WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: BRENDAN JAMES

Marsh's bunkering, like this huge offering on the par-3 4th hole, is a memorable feature of the layout. Graham Marsh's bunkering, like this huge offering on the par-3 4th hole, is a memorable feature of the layout.

By the late 1990s, residential and commercial development of its surrounds virtually landlocked the course in the regional centre’s CBD.

Plans to relocate away from the centre of the CBD were first tabled in 2004 when the club was told by council it planned to build a transport corridor, including a train line, through part of the course. The writing was on the wall, so when the club was approached by Babcock & Brown with an incredible deal worth tens of millions of dollars, it was an offer too good to refuse. But the global financial crisis and the subsequent collapse of the global investment firm put a swift end to that deal by the end of 2008.

The collapse of the Babcock & Brown deal left Horton Park at a crossroad and the members were divided as discussions continued about the club’s future. Some wanted to stay put, some were keen to sell up and buy nearby Twin Waters and the remainder wanted to build a new course and relocate.

In 2011, the Sunshine Coast Regional Council paid the club $42 million for its 53-hectare site with a view to redeveloping Maroochydore’s CBD into a commercial and entertainment hub for the coast. But where would the club go? The proposal to buy Twin Waters was put to a member vote twice, and was twice rejected.

The club then ramped up its search for a new home and the board met with the likes of former Open champion and Sunshine Coast-born Ian Baker-Finch as well as the design firm of Ogilvy Clayton to inspect sites within close range of Maroochydore. But it was a 102-hectare stretch of flood-prone former canefields at Bli Bli – about seven kilometres north-west of the original course – that was eventually chosen and purchased by the club, with Graham Marsh winning the commission to design the new course.

“Most of the preliminary work was complete and council was pressuring us to move,” said club general manager Charlie McGill. “The council were happy for us to purchase Twin Waters because they could move in straight away and start developing Maroochydore’s new CBD. But the members voted against buying Twin Waters and the council served us with resumption papers.”

From the clubhouse you can see right across the course and north to Mt Coolum. From the clubhouse you can see right across the course and north to Mt Coolum.

It took more than three years to build the club’s new par-72 course and modern clubhouse, but with the last drinks being served at the old club on May 31, the first rounds were played on the newly named Maroochy River Golf Club the following day.

Given the flood-prone nature of the property, the land profile was raised considerably during construction and provided a relatively blank canvas for Marsh to create a layout, which needed to appeal as a challenge for players of all standards.

He has hit the mark on that front. The expanse of land allowed Marsh and his design team to offer wide fairways, big greens and four tees on each hole. The broad avenues of play are welcoming to the high handicapper or casual player, while the accomplished player is offered the opportunity on most holes to take a more aggressive line – skirting a scheme of bunkers or a water hazard – to get a shorter or more straightforward line to a flag.

The par-4 10th is a fine example. From the tips, the slight dogleg-right hole stretches to 390 metres but the shortest route to the green is to take on the first of three bunkers near the right edge of the fairway. Big hitters can carry the first bunker but they can get a bounce into one of the two smaller traps beyond. The safe playing line wide of the sand leaves a longer shot and also beings a harder approach where a bunker short left of the green is more in play.

The bunkering is a real feature of the journey. The shape and size varies a lot, and while the depth of many leans towards the shallow side, they are visually intimidating enough to make you second guess your club selection or playing line.

The only hole devoid of bunkers is the 399-metre 18th, which ranks as the hardest hole at Maroochy River courtesy of its length and the only forced water carry during the round. It is a tough closer that may have been inspired by similar holes that regularly feature on the professional circuits. With water all down the left side of the hole – and separated from the slight dogleg-left fairway by a wide cut of rough – few players will willingly drive to the left half of the fairway. Shorter hitters will need to lay up short of the water hazard, cutting the fairway off from the green that lies beyond, and rely on their wedge and putter to make par.

Water cuts across the 18th hole, separating the green from the fairway. Water cuts across the 18th hole, separating the green from the fairway.

There are water hazards scattered right across the layout, with hazard stakes to be seen on 14 of the 18 holes, but it is only with the clubhouse sitting in front of you and 17 holes behind you that it can have the greatest impact on your scorecard.

That said, in nearly all cases the water hazards don’t really come into play and they only become a worry when you hit wildly away from the broad fairways. Even on the 136-metre par-3 12th hole, where a lake borders the entire right side of the hole, it is possible to hit away from the water and still have a chance at making par.

It is early days for Maroochy River. The landscape is still quite sparse, which you might expect from what is meant to be a links-style layout. There have been dozens of saplings planted but, like the water hazards, they are predominantly well away from the playing lines.

Despite still being in its infancy, the playing surfaces at Maroochy River and, in particular, the Bermuda TifEagle greens are superb. Marsh’s green contouring and variety of shapes have been complemented by the already smooth rolling surfaces and are a lot of fun to putt on.

It will be interesting to see how Maroochy River matures over the next few years but it is already of a standard where it can rightfully stake a claim for consideration among Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses.

THE COURSE

LOCATION: David Low Way, Bli Bli, Queensland.

CONTACT: (07) 5373 1000.

WEBSITE: www.maroochyrivergolfclub.com.au

DESIGNER: Graham Marsh (2015).

SLOPE RATINGS: Men: 127/125/122/115; women: 122.

PLAYING SURFACES: Greenlees Park couch (tees and fairways), Bermuda TifEagle (greens).

COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Pat Pauli.

PGA PROFESSIONAL: Sean Seymore.

GREEN FEES: $50 (18 holes), $30 (9 holes), $38 (cart).

THE CLUB

MEMBERSHIPS:

There are six membership categories available, including seven day men’s memberships costing $1,016 annually, while ladies cost $1,014. There is a joining fee of $1,500. Juniors (under 18) pay $196.10 (boys) and $197.60 (girls).

CORPORATE GOLF:

The club can offer your company exclusive day-long use of the course on Corporate Fridays, while the new clubhouse has been designed for impressive flexibility – the function room opens on to an al fresco terraced area to accommodate larger groups.

RECIPROCAL CLUBS:

Clubs with full rights include Ballina GC (NSW), Coolangatta Tweed Heads GC (NSW), Royal Hobart GC (Tasmania), Eastern GC (Victoria) and The Grange GC (SA).