Uncertainty surrounding Palmer Coolum has not detracted from the reputation of the Sunshine Coast being one of Australia’s favourite golf destinations.
Even the locals aren’t sure what to tell you about Palmer Coolum.
The former home of the Australian PGA Championship and acclaimed Robert Trent Jones Jnr-designed golf course has been in a state of flux ever since Clive Palmer introduced Jeff the T-Rex to an unsuspecting golf public.
The 2012 Australian PGA Championship – the 11th in succession and last at Coolum – was beset by Palmer-inspired controversy that very nearly saw the tournament moved at the last minute and a cloud of uncertainty has hung over the property ever since. The former Hyatt-operated resort is now merely a collection of empty housing shells while a threadbare staff continues to operate the golf course.
Sources who have visited Coolum in recent months told Australian Golf Digest that the course remains in more than acceptable condition; others tell you that groups who have booked months in advance are given 24 hours’ notice that the course will in fact be closed on the day they are booked to play.
In a holiday hotspot that boasts a plethora of strong supporting acts, Coolum’s demise as top billing could have represented a sizeable blow to the local economy, but still the golfers continue to come.
“It really hasn’t had much of an impact. We’re still seeing annual growth in our golf tours so clients are still happy to come up here,” says Michael Car from Premier Golf Adventures, specialists in Sunshine Coast golf tours.
“The fact that Palmer Coolum is not a preferred course for the majority of groups hasn’t made any difference because there are so many other courses up here to choose from. It hasn’t had an impact that we’ve seen but I’d put money on it that if it ever got back to what it used to be, that there would be a more significant increase in the number of people coming up here.”
Since Coolum lost some of its cachet, the Sunshine Coast has welcomed Maroochy River Golf Club into the rotation, the former members of Horton Park Golf Club relocating to the Graham Marsh-designed layout at Bli Bli that sits in stark contrast to the other layouts dotted along the coast.
Stretching more than 60 kilometres from Caloundra in the south to the glamour of Noosa in the north, the Sunshine Coast is a destination of choice even for those without clubs in tow but delivers an enchanting blend of layouts for those with golf on their mind.
Water, Water Everywhere
When you think of the Sunshine Coast, many people’s minds turn immediately to mango daiquiris by the pool. For golfers, there are four courses in particular that first come to mind.
Pelican Waters, Twin Waters, Noosa Springs and Peregian Golf are the courses that can be most accommodating to visiting golfers and have recently joined forces to formulate the Sunshine Coast Golf Pass. For $319, you receive a round at each of the four layouts that use a variety of watercourses and careful strategy to provide a demanding test in idyllic surrounds.
Host to the Sunshine Coast Masters that draws some of Australia’s finest golfers in the plus-50 age bracket each December, Twin Waters and Pelican Waters remain top of the Sunny Coast’s ‘must play’ list. The Peter Thomson-Mike Wolveridge design at Twin Waters continues to stand the test of time; its picturesque par 3s capable of inflicting some ugly scores and the medium-length par 4s placing a premium on placement in the fairway.
Pelican Waters was the first publically accessible Greg Norman design ever unveiled in Australia and it too boasts a timelessness that does not look like fading. Where some of the courses bearing the Norman name can almost dare you to hit the hero shot with few other alternatives, Pelican Waters gives the golfer options but always with the enticement of a reward for those willing to take the risk.
With his parents Merv and Toini still residents at Pelican Waters, Norman’s association with the course continues to be strong, although it is his mother’s name that adorns the honour boards most.
“I actually presented Toini with her trophy for her latest hole-in-one on New Year’s Eve 2016 and mistakenly said that it was her fifth,” remembers Pelican Waters Golf Club general manager Andrew Kenny. “She quickly corrected me and pointed out that it was in fact her sixth.
“Toini is now 87 and still plays off 20 and there is no doubt that the association with Greg and the Norman family is something that the members of the club take great pride in.”
Continued financial stress forced Peregian Springs Golf Club to briefly close its doors two years ago, but it has since re-emerged as a thriving public facility just north of Coolum while rebadged as Peregian Golf Course. A number of holes on the Phil Scott-designed layout play through a corridor created by the surrounding residential estates, but the course opens up more on the back nine with water regularly coming into play.
Water is also a feature at Noosa Springs Resort with blue murder lying in wait alongside nine of the 18 holes. After plotting your way down the narrow tree-lined corridors of the opening two holes, water first emerges down the left side of the 481-metre, par-5 third hole – the lake shared with the subsequent par-3 fourth that challenges the brave to take the line over the water in order to steer clear of the back-right bunker.
