Beginning all the way back in 1995, I’ve been lucky enough to work at some of
the very best courses in the country - courses including Portsea, Port Fairy,
Victoria, The Lakes, Ranfurlie, Healesville and Royal Queensland - that showcase
the game as I think it should be played.
The commission to build Barnbougle Dunes with Tom Doak was a dream assignment on some of the finest links land any modern architects have had a chance to build golf holes.
Richard Sattler is a farmer who owns a vast tract of farmland in north-east Tasmania. The flat heavy soils of the Barnbougle farm were ideal for grazing of cattle and growing of potatoes but almost his entire Barnbougle farm was horribly unsuited to golf let alone some of the best golf in the world.
Along the very edge of the farm between the flat land and the sea was a line of dunes that Sattler saw as a complete annoyance because ‘there was always sand blowing across my potatoes.’ Those dunes were however perfect land for golf and Sattler, relying on the advice of Mike Keiser, Tom Doak and myself, determined to invest in golf.
Barnbougle Dunes opened at the end of 2004 and has proved to be incredibly popular with Australian golfers who make the pilgrimage to play this unique Australian links.
Bill Coore’s Lost Farm course opened in December 2010 and the resort’s 36-holes makes this one of the game’s finest remote destinations.
When John Sloan, Bruce Grant and I first discussed the golf course with the committee in 1995 the most compelling argument suggesting a way forward was an early 1930s aerial photograph of the golf course. It showed off one of the most dramatic bunkering schemes in the game and our advice was to reclaim the spirit, the look and the feel of the original course.
Twenty-five years on Victoria is closer now to the layout of the 1930s, something achieved by rebuilding and restoring the altered or lost bunkers and a vegetation plan highlighting the use of locally indigenous vegetation.
The rebuilding and resurfacing of the greens in 2018 by OCCM allowed for significant changes to the 5th,12th and 17th greens – greens much altered from the 1930s – and the course remains one of the most important on the sandbelt.
Royal Queensland is an historic club visited by Alister Mackenzie in 1926 and where Norman Von Nida, the father of Australian professional golf, started his incredible career. Arnold Palmer won the 1966 Australian Open at Royal Queensland and Greg Norman was the assistant professional to long-time club pro, Charlie Earp.
The Gateway bridge connecting the suburbs south of Brisbane to those north of the river was build in the nineteen-eighties and six holes were left on ‘the other side of the bridge’.
The club was forced by the expansion of the bridge to relocate those holes onto the ‘clubhouse side of the bridge’ and that meant building almost an entirely new course.
The land is flattish but there is some interesting and crumpled undulation that adds to the attraction of the golf.
The new course was a chance to build a course with strategic questions asked by few courses in the country. The fairways are expansive and almost no golf is played out of long grass. Several of the holes feature fairway bunkers in the fairway (surely a good description of a ‘fairway’ bunker) and on a direct line to the hole. The concept of the green designs was truly reward play from one particular side of the fairway and only rarely is the middle of the fairway the ideal place from which to attack the pin. Royal Queensland is an example of a course where multiple rounds uncover much of its complexity.
The Lakes, one of Australia’s great clubs lost all its original holes in the early 1970s when the airport to city freeway split the course.
Bruce Devlin and Robert Von Hagge’s course was brilliantly routed especially the 2nd to the 8th holes on the small tract of land on the ‘other side’ of the freeway but by 2005 the original character of the golf course was altered beyond recognition.
The formerly open windswept dunes had been covered in trees and restoring wild tracts of sandy wasteland recaptured some of the traditional feel of Sydney golf. The greens and bunkers were rebuilt in their entirety and make for a compelling, interesting test – perhaps not one to suit the tastes of all but nonetheless a course worthy of praise and study.
The RACV course at Healesville was a short, hilly and quite poor golf course built on the heavy clay soils of Victoria’s Yarra Valley.
Melbourne is rightly famed for the architecture of the sand based courses but none of the courses outside of the sandbelt could match the quality the highest ranked courses because there was an assumption it was impossible to build beautiful greens and bunkers in heavy clay.
The commitment of the RACV to rebuild the golf course was an opportunity to create interesting and strategic holes and to construct greens and bunkers that match the quality of the work on the sandbelt.
Tom Doak in his Confidential Guide to Golf Courses wrote: “It’s rare for a course of 5600 yards to be of interest to better golfers, but isn’t that really because most such facilities never make an effort to succeed? The redesign of Healesville proves it can be done, and done with flair.”
This was our first new golf course commission and I still have much affection for the type of golf the course asks for. It’s a windy site and in the fashion of the much older Yarra Yarra it’s quite a small acreage but it packs in plenty of good golf and has a number of terrific holes. The 17th with a natural hogsback fairway is a personal favourite and likely the best hole on the course.
The original site was largely treeless and we took care to avoid the mistakes of earlier generations who mass planted some of the best courses in the city will all manner of vegetation, very little of which was indigenous.
As the trees mature they will alter – and improve upon - the early character of the golf course and long into the future the members will be alleviated of the worry of having to replant the golf course with the ‘right’ trees.