After more than a decade working in the United Arab Emirates, Simon Payne is leading a new era for Moree Golf Club.

Simon Payne has dived into the wonderful flood fightback effort of Moree Golf Club after spending more than a decade proving how golf can flourish in the desert.

The contrast is striking for the PGA member of more than 20 years and new general manager of the popular golf hub in northern New South Wales. Water and golf, right? You can’t live with too much and you can’t live without it.

Payne, 51, has embraced his new opportunity after 17 years in the United Arab Emirates where he transitioned from head golf professional to general manager at Tower Links Golf Club.

The Brisbane-bred GM’s enthusiastic style is already proving a good fit with a club built around strong community links and a loyal player base in Moree.

“The course and the pro shop were metres under water in the big floods last year. This is a recovery story that beggars belief and built on a strong volunteer group and staff who have done an amazing job,” Payne said.

The culmination will be hosting the $25,000 LDC Moree Legends Pro-Am from September 21-22.

Payne has only been in the GM’s job since March and admitted the sudden change of scenery hit him.

“It still spins me out. I’m seeing this green-ness again, the maturity of the gums, the sounds of kookaburras and galahs,” he said.

Payne’s golf journey began as a junior at Pine Rivers Golf Club in Brisbane before embarking on his PGA training at the now-defunct Gold Coast Country Club at Helensvale. He picked up
pro-am wins at Horton Park and Pioneer Valley on Queensland’s old “Troppo Tour” as well as at Torquay in Victoria and Adelaide Shores more than two decades ago.

Jumping out of his comfort zone was a big attraction of moving to the UAE. His exit strategy had a very Aussie flavour.

“I flew out the day after the 2005 Melbourne Cup. I’d bought a $20 mystery trifecta at the Hamilton Hotel [near Eagle Farm Racecourse] on race day,” Payne recalls with a smile. “It got up – Makybe Diva and the placegetters – so I picked up $3,500.”

He also packed his game for his first stint as head pro at Dubai Country Club because he was sharp enough to earn the UAE PGA Order of Merit three times and represent the UAE PGA in teams competition in Spain. But the golf culture that comes so naturally to Australians was not always so obvious in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah near the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

“It was a wonderful setup at Tower Links [one hour up the highway from Dubai International Airport]. It was basically the private course of the sheikh, and everything was very well maintained on the edge of a mangrove reserve,” Payne said.

“Some locals would drive their Land Cruisers onto the 17th fairway and set out a picnic rug for lunch during a comp. They had no concept it was a golf course. They saw it as a big, green oasis. Like the guys who’d turn up with their falcons to train them, nothing was done disrespectfully.”

When the time came to return to Australia, Payne was made aware of an opportunity through an old mate and former head professional at Moree, David Wright.

He’s quickly connected to the community feel of Moree Golf Club and new head professional Darren Burger. Working side-by-side with Burger, Payne is hoping to initiate a five-hole loop of night golf from shortened tees to the greens around the clubhouse.

“We see it as a way to get more ladies interested in the game with a casual 45 minutes on course with two or three clubs,” Payne said.

He is also looking forward to Moree Golf Club showing its appeal at the Legends Pro-Am: “The 17th is a wonderful par 3, just 140 metres or so over the Mehi River to a postcard green framed by gums. The course is in top shape, and we can’t wait to show it off,” he said. 

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