By Evin Priest
SITTING in the back of Dad’s car as a youngster every Christmas holidays, excitement levels would reach red cordial status. Not because we were going to Bonnie Doon – though Dad reminded me of Darryl Kerrigan from Michael Caton’s iconic Australian comedy, The Castle in more ways than one.
No, it was knowing a five-hour drive down the Princes Highway was the only thing standing between me and days of endless, seaside golf at the beautiful Tura Beach Country Club, on the far south coast of New South Wales. The picturesque coastal town of nearby Merimbula was our Bonnie Doon, and we’d head down every year after Christmas festivities wrapped up in Sydney.
Something about the Sapphire Coast called me – perhaps because we lived there for four years when I was a toddler, while Dad part-owned a pub in between long stints in the NSW Police Force. However, it’s more likely I was just drawn to the golf courses. And when we weren’t teeing it up at Tura Beach or one of the many other layouts within a short drive, summer family holidays were spent enjoying the local beaches, kayaking and fishing (unsuccessfully) at the lake, enjoying the abundance of fresh seafood in Merimbula and surrounding towns like Eden, or taking trips inland to explore historic country towns like Bombala, Tilba and Bega.
Those trips were a great time in our lives, but it’s only in retrospect I realise how important they really were. Choosing your family’s regular getaway gives your clan something to look forward to every summer, and it’s likely to impact on the lives of your children. For golfers, there aren’t many places of better value than the NSW south coast. From Wollongong down to Eden, there’s almost 400 kilometres of pristine coastline littered with ideal holiday destinations – and iconic golf courses to boot. In the following pages, I’ll take you on a journey out of Sydney and down to the Jewel of the Sapphire coast – you pick your family’s Bonnie Doon.
At the doorstep of greater Sydney, this region is perfect for holidaymakers from interstate or Sydneysiders in need of a coastal getaway without the hassle of driving several hours. To the north, charming seaside villages such as Thirroul and Austinmer are popular, particularly with their proximity to Russell Vale Golf Club. Further south, spectacular Kiama grows in popularity each year as tourists seek to enjoy its famous blowhole, coastal walk and mouth-watering restaurants. Golfers have been known to keep their game sharp here on the narrow fairways of Kiama Golf Club – its par-66 layout of 4,968 metres ensuring your accuracy gets a workout during the holidays. Kiama tourists are also privileged with the stunning scenery and testing water hazards of Calderwood Valley Golf Course just minutes away, while Moss Vale Golf Club and Highlands Golf Course are within an hour’s drive. While you’re in the area, it would be sacrilege not to have a round at Gerringong Golf Club – a simple and open links course right on the ocean.
Ulladulla and Mollymook have an influx of tourists every summer as holidaymakers capitalise on an affordable coastal getaway 3.5 hours from Sydney’s CBD.
Mollymook has the star combination of surf and turf – board riders flock to Mollymook Surf Beach for ideal waves and wind protection between the headlands, while 27 holes of quality golf is on offer at the Hilltop and Beachside courses of Mollymook Golf Club – the ‘Augusta of the South’.
Many golf courses claim to resemble the famed host of The Masters, but walk around the sweeping, tree-lined holes of Hilltop and the similarities are undeniable. It isn’t just the wide, rolling fairways and towering trees that are reminiscent of the Georgia masterpiece – subtle creeks dissecting Hilltop’s fairways pay homage to the hazards made famous every April, while natural amphitheatres created by native flora and fauna are an Australian take on Augusta’s blooming azaleas. Though the course measures 6,225 metres, it plays longer with extreme changes in elevation dishing up many uphill tee and approach shots. And downhill play isn’t any easier thanks to lush kikuyu fairways offering limited roll and green complexes surrounded with either water hazards or garden features.
