In 1960 Mr Len Randall, proprietor of the Shoal Bay Country Club Hotel opened a private golf course on a 5 acre parcel of Crown land on the fringe of the Tomaree National Park as an added attraction for patrons of the Hotel.
It was subsequently offered to the newly formed Tomaree Golf Club for 15,000 pounds in 1961. The Club has continued on for over 50 years and is now the present Nelson Bay Golf Club.
It has grown from humble beginnings of a nine hole golf course to the now a 27 hole course with a magnificent purpose built Clubhouse for golfers, social events and functions.
The popularity of the course known as the Bush Course by the Sea is well proven as it is one of the busiest golf courses in NSW.
A brief history of Nelson Bay Golf Club since its beginning over 55 years ago is outlined in the decades below:
1960's - The Beginning
The idea to form a golf club in Nelson Bay came from the then Proprietor of the Shoal Bay Country Club Hotel in neighbouring Shoal Bay, Len Randall. He was interested in a 5 acre parcel of Crown Land at Tomaree which would become suitable for a golf course.
Subsequently, Len Randall, Benjamin Norburn and John Carroll, formed a company named “Tomaree Golf Links Pty Ltd” with the object of acquiring suitable land and creating a golf playing facility. A lease of land on the Club’s present site was obtained from the Lands Department and work commenced.
The first nine holes were designed by Mr Ray McKinlay, who was the Professional at the Merewether Golf Club. Construction was completed by volunteer labour with some larger areas being cleared by machinery. Equipment consisted of a small grey Ferguson Tractor and a set of gang mowers; water was pumped from spear points in the swamp north of Dowling St and power came from a diesel motor.
With the first 7 holes completed, the first ball was hit from the first tee by Toby Mills, the Club’s Surveyor on Australia Day, 26th January 1961.
The course was described at the time as “pretty rough, lots of sand patches but the greens are good.” It is also noted that at the time, many players used coloured balls to more easily find them on the sandy fairways.
By 1962, the Club’s membership comprised 103 men & 68 women. In October of that year the Club’s first committee was formed. Comprising of eleven members, the President was Jack Hancock, Loftus Chalmers as Club Captain and Len Randall as Patron.
The Clubhouse was a fibro-clad building incorporating a men’s and a ladies change room with a pan system toilet attached. The members later constructed a lean to shed made from bush timber and second hand galvanised iron which was a basic communal area used after golf. One of the first jobs of the Committee was deciding to build a more presentable Clubhouse. The shed was eventually replaced with a permanent, brick Clubhouse in 1963 which cost approximately $12,400. The Clubhouse saw several additions during the 1960’s.
When the new Clubhouse opened in 1963 it was licensed and had poker machines installed. Eileen Mitchell was able to do some basic catering for the members.
A Bar Manager was soon employed after its opening and directors worked on a roster to assist with serving beers etc. It was in 1966 when the first full time Secretary Manager was employed.
With the new Clubhouse and the growing popularity of the area, it wasn’t long before talk of extending the course to 18 holes began. Towards the end of 1960’s under the guidance of President Geoff Elliott a team of workers began clearing the land.
With construction of the original nine-hole golf course the natural environment of the national park was altered. The creation and continual improvement of grass covered fairways, created a food source and open range, attracting both kangaroos and wallabies. They became quite a feature of the Club but unfortunately bushfires, dogs and encroaching habitation saw them gradually disappear with the last kangaroo being sighted in the 1980’s.
1970's - How it Grew
In 1971, the golf course was expanded to 18 holes. This was designed from plans provided by course designer Mr Prosper Ellis with final modifications by the current committee of the day.
The expansion to 18 holes also created a demand for more watering requirements and a fully automated sprinkler system was installed on the course.
From 1968 to 1972, Mr Geoff Elliott who was also a well-known President of the Club for many years acted as the Volunteer Honorary Secretary. In fact, he held both positions for some time due to the Clubs financial downturn over this period.
In March 1972, Tomaree Golf Links shares were purchased by the Tomaree Golf Club which then changed its name to the present Nelson Bay Golf Club.
The Club had its first PGA Club Professional in 1975. His name was Edgar Oakman from Sydney. Edgar stayed for 2 years and was replaced by John Munro for a short time. Gary Churcher then took over and after 3 years, Gary moved back to Monash Golf Club in Sydney.
Gordon Hilleary was Nelson Bay Golf Club’s Green Keeper from 1976-2011 staying with the Club for 35 years.
Eric Baldock became the first official caterer for the Club in 1975 and stayed on for a few years after that.
Despite having 18 holes of golf in play the Club needed to attract more players, and a simple idea proved effective... popular Seafood Days. The Sproule and Diemer families would supply lobsters, prawns, fish and oysters as prizes. These events would continue right up until 1999 with the seafood coming from the Fisherman’s Coop in later years.
