The RACV Country Club in Healesville is the pin-up for an approach to golf course design that champions brevity, a conviction that less can be more.
When he first looked at the course in 2004, lead designer Mike Cocking from Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead was taken by its lack of length – at just under 5000 metres, it is significantly shorter than most courses in the country. Yet Mike was emboldened rather than deterred, seeing RACV Healesville as an example of just the sort of course architects should be building more of.
“By obeying the simple rules of strategic design, where golfers are rewarded for playing close to trouble with a better line to the green, and utilising a set of thought-provoking greens and bunkers, the course remains interesting for everyone from the accomplished golfer to the beginner,” he says.
Mike and his team were humbled in 2010 when Golf Australia Magazine rated the course No. 38 in the country, having never previously achieved a rating.
Here are Mike’s favourite holes:
15th– 421m par 5
Splitting the original 15th hole in two accounted for one of the biggest changes to the original course, delivering a hole that showcases Healesville’s premium on choosing the right line in order to be best placed when tackling quirky, demanding greens.
The original green was taken way to the left to make this short par five, along with the short par three that follows, incorporate a creek running directly along the green’s edge. In fact, the creek features on both par fives (the 8th being the other), acting as both a strategic hazard and a practical means of draining a wet area of the course.
From the tee, the hole is very wide, with the creek cutting through the middle of the fairway on a slight diagonal before doubling back and running in front of the putting surface. “There is a clear reward for playing close to the creek – up the narrow section of the fairway along the left – as it opens up a much easier shot to the green,” Mike says. Conversely, an easier line off the tee to the right leaves an infinitely more challenging approach over the creek.
The green is one of the more interesting on the course, featuring a deep valley through its middle that was inspired by the Biarritz-style green on the 16th hole at North Berwick in Scotland.
12th – 265m par 4
Mike rates short par fours among his favourite holes to build. “Perhaps this is a result of growing up in a city blessed with so many world-class holes of this length – the 10th West at Royal Melbourne, the 3rd and 4th at Woodlands, the 3rd at Kingston Heath and the 15th at Victoria Golf Club,” he says.
All can be reached off the tee in the right conditions, but such bravery means flirting with trouble. Typically from the tee, there are lots of options and lots of clubs to choose from, with the weather, pin position and the golfer’s own form all factors in a decision that will vary from day to day.
Mike’s team shortened the 12th slightly so the golfer could see the green, but they also cut a huge bunker into the hill just short of the target. When the pin is anywhere on the left side of the green, the best line is from close to this bunker. When the pin is on the right, the best line flips to the left side of the wide fairway.
10th – 130m par 3
There are six par threes at Healesville, including the first two holes on the back nine. “Typically there are only three or four on most courses, so one of our aims was to build as much variety into these little holes as possible,” Mike says.
At 130 metres, the 10th is the shortest hole on the course but is blessed to occupy a wonderful piece of ground, playing across a deep valley to an elevated target. The green is large with some interesting contours and a number of pin positions available. The sloping ground at the front and sides was ideal for building some of the most dramatic bunkers on the course.