Lying approximately halfway between Sydney and Melbourne on the NSW South Coast, the small regional town of Narooma is home to great natural wonders, including one of this country’s most visually striking courses.
The name ‘Narooma’ is said to be derived from the local indigenous language word meaning ‘clear blue waters’. To this day, the azure waters are famously pristine and have become the playground for migrating whales.
These same waters also provide the spectacular backdrop to the opening holes of the beautiful Narooma Golf Club – an 18-hole jewel that marries the finest and most enjoyable elements of links and parkland golf in a single round.
Narooma has been cemented in the top half of this magazine’s national ranking lists for more than two decades. The par-72 was ranked at No.22 in Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses in the nation in January; the highest position it had ever achieved in that list.
To those that have ventured to the small coastal town and its golfing gem, this ranking history is far from a surprise. Having regularly played the course for the past 35 years it is certainly no shock to me. Narooma was the first course I played as a young golfer that really excited me and opened my eyes to the wonder of good course design.
More than three decades on from that first experience and I still love standing on Narooma’s 1st tee knowing what lies ahead. The layout has changed very little since it was extended to 18 holes in 1980 by the club’s then course superintendent John Spencer. It was Spencer who routed the course away from the picturesque oceanside holes to the dramatically undulating inland holes that were carved through dense tall timber country.
The high standard of its conditioning is also a wonderful constant. I cannot recall any time where I felt disappointed by the presentation of the course, in particular the greens. The putting surfaces, for mine, are arguably the best to be found between Sydney and Melbourne.
“The putting surfaces, for mine, are arguably the best to be found between Sydney and Melbourne.”
The opening six holes are links style and are played on the cliff tops above the Pacific Ocean before the layout turns inland for the following ten holes which are played on fairways lined with enormous ancient gums and other native trees. The final two holes are back above the ocean and are susceptible to the prevailing southerly winds whipping up the coast.
Two holes really hug the cliff line.
The 330-metre par-4 2nd starts from an elevated tee, which drops steeply to the luxuriant, green kikuyu grass fairway. The majority of drives slam into the fairway as it rises again to bend left around the cliff top. Anything from a long iron to a wedge may be needed to cut across the bend, and a deep bunker, to hit the putting surface. Taking the safe route to the right of the green can also find a bunker well short.
Narooma’s signature hole is the par-3 3rd hole, which mesmerises even the best players with the view from the tee and what lies between you and the green. Measuring 141 metres from the back markers, the tee shot must carry over the edge of the ocean to find the putting surface. Known as ‘Hogan’s Hole’ after it featured in a Paul Hogan TV commercial in the 1970s, the tee shot is fraught with danger with the ocean claiming balls mis-hit left or struck long of the green. A sea cave carved out of the cliff beneath the green makes this hole one you will never easily forget.
The 458-metre par-5 5th hole can be easily reached by longer hitters when the conditions allow. The fairway heads to the south east and is exposed to any southerly breeze but, when the wind drops, the green can be reached. The putting surface is perched right on the edge of a cliff about 30 metres beyond a large fairway bunker on the right edge of the fairway, which can complicate matters for any player choosing to lay-up with their second shot. A birdie here is well-earned as the subtle slope of the green can be difficult to read.
The first par-5 on the back nine, the 460-metre 11th, brings into view some of the largest gum trees on the course. Your drive, from a tee nearly 50 metres above the fairway, must find the right of the sharply doglegging left fairway, and avoiding fairway bunkers left and right of the driving zone.
RIGHT: The 18th green is perched high above one of Narooma’s pristine beaches. PHOTO: Brendan James.
Once you are around the corner, the fairway rises and falls like a roller-coaster past three bunkers beside the green laid out on a plateau and, again, surrounded by more massive trees.
Any golfer who likes to pull their driver from the bag at every opportunity will relish the driving challenge Narooma presents. All the par-5s are very good driving holes, and perhaps the best par-4 driving hole is the 344-metre 15th hole. With a tee cut into the side of a hill, you are faced with a drive to a fairway that sits diagonally to your approach and features a lake running the entire length of the left edge of the hole. The best position from the tee is in the right half of the fairway to leave a straightforward approach into a wide green.
The 450-metre par-5 18th, another great driving hole, is perhaps the best naturally designed hole on the course. The fairway slopes markedly from left-to-right toward the oceanside scrubland and ti-tree for the first 280-metres of the journey before narrowing at the 90 degree dogleg to the right. A deep hollow dominates the corner of the dogleg and only the most regular player at Narooma knows where to aim over the scrub to cut the corner successfully with a long approach. There are no landmarks visible, just the sky. The final 100 metres to the green is breathtaking. Nothing but the aforementioned famous azure waters can be seen behind the large green. Once you reach the putting surface, the view extends out to Montague Island and its lighthouse that dates back to 1881.
Narooma presents the kind of golfing experience you will want to go through again and again. The nature of the design dictates no two rounds are ever the same and you will need to use every club in your bag each time you tee it up. Perhaps, more importantly, every round here is fun and memorable … you can’t ask for much more than that.
LOCATION: Ballingalla St, Narooma, NSW, 2546.
CONTACT: (02) 4476 0500.
DESIGNER: John Spencer (1980).
PLAYING SURFACES: Kikuyu fairways and tees, bentgrass greens.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Brendan Warby.
PGA PROFESSIONAL: Colin Holmes.
GREEN FEES: $60.
MEMBERSHIPS: A variety of membership categories are available at Narooma Golf Club. Full membership costs $920 a year with a $100 entrance fee. For country membership, those figures drop to $650 and $75 entry.
ACCOMMODATION: Narooma Golf Club has close associations with several accommodation houses near the course. Opposite the 7th fairway sits Amooran Apartments, which offers views across the course and to the ocean beyond. Visit the club’s website for further options and play and stay deals.
RANKING: No.22 in Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses in Australia, 2019.