The favourite holes of RACV golf course designers

RACV has a suite of courses at its resorts in Victoria. Here the designers of the courses at Goldfields Resort, Torquay Resort and Healesville Country Club nominate their favourite holes.

RACV TORQUAY

On an area on the Spring Creek flats at the base of the sand dunes – land that was deemed unsuitable for farming when the first golf course was built there in the early 1920s – sits another jewel in the RACV resort crown.

Once, Cobb & Co coaches stopped near the 18th to break up their long trip to Melbourne. Now, No. 1 Great Ocean Road Torquay offers a golfing experience befitting such a prestigious address.

Designer Ashley Mead nominates his favourite holes:

14th – 356m par 4

From a tee that’s nestled in the dunes, you catch glimpses of Jan Juc Beach, yet the large fairway bunker on the corner of a dogleg fairway demands more immediate attention. The flag is also visible, teasing the golfer to play as close as possible to the fairway bunker and be rewarded with an easier approach into the green.

Every metre you stray to the left of the bunker increases the difficulty of a second shot over a series of bunkers that guard the tiered green from roughly 20 metres away. A long tee shot can fly the fairway bunker, but venture too far left and your ball could finish in the water hazard.

17th – 119m par 3

One of the most picturesque holes on the property plays from an elevated tee – offering the best view of the waves pounding the Surf Coast – to a smallish green at the base of a large dune.

The green is surrounded by short grass and four deep bunkers, which look deceptively small yet come regularly into play due to the surrounding ground feeding the ball towards the hazard.

If you miss the green and manage to avoid the bunkers, a large area of short grass should allow a relatively simple recovery shot. The green is quite flat, offering a good birdie chance to anyone who hits the target.

6th – 418m par 5

This is one of the course’s most difficult holes, in the style of the classic links, with a wide-open fairway allowing a relatively comfortable tee shot free of the hazards that loom closer to the target.

A small waste dividing the 6th and 7th holes on the left rarely comes into play, but the punchbowl green is where the action happens, positioned midway up a dune that separates the course from the beach. Any ball that finishes near the green generally makes its way down on to the putting surface, but miss to the right and you’ll find yourself in a deep quarry surrounded by tussocks of grass.

RACV GOLDFIELDS

The site that greeted the Cashmore Golf Design team in the mid-2000s when they were enlisted to turn a nine-hole course at Creswick into an 18-hole championship-quality layout, boasted all the hallmarks of the Australian bush: a landscape of jaw-dropping natural beauty, with challenges and hidden dangers at every turn.

CGD principal Tony Cashmore says negotiating the proliferation of significant eucalypts presented the most obvious dilemma – “thousands of them, and some of them very big”. Then there were the reminders of the region’s prospecting past – mine shafts, which made ideal locations for greens or tee boxes too perilous to contemplate. Heavily sloping land upped the degree of difficulty still further, as did a scarcity of top soil to cultivate new fairways on leased land. A lack of water for irrigation rounded out the puzzle.

With roughly a third of the holes demanding uphill approaches into blind greens that test even the most pinpoint of iron players, Tony is content the brief of delivering a world-standard golf challenge in a glorious natural setting has been met. “I love the site, I got deeply involved in it,” the veteran of 35 years of golf architecture says. “It’s certainly championship quality in terms of how difficult it is to score on.”

These are Tony’s favourite holes:

9th – 398m par 4

A photographer’s delight from the tee, casting downhill to the dogleg left that’s marked by a huge grey gum, with the resort hotel in the distance and the first fairway to the right. “A great big, open, panoply of land,” Tony says. “A lovely hole to play and beautiful to look at. A great favourite of mine.”

Take a driver as far as you can down the hill, avoiding the fairway bunker to the right, to the grey gum that’s no longer living but still in play. Then it’s a shortish to mid-iron into a green that slopes from back to front and is well bunkered front right and left with another trap behind the green to catch anything that’s over-clubbed. “It’s a very tough, bunkered green to finish a beautiful hole that’s not all that hard to play.”

13th – 168m par 3

Another aesthetically pleasing hole that’s set in a huge stand of gums, with the downward slope making it a picture to behold from the tee.

Playing from the back it’s 168 metres, but the gradient brings it back to a seven or even six iron. There’s a pond around the right side of the green, a bunker about 20 metres short to the left and another following the back left of the green to trap anything that kicks through.

The best approach is to carry the bunker on the left, although shorter hitters looking to stay well away from the water can play safe and try to get up and down. The green is almost flat, with a small, higher section in the back right corner that ups the challenge if the pin is positioned near the pond. A hole that looks good and plays tough.

6th – 471m par 5

A wonderful par five that’s not all that long but presents two distinct challenges: keeping your drive on a fairway that slopes sharply from right to left, and threading your second shot between the ‘gate posts’ of two huge eucalypts that stand roughly 35 metres apart.

The ideal tee shot will shape left to right to counter the slope and keep your ball away from the trees at the bottom of the fairway. Good players will hit a two iron or even driver for their second shot, staying low between the trunks of the trees where there’s more room. Take more elevation and you’ll be up where the heads of the trees reach towards each other, leaving less margin for error. There are two small bunkers short and to the left but ample room once you get past them, heading uphill to a biggish green that’s not bunkered.

In short (and easier said than done), keep the ball right of centre off the tee then hit a dead straight shot to give yourself a chance of an eagle putt. A delightful golf hole.

RACV HEALESVILLE

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.

Written by Peter Hanlon
September 08, 2017