Nearby, the nine-hole Beachside layout is one of Mollymook’s true treasures. This par-33 measures 2,102 metres from the men’s tees and its setting atop the southern tip of Mollymook Beach makes for a memorable afternoon. The Beachside course is available to the public seven days a week, as is the clubhouse for drinks and lunch – enjoyed while watching waves crash over Mollymook Beach. Ulladulla is also filled with plenty of holiday fun – fishing, swimming and hiking are just some of the activities keeping families entertained away from the course. On the water, there are also snorkelling and whale-watching tours, as well as deep-sea fishing charters. The town is also paradise for seafood lovers with fresh fish and chips at the Fishermen’s Co-op on the wharf at Ulladulla Harbour, or the classy Rick Stein at Bannisters restaurant in Mollymook.
Batemans Bay/Moruya/Tuross Head
Batemans Bay is one of the most established holiday destinations on the NSW south coast – halfway between Sydney and Merimbula. Here, the Clyde River meets the Tasman Sea, creating beautiful seascapes, white sandy beaches and a mild, temperate climate. Batemans Bay accommodation caters for all budgets, from holiday parks to luxury, self-contained apartments.
There are three likeable golf courses here, headlined by Catalina Country Club. Catalina boasts 27 holes on its Red, White and Blue nines, and visitors are given great value at $40 for 18 holes. Further south and inland is The Oaks Ranch and Country Club – a nine-hole course full of character. Measuring 2,042m and with a par-35 layout, The Oaks is home to a variety of challenging par 4s and 5s. At nearby Moruya Golf Club, water is in play on nine of its 18 holes and the shared green at the ninth and 18th is an architectural masterpiece.
Our tip: If this is your holiday region of choice, I recommend staying at Tuross Head – particularly if you’re a keen fisher. Situated on a headland only 15 minutes from Moruya, Tuross Head is bordered by beaches on one side and tidal lakes on the other, creating numerous fishing spots to enjoy. To top it off, Tuross Head is more relaxed and less populated during peak seasons than Batemans Bay.
Contrary to a popular belief in Australian golf, there is much more to see and do in Narooma than Hogan’s Hole at Narooma Golf Club. Sure, it is a star feature of the south coast’s best golf offering and the Australian Golf Digest Top 100 rankings (2014) account for that – Narooma is the only south coast course to feature on the list, at No.88. Set on a remarkable piece of real estate, the front nine plays back-and-forth to a stunning coastline and is highlighted by the 141m, par-3 third. A common mistake is to think it was named after Ben Hogan; it was actually a commercial featuring comedian Paul Hogan that put this hole on the map. Not that it needed the publicity – a teebox perched on the edge of a cliff and a carry across the surf (conjuring images of California’s Cypress Point) did a fine job of that.
Indeed, Narooma has plenty of entertainment away from the links. Montague Island houses the only known colony of Australian fur seals inside NSW and the 11 kilometres of sea between the island and mainland are abundant with marine life. Don’t miss out on whale-watching from a cruise or headland, especially if you’re visiting during the migration season from September to November.
A fair test of golf can be sampled 33km south of Narooma at Bermagui Country Club – a course measuring 6,085m. Bermagui features four par 3s, four par 5s and 10 par 4s – all with quick greens to test your putting touch. The star attraction in Bermagui, however, is the deep-sea fishing. The continental shelf is only 20km from the shore, which is its closest point to the Australian mainland and a common dwelling for yellowfin tuna and black marlin. Bermagui was shown to the world in 2001 when outdoor scenes of The Man Who Sued God – a smash-hit Australian comedy starring comedian Billy Connolly – were filmed in the harbour.
As the Princes Highway winds down past Bega, the Jewel of the Sapphire Coast beckons. Be sure to stop in at the historic Bega Cheese factory, where a tour of the Heritage Centre will explain how the company formed in 1899 as an effort among local farmers to galvanise the dairy market.
