CLUB OF THE MONTH: GROWLING FROG

YAN YEAN • VIC­TO­RIA A tick over 13 years af­ter it opened, Mel­bourne’s Growling Frog is no longer just the pub­lic ac­cess course with an ‘out there’ name. It re­ally is some­thing to croak about.

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY BRENDAN JAMES

Growling Frog is no longer just the pub­lic ac­cess course with an ‘out there’ name. It re­ally is some­thing to croak about, writes Brendan James.

Growling Frog. The mere ut­ter­ance of the name a decade or so ago would spark any­one to sit up in their chair quizzi­cally want­ing to know more about a frog that growls.

To­day, men­tion the words “Growling Frog”, par­tic­u­larly around golfers, and chances are they’ll tell you it’s a golf course north of Mel­bourne, af­ter all it’s a name you’re unlikely to for­get in a hurry.

The dis­tinc­tive name is de­rived from the pro­tected Growling Grass Frog that is found in the wet­lands that run through the lay­out. Growling Frog can be found about 30km out of the city at Yan Yean and opened for play in September 2004. In the 13 years since, no other course pro­ject in Australia has been un­der­taken in quite the same way.

Un­like the ma­jor­ity of courses built in this coun­try dur­ing the past 40 years, there is no real es­tate de­vel­op­ment, ho­tel or re­sort at­tached to the Growling Frog course. The City of Whit­tle­sea Coun­cil, in its wis­dom, de­cided to do some­thing with land it had owned for nearly three decades. A pub­lic golf course was pro­posed and then the search be­gan for some­one to de­sign the 18-hole lay­out.

Again, the coun­cil showed great fore­sight in find­ing the bud­get to se­lect a “name” de­signer that would im­me­di­ately make this unique ven­ture at­trac­tive to golfers, not only lo­cally but also from in­ter­state and over­seas. Gra­ham Marsh and his de­sign team took up their first Vic­to­rian com­mis­sion in 2001, with the brief to cre­ate a course that would max­imise the land’s nat­u­ral at­tributes and chal­lenge ev­ery player, from the avid golfer to be­gin­ner.

Nes­tled among stately 300-year-old River Red Gums on more than 300 acres – more than twice the land of many sub­ur­ban Mel­bourne courses – Growling Frog off“ers a di“ffer­ent playing ex­pe­ri­ence to tra­di­tional sand­belt courses.

“One of the first and last­ing impressions on ar­rival at the Growling Frog course is the mag­nif­i­cence of the site and the seren­ity of the set­ting,” Marsh said. “This is a classic piece of land that truly re­flects the unique beauty and char­ac­ter of the Aus­tralian coun­try­side.

“Strate­gi­cally placed bunkers, first class Santa Ana couch fair­ways and pure A1 Bent grass greens com­plete the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Growling Frog was the first course built in Australia us­ing 3D and GPS track­ing tech­nolo­gies, which en­abled the de­tailed Gra­ham Marsh de­sign to be im­ple­mented to a re­mark­able level of accuracy, with shap­ing around greens and bunkers un­der­taken to a tol­er­ance of just plus or mi­nus 5-10mm. By us­ing GPS on course shap­ing equip­ment, en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive ar­eas were pro­tected and none of the stat­uesque River Red Gums were dam­aged or had to be re­moved dur­ing con­struc­tion.”

Marsh is right when he says the first im­pres­sion is of seren­ity. Peace­ful and sparse, there are un­in­ter­rupted views to the Great Di­vid­ing Range. It is hard to be­lieve the rat­tle of city trams and frus­tra­tion of con­gested tra†c in the CBD is just 30 kilo­me­tres away.

Marsh’s de­sign works away in two loops from the gor­geous club­house, which is perched high on a hill over­look­ing the course. Walk­ing out of the club­house to ei­ther the 1st or 10th tees, not only gives you panoramic views of the course but also a feel for any wind.

The 330-me­tre par-4 1st is a good open­ing hole with a de­cep­tively wide fair­way that is wel­com­ing to even slightly mis-hit drives. The sec­ond shot is played to a large green that sits well be­low the fair­way and is pro­tected by a bunker left and right. The ap­proach can be di†cult to judge, in terms of club se­lec­tion, when a southerly is blow­ing into your face as you stand on the crest of the hill.

The next seven holes wind their way through wet­lands and River Red Gums. The hair­pin loop of the par-4 4th, par-3 5th and par-4 6th is a high­light of the front nine. The 421-me­tre par-4 6th is a de­mand­ing hole where your tee shot must skirt by a bunker on the in­side of the dog­leg-right fair­way to set up a straight ap­proach to the green. That done, a long iron or even a fair­way wood may still be

MARSH IS RIGHT WHEN HE SAYS THE FIRST IM­PRES­SION IS OF SEREN­ITY. PEACE­FUL AND SPARSE, THERE ARE UN­IN­TER­RUPTED VIEWS TO THE GREAT DI­VID­ING RANGE.

re­quired to reach the putting sur­face if the wind is pushing in from the south west.

The back nine starts solidly with a 360-me­tre par-4 that is played from an el­e­vated tee in front of the club­house to a fair­way that doglegs slightly right around a large bunker to a small­ish green guarded by one bunker left. The wa­ter haz­ard left of the fair­way and the bound­ary fence be­hind the green should not come into play.

Growling Frog’s best hole is al­most left un­til last. I like the 332-me­tre par-4 17th be­cause you emerge from a tree-lined tee to find an ex­pan­sive fair­way. Then you find out you have been de­ceived by the width of the driv­ing zone and your tee shot is in a large bunker on the in­side of the dog­leg right fair­way. From this bunker, or even from the fair­way, it is a tough mid- or short-iron ap­proach to a green that ap­pears al­most tri­an­gu­lar and is pro­tected closely by three traps.

There is a lot to like about Growling Frog, apart from the name. The playing surfaces are well-main­tained, while the lay­out has ma­tured beau­ti­fully. And, of course, the view of the course from the club­house with a bev­er­age in hand post-round is al­most worth the green fee alone.

There are plenty of bunkers to avoid en route to the green on the par-5 11th hole.

Huge river gums come into play on many holes, like the test­ing par-4 4th hole.

The ap­proach into the 9th green needs to be ac­cu­rate to avoid sand and rough.

The short par-4 17th of­fers a gen­uine birdie chance in sight of the club­house.

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