Pack your bags – and clubs – for that mid-year vacation or long weekend. A number of forward-thinking golf clubs have initiated improvements to become even better play-and-stay destinations.
For a family vacation in a secluded coastal town, Club Callala on the New South Wales South Coast is a relatively hidden gem. Situated two-and-a-half hours from both Sydney and Canberra, Callala Beach features the crystal blue waters and fine white sand synonymous with Jervis Bay and which popularised Hyams Beach to the south.
With golf, lawn bowls, a children’s playground and outdoor facilities, Club Callala is the focal point for the township of 2,200 residents. It’s currently rebranding from its previous incarnation as an RSL. Land sub-divisions are changing the demographic of the seaside community from older retirees to young families. The par-68 course is also undergoing an overhaul with an injection of funds to improve the scenic bushland layout.
On-site accommodation has recently been added through Beach & Bay Stay where 22 rooms are just 400 metres from Callala Beach. It’s an ideal hub to explore Jervis Bay National Park, which has plenty of vantage points on land and at sea to view migrating humpback and southern right whales from September to late November (peak season).
Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort is basking in the glory of successfully staging TPS Hunter Valley after this summer’s PGA Tour of Australasia event survived a torrential downpour on tournament eve. Some 130 millimetres fell, saturating the golf course with a month’s rainfall in a single day.
That the Pokolbin course was back in play within 24 hours is testament to the maintenance crew of just six. It also justified the foresight of Oaks Hotels, Resorts & Suites to fund a major water storage, collection, irrigation and recycling project. The new bunker-drainage system can collect more than 7.5 million litres of stormwater.
New sealed cartpaths are now being added across Cypress Lakes, while the hotel operator is embarking on a major refurbishment of the resort’s lobby, bar and bistro, which is scheduled for completion later this year.
That’s great news for regular visitors and newcomers who make the 90-minute journey up the M1 from Sydney to the iconic resort that has more than 300 villas, two restaurants, two bars and convenient access to the Lower Hunter’s many wineries.
Less than three hours from Canberra, and about five hours from Sydney, lies the enchanting Narooma Golf Club. Ranked 85th on Australia’s Top 100 Golf Courses, Narooma is a dramatic contrast of design styles. Six of the opening nine holes skirt the coastline with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean before the routing ventures into a woodland experience for the second nine.
Narooma has nearly completed installing its first-ever irrigation system to utilise the 45-megalitre capacity of water held in its three dams. Rain Bird irrigation has been laid on 13 of the 18 holes that will eventually protect all greens and kikuyu fairways during lengthy dry summer spells when maintenance staff had been forced to hand water.
The club is self-funding the entire $1.2-million project after pleas to Eurobodalla Shire Council fell on deaf ears. That’s despite invaluable assistance Narooma Golf Club provided to the community during the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires.
Accommodating 50,000 rounds annually, Narooma general manager Dominic Connaugton lauds the course conditioning, saying: “It’s the best I’ve ever seen it.”
While Mollymook Golf Club’s Hilltop course has drawn tourists to the NSW South Coast for decades, it’s now the Beachside layout winning plenty of new admirers since its re-opening last year.
Golf architect Justin Trott redesigned and shortened Mollymook’s nine-hole Beachside course to solve safety issues. The new layout is just 1,200 metres and plays to a par of 28. That suits beginners and families, while many golfers enjoy playing 18 holes in an hour and 45 minutes or less.
The new tees and bentgrass greens with zoysia surrounds are in magnificent condition, according to Mollymook golf manager Barry West. So much so, the Beachside course is tracking for 35,000 rounds this financial year – approximately 50 percent more rounds than played on the original par-33 layout (2,102 metres).
The Beachside course is an ideal accompaniment to Mollymook’s Hilltop layout that has stood the test of time and is ranked 92nd on Australia’s Top 100 Courses. Three hours’ drive from Sydney, Mollymook Beach has multiple accommodation options. Directly across the road from the Beachside clubhouse is what’s known colloquially as ‘The Golden Triangle’ with a bunch of motels.
Ocean Shores Country Club has recovered well from severe floods that impacted the NSW Northern Rivers last year. The Ocean Shores community in north Byron Shire was decimated by the floods with low-lying areas of town inundated with water.
