THEY were often frigid mornings, or perhaps they just felt that way because my two brothers and I would be bundled into the back of the family Ford Falcon with pillows, blankets and tracksuit pants under the cover of darkness.
Back more than 30 years ago, a car trip from Coffs Harbour to Sydney was a full-day affair, with Dad often endeavouring to arrive in the big smoke well outside anything that might be considered peak hour. (The passage of time taught him eventually that ‘off-peak’ didn’t exist.)
As kids with no access to in-car DVD systems or iPads, we would sometimes take a break from the latest punching game to look longingly out of the window at landmarks that would signify we were inching ever closer to making the turn that would eventually bring Centrepoint Tower into view.
But as I grew older – and with Dad’s gentle nudging – my map markers on our twice-yearly excursions to Sydney became golf courses, perfectly presented pieces of paradise with people enjoying far greater freedom than is afforded by playing ‘corners’.
I remember during the construction phase of Bonville International Golf Resort, near Coffs Harbour, trying to sneak a peek through the towering eucalypts in wonderment at what could possibly become of such land. And then as we passed through Nambucca, you would have to crane your head far to the left to see who was out at the island golf course.
After crawling through town, Macksville Golf Club was the first course that came into clear view followed by Kempsey and further along Camden Haven Golf Club would emerge from our 100-kilometre-an-hour re-entry into civilised speeds looking beautifully manicured and inviting to visitors.
The turnoff to Tallwoods and Forster-Tuncurry came at such a point in the journey that you wished it was, in fact, your destination and then further south, before the bypass took out a chunk of its flesh, Bulahdelah Golf Club was most noticeable for the wire fences around its greens that kept both cows and misdirected wedge shots from landing on the short stuff.
The closer you got to Sydney the more urgent the golf cravings became as the likes of Pacific Dunes and Horizons at Nelson Bay were followed by the pure delight that is Newcastle Golf Club and then an ever-growing collection of Central Coast courses, headlined by Magenta Shores and Kooindah Waters but also boasting such gems as Shelly Beach, Wyong and Toukley golf clubs.
Of course, if we had cause to point the car north for any reason there was a similarly rich offering of country layouts with which to be tempted, leading all the way up the border to the smorgasbord of Gold Coast resort courses that were the playthings of the rich and famous.
So if you find yourself on the perennially under-construction Pacific Highway any time in the next year or so, consider me your faithful travel guide who will help to make a long-haul journey into a vast array of destinations all waiting to be discovered.
The tiny town of Medowie in the idyllic Port Stephens region north of Newcastle has experienced a population explosion over the past decade due largely to the establishment of Pacific Dunes and its accompanying residential community.
Opening in 2005, Pacific Dunes is a James Wilcher design that weaves its way through native bushland on the outward nine before opening up to an inward nine where water is prominent and precision iron play paramount.
The onset of the global financial crisis made residential sales somewhat slow to begin with, but there has been a noticeable acceleration in the past five years that led to Medowie being rated one of the fastest growing communities in the state.
The opening of the Greenhouse Eatery in March 2016 not only provided golfers with a more luxurious setting in which to enjoy a post-round drink, but also gave the rapidly expanding community a place to meet, eat and mingle. “It’s been a long time coming, but the reaction to the opening of The Greenhouse has been wonderful not only from visiting golfers and our members but also others in the community who now have a first-class dining experience and functions centre right on their doorstep,” says Kurt Linde, Pacific Dunes’ general manager of golf operations.
Renowned for the quality of its greens from the day it opened, Pacific Dunes has climbed to be ranked No.54 in our latest ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the country to sit with Newcastle Golf Club as the main drivers of golf tourism to Port Stephens.
Pacific Dunes is less than a 10-minute drive from Newcastle Airport and with a new stay-and-play package with Mercure Newcastle Airport, has made Port Stephens a must-visit golf destination.
“With our proximity to the airport and the terrific collection of courses in the area, we’re really trying to spread the word that Port Stephens is a golf destination that people should put on their list of places to play,” Linde says. “Port Stephens itself is a wonderful holiday destination so if you are looking for a golf trip that you perhaps haven’t tried before, we believe Port Stephens is an increasingly good alternative.”
