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.
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 Geo 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, oers 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 dicult 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 oers 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.