Thirty minutes later, the highway descends into Merimbula as you’re greeted with spectacular vistas of the lake to the right and the ocean and harbour to the left. Merimbula is a haven for watersports – particularly when the Merimbula Classic rolls into town each year, showcasing world-class kite surfing and wave sailing. The town boasts renowned surf beaches, kid’s beaches and lakes, all perfect for fishing, swimming, boating, lake cruises, scuba diving, sailboarding and canoeing.
Merimbula’s popularity among visiting Victorians and native NSW folk has brought a vibrant restaurant/café culture to this coastal getaway. Market Street is littered with a variety of stellar waterfront cafes, seafood restaurants and pizzerias. Aquarius Resort Apartments is a sensible accommodation choice. Its location in the Fishpen area of Merimbula is a stone’s throw from the regional airport, main beach and Merimbula’s CBD, while providing easy access to Pambula to the south. Golf also contributes a large percentage to this popularity. Just north of Merimbula is Tathra Beach Country Club. Set between Bega Lake and Tathra main beach, this 12-hole course has 18 tee options and was designed by the late Kel Nagle. Pambula- Merimbula Golf Club is a value pick of the region with its 27-hole layout blending parklands and woodlands elements. Pambula-Merimbula is a driver’s course, with many of the holes tree-lined and secluded.
Tura Beach Country Club
Five kilometres out of Merimbula is Tura Beach Country Club. The Old Course at St Andrews may be the Home of Golf, but Tura Beach was the cradle of the game for this writer. The rugged beauty of this hilly piece oceanside real estate left an indelible impression on me, as did a game simultaneously rewarding and frustrating.
Golfers are met with a sense of grandeur upon entering Tura Beach, with a clubhouse perched spectacularly on a hill looking over the golf course and out to the Tasman Sea. Designers Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge have provided enough forgiveness for the average golfer – with a configuration of five par 3s, seven par 4s and six shorter par 5s – while testing low markers through challenging, small green complexes and high risk/reward lines of play. This balance bodes well for tourism as all golfing abilities are entertained.
The front nine of Tura Beach combines parklands and links styles as the course plays down to the ocean, before being routed alongside Tura Beach and back up the hill to the clubhouse. The changes in elevation are economical – providing many exciting shots while maintaining balance of flat and steep holes, starting with a thrilling opening tee shot high above the fairway on a par-4. The par-5 second [pictured] is wonderfully tempting for better players to try and reach a tiny green surrounded by water, yet short enough for higher handicappers to comfortably reach the green in three. The front nine also dishes up some tough, uphill par 4s, as well as some delightful par 3s at the third, fifth and ninth.
The second half of the course moves up into the forest for a challenging, woodlands-style nine with skinny, tree-lined holes. Thomson and Wolveridge saved most of the elevation for the back nine and the par-3 17th is really its only (relatively) flat hole. This altitude delivers truly spectacular tee shots and approaches on almost every hole, as well as three exhilarating par 5s – notably the spectacularly undulating 16th.
The par-5 18th is a grandstand finish and its downhill tee shot invites golfers to go for gold. Should you get a good drive away, a steep second shot up the hill is well guarded by treacherously deep bunkers and a slick putting surface.
After your round, a drink or meal in “the club (house) with the million-dollar view” is a must. If you’re lucky enough to be there after Boxing Day, you’ll see the yachts of the famous Sydney to Hobart race making their way to Tasmania.
At any other time of the year, a cold drink and 270-degree views of the course and the Tasman Sea will have to do.
OUR TIP: Want to sharpen up your game while you’re on the south coast? Try the Sapphire Coast Golf School, run by Tura Beach Country Club professionals Loraine Lambert and Lisa Newling. There’s no technique these ladies can’t swing into shape. As any golfer would know, it’s often the most frustrating of games, but Lambert and Newling’s brand of golf is all about enjoyment. Situated in the perfect environment at Tura Beach Country Club, the school provides the perfect opportunity for learners to get up to speed and make the easiest of transitions to the course. They offer lessons to people of all ages and abilities, and their junior golf programs both during school and in the holidays are a standout feature.