It’s just like a big country town.”

It’s meant as a term of endearment. A way of saying despite its size, a city still exhibits those good old-fashioned values that regional hubs hold so dear. Just as being referred to as a “hidden gem” sounds good in a marketing meeting, it’s in fact a backhanded compliment that suggests people are unaware of your existence.

A vibrant city of more than two million people doesn’t want to be referred to as “a big country town” and as the city invests in new entertainment precincts, a $158 million cruise-ship terminal and larger infrastructure, so too have Brisbane’s best golf clubs invested in their future.

Starting with the opening of Brookwater Golf & Country Club in 2002 and followed by Royal Queensland Golf Club’s dramatic transformation under Mike Clayton in 2007, the likes of Indooroopilly, Brisbane, McLeod and Gailes golf clubs have all taken measures to improve their experience. Nudgee Golf Club, on the north side of Brisbane, had to cede some land due to the upgrade of the Gateway Motorway but is now progressing with a James Wilcher masterplan that will see the club return to a 36-hole facility within two years.

The Sunshine Coast to the north and Gold Coast to the south are well-known golf destinations, but Brisbane is poised to emerge from humble roots to take its share of the spotlight.

Brisbane's Best Golf Clubs
Brookwater will this year better promote its ties with course designer Greg Norman.

Shark Sighting

When ‘golf’ and ‘Queensland’ share accompanying space in your brain, it’s next to impossible for the image of the ‘Great White Shark’ to not come to mind. Named the second greatest Queensland athlete of all time by the Courier-Mail in November, Norman’s impression on a generation of golfers was immense and his legacy carried forward through his design work.

When Norman returned to Brisbane for the opening of Brookwater in 2002 the city gasped in wonder and now, in one of those ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ marketing inspirations, the club is set to capitalise like never before. Coming in March will be the inaugural ‘Shark Attack’, a back-tee challenge open to men and women with a handicap and a Sunday to spare. The club will host just four a year with the top five qualifiers from each to advance to a final where the winner will receive a trip for two to Hawaii’s Mauna Lani Resort. And play Brookwater’s closing four holes in even-par and you will receive a shirt that will put you in very exclusive company.

As part of a more visible connection with Norman and the Great White Shark branding, Brookwater will soon unveil ‘Shark Alley’, assigning an identity to the final four holes in the same manner as the ‘Bear Trap’ at PGA National, ‘The Green Mile’ at Quail Hollow and, of course, Augusta National’s ‘Amen Corner’.

“We had a lot of new people coming to the facility who had no idea that Greg Norman was the course designer,” explained Declan McCollam, Brookwater’s current general manager and the director of golf when the course opened 17 years ago.

“He’s designed The Glades, Pelican Waters, Brookwater and The Grand, but if you asked someone who is visiting Queensland I’m not sure they’d be able to tell you which courses were Greg Norman designs. By introducing ‘Shark Alley’ and the ‘Shark Attack’ concepts, we are aligning ourselves with a brand that people recognise throughout the world and which is associated with products of the highest standard.

“To this day people know about Greg Norman and who he is and what he did for golf in Australia. It’s important that we don’t lose that identity.”

The introduction of ‘Shark Alley’ is not the only exciting initiative at Brookwater in 2019, with a $60,000 two-day pro-am consisting of both the Legends Tour and Ladbrokes Pro-Am Series in April and a new ladies-only amateur event called ‘Fashions on the Green’, managed by another Australian golf icon in Wayne Grady.

A New Standard

As Brookwater has undergone some course modifications undertaken by Norman in the past two years, a number of other Brisbane clubs have made significant improvements to their layouts.

Brisbane Golf Club, host to the Isuzu Queensland Open for the past three years, was remodelled by Ross Watson in 2007 but it was a greens replacement program that saw Ultra Dwarf Bermuda Champion grass used for the first time in Australia that elevated Brisbane to new heights.

Brisbane's Best Golf Clubs
Brisbane Golf Club has improved vastly in recent years

Coming in at No.96 in the Australian Golf Digest Top 100 Courses ranking in 2016, the improving greens surfaces combined with a layout that poses interesting questions saw it rise 15 places to be ranked 81st in the country in 2018.

