Kooralbyn is a big course compared to the smaller country courses I've been playing on our travels from Cairns to Melbourne. It is just under 7000 yards in the old language. It has five sets of tees ranging from the black back tees through to the yellow social tees. It has modern greens and significant earthworks were involved in its construction.
We arrived just after lunch on a Tuesday. For $50 green fees including a cart it was well worth a visit. We also booked a room for $90 through booking.com figuring that it was worth a look despite some negative reviews. At any rate the course was very quiet. I play 18 holes in about three hours and at no stage was I even close to held up.
The course was closed for about eight years and re-opened about two years ago. It is a favourite for lots of people and almost has legendary status for some. I'm equally at home at Kingston Heath, Paradise Palms, Cairns and Kingaroy, so how was it?
The first is a straight par 4 of 345m with a water hazard on the left and especially near the green. It is a fairly gentle starter. I was surprised when my 7I approach bounced to the back of the green. I was a little surprised that the greens seemed a bit dry. The fairway was ok and the surrounds were a little uneven. That turned out to be the general state of the course although I hasten to add that the greens held well struck shots and putted well at a medium pace.
The second is an uphill par 4 of 350m. It turns to the right. There is a big drop off on the right hand side and shots up the left hand side will bounce back onto the fairway. There was definitely more room than it looks at first glance. That was also a pattern which repeated on most of the course.
The third is an intimidating par 4 of 350m. Again there is more room off the tee than it looks but the hole turns left and the approach to the green seems to play a little longer than it looks. There are two bunkers on the right of the green which are best avoided.
At 445m the fourth is probably reachable in two for the bigger hitters. The tee shot is downhill into a valley which gathers shots from both left and right. For shorter hitters there is plenty of room for the second but the third is sharply uphill and blind.
The fifth is a photogenic downhill par 3 of 220m. It is so steeply downhill it probably plays more like 180m. The green looks small from the tee but is quite big when you get down to it. Like most of the greens it has enough undulation to make putting interesting.
The sixth is a downhill par 4 of 375m. The drive is toward two bunkers but check the map before you start otherwise a perfect drive will end up being too long and blocked out by trees because the hole turns hard right and plays over a water hazard. The green is a good match for the length of the second shot.
The seventh is a 480m par 5 which plays in the opposite direction off the tee but again turns right. It is not easy to pick the right line from the tee but again the rule of thumb applies and there is more room than it looks. The tee shot will tend to bounce around the dog leg and get a bit of a boost off the downslope. Like the fourth it is probably reachable in two for the big hitters. Again for short hitters there is plenty of room but the third will be sharply uphill and blind.
The eighth is a downhill par 3 of 165m. It is a good enough hole but looks manufactured to provide a link to the ninth. In turn the ninth is a 400m par 4. Once again the tee shot looks daunting with a sharp drop off to the left. Once again there is more room than it looks. The second is a pleasant shot downhill from around 150m for an average hitter.
The tenth is a 355m par four. The tee shot plays across a dam onto a generous fairway but beware. Anything down the left hand side will be blocked out by trees. The green has interesting undulations and like most offers some diabolical pin placements for green keeper's revenge day.
For what seems like the umpteenth time the tee for eleven is up a hill from the tenth green. This is a nice hole which needs a drive slightly to the left but it has something of a manufactured look about it.
The twelfth is an intimidating slightly uphill par four of 400m. The tee shot is straight forward. The second then plays uphill to a slightly raised green protected by a bunker on the front right. A four here is well earned.
Thirteen plays back down the hill. It is a 530m par 5. The tee shot plays toward two bunkers but they are about 300m off the tee. There is a water hazard on the right for the second. It looks like the safe line is left but you will run out of fairway. Instead take a couple of clubs off and play over the ridge and stay short of the hazard. That will leave a pitch shot to a green with plenty of scope for tough pin placements.
Fourteen is the next surprise. Like the fifth it is a downhill par 3. At 196m it isn't as long but it plays more or less the same length. Not only that but there is a bunker short and another long giving the impression of a shallow green. As it turns out the green is quite deep and the green will comfortably hold a well struck approach.
Fifteen is an unusual slightly uphill par 4 of 410m. The tee shot is over a pond. The fairway looks very wide. The catch is that it is 190m straight over the pond which is a bit much for an average hitter. It is only 160m over the pond down the right hand side but it looks much narrower. There is then a second pond for the second shot. The bigger hitters who take on the 190m carry may well end up in the second pond. The average hitters who have played to the right will have a long but straightforward shot to a largish green with a slight but uniform slope.
Sixteen is a classic downhill par 4 of 390m. The fairway sweeps slightly left leaving a straightforward approach from around 150m for an average hitter. The green is generous and fairly flat.
Seventeen is a make or break par 3 of 185m. It plays over a pond with a bunker in the front middle and two more behind on the left hand side. Today the pin was front left and the green is so shallow I cannot imagine a shot holding the green on that line. There is more depth on the right hand side of the green but that would be a long way from where the pin was today.
Eighteen is an interesting par 5 of about 450m. There are bunkers both left and right of the fairway and a pond not much further on the left hand side to give longer hitters something to think about. For shorter hitters the best option on the second shot is to play away from the hazard leaving a pitch of around 60m. The green is quite wide. It is open on the left but the green extends around behind a bunker on the right. That would be a very challenging pitch and an almost impossible second for the longer hitters.
Overall? Kooralbyn Valley is a big course. It is interesting in parts but feels a bit manufactured in other parts. It could easily overwhelm a player having an off day but the course record is 61 (Peter Senior). I'm not a big fan of water hazards or heroic shots and there are quite a few here. I don't think I would choose this course if I had to play one course for the rest of my life.
That said my wife and I have a really nice room at the resort and the overall experience adds to the course. The condition of the course is good but not great. I hope they can make a go of the resort financially because I'd quite like to come back for a two or three day stay at some stage. For that Kooralbyn Valley is a place everybody should visit at least once.