THE first cut I made as a pro golfer was in 1996 at the Schweppes Coolum Classic. I finished towards the rear end of the field and banked a cheque for only $422, but that week started my love affair with the then Hyatt Regency Coolum Resort. When Coolum became host to the Australian PGA Championship in 2002, I thought my Christmases had all come at once.
I’d already won at Coolum in 1999 at the Coolum Classic and as a graduate of the PGA’s three-year trainee program, the PGA Championship had always been on my ‘favourite tournaments to win’ list. Coolum fit my eye perfectly from tee to green so it was really just a matter of getting hot with the putter on the greens. Then there was the resort itself. The players and families were always so well looked after the entire week while Coolum’s village square became the central hub for everyone during the evenings. With an eclectic range of casual restaurants, an outstanding wine shop and constant live music each night, the week had a very relaxed party atmosphere.
I managed to win there again at the 2006 Australian PGA Championship. After a long run of near-misses, it was an incredibly special win and came after one of the most dramatic days I’ve ever experienced on a golf course. During the final day, Peter Lonard and I had a shootout for the title with the lead switching back and forth between us on several occasions. Eventually, I teed off on the last hole with a one-shot lead but decided to prolong the drama by three-putting and forced a playoff. Finally, on the fourth extra hole, I hit the bunker shot of my life and watched my ball disappear into the hole for birdie to claim the title. The celebration that night in the village square with my wife, kids, parents, and friends is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
In all, Coolum hosted 11 Australian PGA Championships and when news came of the tournament changing venues to the RACV Royal Pines Resort, it saddened a lot of the pros as well as the local community on the Sunshine Coast. Coolum had become a staple on the Aussie tour calendar with everyone looking forward to wrapping up the year there. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast sometimes and the Aussie tour was forced to make the change after unsuccessful negotiations with Coolum’s new owner, Clive Palmer.
Our final year there under Palmer’s ownership was interesting, to say the least. A 26-foot high Tyrannosaurus rex oversaw the 10th tee while an American flag was spray-painted right across the ninth fairway in memory of JFK. What any of that had to do with the Australian PGA Championship is beyond me. It was certainly a strange way to end our run there.
Royal Pines isn’t Coolum, but that’s the beauty of moving tournaments around to different venues because each one will have its plusses and minuses. It’s an outstanding resort on the Gold Coast and they’re continually making improvements each year, especially with the overhaul of the golf course not too long ago. It’ll take time to establish itself like Coolum did but when an Australian PGA Championship is on the line, that’ll be the furthest thing on everyone’s mind.