COURSE RE­VIEW: MUR­RAY DOWNS G&CC

For nearly three decades, Mur­ray Downs has been one of the premier cour­ses to be found along the en­tire length of Aus­tralia’s big­gest river. Bren­dan James dis­cov­ers what makes it so spe­cial.

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS & PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BREN­DAN JAMES

Mur­ray Downs Golf and Coun­try Club is one of the great golf­ing suc­cesses to be found along the Mur­ray River. The course lies on land that was once part of the sprawl­ing Mur­ray Downs sta­tion. In 1860, the ill-fated ex­plor­ers Burke and Wills passed through the prop­erty and left be­hind a sick camel. A local pi­o­neer bought the sta­tion and found the rolling land­scape per­fect for es­tab­lish­ing fields of lucerne, maize and or­anges. Sheep then be­came the main­stay of the prop­erty for more than a cen­tury.

That was un­til the late 1980s when the heart of the prop­erty was ear­marked for a real es­tate devel­op­ment and a new golf course. The Mur­ray Downs club and course was con­structed dur­ing the poker ma­chine-fu­elled club build­ing boom that oc­curred along the mighty river dur­ing that pe­riod. It was a time when bus­loads of cashed- up pun­ters would head north across the border to try their luck, as the ma­chines were il­le­gal in Vic­to­ria.

The stream of cash from pun­ters cre­ated enough rev­enue to build a golf course, which opened in 1991, and re­mains among the na­tion’s Top-100 Cour­ses to­day (our 2018 rank­ing starts on page 47).

Course de­sign broth­ers Geoˆ and Ted Parslow cre­ated a mag­nif­i­cent lay­out with

un­du­lat­ing Win­ter­green couch fair­ways as well as large, true rolling (and fast) Pen­ncross bent­grass greens. While some greens fea­ture sub­tle breaks, oth­ers fea­ture more dra­matic slopes to com­bat what may have been a seem­ingly easy jour­ney to the green. Man-made lakes were in­cluded to help with ir­ri­ga­tion and drainage, while na­tive gums that were planted then have ma­tured beau­ti­fully to line most of the fair­ways to­day. It’s a stark con­trast to the Mallee plains that sur­round the lay­out.

Throw in some strate­gic, well-sculpted bunker­ing – fea­tur­ing its spec­tac­u­lar ochre- coloured sand – and wa­ter haz­ards on many holes and it is no won­der Mur­ray Downs re­mains ce­mented among the cream of Aus­tralian cour­ses.

No two con­sec­u­tive holes run in the same di­rec­tion and the wide open spa­ces leave the course sus­cep­ti­ble to wind, mak­ing this 6,197 me­tre lay­out a chal­leng­ing test from the tips.

I like how the Parslow de­sign eases you into the round. From the Blue tees, the open­ing hole – a par-4 of 302 me­tres – has a gen­er­ous rolling fair­way if you don’t get too ag­gres­sive from the tee. Take on the fair­way bunkers, one left and an­other right, at your peril. The kid­ney-shaped green is pro­tected by three bunkers but they are far enough from the cen­tre of the big putting sur­face to not be too trou­ble­some.

Even the first of the par-3s, the slightly down­hill 178-me­tre 2nd, o’ers some room for er­ror early in the round.

There are no such lux­u­ries by the time you reach the tee of the sec­ond of the one-shot holes – the 194-me­tre par-3 5th. This is the hard­est hole you will find at Mur­ray Downs … and for good rea­son. Stand­ing next to the back mark­ers can send a shiver up your spine as you look

to­ward the flag and see noth­ing but wa­ter, red sand, a bit more wa­ter and a lot more sand. When the pin is po­si­tioned to­ward the back right quar­ter of the green it is a 210-me­tre carry over wa­ter and bunkers to reach safety. The lay-up area short and left of the green is lit­tered with bunkers, mak­ing a con­ser­va­tive play also a haz­ardous ex­er­cise. That said, if you can fash­ion a shot with a lit­tle left-to-right flight you can carry the wa­ter eas­ily and watch as your ball bounces up onto the putting sur­face (talk­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence here).

Mur­ray Downs also has its ver­sion of Au­gusta Na­tional’s famed ‘Amen Cor­ner’ – in­cor­po­rat­ing the par-3 15th, par-5 16th and the try­ing par-4 17th. The 15th is a clas­sic hole and, like the telling 5th, it re­quires a tee shot over wa­ter and sand to find the green. But, at 169-me­tres, length won’t be a prob­lem for too many play­ers. One of the di“cult as­pects of mak­ing par here is to find the right level of the two-tiered green to al­low a good chance for two putts.

For mine the col­lec­tion of par-5s at Mur­ray Downs is worth not­ing. Only the 4th hole stretches be­yond 500 me­tres, but all are gen­uine three-shot­ters for the ma­jor­ity of us. There’s hardly a struck match be­tween them for qual­ity but I like the 472-me­tre 16th the best, sim­ply for what it o—ers and where it falls in the round. It is a tight three-shot­ter where the driv­ing zone is bor­dered by wa­ter left and sand to the right. The fi­nal ap­proach to the green is a high­light, with four huge red sandy bunkers ring­ing the putting sur­face, which has a dra­matic slope o— the front edge. If you play this one smart you can steal a birdie be­fore reach­ing the club­house.

The down­hill 17th may not seem like a brute at 376 me­tres. But when you are stand­ing back down the fair­way, or in the rough, with a long iron in your hand and your ap­proach shot must avoid wa­ter short and right of the green, you know the odds are against you. Thank­fully, if you have suc­cess and find the green, putting is eas­ier than on the pre­vi­ous two holes.

It is also worth men­tion­ing here that Mur­ray Downs has rarely been in bet­ter con­di­tion dur­ing the past few years. Much of its trou­bles in the past were wa­ter­re­lated and with those is­sues ad­dressed Mur­ray Downs just keeps on rock­ing a spot in the Top-100 rank­ing.

The sim­ple de­sign of the long up­hill par-4 6th fea­tures noth­ing more than sand and some slopes.

The sun sets over the strate­gi­cally good par-5 16th hole.

There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide with your tee shot on Mur­ray Downs’ par-3 5th hole.

The pic­turesque par-3 15th is the start of a chal­leng­ing trio of holes.

The ochre-coloured bunker­ing is a mem­o­rable high­light of a round at Mur­ray Downs.

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