Few Australian golfers have not ventured along our nation’s mightiest watercourse. Many make pilgrimages on an annual basis; others even more frequently. While the golf footprint is expanding, the list of favourite venues is time-honoured and known to most ardent golfers. Still, there’s likely a thing or two you probably don’t know about journeying along the Murray River. Attractions like Muscat, paddlesteamers, olives and cacti. With that in mind, we asked people at clubs along the Murray for 18 things every golfer simply must do next time they’re touring the region.
1. Tame the ‘Bull Ring’ at Black Bull
The newest addition to the Murray River golf scene is home to a run of three holes fast taking on a life of its own. The ‘Bull Ring’ comprises Black Bull Golf Club’s fourth, fifth and sixth holes and is something of a course within a course.
Black Bull’s director of golf James McCully says golfer feedback about the layout usually centres on the quality and condition. For repeat visitors, it’s the way the surfaces have matured and especially how the Bull Ring holes (which sit in the youngest corner of the course) have come along. Plus there are the ubiquitous photos taken alongside the life-size statue of Charlie the bull where almost every group of golfers is snapped grabbing his horns (and, well, other body parts).
But the Bull Ring moniker is just one string in Black Bull’s bow. The course is a significant part of the enormous Silverwoods Golf & Lifestyle Resort, which also entails house and land packages, The Point residences and resort apartments and the upcoming 4-star Sebel Yarrawonga hotel, which is slated to open in early 2020.
And Black Bull is now a frequent tournament venue. In February it hosted another successful Victorian Senior PGA Championship, won by 1991 British Open runner-up Mike Harwood and including the likes of Peter Senior, Peter Lonard, Peter O’Malley and Peter Fowler in the field. “The feedback from all the pros was as good as we could have hoped for,” McCully says.
2. Sample a Rutherglen Muscat
The Murray wine region’s signature drop might not need to be taken from the knee but it could put you on them. The climate and soil of the Rutherglen helps produce some hearty Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignons plus a tasty Durif or two, but it’s the Muscat that will linger longest on the taste buds. The good news is you won’t struggle to find one, however one of the best Muscats can be found at Campbells of Rutherglen. I dare you to stop at one, but you might want to pair it with something solid, such as from nearby Taste restaurant. As Black Bull’s McCully says, “Great food, great wine, great golf – it’s the ultimate trifecta.”
3. Behold the future of Rich River
Rich River has a long tradition of hosting key trainee PGA tournaments, but right now it’s the club’s future rather than those trainees’ future that is most exciting. Last year the club announced a $6.4 million upgrade in a quest to become the No.1 stay-and-play venue along the Murray. Chief executive Shane Gloury said 20 years had passed since a comprehensive review of the golf course had taken place, while the club took the opportunity to look beyond its 36 holes by adding a mini-golf course as part of its master plan.
The master plan calls for less-glamorous aspects, such as a replacing the 40-year-old irrigation system, bunker removal and rebuilds plus lake enlargements, but the routing will change slightly as well. The current par-5 16th on the West will be converted into two holes. The first of these holes will be a short, risk/reward par 4 played from the existing tee to a new green just beyond the current lake and the par 3 will be of medium length played from a new tee area to the current green. In order to accommodate the mini-golf facility, the West’s current 12th hole will be shortened with a new green built just beyond Howard Lake that will bring the water into play. These new holes are expected to be open for play in late 2019.
“The feedback from members to the works proposed as part of the Golf Course Master Plan at Rich River has been outstanding,” Gloury said. “Works and design changes as part of the Master Plan will significantly enhance the East course, our championship course, while the West course will be re-generated as a course that is fun, playable and challenging to golfers of all ages and standards. As the works are carried out at Rich River, members and visitors alike can expect to see high quality golf courses here with enhanced conditioning that are fun, memorable and enjoyable for players of all ages and standards.”
4. Get in touch with the river
It’s the reason why all these towns, and golf courses, are there. So not taking time to get aboard the river during a visit is a fairly egregious mistake. A paddlesteamer is the best way to see the river and few surpass the PS Emmylou, based at Murray River Paddlesteamers at Echuca. Available for an hour or two, overnight or for days on end, this restored steamer is replete with luxury suites and featured in the TV series “All The Rivers Run” in which she was named PS Providence. Today it’s the world’s only wood-fired paddlesteamer offering regular scheduled accommodated river cruises.
5. Take a walk in the park
Including the Millewa forest, Barmah National Park forms the world’s largest River Red Gum forest. The complex ecology of the forest is closely linked to the Murray River and its flooding regime, creating a diverse natural habitat for a variety of wildlife, particularly waterbirds. Barmah is a great spot for fishing, horse riding, bushwalking, swimming, canoeing and camping for those aching to ‘rough it’ for while between rounds of golf.
6. Stay dry at Yarrawonga Mulwala
The fifth hole on the Murray course at Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort is realistically the only point along the river where the watercourse is actually in play. It lines the left side of the short par 5 and hugging the side of the fairway closest to the river opens up the best line of attack to the green. Just don’t veer too far left… The other goal you should set yourself at the largest public golf facility in Australia is to complete all 45 holes, as the Lake course and Executive nine are definitely worth sticking around for.
7. Take in a flick at Yarrawonga Mulwala
While you’re there – because you will need to stay overnight in order to tackle all 45 holes – enjoy the first cinema attached to a golf club in Australia. With 46 leather reclining seats, 14 more non-reclining leather chairs and a 3D-capable screen, it’s a unique aspect to the huge Yarrawonga Mulwala complex.
