We’d barely made it out of the quaint little town of Berry on our way home to Sydney when I turned to my better half and declared, “I think we’ve found where we’ll be retiring.”
Of course, by “this” I wasn’t just referring to the cute Shoalhaven town famous for its colourful garden and art scene, as perfect as it was. No, I was talking about the entire coastal strip from Illawarra down to the Victorian border, a region that we know and love as the New South Wales South Coast.
Of its four geographical hubs – Illawarra Coast, Shoalhaven Coast, Eurobodalla Coast and Sapphire Coast – it’s hard to come up with a logical argument for one being more liveable than the other three. Whether it’s waterside enclaves, mountain bungalows, farm acreage or inner-town convenience that gets your home fires burning, you’re well catered for down south.
Water enthusiasts will love the surf conditions, if not some of Australia’s best diving sites, while adrenalin junkies will appreciate the country’s highest zip-line.
Those with a palate for delectable seafood will do well to find fresher shucked oysters anywhere, while beach bums can soak up the sun on some of the whitest beaches on the planet.
All this, though, barely scratches the surface of good times in a tourist hotspot that, remarkably, remains relatively uninhabited. Throw golf into the conversation and the conundrum of where to go multiplies tenfold. Tee-times with spectacular scenery, quirky holes, flawless conditioning and welcoming locals is all part of the charm of bringing your clubs down here.
A wise man once said if you want to experience great golf, visit the Melbourne Sandbelt. But if you want to experience a great golf holiday, then visit Thailand. Well, you can add the NSW South Coast to that list – albeit for completely different reasons.
While there are no Royal Melbourne’s or Kingston Heaths on this iconic stretch of coastline, there are, for want of a better word, real “sleepers” of Australian golf – layouts that don’t need Alister MacKenzie’s fingerprints to have you coming back for more. A series of famous and not-so-famous courses line this coastal expanse with most of the go-to layouts conveniently dotted every 75 kilometres or so along the journey. What more could you want?
“I think the things you notice most about the golf here, especially on the far south coast, are the variety and condition of the courses,” says Australian Golf Digest Top 100 Courses panellist Lester Peterson.
“From Narooma to Bermagui to Tathra, Bega, Tura Beach and Pambula Merimbula, you get lots of variety not only between courses, but within the courses. There is a mix of links-style holes and treelined holes, often within the same course. The cooler climate is ideal for bent greens, with the courses always generally in excellent condition with great putting surfaces. If you avoid peak holiday periods, it can be a very affordable and interesting golfing getaway.”
With the help of our esteemed Top 100 Courses panel, many of whom have taken this great southern sojourn in recent weeks with clubs in tow, here are our suggestions for what could be the most spectacular “club crawl” you ever take…
Narooma Golf Club
You simply can’t drive along the south coast and not have a round here. Sitting on a clifftop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Narooma Golf Club is set on one of the country’s most spectacular sites and is building a mighty reputation for its outstanding conditioning. While forever known for its iconic “Hogan’s Hole”, the intimidating 137-metre, par-3 third that plays directly across the ocean and rocks below, if you think the Narooma experience begins and ends here, think again. There are many more elements to the course. The first seven holes have fantastic ocean views and involve varying changes in elevation with four requiring blind tee shots.
“I could play holes 1 to 7 all day,” says Top 100 panellist Quintyn Fisher.
“Even if you dislike such architecture, it is easy to accept it as being an intrinsic component of the character of these holes,” adds fellow course rater Tony Davis.
Golfers leave the clifftop setting to play holes 8 to 16 which traverse bushland coupled with some areas of steep terrain. “While being a completely different setting, this part of the course is immensely enjoyable and stimulating,” Davis adds. “After being spoilt with the first seven holes it’s probably worth reminding yourself at this point that not even Pebble Beach has every hole on the edge of a cliff!”
Returning to the coastal part of the course, players face the short but demanding uphill par-3 17th and finish with the testing and dramatic par-5 18th, which calls for an approach shot to a green with one of the most breathtaking ocean backdrops to be seen anywhere on the planet.
“Narooma’s first few holes along the ocean have views comparable to some of the best anywhere in Australia,” says panellist Kevin Pallier. “Golfers lather over the ocean views at New South Wales Golf Club, but for mine, those at Narooma are a step up again.”
