PERHAPS the only thing missing from Nelson Bay Golf Club’s storied history is recognition outside of one of the most popular holiday spots in our country, Port Stephens.
Just about everything else has been squeezed into its 60 years.
There’s been fires, floods, name changes, birthdays, anniversaries…you name it, and it has probably happened in this club’s incredible story.
The bottom line, so to speak is that it seems anyone lucky enough to play there leaves with a smile on their face and a personal rating that far exceeds any ranking that some of our ‘armchair’ experts have ever conjured up.
What began as a nine-hole layout named Tomaree Golf Club in 1961 has blossomed into one of the few 27-hole layouts in country New South Wales, and is one of the busiest golf clubs in the state as well.
Now, as the clubs gears up for some 60th birthday celebrations, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on the path the club has taken to become one of the success stories in Australian golf.
“It’s been an amazing period here since about October,” said Nelson Bay’s livewire general manager Trevor Harrison.
“Every club seems to be doing well through the pandemic. We have been waiting for the next Greg Norman to come along and revitalise golf, not a worldwide pandemic,” said Harrison.
“We are planning some things later in the year to celebrate our 60th.
“Certainly, there have been many major milestones, as you can see from the timeline.
“To go from a $1m debt to go to more than a $2m profit is a place this club has never been in before.
“Golf here is booming…I think there was one spot left in our competition field today. And then there are a lot of social players heading out there as well.
“After the bushfires of last year, we needed plenty of rain, we’ve since got that and the boys have been striping the fairways and the course looks pristine at the moment.
“We had a new members’ night the other night and we all sat out on the balcony to welcome them here and it was just sensational.
“Since we re-opened after losing the clubhouse due to the 2015 fire we now have 1200 golfing members and over 5000 social members. Things could not be better.”
Harrison recalled the old clubhouse was like a little church on the top of the hill with some additions added onto the side.
“All we missed in the original clubhouse was a steeple,” he said.
“An electrical fire in one of the old parts of the clubhouse burned the place down in 2015.”
The club has several members who were there when the club started 60 years ago – and they are justifiably proud of that.
“One of them had a scrapbook and was able to set us straight on a few things when we weren’t sure of exact dates,” said Harrison.
Famous for its kangaroos, the club is proud of the fact they attract so many tourists to the course and despite the fact they have a couple of really big ones, the roos are mostly passive, give you not much more than a sideways glance and just prefer not to be disturbed.
“This place was built by the gentleman who owned the Country Club at Shoal Bay, Len Randall, who saw the need for a golf course here to keep the tourists happy,” said Harrison.
“It went on to become 18 holes and then, in 1998, to 27 holes.
“The mantra for us has always to be open for social play and we’ll continue to carry that banner with some pride.
“We have a marvellous playing group here too and always have had phenomenal numbers.
“Covid-19 has made it different and difficult and at times we were only allowing play in twos, but we’ve dealt with those problems – and there weren’t too many complaints.”
President Peter Fagan said he was proud of the progression the club had made over the 60 years.
“We now have a beautiful clubhouse, money in the bank so we are looking to improve our course and are doing capital works, as we speak,” he said.
“Our biggest issue at the moment is the carpark as there’s only 195 spaces but we are looking at making room for more car spaces and in April we hope to start on the new irrigation system for the whole 27 holes.
Head professional, Maurie Moses, began at the club on January 17, 1994 after spending three years as the professional at the Sheraton Mirage in Port Douglas.
Maurie was the assistant under Brian Ramsay at Nelson Bay, before moving to north Qld.
Maurie’s brother Warren began his PGA apprenticeship under Brian Ramsay and completed his training under Maurie in 1995 when he returned and has stayed on ever since.
The Moses brothers are still the current PGA certified professionals running the pro shop, running clinics and tuition for an extensive juniors’ program and beginners clinics.
Nelson Bay’s Holden Scramble was the largest competition as far as competitors go on the annual calendar.
And the club almost always has one or two teams go the Regional Finals each year.
They had their first winning team in 1998 with Brian Burgess, Brad McKay, Danny Petith, Maurie Moses and Mick Ellis.
