Shoalhaven Heads Golf Club-a review

One of the best golf courses on the NSW South Coast

Recently a client asked us to put a stay and play package together for the South Coast, NSW  centered around Mollymook Hilltops. However they wanted an alternative course on the way back to Sydney. We had no hesitation in recommending Shoalhaven Heads Golf Club or it is otherwise known as “The Heads.” From it’s meager beginnings to maturing into a championship course, it is now the best links course on the NSW South Coast (yes not as spectacular as Narooma but better golf). I feel that it’s back nine is probably the most enjoyable links nine holes on the NSW coast after the back nine at NSW Golf Club. But how it began is just as compelling a story…

Shoalhaven Heads 14th
14th hole

Modest beginnings and an obstacle path to beauty

The matter of a golf course on it’s current piece of land was first raised in 1978 when Shoalhaven Shire Council decided it would be good to have a golf course there for stormwater drainage from a nearby subdivision. However after public meetings in 1981 it became clear that the council was going to do nothing about the building of a golf course, it was obvious that a membership and a committee would have to drive it’s construction (the first two presidents were women!). By March 1982 there were 560 members but due to limited finances, construction did not begin until 1984 . Wollongong company  McKay and Sons were appointed the architects mainly because as the golf course architect Ken McKay said “pay me when you can, I would rather see funds invested into the golf course”. That  company was finally paid in 2013. McKay and Sons had also been involved in the construction of Mollymook Hilltops, Calderwood Valley, Worrigee and Moore Park in Sydney.

At first the course was just 3 holes , what is now the 10th,11th and 12th. Members would do three circuts to do a 9 hole round. The initial clearing of the first nine holes was delayed because no one had thought to get a developement application from the council eventhough there were council members on the board. The initial 9 holes (now the back nine) was cleared by 1988 largely by volunteer labour and it become self evident that more land was going to be needed to have 18 holes. Whilst applications to Shoalhaven Shire Council and the NSW Government were made for more land, the playable course was first extended to 6 holes then 9 holes by 1997.

In 1993 the Native Title Act was passed and two claims from the local Jerrinja and Wadi Wadi tribes were made on the land occupied by the golf course. It took ten years to resolve this matter in the High Court where the case was dismissed. In 2003 the development application was lodged to extend the course to 15 holes. This was approved however when clearing was commenced, certain conditions of the applicaton were overlooked and following complaints, work was demanded to be stopped. Green groups now put in objections where more conditions were put on the development (those conditions now went from 6 pages to 16 pages!) The biggest loss to the golf club was the creation of a green corridor between the national park and the bushland in a neighbouring street. This resulted in a loss of land for the next nine to be developed on. However finally the course was increased to 15 holes in 2006 and finally after more vegetation management conditons imposed by the council, the course was extended to 18 in 2012.  It had only taken 33 years for the full vision of the course to be realised!

Site of the 10th Fairway Shoalhaven Heads
The original site of what is now the 10th fairway (photo courtesy of SHGC)

And was it all worth it? Yes!

12th hole and one of those pot bunkers!

Perhaps due to the restrictions that were imposed on the development of the course, from the back plates it is only a 5562m par 71 course. It never got to 6000m + that was planned but this does not diminish it’s value and in fact makes it more accessible for the shorter hitting, higher handicaps. It is demanding on the low marker as well. The newer front nine is more open but the outer edge holes are still demanding particular on those that slice with OB or hazards awaiting.  The holes can vary so much according to the direction of the wind. The 1st is a great example. With a southerly behind you the green is maybe drivable for long hitters. Into a north easterly it is a layup. The pot bunkers in the middle of fairways around the course ensure that your strategy changes according to the day. The pick of the holes around the front are the par 3 2nd , a shot to a highly contoured green and the tight par 5 5th where OB and bunkers down the right make you think twice about two big shots onto the green. Also the par 5 9th is a fine finishing hole with options due to its width but precison required for the third shot.

The back nine considerably tightens and slicers and faders are aiming left. If you don’t keep it on the short stuff here, the penalties will mount up and you will shoot over 100. Some of the greens are simple , others can have triple tiers. A favourite is the 14th. A drivable par 4 of 254m with a north easterly but a lay up into a southerly trying to avoid the well placed fairway bunkers. A birdie is possible but if not on line, a double is on the cards. The 518m par 5 13th and 410m  par 4 16th can be monsters into a north-easterly and the back nine finishes with a pair of short but crafty par 5’s . The 17th baits you into a blind shot over coastal scrub to a green that slopes front to back on the other side of a hill and the 18th goes up a narrow fairway where anything to the right will have you hitting a fade to hold the fairway.

The course is valued so much that the 2021 NSW Senior Amateur was held there and it used by elite squads for practice on. Like a true sandbelt course  the lies are tightly mown and the greens are excellent. It is often considered by the local golfers in Nowra to be an all weather course and they come there when their courses are under water or are a bog. The clubhouse is a simple building but has a wonderful friendly atmosphere . An added bonus about coming out there is that on a hot summers day, you can have your swimming togs in the car for a dip at the beach which is just a short walk across the course and onto a track through the dunes.

Shoalhaven Heads is certainly one of those hidden gems of Australian golf.

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