Legendary Australian wicketkeeper Ian Healy is just one of a number of prominent Queensland sportspeople who call Brisbane their home club. Once as low as 10, Healy now plays off a handicap of 14 but is adamant he is at least four shots shy of where he should be. In addition to the membership and quality of food in the clubhouse, Healy says it is the diverse challenge the course provides that keeps him wanting more every time he plays.

“What I like about Brisbane is that you have to hit a real bad shot to lose a ball. You can get yourself into trouble with bad shots, but if you play well you will score well,” says the man most commonly known as ‘Heals’.

“Every time I play Brisbane, I leave thinking I could easily go out and play a few more holes. It doesn’t take everything out of you. Coming up the 18th with the clubhouse behind the green, I always walk up there thinking, I’d love to go out and play a few more, and that’s not always the case. You’ve got to play well to score well but it doesn’t take all of your energy.”

Brisbane's Best Golf Clubs
Nudgee Golf Club is undergoing changes for the better.

While Brisbane’s changes have been largely subtle, Nudgee Golf Club is about to emerge from a difficult period in spectacular style. The expansion of the Gateway Motorway up to the Sunshine Coast necessitated the club giving up four holes but with operational works approval now in place, the process to return to a 36-hole facility is about to begin.

Long-time consulting architect James Wilcher will build between 24 and 27 completely new holes over the next two years with drainage improvements that will introduce a wetlands feel to parts of the course and improve playability when those notorious South-East Queensland storms hit. Throughout construction, 27 holes will remain open at all times to accommodate both members and visitors with excitement already growing as to what lies ahead in the near future.

“The club has certainly been in a holding pattern but that has now finished and Nudgee gets to re-establish itself as a 36-hole complex,” says general manager Darren Richards. “There’s a great sense of excitement around the club now because the course works will start early in the new year and the members will see the new holes taking shape as we get back to 36.

“It’s actually a great time to become a member at Nudgee because we’ve got a brand new course on the way – the first new course in Brisbane for probably 20 years – and 27 holes in play at all times so you’re not going to miss out on any golf in the process.”

Where Nudgee has in the past had difficulty in getting water off its golf course, McLeod Country Golf Club is now benefiting greatly from a new irrigation system that has members raving about the standard of course presentation. Although course superintendent Craig Clarke is constantly looking for ways to improve its conditioning, McLeod’s members say it is the best the course has looked in 30 years, raising a layout with movement, elevation change and ‘wow’ moments on almost every tee into one of Brisbane’s best.

Brisbane's Best Golf Clubs
McLeod is a sneaky-good sub-6,000-metre layout.

And, like Brisbane’s tag of “a big country town”, don’t let the word ‘Country’ in the club’s name fool you; the course is just 20 minutes from the CBD and is becoming an increasingly popular location for corporate days, weddings and functions. The clubhouse has already undergone something of a facelift with more major improvements in the offing, while general manager Sean Kennedy hinted at some new initiatives the club is exploring.

“We’re really excited about the fact that golfers are becoming more aware of what we have to offer here at McLeod, but we’re always looking at ways to bring new people into the club,” Kennedy said. “Whether it’s coming in for dinner or a beer after work, we want to be known as a place where everyone in the community is welcome.

“We introduced Footgolf a little while ago in the afternoons from Sunday to Friday, which has proved to be very popular and there’s also a project in the works that will make McLeod very appealing to families that we’re very excited about.”

Most famous for hosting the Australian Open in 1955 won by South African great Bobby Locke, Gailes Golf Club – then known as Goodna Golf Club – hosted Gene Sarazen in 1934, 10 years after its opening, with the great American proclaiming it as being of the highest standard.

“That Goodna layout is first rate. I was tickled to death to be able to play there,” Sarazen wrote in the Courier-Mail after an exhibition match alongside Joe Kirkwood. “If it had Royal Queensland’s greens it would compare with any championship courses we have. I’ll bet that course develops some players because they have to play golf there.”

Brisbane's Best Golf Clubs
Gailes is a past Australian Open venue.

