A SEDATE walk around the headland that rings the entire 18 holes will only make you agree with the late, great Australian golfer Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of the British Open.

Thomson once described Long Reef as the best site of any golf course in Sydney.

You don’t need to convince Ben Russell, the general manager of Long Reef Golf Club.

He already agrees and Russell has been at the helm as the layout has improved even further in recent years with some significant changes.

Besides the condition of the course, which is presented as well as any course in this country, the enduring memory of Long Reef when you play there is the outlook on every hole and no matter where you are you can see the ocean and watch surfers, hang gliders, sunbathers, walkers and even the coffee set enjoying the captivating vistas.

Russell has found a happy home at Long Reef after starting out as a PGA professional not that far away from Long Reef, at North Ryde.

“I realised early on in my career that golf was not going to provide me with a sustainable income and after a 99 in the first round of the 2015 Qantas Classic at Natadola Bay in Fiji I started looking for a new career path,” said Russell.

“I was fortunate that at the time I was teaching at North Ryde Golf Club and they were looking for a business development manager, the club where I grew up playing as a junior and had completed my traineeship in 2012. 

“Anthony Dignan was the GM at North Ryde and eight months after employing me, he moved to Long Reef Golf Club. 

“Shortly after that, the opportunity presented itself for me to move to the Northern Beaches as the golf operations manager at Long Reef Golf Club. 

“Then, in June, 2020 I became the general manager.”

Long Reef Golf Club GM Ben Russell.

Russell took the helm at just the right time: In 2016 the club had begun construction of a new maintenance depot tucked left of the 12th fairway near the top of the headland. 

This was stage one of the ‘Wetlands Project’ which the club would complete over the next three years. 

The end result was the removal of the old maintenance shed, which was located in the middle of the course and came into play on two holes. 

Constructed in its place was a 13-megalitre wetland which collects all the stormwater from Griffith Park as well as parts of Collaroy; alongside changes to holes 14, 15 and 16 using the fill from the wetland. 

No wonder Russell is dealing with a booming membership and a waiting list to join the ‘party’.

“Long Reef membership is very active and most members play regularly in at least one of the seven competitions the club offers each week,” said Russell.

“Over the past five years the club has seen a trend of younger golfers joining too.

“The Covid-19 effect that most golf clubs have experienced certainly hit Long Reef with a wait-list of more than 100 since the pandemic came to Sydney. 

“It’s been the club’s priority to ensure it can accommodate the current membership before introducing new members and it was great to see a positive renewal rate at the end of the 2020/21 membership year.”

Russell has also been kept busy with the club’s centenary and the club was lucky enough to host its Centenary Gala Dinner and high tea before entering its third lockdown.

“Moving on to our 101st year at Long Reef Golf Club, we will be striving to continue to improve the presentation of the golf course week-in week-out and also look to improve the clubhouse functionality,” Russell said.

“The clubhouse is in one of the most sought-after locations in Sydney and has only undergone minor renovations over the past 50-60 years. 

“It would be great to create a clubhouse that provides an area to its members to come in after a round, enjoy a drink and admire the views, but at the same time be able to host a wedding and have the café operational for members and the public. 

“We do a great job of this at the moment but the current set-up of the club makes it difficult to meet the expectations of all stakeholders. 

“The ability to be able to generate other revenue streams, outside of golf, enables the club to give back to its members in the way of an immaculately-presented golf course and continuing to improve its facilities while maintaining affordable fees.”

When you look at the overall facility … Long Reef Golf Club is an 18-hole par-71 Group 1 course with a 180-metre practice fairway and chipping green. 

The beachside clubhouse operates on its own with a café for members and the public as well as hosting 90-100 weddings each year, plus other various functions and events.

So why has the club never become private?

“This club has a unique set-up where it is located in Griffith Park on Crown Land, which is managed by the Northern Beaches Council and leased to Long Reef Golf Club,” Russell explained.

“The agreement with Northern Beaches Council includes times where the course can be used exclusively for members but outside of those times it must be accessible for green fee-paying public golfers as well. 

“Truthfully, it wasn’t until I started working here that I realised how special this club is and how proud the members are of the course. 

“The membership is made up of people from all walks of life and everyone mixes and the social aspect of the club is important. 

“When members are this proud of their club and look forward to playing and coming in for a drink afterwards, well, it makes everyone’s job that little bit easier.”

No doubt Long Reef is among the busiest clubs in Sydney. 

Russell agrees: “There are many great golf courses to choose from, especially on the Northern Beaches, but Long Reef does have the advantage that it sticks out in the Pacific Ocean on the iconic Long Reef headland.

“That coastal walk around the course is pretty popular with Northern Beaches residents.”

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