Along with a dining room, modern bar facilities and other fund raising events helped establish the bush course near the sea. It also enabled the Clubhouse to be modernized and expanded.
In 1979 the “Friday night raffles” were started by Joan & Pat Peterson who tirelessly supported the Club throughout their lives. Regular social nights, balls, themed evenings proved important for the Clubs growth and strong member relationships.
1980's - And Grew
As a new decade dawned it was a flourishing time for the Club. In 1987, Nelson Bay Golf Club had over 1400 golfing members in the days when nomination fees were part of joining a Club. The Clubhouse grew in strength, the golf course improved greatly and the 18th hole dam was built. Lush fairways replaced the sandy base thanks mainly to the improved watering system.
Brian Diemar was President from 1980 – 1987 with Alan Landrigan and Warren Thompson seeing out the rest of this decade.
Greg Ramsay became the Head Professional in 1981 and stayed at the Club until 1988 before moving to Katoomba to run the ProSimmon Golf Company. He stayed on as a partner to his brother Brian who became the Head Professional in April 1988 until the beginning of 1994.
In the late 1980’s the men’s Wednesday competition had a regular 130 starters and the Saturday competition had over 200 starters. Veteran’s golf grew to 200 players. Junior golf was very popular as free lessons were given on Monday afternoons which at times attracted over 50 students.
Also in the 1980’s the Ladies Committee was formed with Mary Doherty becoming the Ladies President. This was instrumental in strengthening ladies competition days which grew into the ladies having two dedicated days on the course, Tuesdays and Thursdays of their own. Ladies President’s having a 3 year tenure saw Gwen Pyrke and Vivian Thwaites see out the decade.
In 1980, Ladies Invitation Day became the Ladies Gala Day which is still being held to this day. The Ladies also had a memorable 1986 when they won the CNDGA Group One Pennants for the first time in the Club’s history.
In 1985, the Club hosted its first Pro Am and continued to do so for another two years in 1986 and 1987.
Visitors were also using the course to its full advantage as in 1986 as you could play as much golf as you liked for $10 per day. Breweries provided most of the sponsorship for Club events.
In 1987, negotiations for construction of conference centre started with various artist impressions and plans drawn up and presented to the members. This was not received well by the members who knocked back this initiative.
A number of playing members felt at the time that the re-establishment of kangaroos and wallabies on the course would add to the aesthetic and natural appeal of the golf course. Many considered: ‘roos are part of the scene.’ In the late 1980s Sid Greedy set about obtaining animals to re-establish a population. This would prove to be a convoluted bureaucratic task due to them being a protected species as their stewardship and management fell under NSW National Parks and Wildlife. In 1988, we gratefully received and released three kangaroos on the 18th tee that weren’t seen again for another 12 months.
1990's - And Grew
In the 1990’s the local area experienced a large expansion in population and tourism boom. In this period to cope with the increase in traffic, Port Stephens Council reclaimed land on the Club’s southern boundary for a possible road to Fingal Bay. With this action, a decision was made by the Club’s Board of Directors to secure its remaining land by adding a further 9 holes for golf turning the Nelson Bay Golf Club into one of the few 27 hole courses in the state.
Jack Evans was President from 1994 – 2000 with Ken Jones as Captain seeing the Club through this expansion initiative.
This extra 9 holes was funded by unsecured debentures which members fully subscribed to. The course plan were drawn up by the Greens Superintendent, Mr Kevin Wellard and fine-tuned by Pacific Coast Design. In 1997, work commenced on the project at a cost of $750,000. The additional holes were officially opened by NSWGA representatives John Higson and Kevin James on 5th April 1998 allowing it to become one of the busiest golf courses in the country.
Constant changes to the Clubhouse and the course took its toll on the dining room which saw a number of caterers come and go throughout this decade. Rob Spears finally made it with a restaurant in 1999 registering it as “The Tin Cup” and stayed for 3 more years.
The Ladies Committee continued on with Gwen Emery and Bev Hines seeing out the decade.
In 1998, Ron Smith’s dream of running a golf day to raise money for the Westpac Helicopter Service became a reality and the Angel Billy Golf Classic began. The first year it attracted 204 players raising $8,000 for the charity. By 2004, this event attracted a record 420 players raising $40,000 on this day. This event continues today and has raised over $600,000 to date for this very valuable service.
Head Professional, Maurie Moses, started at the Club on 17th January 1994 after spending 3 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 & 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, conducting clinics and tuition for an extensive juniors program and beginners clinics today.
The Holden Scramble is the largest competition as far as competitors go on the Annual Calendar. Nelson Bay Golf Club always has at least 1 or 2 teams go the Regional Finals each year. We had our first winning team in 1998 with Brian Burgess, Brad McKay, Danny Petith, Maurie Moses and Mick Ellis. Unfortunately, they did not win the Nationals.
