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Sapphire Coast NSW, Regional Review

by ausgolf Editor Selwyn Berg 2009

At the southern tip of the NSW Coast, under 6 h drive from Sydney, and just a little further from Melbourne lies one of the prettiest golfing regions of Australia. And if you prefer there are daily flights from both capitals to the Regional Airport at Merimbula, a thriving holiday village with hosts of accommodation options, splendid restaurants and cafes with decent coffee, clubs and trendy boutiques for fashion and surf wear.

Blessed with a marvellous, temperate ‘mountain’ climate and superb beaches it is no wonder that Australia’s first residential golf development (Tura Beach) started here some 30 years ago.

At the height of the terrible drought now gripping South East Australia, the Sapphire Coast offers golfers an oasis of lush green fairways courtesy of above-average rainfall and an abundance of recycled water at the principal courses.

Tura Beach Country Club (right)

Designed by Thomson-Wolveridge in the early 1980s Tura Beach has been ranked No. 17 in NSW and No. 92 in Australia. It consistently ranks amongst the Top 100 Public Access Courses in the Golf Course Guide, and certainly remains capable of challenging the strongest player whilst providing an enjoyable round to all golfers regardless of ability.

The club is renowned for its breathtaking ‘million dollar views’ across the course and out to the Pacific Ocean.

Carts are highly recommended particularly on the hillier back nine set in magnificent Tura forest, whilst the front nine boasts some links-like holes beside the beach with sounds of crashing surf. The course provides it all - bunker and water challenges on many holes, blind tee shots and some doglegs, but accuracy and course management rather than big hitting are required to score well.

Fairways are a mixture of couch, kikuyu and cool season grasses, whilst the greens of Bent and Poa can be lightning fast. Putting on some of the double-tiered greens can be quite frightening; even if one attempts to keep the approach beneath the hole and remembers that ‘the ball always runs to the sea’. Recently appointed superintendent Aaron Miller has done a fine job, and assisted by a supply of recycled water the course is green year round and home to ample birdlife including bellbirds and parrots.

Greenside bunkers are typical Mike Wolveridge design, cut below the greens with steep faces to negotiate on escape.

The 5th hole is often considered the signature hole – 181m with water carry all the way to the green.

The 11th is a relatively short par 5 at 470m, but water and greenside bunkers complicate the approach, especially for the stronger player who is able to carry the drive bunker off the tee and set up a long second to the green. As with all great holes there are options for those who choose to lay up with the drive and second.

13 is a delightful par 3 played from an elevated tee, to a green which is reached by passing through a shady fairy dell.

In fact the card features six par 5s and five par 3s which all add variety and interest to a round where the fabulous views can partly compensate for a poor score. The magnificent clubhouse overlooks the entire course and the surf beach, and is the ideal spot for a meal and a drink.

Tura Beach is just a five minute drive from the many accommodation options in Merimbula, and has ample time sheet opportunities for visitors. This is a must play course for the region.


Pambula-Merimbula Golf Club (right)

With 27 holes of lush kikuyu fairways and excellent highly manicured large, gentle greens this course winds through a native forest setting with ferny gullies, flowering shrubs and an excellent mix of tall timbers. Everywhere there is attention to detail, including bench seats and clear signage.

There are interesting fairway undulations and a few fairway bunkers plus a bit of water to avoid, but the course is easily enjoyable for golfers of all standards with wide fairways and no long grass roughs to swallow the errant ball. Typically the local kangaroos will bear silent witness to your game.

The layout is a great walk, with rubberised tracks along many of the concrete cart paths which cater for those who prefer the luxury of riding one of the huge fleet of electric carts.

I loved hole 23, a par 5 with a strategic drive bunker on the left that narrows the landing zone for the stronger player, whilst not disadvantaging shorter hitters. There are two well-placed bunkers to the right before the green, and a greenside bunker that cuts across the left approach.

The fabulous modern club house commands views across the course and is complete with all the expected gaming and dining options. Of course there’s a fully equipped Pro shop and there’s an excellent wide practice fairway with distance markers.

Opposite the Club is the Best Western Fairway Motor Inn with a variety of well-appointed rooms, BBQ, tennis, pool and spa. It’s walking distance to the surf beach, and to one of the best restaurants in Merimbula.

Eden Gardens Country Club (right)

This parkland layout features many fine native eucalypts that dictate lines of play on the lush kikuyu fairways. The second nine was laid out to a John Spencer design in the 1970s and is hillier and more challenging than the gentler front nine with doglegs, creek crossings and water carries. The greens on both nines are a real test of putting ability with excellent surfaces and plenty of undulation.

Well formed cart paths provide the leisurely option for golfers who choose to ride in the brand new fleet of silent electric carts.

I loved the short 6th hole – a dogleg par 4 of just 296m rated the easiest on the course. It demands a precise layup to the centre of the dogleg, followed by a crisp short iron played to work with the slope left of the green and avoid the bunker front right.

The 12th rates as the toughest hole, and is a 390m par 4 that hugs a creek from tee to green. Playing well away from the hazard simply lengthens the hole. The 13th is a steeply uphill hole with a cluster of three bunkers that will challenge the strongest of hitters from the tee. The landing area beside these traps is narrow, so another option is to lay up and take a longer club to the green.

Downhill par 5s are always great fun, and golfers will love the challenge of the 15th, where a huge gum beyond the curving fairway beckons the drive. Again at 17 there’s a chance to launch the ball from an elevated tee safely down the left side of the fairway and set up a thrilling water carry to reach this 444m par 5 in two. The cautious player can keep his second shot wide and dry and pitch it close for a birdie putt.

For the golfer with time to spare the two resident directors of golf Loraine Lambert (former winner of the French Open) and Lisa Newling are both PGA AAA rated teachers who provide extensive tuition services.

Directly opposite the course, Golf View Motel, Eden provides comfortable rooms, a barbeque area, swimming pool and spa.

Bega Country Club

Just 20 minutes drive inland from the coast lies a gem of a country golf course. At 5819m, par 72, ACR 70 Bega is both an interesting and challenging layout set on beautifully undulating countryside. The course is an ideal walk amongst splendid huge gums. It’s also a fun course to play, with few bunkers and very little rough, but rather the slopes, doglegs and magnificent trees that create the challenge.

The kikuyu fairways are quite lush yet firm, thanks to excellent drainage and adequate water availability from the area’s relatively high rainfall and some river water. The greens are Poa and Bent and can be exceptionally firm and fast.

Tee times are plentiful and visitors are encouraged to join in the Members’ comps.

Bermagui Country Club

This is a beautiful seaside course overlooking the lovely town of Bermagui and its beaches with panoramic vistas across the Pacific Ocean to Mt Dromedary.

The course requires a stout constitution to negotiate some of the hills on the 6085m, Par 72, ACR 72 layout, but carts are available if desired.

There are several strategically placed bunkers and water is in play on many of the holes, with a creek to negotiate on four holes. The 15th hole, a par 3 of 164m is virtually all water carry to the green. The lush fairways however, are particularly wide and forgiving.

Other regional attractions include excellent deep see fishing off Bermagui, horse racing, dolphin and seasonal whale watching, Eden Whale Museum, award-winning cheeses at Bega and Aboriginal heritage around Wallaga Lake.

A little further north from Bermagui is the must-play clifftop course at Narooma, ranked No. 48 in the 2009 Golf Course Guide - visit our feature page here

For information on golf tours to the Sapphire Coast please e-mail travel@ausgolf.com.au.

The writer was the guest of Sapphire Coast Golf, the local courses,  Golf View Motel Eden, Fairway Motor Inn Merimbula, Crown Apartments Merimbula.