One junior to emerge from Gailes in recent years is Bronson La’Cassie. An outstanding performer at the University of Minnesota, La’Cassie won the Tour’s Cox Classic in 2013 to earn a 2014 PGA Tour card. He has since returned to complete his PGA Bridging Course as a trainee at Gailes and is in awe of the quality of the course at present, having hosted the Men’s and Women’s Queensland Amateur in August, an honour the club will have again in 2019.

“Even going back to when I was a junior, every year the course feels like it gets better and better but the greens have never been better than they are right now,” La’Cassie said. “The club received a grant for a pump station and the fresh water that is now going onto the greens is making a huge difference.

“There are a lot of dogleg holes here so you’ve got to be able to control your ball flight and there is a lot of movement in the greens. You don’t realise until you go and play somewhere else how much movement there is in the greens here so it’s really important to try to stay below the hole.

“It’s a really good test and with the deal the club has been running lately, it’s got to be close to the best value golf in Brisbane.”

Like the city itself, the future of Brisbane’s best golf clubs in ‘Brisvegas’ look very bright indeed.

Healy’s Keepers

Ian Healy didn’t pick up a golf club until the family moved from Brisbane to Biloela in Central Queensland.

With his father taking up a job as a bank manager in the small community 120 kilometres west of Gladstone, the local golf club became a place to get to know the locals. When his mother also caught the golf bug and bought herself new clubs, young Ian got in on the act.

Once his cricket began to flourish, Healy returned to complete his schooling at Brisbane State High and took full advantage of the school’s close proximity to Brisbane Golf Club.

“I came back to Brisbane when I was 17 to go to Brisbane State High and we had PE golf at Brisbane Golf Club,” says Healy, one of the greatest gloveman to ever keep wickets for the Australian cricket team.

“Not only did they have an excellent driving range for classes, but at that stage they also had a par 3 course down in the back corner. After school I went to Teacher’s College right near Victoria Park, so we would go and play golf between lectures all the time. I was a member at Pacific Golf Club for a time when my young bloke, Austin, started to play when he was four or five years old and we were living at Coorparoo, and then a few years ago I came back to Brisbane.”

“Every time I play Brisbane, I leave thinking I could easily go out and play a few more holes.”    – Ian Healy

Given his profile and down-to-earth personality, Healy is a popular guest at corporate golf days across the city and has seen the vast majority of Brisbane’s golf clubs presented at their best.

“Royal Queensland obviously has a great reputation but I think some of the strategy is a bit lost on me,” Healy joked. “You shouldn’t be approaching some of those greens from the angle we come in from, but at least it gives you the chance to have a crack if you can play a decent shot.

“Keperra’s a really good course and also seems to be very progressive in its thinking, and it’s always fun to go out to Brookwater and challenge yourself out there.”

Now living in Brisbane’s Southbank area, Healy also has some local insights into the growing culinary offerings found within the River City.

“I now live in Southbank, right in the city, and we’re spoilt for choice around there,” said Healy, who played 119 Test matches in his career and completed
395 dismissals.

“If it’s casual I’ll go down to Fish Lane near QPAC, but even that’s starting to get a bit trendy for me. Eagle Street has got Madame Wu, Sake, Cha Cha Char and Jellyfish. And then down in Fortitude Valley they’ve got places such as LONgTIME, Honto and Little Valley. They’re modern Asian restaurants and owned by the same people who have Rick Shores down on the Gold Coast.

“We’re getting more distinct precincts now in Brisbane and there are more on the way, which is great.”

Brisbane’s Best

Brisbane Golf Club

Par 72, 6,105 metres

Brookwater Golf & Country Club

Par 72, 6,469 metres

Gailes Golf Club

Par 73, 6,280 metres

Indooroopilly Golf Club

West course: Par 72, 6,469 metres East course: Par 72, 6,114 metres

Keperra Country Golf Club

Old course: Par 72, 6,082 metres

McLeod Country Golf Club

Par 71, 5,880 metres

Nudgee Golf Club

Bay course: Par 71, 5,988 metres

Pacific Golf Club

Par 72, 6,242 metres

Royal Queensland Golf Club

Par 73, 6,443 metres