Hamilton Island Golf Club – A Driving Passion

Hamilton island Golf Club overlooking the Whitsunday islands

Hamilton island Golf Club overlooking the Whitsunday islands

Cherie Alison (nee Byrnes) has mixed it with the best on the international tour, but now brings her expertise to the stunning Hamilton Island Golf Club where as head Pro, she presides over one of the greatest Australian courses.

When Cherie Alison first turned professional it was unlikely you would find her teaching golf on a tropical island in Queensland’s Whitsundays. But after a decade of traipsing the world’s fairways – teeing it up against the likes of Karrie Webb, Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam – she has opted for a change in pace. For the past year Cherie has been head Golf Professional at Hamilton Island Golf Club. The golden opportunity materialised quickly after sending off her CV in June 2009. An hour later Alison received a phone call, inviting her to fly up to the Whitsundays for an interview. Not long afterwards she was offered the teaching position, having beaten more than 2,000 applicants for the posting.

Alison’s credentials duly impressed the owners. The 34-year-old had been one of Australia’s most accomplished women players over the past decade. Under her maiden name of Cherie Byrnes, she played the Ladies European Tour between 2001 and 2007 and spent a season on the US LPGA Tour in 2004. She had a career-best third place finish at the 2005 Algarve Ladies Open in Portugal.

At Hamilton Island, Alison leads a team of seven who manage the golf operations. It’s a vastly different to grinding out a living on the pro circuit. As a teaching professional she gets great satisfaction helping amateurs to play the game better.

“Just seeing the smiles on faces, seeing improvement, people enjoying the game,” says Alison, who encourages people to work on their short games as the quickest avenue to improvement (concentrating on the shorter shots onto the green rather than their tee shots or long game).

“I start people off with short game. I find it’s a lot easier for them to learn that way. I really enjoy teaching short game. (Most professionals) don’t concentrate on that because a lot of people ask for a lesson and they generally want it on long game.”

Most amateurs would envy Alison’s own rapid progression in golf. At the age of eight she followed her two older brothers to a junior clinic. At 12 she shot a score of 152 in her first full round. At 13 her initial handicap was 36. But over the next three years she lowered that mark to two and won selection in the national squad. Her best competitive round is 62 at Sydney’s Bonnie Doon course.

While her primary role at Hamilton Island has a teaching emphasis, the job calls for sudden corporate expertise. Only recently the arrival of a cruise ship forced Alison to employ her logistical skills in order to cater for 122 would-be golfers. The position also entails playing with VIPs, a role for which she is well suited.

“She was the perfect fit for that job given the clientele – the number of corporate golfers who play at that venue and also the holidaymakers,” says Warren Sevil, Chief Executive of Australian Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG).

“She has the sort of personality that is appealing to everyone. She’s such an engaging person and so naturally pleasant. But also very professional in everything that she does. She’s a great ambassador for women’s professional golf.”

Cherie Allison lines up a putt

Cherie Allison lines up a putt

Incidentally, it was during Alison’s time as a touring pro that she displayed a penchant for the managerial side of golf. For two years she was Tournament Director of the Australian Ladies Professional Classic at Horizons in Port Stephens, close to where she grew up at Nelson Bay.

It was a valuable experience for Alison, who was considering a teaching position in Sydney until landing the perfect job at Hamilton Island. Little wonder she’s thrilled, considering the travelling time it takes to get to work each morning. No peak hour traffic, just a seven-minute ferry ride for the 900-metre trip across to Dent Island where the course is located. Golfing paradise.

Approximately 50 of Hamilton Island’s 400 residents are golfers. They make up a fair proportion of daily rounds, which average about 40. That’s a moderate number that will increase with demand on what is considered one of the most scenic courses in Australia.

It’s a credit to the designer Thomson Perrett (the architectural company of five-times British Open champion Peter Thomson) who considers Hamilton Island as its most difficult project. Heavy machinery and exhaustive manpower was required to transform the course from rocky outcrops and thick vegetation, which came to fruition at a conservative estimate of $20 million. Thomson’s signature ‘pot bunkers’ are a feature of the 6,120-metre layout (par 71).

To counterbalance the rugged setting, he softened the course with wide fairways and generous green complexes that have slightly undulating putting surfaces. Both accomplished players and once-a-year social golfers can appreciate its class.

Every hole has ocean views, leading Thomson to exclaim: “It’s got a wow factor that I think is unmatched. As you play, you look out onto the other islands in the Whitsundays and the blue, blue sea. So it’s really got a lot of picturesque charm to it.”

Alison describes the Hamilton Island layout as pretty spectacular and well designed with amazing views. Her favourite hole is the fourth, a 175 metre par-3 that traverses a valley to an angled green with a dramatic cliff top as a backdrop. She likens a couple of holes to those at Kauri Cliffs on the North Island of New Zealand, yet says there is some resemblance to New South Wales Golf Club in Sydney.

Meanwhile, Alison has taken up residence on Hamilton Island with husband Mark, who she married in August at Port Stephens. Initially, she was concerned about adapting to the laid-back lifestyle.

“I’ve always enjoyed the water so I don’t think you’d ever find me going too far country without being near the water,” she says.

“I was just worried it might have been too quiet for us and not enough to do. But there’s so many different activities going on. There’s a little bit for everyone on the island between all the water-based activities, then the land-based activities as well.”

But what’s the best part of living and working on Hamilton Island?

“I’ve actually learned to sail. That’s not something I would have pictured ever doing!”

The Above Article was originally published in the August 2010 Edition of REEF Magazine