The Australian Ladies Classic marked the return of professional golf at Bonville Resort. In this chat with Golf NSW, Bonville’s Chairman Peter Montgomery describes his joy at seeing this magnificent course back in the public eye – where it belongs.
Peter, Bonville has just finished staging this inaugural women’s LET event. What’s your assessment of it?
I’m absolutely thrilled. The team here has done an outstanding job, particularly Brad Daymond the General Manager and Chris Neal as Course Superintendent, and Aaron Banks his deputy. They’ve done an outstanding job. They’ve put in extremely long hours. Most nights they’ve been out on the course with floodlights, mowing and doing things at 9pm and going again at 4.30am. It’s been an amazing effort and I’m delighted with the way they’ve presented this event.
We’ve seen some spectacular golf, but this course is something else isn’t it?
It is. It was quite a feat when it was constructed, to carve through this forest a beautiful golf course with all the undulations and spectacular visual scenery.
The history of the course is very interesting because it was a plantation forest. It wasn’t a natural rainforest. It was going to be cut down and used for paper pulp. A very enterprising entrepreneur got the idea to create a golf course through it. I suspect it would be very difficult to get these approvals today, even though it was a plantation forest. It abuts the state forest where there is whole-growth forest of these beautiful flooded gumtrees.
Everything seems to grow beautifully up here.
It’s apparently because the mountains come in close to the coastline here. That’s why Coffs Harbour was one of the banana-growing centres of Australia and is now one of the main centres for blueberry growing. It has that atmosphere even though it is roughly halfway between the Gold Coast and Sydney. The other banana-growing capital was way up north in Tully. The temperature here doesn’t get too cold, and it doesn’t get stinking hot like it does up north. And the humidity usually isn’t too bad.
You’ve had great professional and personal success, where does this event reside in terms of its importance to you?
I’m very pleased for the team at Bonville that they’ve been able to see this event being held here at a place where they work day in day out.
It is a big site. A normal 18-hole golf course with clubhouse is approximately 120 acres. At Bonville we have the luxury of having our golf course spread out over 450 acres. Hence, you get the effect on each hole that you are completely separated from the rest of the course. You can play a game of golf here and hardly see anyone the whole way around – except for people who are in your group.
As a destination for golfers, Bonville rates right up there. Was that the plan?
The reason why Bonville does well in comparative terms to many other golf courses is because of that visitation by groups. We’ve had groups coming since the course opened 26 years ago. And they religiously come in groups and play for trophies we keep in our trophy cabinet up there, and it’s one of the highlights of their year.
They vary from young groups, father and son groups, business groups. Companies bring clients here in a group-like format and to develop new clients. We also have a lot of weddings here in our function centres upstairs.
What is the club’s ambition when it comes to professional golf and its association with the sport?
We’d like to expand it. It’s expensive in a sense in that we lose revenue for that week, in accommodation and green fees, so it’s a significant expense. But it’s also helping let people in the Australian community and overseas understand that there is a very fine golf course here in Coffs Harbour.
Coffs Harbour itself has many virtues in the sense of being close to Sydney and Brisbane and the Gold Coast. It has beautiful surf beaches, it has rainforest, they have some very fine restaurants, they have outstanding fishing. In fact, Coffs Harbour once held the world record for blue marlin.
There’s also the northern and southern currents that intersect at Coffs Harbour. It’s like a mini Barrier Reef.
There’s many things to do here, there’s white water rafting. In recent years the airport has been substantially upgraded and there are many flights a day; direct flights from Melbourne, direct flights with Qantas and Virgin.
But coming back to your question and our involvement in the expansion of professional tournaments here, we’d love it to happen. As they say crudely in some occasions, we’re open for business.
Bonville will at the very least host this event for the next four years.
Yes, there’s a five-plus-five agreement. If we are all happy at the end of five years, both sides, we’ll go forward. Hopefully, we’ll be sitting in here in 10 years time talking about whether we’ll go again.
This event was put together very quickly. Were you concerned about the timeframe?
It was very quick and we were a bit nervous about whether it was possible to respond in time. We provided the venue and a lot of assistance by our staff, but the background operation of putting it together by Golf NSW, the Australian Ladies Professional Golf, and the Ladies European Tour – that has been outstanding.
We’re very pleased with the way everyone has co-operated together and brought it together in such a very short time. We’ll debrief afterwards to see how we can make it better next year.
They do refer to this course as Australia’s Augusta. Was that deliberate in its construction?
The 17th is very similar to the 12th at Augusta. It’s a similar length, it has an elevated tee. We don’t quite have the swirling winds they have at Augusta, but we have the back bunkers and the big water carry in the front.
There are some other holes that have similarity in some of the shots, but we get told that all the time. It’s not really proper business practise to compare yourself to the heaven of golf, but in our own little way we like to think we resemble that beautiful course.
We are happy to think that if people can’t get to Augusta they can at least get to Bonville. They’d be welcomed here with open arms.
Last question. What’s the highlight of the week so far?
It may sound corny, but the highlight has been to see at reasonably short range the wonderful camaraderie between the women golfers. Young women, or girls in some cases, who are travelling the world in what must be strenuous and difficult circumstances at times. Changing courses and climates all the time, and many of them operating on a shoestring.
I really like that very much.
We were delighted Dame Laura Davies came, and I had the pleasure of playing with her in the pro-am. She was delightful company, but she’s also an amazing golfer for somebody who has won so many tournaments on so many continents and still maintains her passion for the game.
That was a great thrill.