Insurance payouts have allowed the club to invest $500,000 in new machinery. The club has also engaged golf architect Richard Chamberlain to prepare a course masterplan focusing on bunker quantity and positioning. The plan is to make Ocean Shores more playable and not as penal for less-accomplished golfers without compromising the challenge for better players.
Established as Australia’s first residential golf estate in 1972, Ocean Shores is about a 30-minute drive from both Coolangatta and Ballina airports. Blessed with a subtropical climate, Ocean Shores is known for its chilled environment – much like what Byron Bay used to be three decades ago.
Ocean Shores and neighbouring Brunswick Heads have seven kilometres of ocean frontage. Surfing and water sports are popular as well as trekking in the Byron hinterland. And for cyclists, a 24-kilometre stretch of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail from Murwillumbah opened in March. The track will extend 132km to Casino when finished.
Severe floods in 2021 affected Wauchope Country Club, 20 kilometres west of Port Macquarie on the NSW Mid North Coast. But in a sign of its resilience, the picturesque layout has recovered well and continues to lure golfers who take the initiative and detour off the Pacific Highway to discover this hidden gem.
For non-golfers and day trippers, popular attractions around Wauchope/Port Macquarie/Laurieton include fishing on the Hastings River, fruit picking at Ricardoes Tomatoes & Strawberries, Bago Maze and Winery and Timbertown Heritage Theme Park. Wauchope (pronounced ‘war-hope’) has a long association with the forestry industry and its timber was used in construction of the Sydney Opera House.
Located approximately 10 kilometres from Western Sydney’s proposed new airport at Badgerys Creek, Twin Creeks Golf & Country Club has plans for a membership drive and course improvements as it seeks to re-enter Australia’s Top 100 Courses.
In the past 12 months, the Chinese owner has pumped more than $150,000 into clubhouse improvements, upgrading the reception, bar, lounge and dining areas. The current owner is also looking to introduce a new investor to provide funding for golf-club operations. That includes more capital expenditure on the golf course, additional greenkeeping staff and even a seasonal dining menu.
Sydney’s second international airport at Badgerys Creek will be a boon for the area. Residents in the 177-lot Twin Creeks community have realised substantial capital gains on their properties. Many block sizes are 4,000 square metres and a property recently sold for more than $7 million.
Meanwhile, Twin Creeks members have reached out to original course architect Graham Marsh for assistance with bunker-drainage issues. Heavy rainfall events during the past four years have exposed flood-prone areas on the 11th and 12th holes. Marsh has proposed a wetlands area to replace the series of bunkers on the driveable par-4 12th, which used to be a spectacular risk-reward challenge.
Lakeside GC Camden
The Macarthur region and its golf courses will also benefit from their proximity to Sydney’s second international airport. In the south-west growth corridor 50 minutes from Sydney’s CBD, Lakeside Golf Club Camden is surging ahead after its acquisition by Wests Group Macarthur.
Prior to the COVID-pandemic in 2019, Lakeside won Metropolitan Golf Club of the Year at the Golf NSW industry awards. Wests Group Macarthur continues to invest heavily into Lakeside, which has undergone a vast transformation both on and away from the golf course. The original 18-hole layout by Thomson Wolveridge has been reconfigured to accommodate housing with golf-course frontage in the fashionable Gledswood Hills residential community developed by Sekisui House/Stocklands. Fast-running fairways and pot bunkers remain a feature at Lakeside, however the contoured greens and new routing have made it a must-play destination.
Half an hour west of Brisbane’s CBD, Brookwater Golf & Country Club at Springfield recently celebrated 30 years since the original purchase of 2,860 hectares of land. Greater Springfield is Australia’s first master-planned city since Canberra and now has 53,000 residents in six suburbs.
Marketed as ‘A rare kind of lifestyle’, Brookwater has set a benchmark for residential golf estates in south-east Queensland. Tennis champion Ash Barty is one of many young professionals to call Brookwater home for its outstanding facilities.
The Greg Norman/Bob Harrison-designed golf course is the focal point of the community. The Brookwater course is epic in magnitude with towering trees and dramatic elevation rises and falls. At No.34, Brookwater is Queensland’s third highest-ranked layout.
