By Evin Priest
Since the mid-1970s, Narooma Golf Club has held a star on Australian golf’s walk of fame. When comedian Paul Hogan filmed a Winfield cigarette commercial on the third hole, he didn’t just leave behind a fitting name for an iconic par-3 perched high above the Pacific Ocean. Inadvertently, Hogan took a course from relative obscurity and announced to the golfing world a small-town layout with big-time scenery – panoramic vistas of the Tasman Sea enjoyed for almost the entire front nine. Forty years on, this New South Wales South Coast club is embarking on a mission to stay relevant; at least more than the cigarette ads that catapulted it to fame. And it begins with an economic, yet tasteful, alteration to the world-famous Hogan’s Hole.
Taking in the sweeping ocean scenery during the first seven holes at Narooma, a golfer could be forgiven for thinking, This can’t get any better. But beneath the surface of this majestic setting, maintenance issues come with such proximity to the ocean. The bunkering at Narooma has fallen by the wayside but the board has recognised and responded immediately, approving a move to convert some of the existing sand traps to British links-style pot bunkers.
The 141-metre third currently features a grassy hollow in front of the green that was once a bunker. Club president Geoff Lanham admits removing it was “a backwards step”.
“The plan is to put that bunker back in again, possibly with a revetted face,” says Lanham.
“The bunkering on the front nine is so exposed to the wind it makes maintenance very difficult. The trap on Hogan’s Hole was taken out for the right reasons but I think that was a backwards step to get rid of it.”
Any architectural change to this renowned par 3 is sure to cause attention in the golf world. After all, the third at Narooma proved a golf course doesn’t have to be world-class to have a truly great hole. With a tee box perched on the edge of a cliff, a carry across the surf and waves crashing against the rocks, the third is reminiscent of California’s famed Cypress Point. In addition to the third, the board has given the green light to install a pot bunker greenside at the par-4 second.
“Just like they do on the links courses in Scotland and Ireland, pot bunkering will prevent a lot of the sand blowing out of the traps on our coastal holes.
“The bunker in front of the green at the second has also been approved and both should look fantastic when it’s finished.” While the second and third are the headline acts, the par-4 fourth and par-5 fifth are a memorable supporting cast. Both feature blind tee shots that prove to be a fantastic contrast to the spectacular sights on offer closer to their putting surfaces. Watch the waves coming into shore while you putt out on the fourth, while the approach into the fifth feels as though you’re hitting towards the edge of the world.
A Different Setting
From the eighth hole, Narooma takes a turn into heathland for a completely different style of golf. Dramatic changes in elevation makes playing among gigantic gums and other native trees a challenge, uphill and down dale. The highlight on the back nine is the par-4 15th – a driver’s hole measuring 344m. The fairway wraps elegantly around a lake that runs the entire length of the left edge.
“It turns into a different course on the back nine,” says Lanham. “It’s just as demanding as the front nine but it plays differently because you’re not as affected by the wind.”
The closing nine returns to the coast for a dramatic finish, and the par-5 18th provides a thrilling second shot across a gorge. Longer hitters can reach the green in two with a powerful fade around the dogleg. From the green, views of Glasshouse Rocks to the south are monumental.
Narooma Golf Club’s most valuable asset is undoubtedly its coastal views, and the club wants to capitalise on its proximity to the sea. An outdoor deck has been approved and will be constructed in front of the clubhouse before the end of 2016.
“We want to encourage people to play golf and then come into the clubhouse,” says Lanham. “You can see the ocean from inside the clubhouse and bistro but we want to have that wow-factor from the outside, as well.
“We’re in a small town and want to keep the club economically viable, so the outdoor deck is our major project this year. We can’t wait for golfers to be able to have a drink and talk about their rounds. It will be special.”
The club is also planning for the future by attempting to reach out to Narooma’s younger generations, with plans afoot to establish weekly competitions for both Narooma primary and high schools. Teenage students already come to the club for weekly sport and several have even signed up as members.
“We’ve got an ageing population of golfers here – our average age is around 64,” says Lanham. “Narooma is so popular for retirees and visitors, but we’re trying to get younger people in for a competitive game of golf. We feel if we can get young people in to play now, they’ll come back later in life.”
While Hogan’s Hole steals a lot of Narooma’s limelight, there is much more to see and do in this gorgeous seaside town.
The most popular tourist attraction away from the course is whale-watching. And while you can see these majestic creatures from the links occasionally, seeing them from up close and personal on a charter is a must during the migration season between September and November.
“Recently, I was putting out on the fifth green and I could hear something slapping against the rocks,” recalls Lanham. “I walked closer to the cliff and saw three whales – one was a baby – slapping the water with their tales, just playing and enjoying the water. But that isn’t rare; you see it all the time on this course.”
Nearby Montague Island houses the only known colony of Australian fur seals in NSW and the 11 kilometres of sea between the island and mainland Narooma is abundant with marine life. In addition to water creatures, aquatic thrills such as canoeing, kayaking, fishing and surfing have visitors returning to this holiday haven. The good news for golfers is Narooma has four golf packages which can be customised, as well as stay-and-play deals with the neighbouring Amooran Oceanside Apartments & Motel. The 4-star accommodation has delightful views across the course and Montague Island.