Bonville International Golf Resort lies a few miles south of Coffs Harbour, in New South Wales, and many regard it as the nation’s most beautiful inland layout – some, in fact, describe it as Australia’s Augusta National.
The national Rugby Union team, the Wallabies, uses the town as a training base and the team has been known to unwind on the local 18-hole championship course at Bonville International. Actor John Howard described the course as, “an exquisite combination of feng shui, zen, Buddhism beauty and cruelty. If you’re not hitting it well just look around you”. Russell Crowe lives close by and he has also teed it up here too – are there any tee times left for us mere mortals?
Literally carved through rainforests, the holes at Bonville are played in virtual isolation to each other, with huge Blackbutt, Ironbark and Tallowood trees framing every fairway. The course is laid out over gently undulating terrain with creeks and ponds adding to the visual splendor. Greens are generously proportioned but don’t expect to find many where one or two putts are guaranteed!
Three of the five par five holes on the card are found on the back nine so it’s no surprise that the inward half is a demanding 400 yards longer than the front nine. The pick of the five par three holes on the course is also the shortest. The 156-yard 17th is a delightful hole played from a secluded tee across water to an angled green.
The layout was updated in 2009 when bunkers on seventeen holes were rebuilt then topped up with brilliant white sand – a move that caused some to draw even more comparisons with the home of The Masters in Georgia, USA.
Bonville was designed by Terry Watson & Ted Stirling, and completed in 1992.The story goes that the design brief was to develop Australia's answer to Augusta National - home of The Masters.
The property was previously a eucalyptus plantation, providing the opportunity to cut a swathe through the vegetation without recourse to conversationalist issues AND providing a stunning backdrop to the variety of holes winding their way through the lush vegetation.
Coffs Harbour has a real tropical climate with plenty of precipitation, providing a thick verdant frame to each picture book hole.
The routing is somewhat unique in that it winds beautifully through the hills - one could easily lose direction - and there is significant elevation change on a regular basis.
This is not a course to walk - it is basically a cart only course with the longest distance between green and tee of any course I can remember. For me the length between green and tee at Bonville is the major knock on the course.
Did I mention water? Well, there is plenty of it, used beautifully on most par 5's, the stunning short 15th and the all world par 3 17th.
The bunkering is understated, but strategically placed. The greens are quite severe, in keeping with the severe elevation change of the setting. Originally pentcross greens they were converted to Bermuda grass in 1999 - and therein lays a problem. The bermuda grass may be more suitable to the Coff Harbour climate, but the combination of the bermuda grain, and the movement in the greens make putting challenging for some. Perhaps the green contours were more suited to the original surfaces?
Some of the more difficult holes require long uphill approaches to greens set high, and protected by front bunkers. The combination of slope, damp surrounds, and broad leaf grasses with the front bunkers - sometimes both sides - means only a player who can carry the ball can reach the putting surface. Older players with slower swing speeds may struggle.
There are a number of holes which require a strong uphill approach - 1 , 2, 6 , 9 , 13 & 15 being the most obvious. I thought the par 5's were outstanding with a variety of holes which used both the elevation change, and the ever present water hazards to create really interesting tests of golf.
Holes 7, 10, & 18 were favourites and I thought the all world par 3 17th would fit in nicely in many championship courses around the world, as would the teasing, tempting short par 4 fifteenth with creek, dogleg, and double water carry.
Bonville is a spectacular course that all will enjoy, and few will forget. And it is a wonderful place for a couple or a group to stay with accommodation on course ,and first class hospitality. Just don't expect to shoot low!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Bonville GC, one of Australia's most loved Golf resorts and best Venues for corporate golf days and also the Wallabies choice of course whilst training up these parts. Ranked No. 42 on Golf Digest Top 100 listings, Bonville should find itself climbing the rankings somewhat come Feb'20