Spectators needed jaw realignment after driving through the gates for the first time here at Bonville, the course they call Australia’s Augusta – buried deep within the heart of the Coffs Harbour hinterland.
Its sheer beauty and scale meant nothing to the field of professionals, many of whom reported its sting after the opening round.
“It’s willing to tip you upside down at any moment,” tournament leader Holly Clyburn told the assembled media.
“If you make a mistake (here) you are going to get punished,” said Hall-of-famer Dame Laura Davies.
The postcards and pictures of Bonville, which we’ve come to savour over the years, show the pretty veneer of this golf course. But it can be fierce. In few places will find you find bigger trees, bigger forests, bigger reputations and bigger blowouts.
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For starters, no-one is walking this week. Players will be using carts every day in this European Tour-sanctioned event – an almost unheard-of practice.
Because there’s walks of up to a kilometre between holes, and gradients of the type we’ve become accustomed to on the TV these past two weeks in PyeongChang.
Really, it wasn’t built to walk – although we suspect hardier locals will debunk that myth.
In any case, for all its beauty, its height, width and sheer scale, it took nothing more cunning than a simple approach to come out on top.
Briton Holly Clyburn set a new course record in her first competitive outing at the course, the first such record of her professional career.
It was a handsome payday after four weeks on Australian soil.
“My iron play was pretty nice today. And when I had the chance to hole some putts they did what they were told and went in,” she said.
“I just kept in the moment, kept digging deep and I played nicely coming in from the sixth. It was lovely.”
Whilst the 27-year-old’s round set the benchmark, it wasn’t the highlight of the round. That came from Western Sydney teenager Belinda JI who scored her second career ace, with a one-bouncer on the pretty 131m par three 17th.
Playing in her first professional tournament since she was 12 – yep, 12 – JI resurrected her round with a late flourish that kept her nicely placed at four-over.
JI comes not from adversity or connections – but from humble parents whose initial investment of a lesson at the driving range when she was in primary school, looks like hitting paydirt with an exciting career just beginning to blossom.
“It (golf) is a new thing for our family,” the quiet 15-year-old said.
“None of my parents played golf. They try to invest as much as they can into my game, and I really appreciate that. They’ve done so much for me. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
Icelandic golfer Valdis Thora Jonsdottir looked set to join Clyburn, but gave up two late bogeys to disrupt a tilt for the clubhouse lead, finishing with a three-under-par 69 to be in a tie for 2nd.
“This course is just about being patient. You can easily lose your temper, especially when you hit great shots that aren’t rewarded.
“I stayed patient and am confident I can improve, even though I am hitting my irons great,” Jonsdottir said.
Earlier, Davies used her decades of experience to post a solid round of one-under, to be in the top 10 midway through the opening round.
The British legend said: “I didn’t make many mistakes, so 1-under is a fair result. I could’ve had a couple more (birdies) but overall I’m really pleased.”
Davies was one of many who three-putted the 18th, with a pin tucked deep back left.
“18 is extreme,” she said.
“I’m not saying they shouldn’t have a pin back there, but gee it’s pretty tough. The only place you can hit it in hindsight is short dead uphill, otherwise, you’ve got your work cut out.”
The benefit of experience also paid off handsomely for Indian Sharmilla Nicolet (70) who had former touring pro and Bonville teaching professional Richie Gallichan on her bag.
“Richie’s been great,” Nicolet said.
“He knows these greens and this course inside out so it’s been great. It was good teamwork today.”
Having overcome injury this past season, and now playing without the burden of being the sole female Indian player on the European tour, Nicolet said she was enjoying some early success in 2018.
“It’s nice to see some results,” she said.
“I’ve put in a lot of work since last year, changing my coach, going to the US for three months.
“I was the lone Indian (previously). Even this week it’s nice to see two Indians playing out here. It does take a little pressure off.”
Nicolet’s army of followers on social media responded to her first-round with an appropriate amount of likes (852), after she posted an image of herself and Gallichan under the simple reference “teamwork”.
Other rounds of note among the early starters came from Spaniard Marta Sanz Barrio who finished three-under in a nice return to form. The diminutive and quietly-spoken 26-year-old let her clubs do the talking.
“It’s been a rough couple of weeks, but it’s nice for me to find it (form) today.”
Of the Australians pre-tournament favourite Hannah Green (70) and young Adelaide professional Stephanie Na (70) were the best of the Australians and are in a tie for nine-way tie for fourth.
Green, who’s boyfriend Jarryd Felton is defending his NZ PGA Championship title this week at Palmerston on NZ’s North Island, birdied her final two holes in a strong finish.
“It’s tough. There’s some tricky pin positions out there,” the 21-year-old said.
“The greens were good. But it’s tough to get it close sometimes.
“I didn’t think I hit it very well today, but to be in contention at two-under makes me very happy.”
Asked how she felt that both she and her partner (Jarryd) were starting tournaments as favourites in the same week, she said: “It’s pretty cool. Happy that he’s back in New Zealand. He’s played some good golf there obviously with winning last year.”