8. Tour Marcus Fraser’s home track
While many clubs along the Murray boast 36 holes, Corowa is home to one-and-a-half courses that play like two. This is where former European Tour pro Marcus Fraser (and his brother Adam, also a PGA pro) grew up and still regularly returns to, and his legendary accuracy off the tee was honed on the original course at Corowa. The first 18 holes feature pencil-thin fairways lined by towering river gums, while for a nice point of difference, the newest nine – which was added nearly 40 years ago – is longer, wider and complements the main 18. Such a setup allows golfers to mix and match (or play ’em all).
9. Visit Rich Glen Olive Estate
Olives are versatile, full of flavour and rich with health benefits. Located between Yarrawonga and Cobram, Rich Glen showcases a wide range of olive products – including oils, dressings, body creams and more – and is a top-ranked attraction on Trip Advisor. With a store and café on-site, Rich Glen is worth a pit stop between rounds.
10. ‘Salute’ at Tocumwal
It’s a case of seasoning to taste at Tocumwal Golf & Bowls Club. Golfers typically choose between the longer and more open Captains course and the shorter, tighter Presidents layout depending on their preference. Or they play both, or a combination of the two – perhaps playing a nine from each. Whatever your poison, you’re in for a treat. The Captains gives bold drivers multiple chances to try to cut corners knowing there’s a little freedom out there, while the narrow, doglegging fairways of the Presidents are a haven for pinpoint ball-strikers with a knack for accuracy. Little has changed at Tocumwal in recent times other than the construction of a new par-3 18th hole on the Presidents course in 2017 after the area the previous version (the old 10th) occupied was consumed by the addition of a pair of artificial bowling greens. The new hole sits adjacent to the former one but plays in the opposite direction.
11. Make the trek to Murray Downs
Is the extra distance to get to Murray Downs worth it if you’re travelling from the east? Absolutely. For so long ranked as the best course along the river, Murray Downs hasn’t lost any of its lustre; rather it was usurped in our Top 100 Courses ranking by a bold newcomer. It still sits 91st on the current list, making it one of the more remote courses in the 100. And it’s not difficult to see why it continues to hold a place. The Ted Parslow design has stood the test of time, with the spacious fairways and large features – the huge greens and bunkers are a hallmark – giving golfers room to move before asking them to pinpoint their targets. Sound lag putting is at a premium on the big surfaces, as is the ability to hold your nerve when tackling the memorable par-3 fifth hole, where a lake is your constant companion.
12. Avoid the ‘Gallipoli’ bunker at cluBarham
It’s one of the most eye-catching holes along the river. The course at cluBarham Golf & Sports is well worth touring, but keep your wits about you on the fifth hole. The par 4 begins innocuously enough before rising up a steep hill towards the green with a gargantuan bunker directly in front. Beware: the terrain at the front of the putting surface is canted enough to send balls reversing into the waiting pit. It’s a good place to club up for the approach shot.
13. Tackle Stuart Appleby’s home course
Little Cohuna knows its contribution to world golf. Plastered across the sign at the entrance to the golf club is a tribute to Stuart Appleby and his connection to the club where the nine-time US PGA Tour winner crafted his game growing up. It’s a quintessential country layout that winds between stands of towering red gum trees on a course that is decent rather than excellent. There is an honesty box for green fees and a sign on the clubhouse exterior that reads “No free golf!” to warn any would-be freeloaders. The course is no pushover, however. Push-up greens are commonplace as the terrain rather than a vast number of bunkers and lakes defends the targets.
14. Make your choice at Cobram Barooga
It’s close to an even split at Cobram Barooga as to which of the two courses is more popular with golfers. The Old course sees a little more traffic, although the West remains a favourite of many. Which essentially means the only way to decide is to play both. Like many 36-holers, there’s a distinct difference: the Old is shorter and tighter while the West is longer but more open, which means there’s a style to suit most players. Several greens have been redesigned at Cobram Barooga in recent years and all 36 have a reputation for speed and firmness. The bunkers across both layouts are that brilliant shade of ochre so prevalent along the Murray and their loamy sand can take some mastering (and avoiding). It’s a central portion of the river and a worthy part of the Murray for golfers to base themselves.
15. Get prickly at Cactus Country
Succulents are more popular than ever as water scarcity becomes a fact of life in our drier regions. A few minutes’ drive down the road from Cobram Barooga is Cactus Country, a three-hectare cactus and succulent farm initially known as Spikes and Blooms that is Australia’s largest collection of cacti. They are separated into eight trails to explore, and with a Mexican restaurant and bar, it might just make a post-round destination with a difference. Once word of advice, though: do not wear thongs!
16. Savour Albury
Albury is the largest town along the Murray, one that’s home to a few fine courses. Thurgoona and the Commercial Club course attract most attention, the latter a hilly layout with kikuyu fairways, which is a combination you won’t see elsewhere along the river. It’s a spot worth spending a few days, as across the border, Wodonga is a neat layout with a knack for producing good golfers.
17. Try to emulate Peter Senior at Thurgoona
Just last October, the evergreen Senior sizzled around the Thurgoona layout in 61 strokes – including an ace with a 6-iron at the par-3 16th – in the first round of the New South Wales Senior Open. OK, so matching that 11-under par feat might be a stretch (61 for nine holes instead, perhaps?) but you can attempt to conquer the 16th in a single stroke. The most eye-catching of Thurgoona’s holes features water on the right side and a bailout area to the left. Only the very daring fire directly at the pin.
18. Plan your return trip
Because, let’s face it, no golfer ever goes to the Murray just once.
For more information on a Golfing Great head to Visit Victoria.