After spending more than a decade proving how golf can flourish in the desert, Simon Payne dived straight into the flood fightback effort of Moree Golf Club.
The contrast is striking for the PGA Member of more than 20 years and now General Manager of the popular golfing hub in northern New South Wales.
Water and golf, right? You can’t live with too much and you can’t live without it.
Payne, 51, has embraced his new opportunity after 17 years in the United Arab Emirates where he transitioned from Head Golf Professional to General Manager at the Tower Links Golf Club.
The Brisbane-bred GM’s enthusiastic style is already proving a good fit with a club built around strong community links and a loyal player base in Moree.
“The course and the pro shop were metres under water in the big floods last year. This is a recovery story that beggars belief and built on a strong volunteer group and staff who have done an amazing job,” said Payne.
The culmination of that volunteer labour was on full display when the club last week hosted the two-day $25,000 LDC Moree Legends Pro-Am won by Euan Walters and Tim Elliott.
It was the first time that Moree Golf Club had hosted a PGA Legends Tour event and Payne was justifiably proud of the way the club not only presented the course but the welcome the field of Legends received.
“The 17th is a wonderful par 3, just 140 metres or so over the Mehi River to a postcard green framed by gums,” Payne said of the course’s signature hole.
“The course was in top shape and we were so excited to be able to show it off.”
Payne has only been in the GM’s job since March and admitted the sudden change of scenery hit him.
“It still spins me out. I’m seeing this green-ness again, the maturity of the gums, the sounds of kookaburras and galahs,” he said.
Payne’s golf journey began as a junior at Pine Rivers Golf Club in Brisbane before embarking on his PGA training at the now-defunct Gold Coast Country Club at Helensvale.
He picked up pro-am wins at Horton Park and Pioneer Valley on Queensland’s old “Troppo Tour” as well as Torquay in Victoria and Adelaide Shores more than two decades ago.
Jumping out of his comfort zone was a big attraction of the UAE. His exit strategy had a very Aussie flavour.
“I flew out the day after the 2005 Melbourne Cup. I’d bought a $20 mystery trifecta at the Hamilton Hotel (near Eagle Farm Racecourse) on race day,” Payne still recalls with a smile. “It got up – Makybe Diva and the placegetters – so I picked up $3,500.”
He packed his game for his first stint as head pro at Dubai Country Club because he was sharp enough to earn the UAE PGA Order of Merit three times and represent the UAE PGA in a team competition in Spain.
But the golf culture that comes so naturally to Australians was not always so obvious in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah near the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
“It was a wonderful set-up at Tower Links (one hour up the highway from Dubai International Airport). It was basically the private course of the Sheikh and everything was very well maintained on the edge of a mangrove reserve,” Payne said.
“Some locals would drive their Landcruisers onto the 17th fairway and set out a picnic rug for lunch during a comp. They had no concept it was a golf course.
“They saw it as a big green oasis. Like the guys who’d turn up with their falcons to train them, nothing was done disrespectfully.”
When the time came to return to Australia, Payne was made aware of an opportunity through an old mate and former Head Professional at Moree, David Wright.
He’s quickly connected to the community feel of Moree Golf Club and new Head Professional Darren Burger.
Working side-by-side with Burger, Payne is hoping to initiate a five-hole loop of night golf from shortened tees to the greens around the clubhouse.
“We see it as a way to get more ladies interested in the game with a casual 45 minutes on course with two or three clubs,” Payne said.