IT’S a good town with plenty of pubs and a really good golf course.”
In this instance Nathan Green was referring to Kalgoorlie Golf Course, more than six hours east of Perth in the West Australian goldfields, but the former US PGA Tour winner could have been describing any one of hundreds of wonderful regional layouts dotted throughout the land.
Whether you head up or down the coast or explore the inland delights our country has to offer, there is a range of high-quality courses that all offer a unique experience with a shared country hospitality.
For many towns across Australia the golf course represents not only a sporting facility but a social hub, and with that comes a sense of pride that permeates all aspects of the club and makes visitors a welcome addition. No matter which state you are in, there are regional courses hosting pro-am tournaments on a regular basis and, as far as Green is concerned, embody the essence of what golf should be.
“I see golf as more of a working-class game, something where you have fun with your mates, somewhere where you’re not feeling like you’re treading on egg shells,” Green tells Australian Golf Digest.
“There are plenty of good country courses out there and the pro-ams I do play tend to be at courses I really enjoy going to. I enjoy playing those types of courses with smaller greens and treelined fairways. That’s the sort of golf I find fun.”
The game that would see Green claim the 2009 Canadian Open was honed on the fairways and greens of Waratah Golf Club in Newcastle’s southern suburbs and he is now helping guide the next generation of golfers at nearby Toronto Country Club.
After seven full seasons on the US PGA Tour, Green has spent the past four years playing PGA Tour of Australasia events and country pro-ams and says it is the people at regional courses that make the experiences so memorable.
“For me, the golfing experience is more about who you’re playing with,” says Green, winner of the 36-hole Wagga Pro-Am held at Wagga Wagga Country Club in March.
“At a lot of these pro-ams we play in, we are playing with people who obviously love their club and are very proud of it and that makes for a really enjoyable round.”
Next time you are on tour with the clubs in tow beyond our capital cities, these are some of the courses that you should add to the itinerary.
One of the great joys of our game is that so much land adjacent to the sea has been dedicated to golf courses and there is a host of small towns whose layouts offer oceanside experiences comparable with anything in the world.
One of the perennial favourites on the Sapphire Coast just on the northern side of the New South Wales border with Victoria is Tura Beach Country Club, a Peter Thomson-Mike Wolveridge design that boasts gorgeous vistas across the Pacific Ocean.
The firm, Bentgrass greens make the end of every hole a challenge while the hilly terrain will provide a solid test of your club choices… not to mention your calves.
Almost equidistant from Sydney and Melbourne, Tura Beach Country Club can be accessed easily courtesy of 90-minute flights with REX Airlines from both major cities.
Further north and the NSW South Coast boasts a range of golf offerings and beachy holiday vibes that allow you to leave the stress of the big cities well and truly in your rearview mirror.
Three hours south of Sydney is Mollymook, a sleepy seaside haven that has two very distinct golf courses to be enjoyed. The nine-hole ‘Beach’ course is perched just above the Mollymook Golf Club clubhouse that provides stunning views along the serene coastline while you enjoy flavoursome fare such as beachside ribs, Atlantic salmon, Clyde River oysters or one of five different styles of schnitzels.
The golf at the Beach course is a social offering across rolling terrain on a tight parcel of land, but the nearby ‘Hilltop’ course provides a genuine test in a setting bursting with colourful Aussie bush beauty.
A little closer to Sydney and Wollongong has a range of layouts, each offering a unique experience to be enjoyed.
Wollongong Golf Club itself is merely a chip shot from Wollongong City Beach and further south on the Windang Peninsula you have Port Kembla Golf Club. Despite being wedged between Lake Illawarra and the Pacific Ocean, Port Kembla has struggled with water issues in the past, struggles that have been rectified courtesy of a recent large-scale water management project.
The course staff, led by course manager Matt Kennedy, have access to an extra megalitre of quality water to use on the course every two days and the results since the implementation of the project last year have been significant. The course is now effectively drought-proof, providing members and visitors alike with superb playing conditions all year round.
“A lot of these country courses have got some really fun holes,” Green says. “I’m just surprised at the condition that the majority of them are presented in considering a lot of them are pretty limited with the resources that they have to work with.”
One of the smaller towns on the pro-am trail is South West Rocks on the NSW Mid-North Coast, about 40 kilometres north of Kempsey, a heavenly hamlet set beside the mouth of the Macleay River.
