Fifteen years in the making, nine holes at this extraordinary, low-cost project in the hinterland of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast are now open – proof of what can be achieved with patience and persistence.
Maleny, proclaimed a township way back in 1891, had a population of 5,182 at the 2011 census. Its population has grown steadily over recent years and the town and surrounding district attracts many travellers and tourist visits throughout the year. Accommodation varies from camping grounds to cabins and 5-star bed and breakfast retreats. – Graham Papworth
Located in the hinterland of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast on the Blackall Range with views of the Glass House Mountains, it’s about 36km away from and 450m above the sea at Caloundra. The region is well known for its arts and crafts and a variety of restaurants promoting local produce. There is an environmental sensitivity in the area and a ‘green’, almost alternate lifestyle on offer in parts.
There is also a very strong sense of local community – which is fortunate given that it was ultimately this, and well-focused local support, that ensured the first nine holes of the Maleny Golf Club came to fruition and officially opened for play on June 30, 2015.
The town had a golf course in the 1930s but like many courses around the world, play was suspended during World War II and it failed to reopen after hostilities ceased.
As we’ve recorded on these pages in previous editions, it’s not uncommon to spend many years involved in bringing or at least trying to bring golf projects to reality and it’s fair to say Maleny has had its share of procedural hurdles to overcome.
We have one project on our books that remains a prospect after 15 years but is yet to turn a sod on site. Whereas at Maleny, we missed the first eight or nine years of protracted negotiations and were very fortunate to come on board about six years ago when the project was building real momentum.
The history preceding our involvement is a long and complex story but to summarise: The golf course is part of the Maleny Precinct, which represents a large parcel of undulating land, north of and overlooking the township. The local authority, Caloundra City Council as it was in 1995, purchased ‘Armstrong farm’ (now part of the precinct) essentially for disposal of treated sewage effluent but with a longer-term view of becoming public open space. The land was rezoned in 1997 from ‘rural’ to ‘sport and recreation’ with the intention that it was also to be used for a community golf course.
The Maleny Golf Club (sans golf course) was incorporated in 2000 and after extensive consultation made a request to Council that the land be used for an 18-hole community golf course. Not long after, the Council approached the owner of the adjacent ‘Porter farm’ with the prospect of combining the properties to form the 126ha Maleny Precinct; again to provide sufficient land for a well laid out community golf course. Even though settlement on this second land parcel was delayed until 2006, broader consideration of potential uses for the combined site began in August 2003 with the formation by Council of the Maleny Precinct Task Force.
After a series of complex and unfortunate delays the Council released a Draft Master Plan for the Precinct in August 2007 for community consultation. As a result, as many as 30 sports, recreation, service and other community groups united as the Maleny Precinct Action Network (MALPAN) to contribute to the Plan and this resulted in amendments to the golf course layout and the inclusion of playing fields and a variety of other sporting facilities that could ultimately be serviced by a shared Clubhouse.
In November 2007 Council approved the amended Precinct Master Plan (see ABOVE) and listed under Further Investigations amongst other things was: Master planning to determine particular facilities and their location; completion of an Environmental Management Plan: and, access issues to be resolved.
Given the success of the MALPAN a new umbrella organisation, the Maleny District Sports and Recreation Club was formed that affiliated 25 of the other community groups as members in February 2008. The Golf Club is a key member of MDSRC which now boasts 50 member Clubs.
About this time local governments were being amalgamated by the Beattie State Government and the Caloundra City Council merged with Maroochy and Noosa Shires to become the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, making it Australia’s fourth largest local government by population, only behind Brisbane, Moreton Bay and Gold Coast.
Fortunately the Maleny Precinct plans were passed over to and honoured by the new authority and they endorsed the Precinct Plan in August 2008. They subsequently advised that leases relevant to the various groups should be issued after completion of the Master Plan around the middle of 2009.
It should be noted that in the period 2001 to 2008 the Council’s consultants produced seven different golf course designs and whilst there still remained much to resolve in terms of detail before further advancement of a golf course was practical, myriad other issues, including negotiation on business plans and leasing conditions, were subject to further investigation.
The completion of the Master Plan around mid-2009 became the catalyst for our involvement. In fact, it wasn’t until October 2009 that we received a brief from Gamble McKinnon Green, one of five companies invited to form a multidiscipline team to tender on the preparation of the Maleny Community Precinct Master Plan.
Our team of six consultant companies and five specialist advisers managed to secure that tender; we were engaged in late November and the exercise began in earnest in January 2010.
Whilst the success of a golf design is very subjective at a personal level, the actual process is quite straightforward although it usually results in numerous permutations that need to be considered. There are also varying levels of design and at the Master Planning level, while all facets of the ultimate construction should be taken into account, the primary objective is to find the most satisfactory routing for the number of holes you are proposing to fit on the given site.
ABOVE: The Maleny Community Precinct Approved Concept Plan that formed the basis
of the Master Planning exercise. BELOW: The Final Master Plan, June 2010
Before the layout of holes can begin however, any constraints to where those holes can be placed needs to be determined and whilst these constraints vary in nature they are usually a result of physical conditions or regulatory restrictions.
From the outset all parties involved were aware of the emphasis for a positive environmental and low-cost outcome for the golf course. Fortunately these two objectives are complementary as a modest budget dictates that less disruption to the site can be afforded. On an undulating piece of land with deep red soil covered by kikuyu pasture, all that was required was to locate holes such that fairway cross falls weren’t excessive and that tee and green sites were best placed to take maximum advantage of the terrain and keep earthworks costs down. In places where the natural slopes were borderline, the kikuyu would help to slow the ball from running off the fairway.
The primary constraints to producing the best possible golf layout were around accommodating: buffers to existing water bodies; public walking trails through and around the course; the interest groups who adjoined or shared the golf precinct; and finding the best location for a shared future Clubhouse.
The buffers were particularly constraining; when we superimposed all of the technically desired clearances to water bodies and adopted the worst case limits, there was barely enough land to build nine holes without some encroachment. It was during this time that we assessed differing versions of 12-, 13-, 15- and 18-hole layouts (the former trio included practice ranges while the range was a casualty of having 18 holes).
It was most unfortunate that a preliminary report commissioned by Council in 2007 on flora and fauna was not adopted, as it seemed eminently sensible in advocating that identifying, incorporating and managing the buffer revegetation species to wetlands should be based around the intended land use. We did get some relaxation on buffer widths in places, although the experience for 30,000 to 40,000 players per annum could have been greatly enhanced by incorporating a wetland as part of the golfing experience. Instead it seemed that the buffers, for the most part, had to be planted out with trees that not only hide and limit access to the wetland but force play further away from it and, ironically will shade and take moisture away from the wetland.
Ultimately our team arrived at the Final Master Plan in June 2010 and in our opinion the 11th hole on this plan clearly demonstrates an opportunity lost. Being allowed to place the 11th tee just below the 10th green and play over the southern wetland with a boardwalk connection to what is a natural fairway would have created a picturesque, environmental experience for every player to behold.
As no fertilisers are allowed on the Maleny fairways, and well-maintained kikuyu turf is possibly the best surface for clean water run-off, we saw little detrimental effect on the wetland resulting from this arrangement, especially given an average rainfall of about two metres per annum.
Of course many components make up this overall Precinct Master Plan and some of the interest groups and their requirements have changed since the plan was released.
This in part along with other occurrences have led to changes to the golf layout shown on the Precinct Master Plan. The Golf Club however were happy with the golf outcome and engaged our services to continue to refi ne the course layout and ultimately carry out detailed design of the first nine holes.
Shortly after this, in July 2010, the Club opened its practice range, which still operates on the high ridge in front of the future Clubhouse site where the 9th hole is shown on the Precinct Master Plan. Thus the retention of the range necessitated layout rearrangements so that nine holes and the range could coexist until such time the back nine is built.
Other rearrangements allowed us to add a spectacular, long, drop-shot par-3 3rd hole between the 2nd green and 3rd tee on the Master Plan, which led to refining and renumbering the remaining holes.
These and other improvements were developed over the ensuing 12 months to the first nine holes and range, until we were satisfied that a lease area for Stage 1 could be committed to. A lease boundary is rather unique in this situation; it’s essentially a line on the ground in that the physical conditions either side of the line are ostensibly the same and there are few if any adjoining land uses apart from the walking trails that require an adequate safety buffer.
So it became a matter of where to draw the line. If it was close to the fairway, could that become an Out Of Bounds line and conflicting land uses outside make those holes unplayable? Conversely, the Council was reluctant to accept a generous boundary well clear of the holes, as we might be tempted to clear to the full extent and widen the playing surfaces.
The Nine Hole Master Plan was the result and is representative of what has ultimately been built. The internal yellow line represents the Lease Boundary, while the external line defines a ‘Licence to use’ area. The Club negotiated to allow tees and fairways within some critical parts of the Licence to use space and those golf shots that go outside the Lease line are playable providing they can be found.
This plan and support documentation was part of a Development Application submitted to Council 29 July 2011.
A Decision Notice was received 22 February 2012, subject to 12 Assessment Manager Conditions and drawing amendments including moving the playing surfaces out of the Licence to use area. Thankfully we were able to compromise on the very critical positions of the tees on the 3rd, 5th and 9th holes; while the narrowing of the 9th fairway out of the Licence to use zone can be regained to the right when the range converts to a golf hole, it demonstrates how arbitrary some of these conditions are. A Negotiated Decision Notice was received by the Club on 8 June 2012.
This provided impetus for the Club to proceed with a preliminary design of these first nine golf holes – and so the process began. We carried out a site visit, confirmed the pegged hole locations and graded the tees, greens and two other areas to improve lines of site based on the site contours supplied for the Precinct Master Planning exercise.
BACK TO FRONT: The view from the 7th green (left) looking back to the tee and the view of the drive up the hill
PANORAMA: The 1st hole at Maleny. The total spend for the first nine holes was approximately $750,000
The Club submitted an Operational Works application for the first nine holes to Council 12 April 2013, including our design drawings and specifications amongst many support documents. Council came back with their Draft Conditions on 12 July and aside from 11 pages of what were fairly standard conditions to be imposed before, during and post construction, the site specific conditions all related to landscaping and more specifically areas of revegetation.
Our plans had always shown ‘native revegetation’ between fairways and in some out of play areas, while our Landscape Intent Plan in the Operational Works Application showed only Stage One priority planting. Most importantly the site, being selectively cleared farm land, had a very open feel that we wanted to retain. The ‘native revegetation’ was envisioned to be mostly low-profile shrubs and grasses to provide separation with only the occasional tree so as not to impede view lines or close in the fairways, which otherwise would restrict visual and social interaction between playing groups.
Consequently the Club felt confident that we could satisfy the intent of the revegetation requirements and accepted the Draft Conditions, which were officially received on 15 July 2013. Subsequently amendments were made to the landscape drawings to satisfy said conditions. Further clarification of the lease boundaries took place and as locations of the various trails skirting the course were determined by other parties we had to ensure they were safe from errant golf play or negotiate the relocation or treatment of the path to create a safe walking environment.
On 6 March 2014 the Club finally had the green light to proceed to construction. The Club has 420 paid-up members at the time of writing and although this number has fluctuated since incorporation in 2000 it’s been reasonably consistent. The members’ backgrounds reflect a broad cross section of the community and their willingness to contribute to the course has been inspiring to witness; from agitating for progress on approvals over many years to building sheds and rock walls and mowing and weeding the golf course now.
There were three authorised surveyors on hand to carry out the detailed surveys of the green sites, three engineers, one a Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland took on the role of Principal Contractor controlling construction of the civil works and dozens of others from all walks of life helping the process in whatever way required.
To minimise upfront costs our preliminary designs had been done on the original 1m interval site contours whereas now we had the surveyors detail each green site with 250mm contours. This ensured an accurate local datum and we refined the designs accordingly. Using this approach we worked through the green designs in accordance with the construction program; the 1st, 8th and 9th green designs were delivered in February 2014 and construction began the following month
In the preceding months the Club had removed extensive stands of woody weeds and prepared a clear site to begin work and promote healthy kikuyu cover in all open areas other than the individual work sites. The 1st green was the first site to be opened, followed by the 9th , while the Club members in charge – Engineer, Rod Richards and Sel Hopley, Surveyor – began adopting their long-held engineering expertise to the more free-flowing and interpretive style that golf design requires.
Although our designs – especially the greens – are quite detailed, they still require interpretation to achieve a natural flowing appearance and luckily Mick McCombe, who remains the only paid employee at the Club, had been engaged as Superintendent shortly before our first construction visit in August 2014. An experienced green keeper, with a good knowledge of the game and what constitutes a first class course, Mick was keen to work with us to introduce the finer points of our designs into the final product and he personally did the majority of the fine shaping.
Mick continues to be ably assisted by a daily roster of volunteers to bring the course to its full potential – including Greens Director Rob Bailo who will have, if he doesn’t already, more hands-on experience than most committee men do in construction, grassing and maintenance by the time the back nine is finished.
The first four greens were propagated using scarifications from renovated tiff-dwarf greens at nearby Beerwah golf course. The remaining greens used scarified matter from the first four. Although the coverage on the last couple of greens built was a little thin when the course opened 15 months after construction began, that didn’t warrant delaying such a major milestone in the Club’s unique history.
The total spend for the nine holes was approximately $750,000 including greens irrigation and the maintenance equipment that hadn’t already been donated. Some $450,000 came from Council’s Capital Works program and the balance by way of donations. The Council also built an impressive car park with public toilet facilities that services the Club’s temporary arrangement and will complement the future Clubhouse.
The nine holes completed play as a par 35 at just over 2700 metres, which is not overly long but given the natural fairway slopes and that the line of approach shots into the greens are dictated by the pin placements on the day, it will take an acquired local knowledge and accurate positional play to yield good results.
There must be hundreds of volunteers over the past 15 year period who can be justifiably proud of their roles in bringing the Maleny Golf Club’s first nine holes to fruition and so far we have only named four of the individuals with whom we dealt regularly throughout our involvement. We have no doubt, however, that without the direction and driven focus of the Club President, Dr Max Whitten, this golf course never would have eventuated.
It has been a privilege to play our part and one can only hope that the results of the first nine in providing a more environmentally and economically sustainable site, an excellent community facility and a far more valuable asset to Council, will expedite the completion of the other nine holes.
As Dr Whitten said in his media release for the opening: “We’ve shown that building a golf course need not be an expensive exercise in a town like Maleny, where the community is large enough to boast an abundance of natural talent, but small enough for residents to be able to help out and make a real difference.”
A situation we’re sure most communities would envy.