2000's - Coming of Age
The Ladies Committee during this period saw Dolores Woods, Margaret Harding, Margaret Edwards and Elsa Flanagan lead the way. In 2000, the Ladies already had their Gala Day Event and saw them introduce a 2 day event in September called The Landmark Water Wonderland Ladies Classic which later changed to The Landmark Nelson Bay Ladies Golf Classic. Dolores Woods and Margaret Harding donated the perpetual trophy and there was the Marj White Rose Bowl to play for the best net score. This event continues today with different naming sponsors.
In 2006 the Nelson Bay Golf Club hosted its first NHDLGA District Tournament. With growing confidence the ladies then hosted the VWGA Country Tournament for NSW in June 2007 seeing 245 ladies play.
Presidents during this decade were Ken Jones, Iain Woodhill and Max Pride who saw out two terms. The Board made some significant changes which benefited the Club and brought it into a modern era with Associate Members being able to become Full Members in 2003. Women could only join as an Associate Member even with their rich history in the Club and having such a large contingent.
The Clubhouse underwent a major reconstruction spending $2million in 2008 moving the restaurant from the back of the Club to overlooking the 18th hole with panoramic views over the course as well as establishing new balconies, function facilities and members bar.
The Club operated the restaurant for a short while until Nick Papasavvas and his brother Mario turned it into a Greek/Modern Australian experience from 2003 – 2007. Dianna and George Lee then replaced the Papasavvas family and operated a Chinese restaurant until the new Clubhouse extensions were built. Scott and Janelle Wilson then introduced the Bluewater Grill as a Modern Australian restaurant which has seen it continue to operate under this today.
All through these decades even with Clubhouse and course extensions interrupting one thing or another the social and theme nights contributed to seeing the membership relationships and numbers continue to grow. This combined with the introduction of more flexible membership options ensured the success of Nelson Bay Golf Club.
Although original attempts to introduce kangaroos to the course were unsuccessful, nature has over the years decided to provide a resident ‘roo population along with wallabies, the occasional koala, abundant bird life and fauna. The setting in natural bushland provides native flora including the iconic Gymea Lily and abundant Christmas Bush on the course make it a perfect home.
The extensive numbers of kangaroos became a growing concern. The aanimals were obstructing play at times, digging holes on fairways and animal care issues were arising with kangaroos being struck by golf balls. Extensive discussions began on what to do about this..
2010's - Devastation and Rising Again
Iain Woodhill and Max Pride continued on throughout this decade as the Club’s President. The Ladies saw Elizabeth Pfennigwerth, Norma Hocking and Bev Carver representing them as Ladies President.
We celebrated the 50yr anniversary of Nelson Bay Golf Club in 2011. There are still Foundation Members from 1961 playing golf 50 years on. A video of interviews of long standing members detailing their experiences at Nelson Bay Golf Club can be seen in the link below.
Also in 2011 we had our second Holden Scramble team of Mark Murphy, Michael Squires, Brian Pobje, Darren Hancock and Maurie Moses win the regional finals.
Brendan Walsh became Course Manager in 2011 and stayed with the Club until 2014. Greg Stynes who is still with the Club today then replaced Brendan as Course Manager.
In 2011, Tanya and Will Semmens became our contracted caterers and took over the Bluewater Grill and are still at the Club today.
In July 2012, the next intervention 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 & 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. Phil, with the consent of the Board, contacted the three leading kangaroo experts in the country to discuss the Club’s issues and needs in controlling the kangaroo population. Fortunately, Dr. Catherine Herbert from the University of Sydney was looking for a research site to enable students to have hands-on experience and to test fertility control drugs—exactly what Nelson Bay Golf Club required and came on board.
On 28 October 2015, Phil walked out onto the course accompanied by a couple of English tourists and Sue George, wife of member Neville George. These were the first paying customers. Kangaroo Encounters Tours had begun.
In 2014, Nelson Bay Golf Club hosted the Australian Blind Golf Championships which lead immediately onto the World Blind Golf Championships. This saw 49 competitors with their caddies/assistants from 13 different countries all around the world play over 2 days.
On Father’s Day, 6th September 2015 our long-standing Clubhouse was reduced to rubble by a devastating electrical fire. The members themselves rallied together forming committees, getting the RSA licenses and turning the halfway house into a makeshift bar. By December 2015, the Management and Board had arranged for a demountable temporary Clubhouse to be placed in the carpark creating an office space, bar, restaurant facilities, tab area and balcony overlooking the course. The only thing it couldn’t do was host a major function. The course was not really affected by the fire so it was able to be relatively business as usual for members and visiting golfers.
Thankfully, the Club had the business insured. 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 which was completed in July 2017. This $10 million project that was overseen by the amazing efforts of a volunteer Board of the Club.
This gave the Club the opportunity to redesign and purpose build a more effective, comfortable and sustainable Club to see them through the ages. This event truly showed the members overwhelming response to keep the Club marching forward with the efforts they contributed at the time.