By Brian O’Hare
EACH year the PGA Legends Tour celebrates the final month of its season with the Tour Championship at Byron Bay Golf Club and after playing a few rounds at the course it is easy to see why the event and the venue is so popular with so many of the Legends players.
Byron Bay itself of course now has an international reputation as a thriving holiday destination with magnificent beaches and natural features, a thriving live music scene, great restaurant and cafes, alternative lifestyles – and traffic, particularly at Christmas time.
Under the circumstances, it’s probably not strictly true to continue to label Byron as “laid-back”, though it does still proudly parade it’s (recent) heritage as a town for surfers, hinterland hippies, yoga teachers, backpackers – and a good smattering of famous faces.
A sign on the road into town displays the area’s unofficial but widely accepted motto: “Cheer up, slow down, chill out”; and that’s probably an excellent mode to adopt if you’re visiting the region, joining the many moving in, or just struck in the holiday traffic in Johnson Street, the main street.
Johnson Street and its surrounds are much better – and more interestingly – traversed on foot than in any sort of motor vehicle – just like a golf course really.
I saw the local ethos in action one morning in a CBD side street when a motorist – who knows if they were a visitor or a local – made the unfortunate decision to blast their horn when they couldn’t immediately drive to where they wanted to drive.
A nearby barefooted gentleman unselfishly gave the motorist the benefit of the region’s wisdom, to paraphrase saying: “Cheer up, slow down, chill out – and keep your hand off that bloody horn.”
The Byron Bay Golf Club is certainly a place you should keep the regional wisdom in mind (as we say, as long as you’re keeping up with the group in front). To play such a beautiful course in such a beautiful location and not be aware that all you are really there for is the fun and enjoyment would be a crime.
Perhaps it was all the meditative, yogic, mindfulness; the incense and vanilla essences wafting through the surrounds, that led us to turn up at the course with the laser like focus to play just like a US PGA TOUR player – actually just the bit where they continually repeat they are just playing one shot at a time and not worrying about the score or any else.
From our balanced tantric perspective it was obvious that what happens at a golf course is only that the clubface strikes the back of the golf ball; everything else you make up.
And I had lots to make up. My first game at the course was my last of 2017, in the Saturday comp the day before New Year’s Eve. The second game was my first of 2018, in the Wednesday comp. Then I played the first Monthly Medal of the year, in the following Saturday comp off the black tees. Significance muchly.
I knew before arriving the course had a great reputation, was ranked inside the Golf Australia Magazine Top-100 Public Access Courses rankings, but had also seen comments it was a little hilly.
The first positive was when paying for the round, which turned out to be a very affordable $40 which is great value for a Top 100 course (Social players $49).
When I asked about the “hilly” comments head pro Greg Stewart (or was it one of his helpful staff that first visit) basically said: go out onto the back deck of the clubhouse, look up, and all will be before you. I followed his advice and it didn’t look too bad. I also thought what a great time all the “Legends” would have sitting out here on this attractive deck of a lunchtime/afternoon/evening, having a libation, and reflecting on their rounds, their years – and life in general.
My aging electric buggy had carked it the previous day but fortunately I had bought the Concourse buggy as a backup and decided to pit it against the inclines.
The elevated first tee is adjacent to the clubhouse and teeing off you get an excellent view down to the fairway below. I love courses like that … where you tee off from an elevated area and walk down, into the fray as it were, into the arena of the day’s competition – leaving all your worldly worries behind you.
A couple of hundred metres from the first tee the fairway begins a gradual incline, but not too dramatic. And so it would be similar for a number of holes on the front nine – some persistent inclines but nothing a 64 (and a half) year old found too steep, even using a push buggy. There were a few front nine holes with very elevated tees, but they were short, sharp hills you only had to carry a driver, a ball and a tee up. And again you can take a few deep breaths and appreciate the picturesque view unfolding below you.
Of much more immediate significance than any inclines was the immaculate conditioning of the course, with very hard and fast greens with surrounds manicured to perfection.
I asked a playing partner, a long time member, whether the top conditioning was just a carryover from the Legends championship a few weeks earlier and they said, nope, this is the way it always is.
Having 2014 AGCSA Excellence in Golf Course Management Award winner Shaun Cross looking after the place, it was said, was a big factor.
It was also soon apparent, that though the course is rated as quite difficult (Slope rating 136 of the White tees) there are no big over water tee shots or similar difficulties to frighten off maybe shorter, older hitters. (The 12th hole off the Black Tees does have a bit of a water carry but should be fine for most).
So after a front nine where only the very enjoyable course layout, great surrounds and friendly member/visitor playing partners were getting in the way of anyone trying to focus solely on the clubface striking the back of the ball, came the back nine, and even better news.
The back nine is almost perfectly flat, which is perfect planning design for the older body. ( I think the Legends play the course in reverse, but they can’t have everything their own way.)
The back nine is also pretty much a perfectly enjoyable challenge to play as well.
Afterwards, you can sit on that back deck of the clubhouse with your playing partners, maybe have a beer … and smile – like so many before you have done.
Cheered up, slowed down, chilled out.
BBGS Review Extra Notes
- Veteran and other comps. All the club competitions are open to visiting members. Saturdays and Wednesdays are Men’s competition days. Ladies compete on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Veterans (men) on Mondays (just $26), and there is a Mixed competition on Sundays. Every 3rd Friday there is a backmarker challenge off the back tees. Social play is available daily around competition times
- Par 72 with around 450 members
- Byron Bay GC celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2017 and was in the final stages final stages of a turf program that has seen the majority of fairways and some tees converted from Blue couch in favour of the hardier Wintergreen couch.
- The club is located about five minutes south of the main street, Johnson Street, and its holiday traffic jams. My advice to any golfers visiting in peak periods would be to stay anywhere south of Johnson Street and avoid all that mess. Anywhere on the southern side of the main CBD would be good. Closer to the golf club itself there is a large caravan park/resort right across the road and numerous other options nearby.