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.
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 offers a different 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 trac 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 dicult 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.