CHANGES at the Old Course in St Andrews have generated heated debate in recent weeks, but course alterations of an altogether different kind are forcing the Australian PGA to move from its Sunshine Coast resort location in south Queensland state after 11 years. Blame it, indirectly, on a new robotic dinosaur located between the ninth green and tenth tee.
A 26-foot high replica of a tyrannosaurus rex now sits menacingly outside the main clubhouse at the layout formerly owned by a multi-national hotel chain. No one – golfers, officials or visitors – at this week’s Australian PGA Championship will be able to avoid noticing it.
The course and the accompanying five-star hotel complex are now owned by billionaire Australian mining magnate Clive Palmer, whose long-term plan for the resort is to import more molded dinosaurs and turn the place, which includes prime ocean beach frontage, into a theme park. Or maybe a casino.
But the PGA’s first tournament since Palmer took over earlier this year began in controversy, with Palmer putting up more than 60 signs all over the course – some in key landing areas on fairways – spruiking his pursuits, including his planned rebuilding of a replica of the Titanic ocean liner and several other of his companies.
The signage has forced organisers into making some of the landing areas “ground under repair,” where golfers will be able to move the ball if it lands, or if their stance is affected by, the painted grass signs on the ground. On Sunday, the issue came to a head with Australasian PGA Tour officials. For a while the tournament – which will this year feature 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke, Adam Scott, last week’s Australian Open champion Peter Senior and Greg Norman – appeared to be in jeopardy.
PGA Tour chief executive Brian Thorburn said yesterday that the tour is looking at other courses in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, but no decision has been made for 2013 other than the tournament will remain in Queensland. The PGA and Palmer resort officials had been negotiating for over six months, he said.
Thorburn said he wouldn’t get into the “cut and thrust” of the negotiations but the suggestions were that the event was nearly called off. “We have had a great run on the Sunshine Coast, it has been fantastic, but nothing stays forever,” Thorburn said. “Emotionally it will be sad.”
Palmer tweeted on Sunday: “We had some issues with pgaofaustralia but all now resolved amicably and we are looking forward to the tournament at Palmer Coolum Resort’.
The tournament, first held in 1905, moved to Coolum in 2002 after two years at Royal Queensland in Brisbane. But it’s also been played at Royal Melbourne, where Hale Irwin (1978) and Seve Ballesteros (1981) were among the winners, and other top Australian courses.
Certainly some of the golfers at this year’s tournament at Coolum will notice the change. “I’ve heard it sounds like we are going to Jurassic Park so this will be interesting,” Robert Allenby said.
Actually the dinosaur, nicknamed “Jeff” is movement activated – its tail flips up in the air and its mouth opens wide in a loud roar when anyone approaches. Golfers playing social rounds recently have taken “dinosaur mulligans” when the roar occurs during a backswing on the tenth tee.
Palmer has agreed to turn off the robotic features of the dinosaur during the tournament, although it might feature during today’s pro-am.
When asked if he ever imagined the century-old Australian PGA would be played on a course with a 26-foot TyRex, Thourburn smiled and said “no”.
“But having said that, let’s put it into perspective,” he added. “It has generated some tremendous publicity for this tournament and we don’t have a big marketing budget so in that regard everybody knows that the PGA is on at Coolum at the moment.
“From a golf perspective the guys who are playing the ninth hole don’t see it as they chip in, [but] it might be in the background when they are putting from the opposite direction. The tenth tee, it’s not in their sights when they are teeing it up, so it is not going to interfere in the golf in any way.”
Defending champion Greg Chalmers admitted he was taken aback by the prehistoric beast. “I’m glad it’s not roaring, that’s a good start,” Chalmers said. “It is just a little strange. It is not what I expected to see.”
Clarke was on the practice putting range when the dinosaur let out his booming roar. He laughed as he grabbed his sand wedge and headed toward the practice pitching area.
“That’s a shame,” said the Northern Irishman when told the tournament would not return to Coolum next year. “You can’t get many better places than this.”