A GREAT WEEKEND IN THE GOLDFIELDS
Just a leisurely drive out of Melbourne, the Victorian Goldfields offers some golfing riches – perfect for a three-day getaway.
Steeped in a rich history dating back to the gold rush of the mid-1800s, the Victorian Goldfields region o ers weekend travellers out of Melbourne a wealth of attractions. There is also plenty of appeal for the wandering golfer looking to discover a host of enjoyable layouts.
Drive for little more than an hour north-west out of Melbourne’s outskirts and you start to see the signs of a bygone era of great wealth and growth. That era began in the mid-19th century when the Victorian Goldfields yielded more gold than any other region in the world.
Gold was first discovered in the area in 1823 but by the 1850s, with further major discoveries in Ballarat and Bendigo, the region was in the midst of a massive gold rush. At its height nearly two tonnes of gold per week was being declared to Treasury and there was enough gold exported to Britain to help pay o all its foreign debt and finance the spread of the Empire.
The legacy of the gold rush is seen in the wonderful architecture of towns like Ballarat, which flourished. In the years that followed, Ballarat continued to grow and golf courses followed. Ballarat Golf Club is one of Victoria’s oldest clubs, having been established in 1895, but it boasts the newest course in the region. The ‘new’ course covers part of the old Ballarat course, while new holes were added and the layout opened for play nearly a decade ago. Within months of opening in 2009, the Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett design had an immediate impact on the Top-100 Public Access Courses ranking in Golf
Australia, finishing at No.54 in 2011 and has been entrenched in the list ever since.
It was the logical place to start a long weekend of golf in the Goldfields. This was a solo visit … sometimes getting away to play some golf on your own can be cathartic. I pulled into town on Thursday evening, checked into my digs at the Bell Tower Inn across the road from the course and headed to the club for dinner. I couldn’t believe my good fortune that the bistro was hosting its weekly Parmi night, which I highly recommend.
A near cloudless sky with a hint of breeze from the south greeted the following morning. The great weather was soon to be matched by the quality of the course.
Ballarat is a manageable 6,283 metres from the back pegs (5,817 from the members’ tees), but Thomson and Perrett’s design ensures every club in the bag needs to be used at some stage during the round. This is a thinking golfer’s golf course, with the strategic positioning of bunkers, rough or water often leaving you searching for a better shot option.
I really like Ballarat’s portfolio 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 rough to leave a little wedge into the green. I tried the latter from the member’s tee and got all of the tee shot, which flew passed said fairway bunker and finished in a second bunker cutting in from the left. Six shots later I was walking to the 4th tee.
It wasn’t all bad though. Ballarat is a course where you can get a thrill out of just hitting a variety of shots with dierent clubs and completely forget about the score. As the wind started to pick up during the round, the quality of the routing to all points of the compass, came into its own and I was playing shots usually reserved for days on a links course. Having hit a share of knockdown short irons, punch long irons and high drives, I walked o the 18th green after a three-hour round like I was walking out of an
BALLARAT IS A COURSE WHERE YOU CAN GET A THRILL OUT OF JUST HITTING A VARIETY OF SHOTS WITH DIFFERENT CLUBS AND COMPLETELY FORGET ABOUT THE SCORE.
amusement park. What fun!
I enjoyed the golf so much in the morning that I decided last minute to have another round in the afternoon at one of the other courses in the area. Mt Xavier Golf and Bowls Club is a pretty 18-holer east of the town centre and covers undulating land, predominantly covered by pine trees.
Mt Xavier was a real surprise given the club boasts two greens sta and a lot of work is carried out by volunteers. The putting surfaces were very good and the variety of holes – especially the sweeping par-4s and 5s – made for plenty of fun. But it is the par-3s you will remember after a round here. The downhill 2nd is 174 metres from the back markers and calls for an accurate and well-clubbed tee shot to avoid a bunker short of the putting surface. Perhaps the best of the one-shotters is left until last with the 140-metre 18th, which is played from a slightly elevated tee, across a valley to the green. Out-of-bounds lines the right edge of the fairway, while a bunker short right of the green is best avoided.
Having not walked 36 holes in a while, I pulled up a little sore and sorry on Saturday and decided I’d take the day o and add to my limited knowledge of the gold rush by visiting Sovereign Hill, which is a living museum where costumed characters bring ‘Ye Olde’ goldfields town to life. If you have kids, I thoroughly recommend a visit, especially the gold mine tram tour.
Thankfully, the tram tour and horse drawn coach tour around 1850s Ballarat meant my weary feet from Friday’s golf got some rest in time for a round on Sunday, at the RACV Goldfields Resort.
The resort – only a 20-minute drive north of Ballarat, via the Midland Highway, at Creswick – overlooks the par-72 creation of designer Tony Cashmore.
It is a hilly excursion so I was pleased to be tackling the layout in a cart.
The front nine occupies the most dramatic terrain, while the back nine covers land that was once home to the old Creswick Golf Club layout. In all, the course is laid through about 150 acres of bushland with dense stands of tall eucalypts lining every fairway.
A round here opens with a visually impressive long par-4. The 388-metre 1st is played from a tee elevated high above the fairway but just below the ground floor of the resort. The fairway lies across a downslope so it tilts markedly down from rightto-left, which is a common occurrence throughout the front nine holes. The short grass also dips into a small valley, where most players hit their drive, before rising again for the last 120 metres uphill to a long tiered green. While it’s not the longest par-4 on the course it is one that doesn’t give up par easily. As I found out during my round, unless you skirt the right rough with your drive, it is dicult to hold your tee shot on the firm and fast-running couch fairway as the cross slope feeds your golf ball down into the rough just left of the fairway.
My favourite hole on the front nine was the shortest offering and makes the best use of the landscape. The 152-metre par-3 8th is played from an elevated tee across a valley to a green perched on another hill. While it is just a mid-iron for most players to reach the green, the key here is precision. Your club selection needs to be spot on and it needs to be complemented by solid ball-striking to avoid the four deep bunkers surrounding the putting surface and the steep slope to the right that repels slight mis-hits well wide of the green.
One lasting memory I will have of the round at Goldfields was the quality of the bentgrass putting surfaces, which rolled beautifully at a speed that was not intimidating given the slopes created by Cashmore.
If you’re looking for three very dierent layouts to play in as many days, without having to travel too far each day, Victoria’s Goldfields region is certainly worth trying.
Arguably the best of Ballarat’s par-3s – the testing 161-metre 11th hole.
Goldfields’ par-3 8th hole makes great use of the terrain, as does the par-4 15th (top left).