See Naroomagolf.com.au for more information
Mollymook Golf Club
It refers to itself as “Your beachside destination club” and just a three-hour drive from Sydney sits this underrated gem in a sleepy seaside haven famous for its surf breaks and the world-class Bannisters by the Sea – boutique accommodation offering dramatic clifftop views and a dining experience to die for, headed by celebrity chef Rick Stein. On the fairways, there are two very distinct golf experiences to be enjoyed. The nine-hole Beach course provides stunning views along the serene coastline, while the 18-hole Hilltop layout provides a genuine test in a setting bursting with colourful Aussie bush beauty.
“Mollymook is a great little course boasting excellent changes of direction and elevation,” says Top 100 Courses panellist Tyson Flynn. “For a course located where it is and for the budget it has, the conditioning is great and its many garden beds are visually appealing.”
Adds Pallier: “Mollymook is a much tighter layout than others in the region but it has some of the most interesting contrasts in terrain. The closing holes on each nine test one’s fitness as they climb severely uphill. But, hey, it doesn’t get the name ‘Hilltop’ for nothing, right?”
For panellist Ian Markus, Mollymook marks the farthest point south on his map of golf travels, an experience he won’t forget in a hurry. “The Hilltop course is fun to play, boasting good undulations and a great variety of holes that are always in great nick. Bannisters also do a superb job of adding something a little bit classy down there as a place to stay.”
Not surprisingly, Mollymook is also high on the list for celebrity jaunts, including Aussie rugby league great Jamie Lyon, a golf fanatic who now hosts golf tours. “Mollymook is a sleeper – a great little course you simply have to play,” he says.
See Mollymookgolf.com.au for more information
Calderwood Valley Golf Club
The theme of beauty continues 20 minutes south of Wollongong where the picturesque Calderwood Valley Golf Club sits among some stunning Aussie scenery. Set on 30 hectares of green farmland, the par-70 layout utilises its rugged Illawarra Escarpment surrounds as a backdrop and has left many on our Top 100 Courses panel pleasantly surprised with its offerings.
But the bigger story here is what the club’s head professional Richard Jumrukovski is doing for the sport. Jumrukovski [inset] has set himself the task of helping wheelchair basketball Paralympic medallist Nick Taylor achieve his goal of reducing his handicap from 18 to 12, considered the low mark to date of someone using a ParaGolfer.
They are rewards that can rarely be quantified by scorecards and why both are committed to continue to work hard to raise awareness of what golf can offer for those with either physical or mental disabilities.
The inaugural All Abilities Championship at The Lakes Golf Club and ISPS Handa Disabled Golf Cup last November provided exposure of disabled golf on an international scale, leaving professionals such as Brandt Snedeker and Ian Poulter in awe as they watched the likes of Juan Postigo and Australia’s own Shane Luke showcase their skills.
Shortly afterwards, the PGA celebrated the 100th PGA All Abilities accredited coach in Australia, each of whom are now charged with the responsibility of ensuring that this new movement maintains momentum.
“Most of the time the students are willing to put the trust in me to find a way of getting them to swing the golf club,” Jumrukovski explains. “For someone with an intellectual disability, it might be as simple as making contact with the golf ball; that might be a 10 out of 10 and puts a smile on their face. Holing a three-foot putt. It’s something very simple but it breeds confidence in the golfer.
“Sometimes I have to put myself back into a very simple philosophy of what constitutes a pass mark for that particular person.”
Jumrukovski is one of the 40 per cent of PGA All Abilities accredited coaches to have registered with the National Disability Insurance Scheme. He is yet to process a student through the NDIS but Jumrukovski is hopeful that it will provide a more efficient way of opening up the channel to golf for those with a disability.
“Every different disability has a different association so there’s not that one portal where people can find a PGA pro whether they are blind, deaf, amputee or have intellectual disabilities,” Jumrukovski says. “My name is out there now in the NDIS sector, but there are so many different associations and providers it is hard to get to a parent or a carer and have them consider golf for their son or daughter.
“Once they come and try golf it is a different story. We can get them to participate and then the ones that want to strive towards really improving then they can progress to playing tournaments. It’s just getting that first initial step in attracting that person to the local golf course that can introduce them to the game of golf.” – Tony Webeck
See Calderwoodgolf.com.au for more information
Bermagui Country Club
Don’t be fooled by its low-profile entry and carpark. The surprise that awaits the unsuspecting golfer at the first tee here has so often been the talk of South Coast golf tours. Located just 50 kilometres south of Narooma is the very welcoming Bermagui Country Club, another sleepy little town along the water famous for its rich fishing history.
