carnarvon, a harmonious relationship with a succession of General Managers and respect in return.
“I’ve never had a contract and every new GM asks the question. It’s a handshake,” Callaby, 67, said.
“The goodwill flows both ways. Appreciation means everything and I feel it from the club and the members. That means more than dollars to me because the club is always very supportive around things I’ve asked for help with.”
Made a Life Member of Carnarvon GC in 2021, he is the “face of Carnarvon” as well as the voice because he’s starter for most comps and can greet most of the club’s more than 900 members by name.
“Dealing with the passionate members we have and the public keeps me young. Some members would be worried if I didn’t pick on them. You’ve got to be able to interact, banter and have fun,” Callaby said.
“The diversity of people is the thing I love about the job.”
The immaculate Carnarvon pro shop tells its own story.
Leave a shoelace dangling after trying on a pair of FootJoys and Callaby will tuck it neatly back into place or wonder who is playing a prank.
He arrived at Carnarvon in 1973 to finish his apprenticeship under Terry Bolger after being a handy young all-rounder who played Green Shield Under-16s cricket for Parramatta.
His trainee invites to play in the mid 1970s gave him a rare ringside seat to a blond-haired tyro on a rapid ascent.
“Greg Norman grew up in my era. We played in some of the same trainee events in 1975. Twelve months later, he’d won his first pro tournament and was away,” Callaby recalled.
“I love golf but early on I realised there’s a big difference between playing the game well and being really, really good at it.
“I worked for Terry for over 20 years. He gave me the reins over stock control for the pro shop and was a big help. I also did a lot of teaching in the early days.”
Callaby is typically understated about his own game. He shot an eight-under-par 64 midweek at Carnarvon in his 20s and was still testing his game at the Australian PGA at NSW Golf Club in the 1990s when he pre-qualified.
In his late 50s, he rifled a 5-iron into the cup on the 162-metre par-3 16th for his second hole in one at his home course.
A full PGA Member since 1976, Callaby has been Carnarvon’s head professional since 1998 and seen the course test all-comers.
He still remembers the sign of a champion he saw in the young Cameron Smith when he won the Australian Boys’ Championship at Carnarvon by eight strokes in 2011.
“Cam reached the green in two on the fourth, our longest par 5. It was all downhill beyond the flag and he putted off the green with his eagle putt,” Callaby recounted.
“There was no tantrum. He showed no emotion at all, chipped the ball to a foot and made par. He was just so impressive with the way he handled that situation.”
Carnarvon Golf Club General Manager Craig O’Brien saluted Callaby’s professionalism.
“There could be no one better in our pro shop. As far as the Board and I are concerned, we wish we could keep Mike for another 50 years,” O’Brien said.
“His knowledge of the course and people, the way he conducts interviews with new members, promoting kids’ programs, his welcomes on the mic, his loyalty… he’s just one of the nicest gentlemen on the face of the earth.
“He gives all the time. Someone will turn up to play without a collared shirt and Mike will provide a shirt. When the person comes back to pay for it, Mike has often waved them away. You know he’s paid for it.
“Everyone knows Mike.”
This weekend, Callaby will rise at 3am, as usual, to give himself time to prepare the pro shop for the first of the golfers with their early tee times.
“Golf has given me a lifestyle. It’s a good life and I plan on a few years more,” Callaby said with a smile.