WHEN Australian Golf Digest first asked Graham Marsh about his latest creation on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, the prolific architect described it as “one of the worst looking sites we’ve ever worked on in our life. All you could see was canefield and nothing. Absolutely featureless site, absolutely nothing to show for it.”
With a membership partly displeased about having to be displaced from their former home at Horton Park Golf Club, Marsh and his design team needed to deliver a course that, while a polar opposite to its predecessor, would be quickly embraced by a sceptical membership. What he delivered at Maroochy River Golf Club was a wide-open playing field reminiscent of Scotland but in a tropical setting; and a further 12 months on the course is maturing into a modern masterpiece.
Twelve months ago Marsh stated that the “golf course will be driven by the subtlety of the landscaping and the general development as it starts to grow”. When we spoke to him again in December at the Australian PGA Championship, he spoke glowingly of the job course superintendent Pat Pauli and his staff have done in the establishment of the turf.
For reigning club champion Luke Parker – who spent a year on a golf scholarship at the University of South Carolina Aiken – the management of the turf conditions has been key in bringing out the course’s true characteristics.
“I was speaking to one of the greenkeepers recently and they thought they hadn’t done enough but I think what they’ve done in 12 months has been unbelievable,” Parker told Australian Golf Digest. “It was extreme links, I would say, but now that they’ve put a lot of effort into developing the course the fairways have developed really well and it’s a lot softer and there’s less run. It’s just so much more lush now. It’s awesome.
“When it first opened it was so dry and the ball would run out so much that the course didn’t really play how it was designed to be played. Now that the fairways have developed and there’s a lot more growth, the course plays how it should play and it can only get better from here.”
Like most course superintendents, Pauli isn’t so much focused on what has been accomplished the past 18 months but what can be achieved in the next 12. Part of the furniture at Maroochy River since the days at Horton Park stretching back to 1982, Pauli is giving plenty of attention to the soil profile in the green sites as well as continued improvements to the presentation of the fairways. Yet he says it is the landscaping and growth of the plants and trees within the course that has seen the greatest transformation.
“For a course that everybody said had no trees on it, it’s amazing what has gone on there,” Pauli said. “We’ve got a full-time gardener who has put a lot of effort into that and after we put the right plants in it’s been quite astonishing actually to see how they’ve reacted to it.”
With little topsoil placed onto the top of fairways during the construction phase, Pauli and his team of eight greenkeepers have been pouring nutrients into the fairways, including some good old-fashioned composted cow manure from feedlots in the Darling Downs. The result is not only a more even coverage of quality turf but also some extra grass under the ball that has been welcomed by the membership.
“We needed more grass,” Pauli conceded. “Members were finding it difficult enough with the wind and the way the greens were perched up into the air. There were some struggles chipping off those tight lies and getting the ball into the air, so I was reading that loud and clear. Some of the high handicappers like to have a little bit more grass under their ball and to their credit the board has thrown some money at it and we’re starting to gain ground on it in that regard.”
A Player’s Course
There are few more popular boasts in the world of club golf than members telling anyone who will listen that theirs is a ‘player’s course’. The inference, of course, is that you must be a golfer in the true sense of the word and have (largely) complete control of your golf ball in order to score well.
The guise of Maroochy River’s expanse that is free of anything growing much beyond waist height is that it is there for the taking, and with six par 4s of less than 350 metres from the blue tees that it can be easily overpowered. But even with fairways with more give than they possessed this time last year, this is a course that can be equally wrestled and also finessed with similarly effective results.
Or disastrous consequences.
Maroochy River has attracted and developed a host of low handicappers who guided their A grade pennant team to an undefeated season in 2016 – right up until the final against Caloundra played at Tin Can Bay Golf Club. It was a devastating finish to an otherwise unblemished season, but doesn’t sway Parker from his belief that good golfers are drawn to Maroochy River and their games improve the more they play there.
“I played in the Black Swan, which is a Monday comp that anyone can play in, and it was blowing an absolute gale,” recalled Parker, who has a best round of 6-under 66 at Maroochy River. “I had 3-over but I felt like I had 100, it was that hard. You’re grinding every single shot thinking, This is never going to end.
“There was one hole, the 130m par-3 4th, where I flat out hit a 7-iron 110m, the wind was that strong. It was insane. That green seems big but because of the wind your dispersion narrows so much and it’s actually really hard to hit that green. Left is absolutely dead, long is dead, short’s dead and it really is like a par 3 you’d find in Scotland. You really have to control your distance so perfectly and that northerly wind can be pretty fierce.
“It’s good for us as a pennant team because we play at one of the hardest courses you can play at. It’s really good practice for us.”
For Pauli, the unique style of the course design and flourishing flora has put the club in position to capitalise on the creation of a course unlike any other in one of Australia’s most popular golf destinations.
“Not everybody likes that style of design, but I think Graham Marsh has done a good job and it’s certainly something that you don’t see much around south-east Queensland,” Pauli said. “We should stick with it because once it gets a bit more mature people will come here and say, ‘Geez, that was all right. That was a bit different.’“
Maroochy River general manager Charlie McGill grew up playing golf just 30 minutes from St Andrews in bonny Scotland where he perfected the “low stinger”. He says his new home gives him a sense of the old world that is playable for all golfers.
“While I understand the frustration the wind causes to the players, it’s all part of the challenge,” McGill said. “At 6,400m from the black tees it can be a monster if the wind blows, but contrary to popular belief, the wind does not blow all the time and we do have five sets of tee boxes to give players an option to play the course they think will make for an enjoyable game. Our members may come in for a beer afterwards a bit wind-swept, but deep down I believe most of them enjoy the challenge the course and the elements throw at them.
“Pat and his crew have to be congratulated on what they have done in such a short space of time. It will only get batter and it is my belief that in four or five years’ time this course will be second to none on the Sunshine Coast.”
Maroochy River Golf Club
David Low Way, Bli Bli, Queensland 4558
Phone: (07) 5373 1000