Rising from flat land, Bermagui Country Club quickly transforms into undulating parkland with amazing views of the ocean and demands accuracy from the tee to negotiate a number of blind-dogleg holes incorporating off-camber fairways.
A feature of the course is its lush kikuyu fairways which, at times, drop away steeply and require the player to carry their approaches to green complexes with receptive and remarkably pure surfaces.
“I nearly didn’t play here as I was so focused on playing Narooma given what people have said about it. But, for me, Bermagui has to be the dark horse of the South Coast,” declares Top 100 judge Fisher. “It has some of the best greens I’ve played on, anywhere – true and very quick.”
“Holes 4, 13, 14 and 16 are visually dramatic standouts,” recalls Davis. “The course boasts a variety of design highlights and is complemented with a number of appealing par 3s. Bermagui Country Club represents good value for money for any visiting golfer to this picturesque seaside town and is well worth experiencing.”
See Bermaguicountryclub.com for more information
Eden Gardens Golf Club
Eden Gardens Golf Club remains one of the Sapphire Coast’s uncharted golf experiences and was described recently by one golf scribe as the Augusta National of the far south coast. Keeping with the theme for much of the south coast golf trail, the John Spencer-designed 18-hole layout throws up a great challenge in some truly stunning surroundings and has just recently attracted a new head pro to its fairways in ex-Sydney trainee Edward Tamsett.
After completing his apprenticeship at Sydney public-access giant The Coast Golf Club, Tamsett is now keen to open the accessibility of golf to both the younger and older demographics of the Eden community, and will approach schools and retirement establishments to introduce them to the game. So what attracted a 31-year-old who has spent his career playing competitively at some of the best courses in Australia and overseas to little, old Eden?
“Eden is such a beautiful town, full of very welcoming people and amazing food,” Tamsett says. “Plus, there’s no traffic. For a first-time head pro like me, I couldn’t have picked a better place to go and I can guarantee visitors are in for a great time when they come here, too.”
See edenfishermens.com.au/golf for more information
Five kilometres out of popular tourist stopover Merimbula is the gorgeous Tura Beach Country Club, a Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge original that wastes little time to knock the socks off its visitors.It starts from the moment you enter the property – golfers are met with a sense of grandeur with a clubhouse perched spectacularly on a hill looking over the course and out to the Tasman Sea. It’s a feeling one of our own knows all too well.
“The Old Course at St Andrews may be the Home of Golf, but Tura Beach was the cradle of the game for me,” says Australian Golf Digest’s Evin Priest, now based in the USA covering the PGA Tour for this magazine. “The rugged beauty of this hilly piece of oceanside real estate left an indelible impression on me, as did a game simultaneously rewarding and frustrating.”
The front nine of Tura Beach combines parklands and links styles as the course plays down to the ocean, before being routed alongside Tura Beach and back up the hill to the clubhouse. The changes in elevation are not lost on anyone, providing many exciting shots while maintaining a balance of flat and steep holes, starting with a thrilling opening tee shot.
“Tura Beach is one of the picks of the South Coast for me, but requires an electric cart due to the extreme elevation hikes and drop-offs you encounter,” says Flynn.
“Tura Beach is such an interesting course with lots of places in Merimbula to stay and make a weekend of it,” says panellist Trace Mitchell, who is a member at Narooma.
And the best time to visit? We’ll leave that to former local Priest.
“If you’re lucky enough to be there after Boxing Day, you’ll see the yachts of the famous Sydney to Hobart race making their way to Tasmania,” he says. “At any other time of the year, a cold drink and 270-degree views of the course and the Tasman Sea will have to do.”
See turabeachcountryclub.com.au for more information
Worrigee Links Golf Course
Located at the Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemens Sports Club, Worrigee Links Golf Course is open every day for travelling golfers and presents a short, yet strategic challenge for those who tee it up.
Resident pro Rob Nancarrow says visitors should brace themselves for Worrigee’s wide-open fairways, well positioned bunkers and large, undulating greens. And then, of course, there are the views to deal with. “With sweeping views over nearby Camberwarra and Coolangatta mountains, this golf course is a rewarding an enjoyable experience, no matter what your level of play,” he says.
It’s little wonder this relatively new traditional links-style golf course – which opened in 2005 – has been a huge hit for the Shoalhaven region. When your round is finished, you can sit back and enjoy the fantastic facilities at the Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemen’s Sports Club. And the cherry on top of the cake is the price – a social round will set you back from as little as $25.
See exservos.com.au/golf for more information