02 Jun 2023 | Amateur golf |

Sold out in 11 minutes: The sand greens phenomenon

by Tony Webeck

Sand Greens champs image
Action from Long Reach in 2022. The Sand Greens Championship is thriving.

There is a common characteristic shared between all 192 competitors set to tee it up at the 2023 Queensland Sand Greens Championship this weekend at St George Golf Club six hours west of Brisbane.

They’re fast.

They had to be just to get a start.

When registrations opened, it took just 11 minutes for the field to fill up; some 35 players added to a waiting list hopeful for withdrawals that almost never come.

At last count, 90 women are registered to play the Queensland Women’s Sand Green Championship that will also be played at St George from June 10-11.

Approximately 25 per cent of all golf courses in Australia are played on sand greens and, for those in Queensland, there is no bigger or better tournament all year.

“You could call this the state championship of the bush,” says Tournament Director, Chris Evans.

“The main reason that it’s so popular and keeps bringing people back is that they like the camaraderie, a chance to see their mates.

“It’s the one time of the year they get to stop worrying about the farm or whatever they’re looking after and just relax for a couple of days.”

Scott Warren has played the past three Queensland Sand Greens championships… and won them all.

An active member of the community in Gin Gin 40 minutes west of Bundaberg, Warren is the Vice President of the Gin Gin Golf Club, been the club champion every year since 2000 and currently plays off a handicap of plus-7.

Gin Gin born and bred, Warren will miss the local agricultiural show for the first time this weekend, all so that he can convene on the sand greens of St George.

“John Lethbridge, ‘Lefty’, he’s a stalwart of the Sand Greens and golf in the western Queensland area,” says Warren. “He said to me, ‘Scotty, once you’ve been to one, you won’t miss it again.’

“I look forward to the show like there is no tomorrow but this year, the way the calendar has fallen, I’ve had to say to the guys, ‘Sorry, my sponsorship stands but I won’t be here in person. I’ve got Sand Greens on at St George and I’m going.’

“To me, that’s how important Sand Greens is and this is only my fourth one. That paints a picture of how it stands to me, anyway.”

But more on Outback Shark later.

Just like it says on the tin, the unique nature of the Sand Greens Championship comes in the putting surfaces.

Like grass greens across the country, there are varying degrees of quality in how a sand green is presented.

St George is regarded as one of the best sand greens courses in Australia, boasting irrigated fairways courtesy of the adjoining Balonne River but staying true to its sand green roots.

Sand greens are typically 2-3 inches of compacted sand with vegetable oil used on some courses to hold the sand in place.

A skill most Aussie golfers will never need is the raking of a path between the ball and the hole. Those who play refer to it as a ‘smooth’ and, just like putting on grass greens, there are a range of techniques employed to produce the ideal line.

“Of course, every sand green is different,” explains Evans.

“They’re not always flat. They can be uphill, they can be downhill, they can be left-to-right and you want to make sure that your track is smoothed correctly so you’re not having to putt off your track to allow for the break.

“Everyone’s got their little technique. Some like to walk down the line, others like to walk to the side.

“They say that in sand greens it’s how you straddle your smooth. You’ve got to make sure that you don’t get lost from that position from behind the hole back to your ball and then back again.

“If you don’t look where your ball and where the hole is and keep that in mind, you can go off track. And you don’t get to have a redo.” Bush Scotty the man to beat Drop the name ‘Scotty’ in golf circles throughout western Queensland and it won’t be the 2013 Masters champion who first comes to mind.

No, in these parts, Adam Scott has got nothing on Scott Warren.

Now 36 years of age, Warren would travel down to Brisbane as a youngster to go toe-to-toe with Jason Day in Greg Norman Junior Masters events.

“He had my number no end, obviously,” Warren shares.

He was offered a scholarship to Kelvin Grove State College, an invitation he says he doesn’t regret turning down. Yet.

His handicap of plus-7 places him within the top 0.01 per cent of all club golfers within Australia and he is coming in hot to St George having shot 13-under 59 to win the Jim Clarke Memorial Day at Gin Gin in March. Three weeks later his handicap copped another hit when he went to Bargara Golf Club near Bundaberg and shot 9-under 60 in their Saturday comp.

He estimates that when he and good friend Shane Taylor line up in the Friday fourball at St George Golf Club his daily handicap will be plus-10, before the championship itself reverts to a pure strokeplay event.

“And that’s how I like it,” Warren quips.

It was only when he started his own transport business and escaped the demands of the annual cane harvest that Warren was able to finally make his Sand Greens debut at Tambo in 2019.

It was on his way to that event that Taylor introduced him to the vagaries of sand greens for the first time. He quickly understood the importance of a well-executed smooth.

“If you can’t rake yourself a good consistent track, you can be the best putter in the world just about and you’re up against it,” Warren says.

And whether he wins a fourth straight title or not on Sunday, Warren will jump back onto State Route 74 Monday morning for the seven-hour drive back to Gin Gin already looking forward to the 2024 Sand Greens Championship.

“I don’t know how to put into words the total experience without experiencing it yourself,” he says.

“You can go there and play the worst golf – touch wood that I don’t – and you’ll still leave there Monday morning thinking, Geez I had a good time and I can’t wait for next year.

“It’s probably why an event like that fills up in 11 minutes with 200-plus nominations.” For more information on the Queensland Sand Greens Championship click here.

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