A GREAT WEEK­END IN THE GOLD­FIELDS

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS & COURSE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BREN­DAN JAMES

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 di˜cult 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 offer­ing 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 dier­ent 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).

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