Ricky’s pals take a big swing for autism

With Royal Canberra’s prestigious Ricky Stuart Celebrity Pro-Am tournament only days away, reporter STEPHEN EASTON talks to the man hosting this hugely successful fundraiser for autism

A COUPLE of weeks before his first match coaching the Raiders in 2014, Ricky Stuart is heading to Royal Canberra, where golf pro Charles Kares is gearing up to host the famous footballer’s charity golf tournament for the third year running.

“It’s one of the most exclusive one-day pro-ams in Australia,” says Kares, who has helped both members and visitors perfect their game at the exclusive Yarralumla club since 2010.

“The prize purse the professionals play for this year is $25,000, and we’re limiting the field to 55 players so it’s going to be a strong field.”

Kares first started playing at Royal Canberra as a junior member, aged 14, and has been a professional golfer since 2005.

He is an AAA-rated PGA Professional – the highest level of teaching accreditation – and has been nominated for the PGA’s coveted ACT/NSW Teaching Professional of the Year award three years running (the 2013 winner is announced on February 20). So what are his tips for the amateurs who’ll be mixing it with the rich and famous at the Ricky Stuart Celebrity Pro-Am on February 24?

“The number one thing is warm yourself up before you play,” says Kares. “Give yourself at least 20 minutes to warm up, stretch your muscles and go from there. It’ll make a world of difference.”

His next tip is equally simple, but overlooked by amateur golfers equally as often as warming up.

“Make sure you have a nice, relaxed grip because the grip pressure tightens as you swing, so if you start with a tight grip it’s only going to get worse. If you start with a soft, relaxed grip, it’s going to stay pretty stable throughout the whole swing.”

Number three is the swing itself, which should be a smooth, balanced harmony.

“Make sure you rotate on the way back and be assertive on the way through, finishing balanced,” he says. “I think the key to checking your golf swing is that if you finish balanced, it means that a lot of things were in sequence during the golf swing, but if you lose your balance, something wasn’t in harmony. Something wasn’t in sequence.”

The secret to making putts from all over the place? Engage the creative parts of the brain and use your imagination.

“If you actually are aware of the surroundings and can visualise where the ball is going to go, you’ve got a much better chance of being a good putter.”

For Kares, it was a lucky coincidence that led to him hosting the tournament, in his second year as a full-time pro at Royal Canberra.

“I was looking to host a pro-am so I started thinking: ‘How am I going to get sponsorship to make it run, and how am I going to make it bigger and better than other similar events?’,” he says.

After running the idea past a few potential sponsors, it turned out Ricky Stuart was the answer to both questions.

The Rugby League hero was interested in staging just such an event as a fundraiser for the Ricky Stuart Foundation, which he and his wife Kaylie established in 2011, two years after their daughter Emma was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

The first two tournaments raised more than $500,000 from the entry fees for amateurs (in the form of $6000 sponsorship packages) as well as high-priced raffle tickets, gourmet food tents set up around the course and a gala dinner featuring a charity auction, which last year culminated in lawyer Craig Edwards paying $15,000 for a luxury holiday donated by Qantas.

The Foundation funds specialist support services for people with autism and their families, which are desperately needed but currently in short supply, according to autism advocacy groups. “The goal is to raise enough funds to directly support the after-care for autistic people and help families who struggle daily with autism and maybe one day set up our own facility,” according to its website.

The Ricky Stuart Celebrity Pro-Am will be played at Royal Canberra on February 24.

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