“With first-class accommodation on both sides of the club and a short walk to the centre of the town, it’s all about the experience when you visit Nelson Bay,” said Harrison.
“We are happy to do deals for players to play the other courses nearby,” said Harrison.
“It’s all about getting people to the area and showing them there are so many things to do, places to play and stay.
“Overseas travel is still pretty much on the backburners and we are an easy two-and-a-half-hour drive from Sydney.
“So, there really are no excuses not to come here at the moment.”
Harrison says he sometimes feels that Nelson Bay Golf Club is not accorded the recognition it deserves.
Of course, there may be a touch of bias there, but a visit there makes it hard to disagree.
“Just for the amount of golf we do – it’s not like we need the publicity, but we are the second biggest regional club in the state for playing numbers and maybe only Moore Park beats us for rounds played,” he said.
“Sure, this is not a course for the bombers…it’s a course where you have to think your way around.
“We feel like we have the whole product here and we urge anyone who hasn’t been here, come on up and have a look and see for yourself what we have to offer.
“You won’t be sorry…and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Nelson Bay Golf Club highlights from the past decade
- 50th Anniversary of Nelson Bay Golf Club in 2011.
- There are still Foundation Members from 1961 playing golf 60 years on.
- The club received a bequest of $50,000 from the estate of foundation and life members Pat and Joan Petersen.
- In 2011, Tanya and Will Semmens became the contracted caterers and took over the Bluewater Grill and will celebrate 10 years at the Club in July this year.
- A new board was elected in 2013 to move the club forward and turned the club from a $195k loss to a $303k profit.
- In July 2012, the progress in the management of the kangaroos on the golf course was undertaken. Dr. Catherine Herbert from the University of Sydney, accompanied by research students Angeles Roca and Jaycee Britter, visited the Club. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2012 between NBGC and the University of Sydney and the Kangaroo Management Plan began. Member Phil Murray (now forever known as ‘Kangaroo’ Phil) was instrumental in instigating the research study.
- Current General Manager, Trevor Harrison, was appointed to the position in February, 2015.
- On Father’s Day, September 6, 2015 the long-standing clubhouse was reduced to rubble by a devastating electrical fire. The members rallied together forming committees, getting the RSA licenses and turning the halfway house into a makeshift bar. Under the guidance of the insurance company the board enlisted local companies Coffey (Project management), EJE Architects and Club Projects (builders) in July 2016 to design and rebuild the clubhouse. This $10 million project was overseen by the amazing efforts of a committee of the club’s board.
- The clubhouse re-opened to members and the public on Thursday, 3rd August 2017 and hit the ground running commencing with the Men of League Charity dinner and golf event that first weekend. This was followed by a week of celebrations including a luncheon for Foundations members and those members with 40 years or more membership. The concluded with a celebratory dinner attended by 200 members.
- Since re-opening, the Club has hosted Pro-Ams, the AVGU National Championships in October 2018 with 560 competitors, Newcastle Knights Corporate Golf Day, World Bank Conference, Australian Women’s Senior Amateur Championships, instigated the Port Stephens Farmer’s Relief Fundraiser in September 2018 and well over 700 functions, conferences, weddings and corporate golf events.
- 2016 Max Pride was awarded Life Membership for his service to Nelson Bay Golf Club.
- September 2017 Peter Arnold (OAM) retired as club cleaner and jack of all trades after 40 years’ service.
- In 2017 after four years as captain, Peter Power succeeded Max Pride (14 years’ service) as the club’s president.
- From 2011 the elected lady presidents were Elizabeth Pfennigwerth, Norma Hocking (two terms), Bev Carver and Pam Townsend.
- David Flatt followed Peter Power as Captain, then current Captain David Rann filled the position.
- Ross Lalor was Club Captain from 2011 – 2013.
- The club has been recognised as the 2018 & 2019 Port Stephens Examiner Club of the Year, 2019 Golf NSW Regional Club of the Year and NSW Parliament Community Recognition statement as well as 2019/ 2020 Trip Advisor Travellers Choice.
- Currently the Club have plans for additional car parking and a new state-of-the-art irrigation system with work beginning in coming months.