To the untrained eye, when Maroochy River Golf Club opened midway through 2015 it was a largely barren landscape with firm fairways and greens that, like the great links courses of the world, exposed golfers to the elements and decision-making.
Graham Marsh’s most recent design on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast was all laid out before you with barely a shrub interrupting the view to Mount Coolum and across the expanse of 18 holes and impressive practice facility. It caused some consternation among the members who had been displaced from the heavily tree-lined and much-loved Horton Park Golf Club, but Marsh, his design team and club management knew change was on its way.
Encouraged to plant young trees – mostly eucalyptus, hibiscus and melaleucas that will mature to a range of heights – and let the natural growing conditions of the area work their magic, management absorbed any negative comments that came regarding the look of the layout and how it played and instead educated the membership to the club’s long-term vision.
The former canefield that Marsh described as one of the most featureless sites he had ever worked with is now thriving with flora that was not obvious upon opening, while the fairways and greens are in a state that has enhanced playability considerably.
Where 40 Stableford points was a score of fantasy in the early days, it is now barely good enough to win you a ball as the healthier grass provides a greater cushion from which to play shots but also hold greens with your approach shots.
“It’s certainly changed a lot in two-and-a-half years,” Maroochy River head professional Sean Seymore tells Australian Golf Digest. “When we first opened, the ground was starving for nutrients so our fairways and greens were quite hard.
“We definitely had those comments early in the piece that people were really struggling with the short game around the greens because there wasn’t much grass on the fairways. But now that we’re getting better grass coverage on the fairways we’re not getting that complaint anymore.”
Their growth may have snuck up on the staff and members at Maroochy River but for regular visitors – of which the club proudly boasts there are a growing number – the emergence of the plant life has been the most significant change. You had to look hard to find them shortly after opening, but there were close to 1,000 plants in the ground just waiting to emerge and their growth has brought a new dimension to the character of the course without changing how the layout plays.
This is a course that continues to allow golfers to use their imagination as to how best attack a layout that tops out at 6,441 metres from the back tees, but the enhanced tree-life helps to soften what was a stark vista upon opening.
“When we first opened, a lot of people didn’t realise that there are 800 to 900 trees out there that will grow between 10 and 15 metres tall. When we first opened people just weren’t seeing that,” Seymore explains. “The plants were tube stock but now after two-and-a-half years you’re really starting to see those trees coming up and out of the ground, and that has certainly changed the way that the golf course looks. It’s still got that links feel to it but certainly you can see the trees coming up out of the ground and it’s certainly looking different.
“We have people come in who played here a year ago just amazed how much it has changed in that space of time and they continue to keep coming back, so I think that’s a really positive sign.”
True Championship Test
Such has been Maroochy River’s emergence as a championship test that it has quickly become a popular choice for Golf Australia to host national championships in addition to four Queensland state events.
Australian Golf Digest’s 2017 Senior Player of the Year, Sue Wooster, won the strokeplay section of the Australian Women’s Senior Amateur Championship conducted at Maroochy River last October by nine shots, before prolific New Zealand golfer Robyn Boniface defeated Sunshine Coast local Robyn Puckett 2&1 in the final of the matchplay.
The club has also been asked to host the 2019 Australian Men’s Senior Amateur Championship and general manager Charlie McGill believes such honours are a direct result of Marsh’s initial design and how course superintendent Pat Pauli and his team have brought it to life.
“The course itself is playing so much different now,” McGill says. “We’ve got beautiful smooth greens that hold approach shots, lush fairways to play approach shots from and some helpful rough to stop your ball if you venture too close to the water.
“All in all, the course is now playing how Graham Marsh designed it to play. The risk and reward aspect of the course is becoming more evident as it matures.”
“The hazards, the rough, the trees are all coming in to play for that
stray shot but take the risk and pull it off and the playing
surfaces are now rewarding that good shot.”
The majesty in Marsh’s design is the variety of lengths in each of the par variations, the par-3 fourth that plays almost directly towards Mount Coolum playing just 130 metres at its maximum, contrasted with the eighth hole, a one-shotter that measures 200 at its longest.
The par-4 13th is a 403-metre beast that Seymore rates as one of his favourite holes, but there are par 4s of 292 and 305 metres that can tempt the long hitters. And there are four par 5s in excess of 500 metres that can offer heartache or glory depending on the wind direction on any given day.
Like its landscape, it’s a layout that grows more in its appreciation the more time you spend on it and is providing widespread appeal to locals and visitors, golfers and non-golfers alike.
“In our first 12 months we did 80,000 rounds and last year we did more than 70,000 rounds,” McGill says. “We have many repeat customers who just love the place, our social club business has gone through the roof since we moved to our wonderful new facility and our corporate days are going from strength to strength.
“Our wedding business is getting bigger and bigger every year so the word is certainly out there that we are now truly a great place to come and enjoy great food at a great price while enjoying the view out over the golf course to Mount Coolum.”
Maroochy River Golf Club
David Low Way, Bli Bli QLD 4558
(07) 5373 1000