GOLF CLUB BALLARAT • VIC­TO­RIA One of Aus­tralia’s old­est clubs was given a new lease of life with the open­ing of a new mod­ern lay­out nearly eight years ago. To­day, it is ce­mented among the Top-100 Pub­lic Ac­cess Cour­ses in Aus­tralia.


Bren­dan James dis­cov­ers why this re­gional Vic­to­ria lay­out is firmly ce­mented among the Top-100 Pub­lic Ac­cess Cour­ses in Aus­tralia.

There has been no more learned per­son in Aus­tralian golf than Peter Thom­son. His ar­tic­u­late ob­ser­va­tions on the game have al­ways had a pas­sion for golf at their heart. No area of the game has gone un­no­ticed by the five-time Open Cham­pion.

In par­tic­u­lar, his views and the­o­ries on course ar­chi­tec­ture – gleaned over nearly five decades as a course de­signer – have been the foun­da­tion of more than 180 de­signed cour­ses across 30 coun­tries.

One of Thom­son’s last Aus­tralian de­signs be­fore re­tir­ing last year can be found at Ballarat Golf Club – a club that orig­i­nated in 1895 and re­mains Aus­tralia’s old­est lay­out still played on part of the orig­i­nal course.

With ap­proval given to a large res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment ad­join­ing the club, Thom­son and de­sign part­ner, Ross Per­rett, were com­mis­sioned to cre­ate an al­most com­pletely new course, cov­er­ing some of the orig­i­nal lay­out as well as new land ad­ja­cent to the prop­erty. The re­sult of their work opened for play in 2009 and, al­most im­me­di­ately, gained a po­si­tion in Aus­tralia’s Top-100 Pub­lic Ac­cess Cour­ses rank­ing. It has been there ever since. When asked a few years ago what makes a good golf course, Thommo ex­plained if a course was playable and en­joy­able for all golfers it was one wor­thy of praise.

“Hardly any­one is about mak­ing cour­ses more friendly, by giv­ing re­lief to the less gifted in the form of more mown grass and fewer cav­ernous craters of sand, or of clear­ing un­nec­es­sary trees within the course bound­aries to let in the light and air,” Thom­son said.

“If there is an art to golf course de­sign, it is the achieve­ment of mak­ing an 18-hole course a source of plea­sure to all man­ner of golfers, from the best among us to the most in­ept. A course that is so dif­fi­cult that the high­est hand­i­caps can’t fin­ish is a poor course.”

Thom­son and Per­rett’s work at Ballarat cer­tainly gets a big tick for be­ing a fun, yet chal­leng­ing, lay­out for play­ers of all abil­i­ties.

This is not a long course by mod­ern stan­dards. It stretches to 6,283 me­tres from the back pegs (5,817 from the mem­bers’ tees), but Thom­son and Per­rett have en­sured ev­ery club in the bag will get a run dur­ing the round and good scores will be born out of think­ing smart from tee to green.

The de­sign­ers haven’t taken the driver com­pletely out of the hands of play­ers but – with the strate­gic po­si­tion­ing of bunkers, rough or wa­ter – they leave you open to the sug­ges­tion of a bet­ter op­tion. Smart play is al­ways re­warded here, where poorly ex­e­cuted ag­gres­sive play is pe­nalised.

Adding to the chal­lenge of play­ing this de­sign is one con­stant – wind. There al­ways seems to be a breeze here, which adds to the va­ri­ety of shots you will have to play, es­pe­cially when you con­sider all holes have been routed to run to all points of the com­pass.

Of note, though, is the great col­lec­tion of short par-4 holes. The first of these is the 319-me­tre par-4 3rd, which plays slightly down­hill from the tee and is flanked by out-of-bounds to the left for its en­tire length. The rough-cov­ered mounds down the right cut into the fair­way, cre­at­ing a wide tongue of rough that has been filled with a bunker, about 240 me­tres from the back tee. The best ap­proach to the shal­low green is from the right half of the fair­way so play­ers are left with two play­ing line op­tions – play short of the fair­way trap and make a longer ap­proach, or be ag­gres­sive and bomb a drive over the left edge of the bunker and leave a short iron into the putting sur­face.