South West Rocks Country Club offers a variety of dining options – including a bistro and Thai-style restaurant – and the club is able to co-ordinate stay-and-play packages to suit specific needs, including added extras such as fishing and dive charters, courtesy bus and tickets to live shows.
Green finished tied for fifth at even-par – two shots behind champion James Nitties – in last September’s South West Rocks Country Club Pro-Am but doesn’t restrict his visits to the club to just one day a year.
“We go up there and camp at Christmas and play nine holes every day and then do the pro-am every year,” Green reveals. “It’s a great little golf course. There are a couple of driveable par 4s but it was the condition, again, that was the thing for me.
“There were a couple of [strange] things you see at country courses, like trees in the middle of fairways, but there are four or five cracking holes there and no real bad ones. You’ve got to hit some shots, it’s tight and it really tests you. There are a couple of really good par 3s and par 4s that have a fair bit of water around. It’s just a really good typical country course that is being really well looked after.”
Of course, you don’t have to go remote to be regional.
The Cut Golf Course, just an hour or so south of Perth, utilises its exceptional Indian Ocean setting to full effect on most holes. On a canvas that surely gave course architect James Wilcher a variety of ways to flow the 18 holes, he devised a layout that shows off the site’s best attributes.
During the course of a round at The Cut, the sense of escape from the city is palpable for golfers – and the everpresent elements of the seaside location only heighten the feeling.
Port Stephens, just north of Newcastle, is a holiday hotspot for many, including golfers, every year.
Coming in at No.53 in our most recent ranking of the nation’s best courses, Pacific Dunes at Medowie is another Wilcher design whose beauty is only enhanced with each year that passes. Consistently presented in immaculate condition, Pacific Dunes is a quintessential Australian layout within easy reach of the beaches and close to Newcastle Airport, just a 45-minute flight from Sydney with REX Airlines. REX also flies to Ballina and Brisbane, providing access to a host of courses between Tweed Heads and the Queensland capital.
The Gold Coast remains one of Australian golf’s favourite destinations and no trip would be complete without at least one round at Sanctuary Cove Golf and Country Club. The Arnold Palmer-designed Pines is a complete test of your golf game and is ranked inside the top-50 layouts in the country on our most recent list.
Not far behind in the Top 100 is the Ross Watson-designed Palms course that provides public access seven days a week and has a personality all of its own; wild greens and blown-out bunkering making it a visually intimidating challenge with some spectacular holes that will live long in the memory.
But perhaps the greatest addition to the Palms is found after your round inside Arnie’s Café and Bar, the spacious deck with views over the first and 18th holes and a modern menu providing the perfect end to any round.
If life on the land is more to your liking there are a myriad of inland alternatives, each offering something supremely Australian.
Victoria is blessed with a host of wonderful regions just waiting to be explored by golfers, and just 90 minutes west of Melbourne lies the historic town of Ballarat and the accompanying Ballarat Golf Club.
The third largest inland city in Australia, Ballarat came to prominence on the back of the Eureka Rebellion and the frantic gold rush that sparked it, making any visit one of rich historical significance.
The golf course has a rich history all of its own as the oldest continually played golf course in Australia, dating back to 1895, but which has had a recent revamp courtesy of the design team of Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett. Although a land swap with a developer gave Thomson and Perrett an effectively blank canvas, parts of the old third, seventh, 13th and 14th holes were retained, allowing the club to hold on to its place in Australian golf history.
Three-and-a-half hours directly north of Ballarat lies Murray Downs Golf Club, long considered the finest golf experience to be found along the mighty Murray River.
Opened in 1990 and a Ted Parslow design, Murray Downs uses the illusion of space, a variety of challenging water courses and large, undulating greens to keep golfers of all abilities honest. Once ranked as high as 53rd on our Top 100 ranking, Murray Downs is one of the more remote courses to make the list and has been a fixture in the rankings since shortly after it opened.
At the other end of the Murray’s golf course collection – geographically speaking – is its most recent addition and the one now ranked highest in the Top 100.
Owning a special place in Australian golf history as it will be the last of Peter Thomson’s incredible catalogue of course designs in conjunction with Ross Perrett, Black Bull Golf Club opened for play in 2015 and made its Top 100 debut this year in 76th position.
With the vast expanse of Lake Mulwala as a backdrop and the now trademark ‘Bull Ring’ stretch of three holes from the fourth to the sixth, Black Bull is destined to become a favourite of the many golfers who make an annual pilgrimage to the Murray River region.
Just an hour’s drive from Albury on the NSW-Victorian border, Black Bull is easily accessible with flights with REX Airlines operating daily from both Melbourne and Sydney with flight times of just 60 and 90 minutes, respectively.
Like Melbourne, Sydney has a number of weekend getaways within easy reach that offer fine golf, country fresh food and world-class wineries.
The Southern Highlands is a popular region for those who favour rolling hillsides, weekend markets and old-world charm. There are a host of picturesque golf courses to be found with Bowral Golf Club one of the finest, one of eight courses that can be accessed with the Destination Southern Highlands Golf Pass that was launched
Towering pines that line the lush, perfectly manicured fairways transport you to the counties of the south of England with the charming clubhouse helping to retain the ambience of a club first established in 1901.
Two hours north of Sydney lies Hunter Valley Wine Country, one of Australia’s most prolific wine-producing regions and always popular for a weekend escape. Cessnock Golf Club and Hunter Valley Golf are both fun layouts in relaxed settings, but for the past 15 years golf in the Hunter Valley has centred around Cypress Lakes and The Vintage.
Cypress Lakes opened in 1992 and after some recent ownership changes is now back to its best and back among the Top 100 Courses in the country.
A disappointing deterioration meant that Cypress Lakes spent 12 years outside our biennial ranking, but a rejuvenated bunkering program courtesy of James Wilcher and vastly improved conditioning has seen the quintessential Hunter Valley golf experience make a triumphant return.
The Vintage Golf Resort & Spa helped transform the Hunter Valley into a genuine golf destination when it came onto the scene in 2003 and the Greg Norman-Bob Harrison creation has been a regular inside the top-50 courses in Australia since its opening.
Opening with some challenging short par 4s that twist and turn through the rolling topography, The Vintage opens up when you reach the par-5 seventh hole, lined to the left by an adjacent vineyard working on a ‘vintage’ all of their own.
The par-3 eighth is a visual masterpiece that will be considered either a beauty or beast depending on how you fare, while the green of the par-5 10th perched well above the fairway means your third shot has to be just as good as your first two in order to make par.
The Vintage also now has the added bonus of the Chateau Elan luxury hotel on-site, a touch of French elegance within a truly Australian setting with specially tailored golf packages. Not to mention The spa with 17 beautifully appointed treatment rooms waiting to cleanse and de-stress.
South-east Queensland is known for its beaches and theme parks but head inland and there are rich golf rewards to be had.
Kooralbyn Valley is back online and getting better every day and at Toowoomba, 90 minutes west of Brisbane, City Golf Club has established itself as the home of the Queensland PGA Championship.
City Golf Club served as host for the 10th year in succession in February when Daniel Fox edged out a quality field, defeating Matthew Millar and Steven Jeffress by a single shot.
Nathan Green finished tied for 21st in his first visit to Toowoomba and said the course and the city has plenty to offer.
“The clubhouse is awesome, it has three or four different restaurants and it’s a successful club and you can see that they are putting it back into their course,” Green says. “Condition wise it was fantastic, which is why the scores were so good. There are a couple of funky holes but it’s just a fun experience.
“It’s another that’s a really good town with plenty to do. We had a really good time up there.”
Which brings us back to Kalgoorlie Golf Course, the most remote of all regional courses. The WA PGA Championship will be held at Kalgoorlie from May 10-13 and coincides with the 125-year anniversary of gold first being discovered in the region.
The Graham Marsh design that contrasts green fairways with the red dirt of the outback has been open since 2010 and now sits 62nd in the ranking of our best layouts, its many pubs harking back to the city’s formative years at the turn of the 20th century.
“It’s a bit like some of the courses we play in the desert in the States with just the grass and then the red dirt, so it looks amazing, the contrast of the two,” Green says. “It’s a really good golf course and it’s a place I really enjoy going for a week.”
And that could serve as the motto of so many regional golf courses. Like the Kalgoorlie miners of yesterday, look hard enough and you will strike gold, too.