Barry Sale is a bit of a risk-taker. That’s the only way to explain purchasing a golf course in receivership without any previous experience of running a golf club.
The patriarch of Goodson Calculators Australia – a 68-year-old family business that is the largest importer of cash drawers into Australia – acquired Tallwoods Country Club in early spring. It’s a quantum leap in fields for somebody used to specialising in point-of-sale kiosks.
Sale came to Forster-Tuncurry on the New South Wales Mid-North Coast to visit a sick friend and saw a ‘For Sale’ sign. Based on a “gut feeling”, the 24-handicapper made a snap decision to buy Tallwoods from the receiver, admitting he’s done a few things like that in life.
“You’d really want to visit a psychiatrist. It was just one of those silly things,” concedes Sale, who once bought a rundown takeaway restaurant at Davistown on the Central Coast and turned it into the popular Sails On The Water (now The Dart & Feather).
Goodson Calculators plans to spend $5 million to get Tallwoods Country Club back up to the level that saw it peak at No.72 on Australian Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses. In addition, it has development approval to build 21 new on-site cabins.
James Fairfax was the original developer of Tallwoods and Bill Richardson the driving force behind the establishment of a 1,000-lot residential golf community on a former cattle farm in the late 1990s. Fairfax tipped in an estimated $54 million to build the whole estate, commissioning American architect Michael Hurdzan to design an eco-friendly course in a quintessential Australian bushland setting.
The two messages to emerge are that Tallwoods is
under new ownership – “we’re not in receivership”
– and it is open to the public.
Tallwoods was based on the concept of a “bundled club”, a residents-only model using Vanderbilt Country Club in Naples, Florida, as a blueprint. The saying went that, “Even God couldn’t play at Tallwoods unless he owned a block of land.” Visitors could still access the course but only if they stayed overnight in one of the spacious on-site villas.
With fewer than 300 residential members, Tallwoods’ viability relied heavily upon revenue from play-and-stay visitors. Hence, when previous owners sold off the short-term rental accommodation, the business model for Tallwoods collapsed.
But it hasn’t deterred Sale, who says “there’s an amazing romance about this place”. Already, Goodson has lived up to its promise to revitalise Tallwoods. In the first six weeks, it employed a new greenkeeper, purchased more than $100,000 worth of machinery and chemicals as well as providing new flags and tee markers. In addition, 26 new golf carts have been ordered.
“Everyone’s a lot more positive,” says club professional Jeff Mendham, who started at Tallwoods as a course marshall 16 years ago.
Tallwoods still has the ‘bones’ of a fantastic layout. Dr Hurdzan utilised the undulating topography to create a wonderful course that traverses rugged terrain with severe elevation changes. Several green complexes sit in little amphitheatres, buried in the hillside beneath extravagant homesites high above the canopy of towering eucalypts.
There are some cracking holes. Personal favourites include the serpentine par-5 third and the across-the-gully par-3 sixth for the way in which they blend seamlessly into the landscape. However, the flattest portion of the course would please many. Holes 10 to 12 form a loop around and over a lake in a 4-3-4 sequence that provides a delightful contrast to the remainder of the rollercoaster journey.
From an aesthetic perspective, Tallwoods is an arborist’s delight featuring a mixture of high canopy eucalypts (tallowoods, blackbutt, ironbark, yellow gums and red gums), low-lying native wildflowers (acacia, flowering grevillea and callistemon) as well as exotic species (azaleas, rhododendrons and flowering jasmine). Perhaps the most encouraging aspect is the degree to which residents have volunteerarily maintained shrubs and garden beds.
Despite uncertainty surrounding Tallwoods’ future, the Qantas Cabin Crew Golf Club recently held its annual five-day tournament there for the 10th consecutive year. For a group who have travelled all around the world, it’s a testimony to the place that they keep coming back.
Indeed, the two messages to emerge are that Tallwoods is under new ownership – “we’re not in receivership” – and it is open to the public.
Let’s hope Goodson Calculators can revitalise one of the most delightful courses in regional Australia. As Sale says: “We’re the seventh owner and we plan on being the last.”
Tallwoods Country Club
Where: The Boulevard, Hallidays Point NSW 2430
Phone: (02) 6593 3228