Bonville International Golf Resort
I knew Bonville when it consisted of little more than a caravan park and a fruit stall, so when whispers started circulating around the North Coast that an international golf resort would be built in the sleepy community south of Coffs Harbour, they were met with equal measures of shock and awe. In the 25 years since its construction it has become one of the great success stories in Australian golf and continues to draw golf groups year after year who have been seduced by not only the spectacular setting, award-winning cuisine in the famed Flooded Gums restaurant and acclaimed wine list to match, but the attentive and friendly service that underpins everything the facility offers.
As a Coffs kid, the beauty of the golf course is that you don’t in any way feel that you are in Bonville; you could in fact be anywhere on the planet. It’s rare to even cross paths with other golfers during the course of your round, making it an experience that feels as though it has been reserved for the sole use of you and your playing partners.
One of our Top 100 Courses judges visited Bonville in April and said that he had never seen the course in better condition as Australia’s answer to Augusta continues to become more and more beautiful with age.
Yamba Golf and Country Club
Wedged between the inlet of the Clarence River and the pristine beaches that make the area such a sought-after tourism destination, Yamba Golf and Country Club delivers the ideal holiday round of golf with large, undulating greens presented in immaculate condition, a challenging layout that won’t fleece your bag of golf balls and an inviting clubhouse with a menu that is highly regarded by locals and visitors alike.
The first four holes work away from the clubhouse to within a well-struck wedge of Pippi Beach and with small watercourses littered throughout the layout, there is enough interest to keep you on your toes.
Yamba was the host of the final tournament of the ALPG’s Club Car Series in February when the quality of the course saw the cream rise to the top. Former LPGA member Sarah Kemp edging out former Ladies European Tour member Stephanie Na by a shot with a round of four-under 69. Another feature of golf at Yamba is the proliferation of kangaroos that call the picturesque fairways home, making it 18 holes of golf that you won’t soon forget.
Byron Bay Golf Club
When snaking your way north up the Hinterland Way past the Macadamia Castle, it’s never been too much of a stretch to find a reason to slip off the east coast’s primary artery and head into Byron Bay. Our country’s eastern-most point has all manner of activities to tempt you and in the past decade or so golf has been added to that list.
The first iterations of the golf course stretch back to 1957 with the layout expanding to 18 holes in 1983, but it was an injection of funding courtesy of Harvey Norman supremo Gerry Harvey that saw it elevated from pleasant country track to a layout deemed worthy to host the Australian PGA Seniors Championship. That event has a roll call of winners that now boasts such luminaries as Ian Baker-Finch, Peter Senior, David Merriman and Steven Conran.
Another critical factor in the transformation of Byron Bay has been the arrival of course superintendent Shaun Cross, who in 2014 was awarded the Excellence in Golf Course Management honour from the Australian Golf Course Superintendents Association. Not only are the playing surfaces immaculate, but the landscaping throughout the course creates a soothing environment in which to play, even as the layout that rewards precision and strategy over pure power is testing every facet of your game.
“The condition of Byron golf course is equivalent to any top notch course you’d play anywhere. Shaun does an immaculate job,” says Shane Jacobs from Flog Golf Tours, which services the northern New South Wales region. “They’ve done a lot of work over the past 10 years and it’s a really tough challenge.
“It’s not a long course but if you miss the greens chipping around Byron is very, very tough. If you miss it in the wrong spot it’s one of the hardest courses I’ve played for getting up-and-down. You’ve got to be Phil Mickelson to get it up-and-down from some of the spots out there.”
Sanctuary Cove Golf and Country Club
Quite simply, there has never been a better time to be a guest of Sanctuary Cove than right now.
Whether staying at the sumptuous InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort and all its accompanying luxury or merely taking the opportunity to play at one of the finest golf facilities in the country, the experience for visitors is on par with that which the residents and members enjoy 365 days a year.
The only way for golfers to do Sanctuary Cove, particularly if you wish to play the Arnold Palmer-designed Pines course – is with the Memorable Escapes package that includes one night’s accommodation at the InterContinental, full buffet breakfast for two and 18 holes of golf at The Pines.
Crafting the perfect blend of seclusion and accessibility, InterContinental offers pure escapism with its iconic one-acre beach lagoon, culinary experiences throughout the resort in The Fireplace and all-new The Verandah Bar, and easy access to the marina precinct. With a playground of memorable experiences both in and around the Resort, you may just find your luxurious escapism will require more than a single night to experience completely.