Mount Isa holds the distinction as the birthplace of Australia’s greatest-ever golfer, Greg Norman. Now buoyed by the success of hosting the Outback Queensland Masters, Mount Isa Golf Club is marketing itself as a golf destination as the town celebrates its 100-year milestone.
Since its inception in 2019, the Outback Queensland Masters has been a consummate success, attracting thousands of golfers – specifically seniors seeking a new adventure. Over six consecutive weekends, golfers have the option of playing at St George, Cunnamulla, Quilpie, Richmond, Karumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the series finale at Mount Isa, 1,826 kilometres north-west of Brisbane. This year’s highlight will be the Million-Dollar Hole-in-One Challenge hosted by Mount Isa Golf Club.
In recognition of its appeal, the Outback Queensland Masters captured an excellence gong at this year’s Australian Tourism Awards in the Festivals and Events Category.
“The event encourages people to travel through the region, stopping longer and spending more in our remote towns, and enjoying world-class entertainment, unique golf courses and community connection along the way,” says Andrew Martin, chair of the Outback Queensland Tourism Association.
The 2023 Outback Queensland Masters runs from June 17 to July 23. For more information, visit outbackqldmasters.com
An $11-million facelift is cause for golfers to re-acquaint themselves with InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort, the iconic Gold Coast retreat that set a benchmark for Australian residential golf communities when it opened in 1988.
The Arnold Palmer-co-designed Sanctuary Cove Pines layout recently underwent a $5 million transformation that included restoration of greens, rebuilding of tees and installation of a new irrigation system. Open only to members and resort guests, The Pines rose to 42nd on Australia’s Top 100 Courses. Its larger TifEagle Bermuda greens now match the putting surfaces of The Palms (ranked 74th), redesigned in 2011 by Ross Watson.
Meanwhile, resort owner Mulpha Australia has refurbished all 251 rooms and suites at the InterContinental hotel as well as breakfast eatery Cove Café. The new-look rooms have been styled with a tropical aesthetic and feature contemporary finishes at a cost of $6 million. Sanctuary Cove village has also expanded, along with the marina to accommodate ‘super-yachts’, while a new mix of multi-bedroom apartments have been released for sale in the Harbour One waterfront precinct.
The Sebel Yarrawonga is a logical choice to stay and explore the Murray River’s golf courses and Rutherglen wineries. The 5-star Sebel hotel is part of a $35 million recreational hub where the Black Bull Golf Course is the focal point of the Silverwoods Golf and Lifestyle Resort.
In testament to the quality of accommodation facilities, The Sebel Yarrawonga recently won best Luxury Lakeside Resort for Australia/Oceania at the World Luxury Hotel Awards. Situated on the bank of Lake Mulwala, the Sebel features a heated infinity swimming pool, health spa, gymnasium, restaurants and the Thomson Perrett-designed Black Bull golf course.
Hotel guests have access to 162 holes of golf within 40 minutes’ drive: Black Bull (18), Yarrawonga Mulwala (45), Corowa (27), Cobram Barooga (36) and Tocumwal (36). The play-and-stay market is continuing to grow with Yarrawonga drawing visitors from Melbourne (a three-hour drive), Canberra (four hours), Sydney (six hours) and Adelaide (eight to 10 hours).
Meanwhile, the 900-lot Silverwoods community by Lotus Living continues to flourish. Silverwoods was a finalist for best Masterplanned Communities at the 2023 Urban Development Institute of Australia Awards for Excellence. It beat all of Melbourne’s residential estates to be Victoria’s nominee.
All the existing land at Silverwoods has been sold, however Lotus Living has 80 new apartments to be released. Another $100 million is planned to deliver 60 more hotel rooms and an extended conference facility, plus a brewery, distillery and tavern behind the 18th green on the lake’s edge.
Days away from bankruptcy in 2015, Curlewis Golf Club on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula has been re-invented as a boutique play-and-stay offering by hospitality pioneers Lyndsay and David Sharp.
Since taking over the embattled golf club, the Sharps have cleverly integrated business operations by utilising their entrepreneurial skills as winery and cider brewery owners (Leura Park Estate, Jack Rabbit Vineyard, Yes said the Seal and Flying Brick Cider Co.).
