Magenta Shores CC, March 29-31, 2024

HAYES: Dubbo Golf Club Thrives Against Odds

Regional Aussies are a tough lot.

They take a lot of metaphorical punches, yet persist in pushing off the ropes and fighting on.

Some would even suggest that the tougher it gets, the better they go.

If you subscribe to that theory, Dubbo Golf Club might be your proof.

Against the odds of climate, topography and in some ways location (although this might be a diamond in the rough – more on that later), the DGC is thriving.

Formed in 1903, but in its current position for almost 103 years, the constant for the club has been progress, most notably through boards with vision.

Before “Dub Vegas” began its modern expansion as a city, those in charge at the golf club had the foresight to expand into more land and add holes, becoming a 27-hole layout in 1995.

In 2019, a $1.3 million State Government grant enabled the club to completely redesign and install irrigation facilities. The club also established water rights from the nearby Macquarie River and it has genuinely become a green inland oasis since with outstanding water coverage.

This key change was partly the reason the club was chosen to host the Women’s NSW Open in 2020, an event that – with its Ladies European Tour co-sanctioned status – brought in an estimated $1.5million into the regional economy as well as beaming images of the Western Plains across the world.

That tournament whet the appetite for more big-time golf, hence the reason this week’s regional qualifier for this year’s state women’s championship is back in Dubbo.

In the interim, the club, having seen the impact such events can have, also held a (predominantly) men’s tournament – the Western Open – in late 2021.

This week, 12 nations are represented in another strong field, again helping spread the city’s message to an audience that golf club general manager Melanie Pickett says is rapidly expanding.

Which brings us back to the location conundrum.

On face value, being a five-hour drive north-west of Sydney could be perceived as a hindrance.

But Pickett won’t hear of that.

“I think a lot of international people are interested in rural Australia,” she said.

“We’ve essentially also got a wildlife sanctuary in the middle of our course with kangaroos and native birdlife. It’s a great additional attraction with the condition of the golf course now.”

And she’s also adamant that the club can play an even more expansive role in the city’s future plans.

“The aim is to aid tourism in Dubbo and for the golf club to be a part of that,” she said.

“We want all our visitors to stay a couple of days and by bringing other golf-related activities to the club, that will help us as well.

“Every time people visit our club, we hope they will see something new.

“There are a lot of things up for discussion at the moment, including a driving range, for example. But the next big thing for us will be updates to the clubhouse itself and possible extensions.

“The aim is for us all in the next 2-3 years to see quite a big difference to the golf club.

“This part of town is a high-growth area at the moment – Dubbo generally, but in particular our area and a sub-division that is essentially sold out along the (south-western) edge of the course.

“This means a lot of new neighbours for us which can potentially bring us a rise in golfers (members), but also clubhouse members as well.

“It’s really important to us that we can be a place that everyone can come and be entertained, not just golfers.

“We are constantly striving to be bigger, be better. We’ve got very motivated members who are happy to volunteer and billet (host visiting professionals). The board is very progressive as well, which helps with that because … we’re trying to give the best projection of us to the world, not only as a golf destination, but also for Dubbo as a place to visit for Australians and those overseas.

“To host events like this really helps us promote the club, so it’s a win-win situation for us.”

But the vast majority of this mission still relies on the course, which Pickett says is “immaculate at the moment”, thanks largely to the efforts of long-standing superintendent Michael Wherritt and his team.

Which brings us back to the challenges of location and the spirit of those in the regions to punch above their weight.

Pickett said the irrigation grant had gone “as close as possible” to drought-proofing the course.

But since its installation, two more immense natural challenges have reared their ugly heads.

The floods of late 2022 created obvious immediate issues, but then left an ongoing salinity issue nobody could remember in its century on the site.

When the water subsided, the region endured extraordinary humidity that left some greens with diseases not previously seen, either.

It’s these lessons out of hardship that set Dubbo apart.

“We learn lessons every year because every year seems to throw something different at us,” Pickett said.

“A good part of that is our `Wherro’ and his team. He’s fanatical about his course and he’ll go the `nth’ degree to remedy whatever the issues are.

“For example, with that salt rising on our 6th fairway, which has left obvious damage but also still there are trees dying.

“We’ve got soil testing going on and we’re trying to find the best course of action to remedy the issue. It’s definitely a salinity issue, but we’re getting advice from a range of sources.”

History tells us that Dubbo Golf Club will make the right choice in time.

That’s why it can lay claim to being one of the best inland golfing facilities in Australia.

Where will it end? More key tournaments seems to be a popular choice in the medium-term future.

“We’d love another Women’s NSW Open – it would be fantastic,” Pickett said.

“It’s definitely something we’d like to hold again. We’ll have to keep working to be lucky enough to host a men’s Open, but the sky’s the limit.”

Indeed it is.

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