If you can stay for two nights and have the clubs in tow you must also take the time to play The Palms, a course that was transformed by course architect Ross Watson in 2011 to emerge from the shadows cast by the more established layout next door and blossom into a routing regarded by our Top 100 judges as one of the best 50 courses in the country, sitting only three rungs below The Pines course.
Where The Pines golf course is a beefy 6,581 metres from the tips and regularly challenges you to drive the ball into the right portion of the fairway plus hit canted putting surfaces with long irons over water, The Palms is a proposition that is more likely to have you scratching your head and wondering, ‘How did I make six from there?’ as you head to the next tee.
Such is the dramatic nature of the greens that while large, approaching them from the wrong angle is the equivalent of golf suicide as the folds and ridges will spit your lovingly caressed ball to the farthest corner of the green.
But perhaps the most exciting news at Sanctuary Cove in the past 12 months has been the opening of Arnie’s Café at the Country Club, complete with a 140-square-metre deck that looks over The Palms’ 18th green, first tee and seventh green that gives you something to look forward to regardless of how well you play.
Links Hope Island Resort
Making a home at Hope Island can come with a million-dollar price tag but given the changing nature of golf consumption in the modern world, management at Links Hope Island have made it much more accessible to become a golfer’s home club.
Regarded by many as among the top-three golf courses on the Gold Coast and ranked No.37 in our most recent ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the country, the Thomson, Wolveridge and Perrett design remains largely untouched since its opening almost 25 years ago and boasts immaculate presentation virtually 12 months of the year.
The tropical setting that is dotted by bunkering more commonly associated with Scottish courses makes Links Hope Island a unique experience and, when the southerly starts to work through, a very challenging test from the back tees.
Formerly operating under a private equity membership model that made access for visiting golfers problematic, Links Hope Island has opened its doors more to green-fee paying guests in recent years as well as introducing more flexible membership options to local golfers.
The club is now offering a Sunday-to-Thursday membership that doesn’t hit the hip pocket quite so hard, as well as a twilight membership that provides access to one of the finest layouts in the land seven days a week after 2pm.
If you get to the Gold Coast with your golf clubs among your luggage, you simply have to set aside time for a round at Links Hope Island.
The bright lights of the Gold Coast are an easy trap to be lured in by. They beckon not only our golf sensibilities but also those of our nocturnal nature and given the abundance of courses at our disposal, many simply – and very happily – make that their annual pilgrimage.
But if you peer even just a little below the belt that separates Queensland from New South Wales, you will uncover a flourishing golf destination that boasts the rare offering of quality courses at affordable prices.
Beginning where many journeys end, at Byron Bay, the Byron Golf Club has become one of the most admired courses in the country for its conditioning, with course superintendent Shaun Cross awarded the AGCSA’s Excellence in Golf Course Management in 2014.
To the south you have Ballina Golf Club with the sea breezes that waft along North Creek making for an ideal holiday hit, as nearer to the border there are two quality and highly contrasting offerings at Ocean Shores Country Club and Murwillumbah Golf Club.
A member at Ballina for the past 30 years, Shane Jacobs saw the potential in the region as a golf destination five years ago and began operating Flog Golf Tours from Ballina to the Gold Coast. He says visitors often marvel at the high quality of these courses that they had largely never heard of before.
“I’ve played all of these courses in this area plenty of times over the course of 30 years and I thought it was time we started to share them a bit with golfers from other parts of Australia,” Jacobs said of this largely undiscovered golf hot spot.
“We now have direct flights in to Ballina from Sydney and Melbourne so if people want to escape the cold down south and play some golf while they are here, we can get them on wherever they want to play without the hassle of having to organise tee-times.
“A lot of the clubs around here need social players to keep their courses going so they’re always willing to fit visitors in and because I’ve got such a good rapport with the clubs, I can manage the times around comp days and other events.”
And if you think a coastal getaway with three games of golf is going to bite too much into the annual budget, Jacobs can facilitate a two-night golf getaway for groups from two to 30 starting at $299 per person.
“The price for golf in northern New South Wales is really quite cheap when you consider the quality of courses that you are getting on and the condition that they are being presented in,” Jacobs said.
“We’re pretty lucky because Murwillumbah is a hidden gem and because it’s out of the road a little bit, people just drive straight past it.
“The people around the area and even around the Gold Coast, they come down and play all the courses down here because with the new highway it’s only an hour away now.”