Like its fellow resort layouts, Noosa Springs is the ideal holiday golf course as it offers opportunities to hit shots that if successfully executed will be the story you tell friends when you return home. And plenty of chances to forget the ones that end up in the drink.
More Than Meets The Eye
The resorts may get most of the plaudits, but look beneath the surface of golf on the Sunshine Coast and you will discover a rich collection of courses that are waiting to be discovered.
Coming on the heels of Coolum’s volatile position in the market, the opening of Maroochy River Golf Club less than 10 minutes from Maroochydore Airport gave visitors to the Sunshine Coast a new toy to play with. Besides Mt Coolum looming in the distance, Graham Marsh’s design team had virtually no redeeming physical features to work with but in the past three years the property has come to life, adding character to the layout without compromising the links-style nature of the design.
As is the case with all new courses the greens have become more receptive but are by no means soft, spitting mis-placed approach shots to the dastardly collection areas that lurk at the edges of so many of the putting surfaces. At the mercy of the wind, Maroochy River boasts far greater detail than might be first obvious when viewing the open canvas from the clubhouse and certainly leaves an impression on those who play it.
“Maroochy River is totally different and that’s good for the region, there’s no doubt about that,” says Car. “It’s a links-style course, which is unique up here, and that can polarise people. I’ve had groups that absolutely love it and want it to be the first course they play the next time they come up here. Then there are others who have an altogether different view of it. It’s just one of those courses because it is so different.”
Although a regular visitor to the Sunshine Coast from his former home in Brisbane, Adam Norlander had never visited Headland Golf Club just five minutes from Mooloolaba until he began working for Srixon. The head professional at Headland for the past three years, Norlander is typical of many people simply unaware that such a fine golf course existed in the hills in such close proximity to the resort courses nearby.
“I was a rep for Srixon in 2008 and I used to call on the previous pro here, John Victorsen, and that was the first time I had ever been there. It was just a hidden gem,” Norlander explains. “Given how close it is to the beach and its proximity to Buderim, which is a beautiful little village, five minutes either side of here is pretty special.
“When I first started here, I rang all the tour operators because initially they didn’t know they could get on at Headland. If we can provide times on a Friday or Sunday when some of the other courses might be harder to get on to, we become a very good, viable option. We’re never going to be their first port of call, but if we can be their club of choice then that is a really good opportunity for us.”
Headland has recently instituted an online booking system that allows visitors to log on and reserve tee-times and the function centre that looks out over the golf course and down to the spectacular coastline below where many new marriages are toasted for the very first time.
It’s a similar case for many courses on the Sunny Coast struggling for recognition alongside the heavy hitters. Noosa Golf Club (formerly Tewantin-Noosa) is a very popular members layout with some public availability and a highly regarded restaurant. Caloundra Golf Club boasts a wide range of Australian wildlife with a collection of scenic holes, while a feelgood story is developing at Maleny Golf Club in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
At its heart, the Sunshine Coast is the perfect winter destination that can be as exciting or as casual as you want it to be, with an abundance of activities away from the golf course to keep every age group well entertained. Aussie World and Australia Zoo provide a perfect day out for families, Eumundi Markets is a popular destination for those with some holiday spending money and the award-winning restaurants such as Noosa’s Wasabi Restaurant and Bar, Spirit House at Yandina and Noosa Beach House provide dining experiences to die for.
And if you like your restaurants a little more laidback, The Boat Shed at Cotton Tree or any of the local surf clubs offer high-class experiences in relaxed surroundings. You can rub shoulders with Queensland rugby league royalty at either Allan Langer’s Alfie’s restaurant in Caloundra or Augellos in Mooloolaba, which is owned by Billy Moore.
For those who fly into Brisbane before making the 90-minute drive north to the Sunshine Coast, Pacific Harbour Golf & Country Club is an ideal starting point. Less than hour from Brisbane Airport, Pacific Harbour is situated amid the serenity of Bribie Island with some distinguishing features that have earned it a moniker as an ‘island links’.
The raised green sites of the Ross Watson design make club selection and execution critical to approach shots, and the layout’s exposure to the prevailing winds a challenge for all golfers to overcome.
The par-3 seventh, with its semi-island green, is appropriately titled ‘Sawgrass’ but it is the back nine where the difficulty intensifies. The par-5 11th and 14th holes share a giant double green, while the par-3 17th boasts one of the biggest bunkers in Australia butting up against a lake that runs the length of the hole and shared with the course’s closing hole.
And whether you’re coming or going, sitting outside on the expansive deck of the clubhouse with a beverage of choice makes for a holiday moment to savour.
It’s little wonder so many chase the sunshine each and every year.