Mirage Country Club to bring back the heydays with upgrades

BUSINESS

Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Geoff Peard (left), Michael Wolveridge and Alec Ross review the history of the course in Tom Ramsey's book, Great Australian Golf Courses. All images: Howard Salkow.
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Once described as having a layout with a bit of Hawaii and a dash of Palm Springs mixed into the Queensland kaleidoscope, it’s no real surprise the Mirage Country Club was for a time the top rated resort golf course in Australia.

Opened in 1986, a year before the Sheraton Mirage (now the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort) welcomed its first guests, both properties were the brainchild of entrepreneur Christopher Skase, who envisioned Port Douglas as a mecca for tourism.

In a fashion which typified Skase’s ability to get things done, it did not take long before some of the world’s top golfers converged on the country club.

In 1988, the club staged the world’s richest Skins game with prizes worth $2.2 million. Eighteen-time major championship winner Jack Nicklaus, dual US Open champion Curtis Strange and two-time British Open winner Greg Norman won the bulk of the cash.

In the same year and played on November 18-20, the country club was the venue for a Golf Test between Australia, captained by Norman, and a UK team, led by Sandy Lyle. The event received international TV coverage.  

The make-up of the two teams were: Australia: Norman, David Graham, Rodger Davis, Craig Parry, Steve Elkington and Peter Senior. UK: Lyle, Mark James, Ian Woosnam, Howard Clark, Gordon Brand Jr. and Ronan Rafferty.

Today, 33 years after he co-designed the track with the late and five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson, Michael Wolveridge is not shy to say the course needs work to get it back to where it was in its halcyon days.

Wolveridge, who was involved in the design of more than 200 courses in 23 countries, is still a busy man as he works closely with the club’s Golf Superintendent Alec Ross, in a three-year project which involves re-designing all 18 greens.

The club’s General Manager, Geoff Peard, said the plan is to upgrade six greens per year.

“Work began in February this year and during this period, we built two extra greens on each nine. We’ve done this to ensure there is no interruption to play and our guests do not have to play on temporary greens,” he said.

Although this is a significant financial undertaking, Peard said a large portion of the work is being done in-house and this is assisting in considerable savings.

“What’s important is that those who play the course or visit the Country Club can see there is a lot happening. This is already reaping benefits and we picked up more than 40 new members from the recently-closed Paradise Palms, near Palm Cove,” said Peard.

Wolveridge, meanwhile, is thrilled to see the golf course being reinvigorated. And he still likes to remind everyone that it was Skase who made this possible.

“Christopher was a great bloke, he did great things and was the hero of the moment,” he says.

Skase, who died in 2001, was an Australian businessman who later became one of this country's most wanted fugitives, after his business empire crashed spectacularly and he fled to Majorca, Spain.

Besides owning five resorts and other business interests, he was well known for his displays of wealth: a lavish 40th birthday party in 1988, and a company Christmas party that cost $450,000.

In one particular incident, he had his private jet fly from Port Douglas to Melbourne to pick up a dress for his wife, Pixie.

For a golf course once dominated by the flamboyant and visited by the rich and famous – Bill Clinton was at the course on the eve of 9/11 – you can expect once all the dirt has been removed, its new-look will be appropriately displayed.

“It’s a ways off, but yes we’ll launch the new greens in 2022 which will be the re-emergence of the course,” said Peard.

You do have to wonder, if Skase was still with us, how he would showcase the changes.    


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