Firstly, they engaged golf architect Mike Clayton to improve the Curlewis course. Next, they poured $8 million into building a huge entertainment complex. The Range @ Curlewis has 18 indoor/outdoor driving bays, Victoria’s first Toptracer Range technology installation, two-tiered mini-golf, X-Golf simulators, function and conference rooms, plus a beautiful, north-facing food/beverage deck.
As custodians of the golf club and realising the Bellarine was in short supply of comfortable lodgings, the Sharps then set about further integrating their investment. They put $20 million into construction of a new clubhouse and accommodation facility. They demolished the original clubhouse and built a commanding new building with an award-winning signature restaurant (Claribeaux), casual dining area (Ivor’s Spike Bar) and fashionable pro shop. The spectacular new clubhouse embraces every available panoramic option with fairway vistas and glimpses of water.
In conjunction, they opened Accommodation @ Curlewis in March 2022. The 60-unit motel adjacent to the golf club sleeps up to 126 people. Each room features cool, eco-suite installations and exquisite furnishings (accommodationatcurlewis.com.au).
For a pure golf experience, Peppers Moonah Links Resort at Rye on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula has everything a serious golfer could ask for in a golf facility: 36 cleverly designed holes, a spacious practice range, superb short-game facility, luxurious on-site accommodation, outdoor solar-heated pool and fine dining.
As the name suggests, links golf is at the heart of Moonah Links. Peter Thomson’s Open course is a seasoned tournament venue while Ross Perrett’s Legends layout offers a more forgiving test.
The Peppers resort, a 70-minute drive south of Melbourne, is a perfect base from which to explore the peninsula’s 10 layouts ranked in Australia’s Top 100 Courses: Moonah Links (two), The National Golf Club (three), The Dunes, St Andrews Beach, Portsea, Sorrento and RACV Cape Schanck. With regard to après golf, Peninsula Hot Springs, St Andrews Beach Brewery and The Cups Estate winery are all just minutes away.
Hard work and forward thinking have paid off for Busselton Golf Club after it was recognised as the best presented course in country Western Australia. Busselton won best Regional Golf Course and Regional Golf Facility of the Year at the Golf WA Awards after a period “that saw significant membership increases and successful renovation work”.
The groundstaff led by Busselton superintendent Lance Knox has transformed the course, rebuilding green/bunker complexes, constructing a new bentgrass nursery and upgrading the maintenance facility. The club has also adhered to strict guidelines with its water usage, while improving water efficiency around the course.
On the doorstop of the Margaret River wine region, 220 kilometres south-west of Perth, Busselton is known as a holiday destination. Its major attraction is the 1.8km, heritage-listed, timber-piled jetty that features an underwater observatory at its tip to view patterned, coral reef fish in the turquoise waters of Geographe Bay.
Royal Auckland and Grange
Across the Tasman, Royal Auckland and Grange Golf Club is flourishing on the back of a $60 million redesign. After the amalgamation of Royal Auckland and The Grange in 2015, their two 18-hole golf courses have been transformed into a new 27-hole facility with the intention of becoming Auckland’s pre-eminent club.
The third and final nine holes by Nicklaus Design opened last year to much acclaim. Award-winning photographer Gary Lisbon described the Pure Distinction bentgrass greens as “probably the best putting surfaces I have played on throughout the world”.
Guests can have the ‘Royal’ treatment with full clubhouse and locker-room access. They have the option of playing as a single or in a group. Or they can savour an authentic member-hosting program initiated by the club to provide a more intimate experience. Away from the course, it would be remiss to spend less than two days enjoying the sights around Auckland and the scenic beaches of Waiheke Island.
Titirangi Golf Club has the distinction of being the only New Zealand course with the imprimatur of legendary architect Alister MacKenzie. The British doctor visited Auckland on his 1926 visit to the Antipodes when he also provided design input to some of Australia’s most revered golf courses.
MacKenzie spent two weeks at Titirangi, offering suggestions for all 18 holes before departing, never to return. In the late 1990s, architect Chris Pitman restored many of the MacKenzie features that had been lost over time.
In 2016, Titirangi engaged Clyde Johnson – a MacKenzie disciple from St Andrews – to resolve boundary-safety issues and interpret the original drawings/plans as part of the restoration work. The continuing work aims to ensure Titirangi sits comfortably in illustrious company as a MacKenzie masterpiece alongside Augusta National, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne.