The Gold Coast’s original destination golf club is looking better than ever after an extensive renovation of its greens and bunkers. And there are more changes on the horizon.
Standing in front of the clubhouse and looking out over the vast acreage of tree-lined fairways, it’s hard to picture in your mind that golfers once trekked only nine holes at Coolangatta & Tweed Heads Golf Club.
For the first 13 years of its existence on its current site – having moved south from Kirra in 1927 – on the western bank of the Tweed River, there was just nine holes available but the first steps in the expansion of this club began with the completion of a second nine in 1951.
But the growing popularity of the course during the late 1960s and early 1970s planted the seed of an idea to expand even further with a second course and extensions to the clubhouse. A third nine was opened for play in 1974 and just seven years later, the club became home to a 36-hole complex comprising the West and River Courses and covered 101 hectares.
The first half of the 1980s was an exciting time for the club with streams of visiting golfers, a growing membership and thousands of punters from just north of the border trying their luck on the pokies, which were then illegal in Queensland. The golf course construction boom that would grip the Gold Coast well into the ‘90s was still a handful of years away, which made Coolangatta & Tweed Heads the ‘must play’ venue in the region.
Its highly-regarded reputation was further enhanced when it hosted Tour events like the Queensland Open as well as the World Senior Match Play. Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Bernhard Langer, David Graham, Payne Stewart, Graham Marsh, Ian Baker-Finch, Steve Elkington and Greg Norman have all teed it up on the banks of the Tweed. Back in 1986, Norman claimed his state Open here by six strokes, to continue his winning streak of tournament wins to four. (His run would come to an end at the Australian PGA three weeks later and after six straight victories).
In the 32 years since Norman’s victory, Coolangatta & Tweed has remained one of the most popular clubs on the Gold Coast despite not being in the same spotlight it enjoyed in the 1980s.
If anything, the courses at Coolangatta & Tweed Heads are better today than they were when the stars regularly graced their fairways. The 2017 rankings of Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses certainly reflect that, with the West Course listed at No.91 and the River Course at No.76. Given the amount of renovation work that has been carried out on both courses during the past two years, it would surprise if both courses don’t rise higher in the Top-100 when the next ranking is published next month.
The West Course is marginally longer than its River course neighbour and, over the years, it has become a much tighter layout with the maturing of trees, although the ground staff does a terrific job to make sure the playing lines are relatively clear.
For mine, the par-5s are a standout, with the 480-metre 4th hole being the most memorable in terms of the visual appeal and a test of your ball-striking. The first half of the journey is between tall stands of native gums before the fairway opens up to reveal a lake flanking the right edge of the fairway. Only the biggest hitters will be tempted by the long carry over the water to the green, tucked beyond the hazard and to the right of the fairway. Surprisingly the hole rates No.16 on the index, which suggests the conservative player who keeps the water out of play is a good chance of making par or better.
In the 35 years I have been travelling to Coolangatta & Tweed to play golf I have always preferred the River Course (by a nose). Its demand on accuracy and placement of shots makes it a terrific challenge despite only being 5,919 metres from the back pegs.
It is a heavily treed layout and no more so than on the short par-4s at 11, 12 and 13 as well as the par-5 14th. These holes have been routed through and around a clump of rainforest, so you can imagine what the likely scenario is after a mis-hit shot. Reach into your bag and reload with another ball.
The 310-metre ‘L’-shaped dogleg left 12th is a tough hole, with a gently rolling fairway that is beautifully framed left and right by rainforest. The key to a good score here relies on you finding the fairway just beyond the turn to leave a short iron into a putting surface ringed by rainforest and bunkers.
Heading to the next, the terrain gets a little more dramatic between tee and green. The 13th fairway ebbs and flows like a series of waves en route to a deep, narrow putting surface that is surrounded by steep drop-offs and a lone bunker short and right. While the approach on the 314-metre hole requires little more than a short iron, the uneven lies make the shot a tricky one.
Both courses have undergone upgrades in recent times – including bunker and green renovations through grass conversions and redesigns – to elevate their quality.
On the West Course the putting surfaces were converted from Bentgrass to TifEagle, with several greens being reshaped and made bigger during the conversion. These greens now resemble more closely the TifGreen 328 greens on the River Course, which were changed from Bentgrass nearly 20 years ago.
There is further change on the horizon as the club edges closer to its centenary in 2026. Last year, the club announced a joint venture which will see a 10-year multi-stage development – pending approvals – that includes construction of a new two-storey clubhouse, car park, cart storage facilities and maintenance shed as well as a residential community boasting a marina and medical centre.
But for golfers like me, the two ever-improving courses will firmly remain the club’s star attractions.
LOCATION: Soorley Street, Tweed Heads South, NSW 2486.
CONTACT: (07) 5524 4544.
DESIGNERS: There is no designer credited with the original nine-hole layout. Other designers have included Geoff and Ted Parslow, Peter Williams, Richard Chamberlain and Graham Papworth.
SLOPE RATINGS: West: Blue 129, White 128 and Red ladies 128. River: Blue 120, White 119 and Red ladies 127.
PLAYING SURFACES: TifGreen 328 (River course greens), TifEagle (West course greens) and couch (fairways and tees). Some tees are now being converted to Zoysia, which performs better in the shade.
GREEN FEES: $55 (18 Holes), $35 (9 holes).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Peter Lonergan.
MEMBERSHIP: The membership year runs from July 1 to June 30 and pro rata fees are available. There is currently no joining fee for any category, which starts with the full playing membership for $1,668. A five-day membership is $1,427. Both include a $250 house levy.
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: NSW (Cobram Barooga, Belmont, Kogarah, Kooindah Waters, Lithgow, Monash, Nelson Bay, Oatlands, Pambula-Merimbula, Port Macquarie, Tamworth, Tenterfield, Muirfield, Hawks Nest); QLD (Keperra, Ipswich, Maroochy River, Pacific, Townsville, Toowoomba (Middle Ridge), Rockhampton, Warwick, Half Moon Bay); VIC (Gardiners Run, Northern, Yering Meadows); SA (Victor Harbour, The Vines); WA (Mt Lawley); TAS (Tasmania, Devonport, Royal Hobart); ACT (Yowani, Federal); NT (Alice Springs).
CORPORATE GOLF: Coolangatta & Tweed Heads can cater and operate a unique package for any group whether it be 20 players or in excess of 120. The club will assist with planning and co-ordination in the lead up to as well as on the day of your event.