The fol­low­ing hole, a 358-me­tre par-4, is also wor­thy of men­tion here. It only plays about 40 me­tres longer than the 3rd hole but it is a far more de­mand­ing of­fer­ing with wa­ter, sand and two ma­jes­tic gum trees pro­vid­ing the de­fense of par. The fair­way gen­tly rises and falls over waves of small hills and nar­rows sig­nif­i­cantly as it squeezes past a sole bunker cut in from the right rough and ly­ing right in the driving zone. The two gums, while wide of the fair­way, can block out any ap­proach that veers too wide of be­ing in the cen­tre of the fair­way. The best line


into the green is from the right half of the fair­way, which fea­tures plenty of mounds and hol­lows, mak­ing a flat lie quite rare. There are no green­side bunkers, as the green is slightly el­e­vated, with wa­ter left and swales to the right.

An­other hole that is a tough propo­si­tion and de­mands smart play in­stead of brutish hit­ting opens the back nine. The 471-me­tre 10th hole could be con­sid­ered a short par-5 by mod­ern de­sign stan­dards but it is a gen­uine three-shot par-5 for most play­ers. The out-of-bounds well left of the fair­way is not of pri­mary con­cern to play­ers here … keep­ing your ball dry on the jour­ney to the green is the real worry. The first of two creek cross­ings lies just 240 me­tres (it’s about a 260-me­tre carry from the back pegs) from the tee, which means any player with sights on reach­ing the green in two blows needs to be as close to this wa­ter as pos­si­ble. This is a tough ask as the fair­way starts slop­ing down to the wa­ter’s edge from about the 220-me­tre mark. By far the best ap­proach into the an­gled-right green is from the left half of the fair­way. If, like me, you can’t pos­si­bly hit two shots nearly half a kilome­tre, it’s best to lay up left (well away from the lake that lines the right edge of the fair­way) and short of the sec­ond ‘burn’. This, how­ever, brings a large fair­way bunker on the left edge of the fair­way into play. Avoid the sand and you will be left with an 8- or 9-iron or even a wedge (depend­ing on the pin po­si­tion on the mas­sive green) for your third shot.

I have been for­tu­nate enough to play Ballarat sev­eral times since it opened nearly eight years ago and it has ma­tured nicely be­yond the usual ‘hon­ey­moon’ pe­riod for a new course, par­tic­u­larly in terms of pre­sen­ta­tion.

Given the cli­matic ex­tremes that can be ex­pe­ri­enced in Ballarat from the depths of win­ter through to the highs of sum­mer, the play­ing sur­faces have adapted quite well to their en­vi­ron­ment … which ticks an­other box as far as Thom­son is con­cerned when it comes to pro­duc­ing a course of in­tegrity.

“As for golf cour­ses of in­tegrity, I know this is an un­usual word, but to me, it means strength of fea­tures, proper di­men­sions, which give an ob­vi­ous look of a golf course, not too many trees, but enough for the en­hance­ment of bird life and habi­tat with­out in­ter­fer­ing too much with the golf,” Thom­son once said. “Add to this a high stan­dard of main­te­nance, which may well be the most im­por­tant thing of all.”

Sub­tle un­du­la­tions are com­mon right across the Ballarat course.

The sun sets across the Ballarat course, while high­light­ing the very good par-3 11th hole.

Ballarat boasts some very good short par-4s and the 298-me­tre 12th could be the best of them.

Ballarat’s bunker­ing, although plen­ti­ful, is not omi­nous and won’t cost you too many shots.

The fair­ways are cut right to the edge of the bunkers, mak­ing them more ef­fec­tive haz­ards.

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