A soon-to-open Sebel resort will add to the growing popularity of Black Bull Golf Course, which is now four-years-old with a growing cult following.
A certain degree of audacity is required to muscle in on an established and much-loved golf destination. The Murray River has long provided golfers with a consistent and revered selection of top courses, flowing alongside the most impressive watercourse in the land. Yet much like the arrival of a precocious upstart in the professional ranks of the game, a newcomer surfacing that’s better than the rest can have an unsettling effect. But not so for Black Bull Golf Club, according to director of golf James McCully. The reaction during the past four years to his course’s opening in 2015 has been nothing but positive from the region, visiting golfers and other courses along the river.
“The course just continues to impress,” McCully says. “Golfer numbers are still healthily improving each year. The word’s definitely getting out about what a quality track we’ve got here. It’s just getting better and better, to be honest.”
And things will only continue to improve when the much-anticipated $50 million Sebel resort opens in autumn 2020. Positioned on the edge of Lake Mulwala and squarely in golfers’ eyelines as they approach the 18th green, the resort will soon become a centrepiece of the entire Black Bull complex, which already includes the growing Silverwoods residential estate.
“The game-changer is coming early in the new year with the opening of the new Sebel resort and all the facilities right on our doorstep and the edge of the lake,” McCully says. “That’s going to be the big one for us, without a doubt. It will kick us to a new level.”
The course is a distinct departure from the rest of the Murray line-up, which makes for a welcome variation. You won’t find towering treelines and forests flanking the fairways here. Golfers are instead given room to play from tee to green, but as the flat and mostly exposed site is susceptible to wind whipping off neighbouring Lake Mulwala, there often needs to be a little space to work with.
Black Bull is part linksy, part ‘resort-y’ and all mighty. Golfers are enjoying this particular Murray blend.
“Everyone is having a ripping experience and that’s what we’re aiming for, from start to finish,” McCully says. “It’s not just with the course, but their first interactions with our staff and hearing the story of the bull.”
Ah, yes. The bull. No one comes to Black Bull without sharing a moment with “Charlie” the bull. A black angus stud farm in a former life – hence the name – the site’s bovine past is acknowledged via the unmissable statue of Charlie at the start of the three “Bull Ring” holes on the front nine.
“He’s getting more hits on Instagram and Facebook than we are,” McCully adds. “He’s definitely become iconic, which was always the plan – to add something to the round. Every group we get, they all take a picture around Charlie.”
Resorts, residential estates, bull statues – a cynic might label the place a gimmick where golf drifts into the background. But at Black Bull, golf remains at the forefront and the course backs up its style with oodles of substance. The last course to ever feel the touch of Peter Thomson’s design fingerprints, his lakeside collaboration with longtime partner Ross Perrett is much more multi-dimensional than a cursory glance reveals. So much so that James McCully says the number of bookings requesting more than one lap of the course is steadily rising.
“So it’s not one of those ‘bucket-list’ courses,” McCully says. “They want to come back and play it again. We see a lot of golfers who do come to the river and they are very habitual so they return each year. A lot of our groups are already booked for October next year, so we’re really starting to see that flow-on effect.”
“So it’s not one of those ‘bucket-list’ courses, they want to come back and play it again.” James McCully
The course wears several hats depending on the season plus the strength and direction of any wind. One aspect consistent throughout, however, is the quality of the Penn G2 bentgrass greens. In a climate where temperature shifts from winter to summer can be 50 degrees, these are routinely immaculate surfaces to putt on.
“The quality of the greens is just super, it really is,” McCully agrees, before pointing to another often-praised aspect of the layout’s condition. “One we get a massive comment on is the fairways: the Grand Prix couch. It definitely loves the hot environment – the ball just sits up like a cherry. The greens roll sensationally and that’s always been our No.1 priority, but we do get a lot of comments on the quality of the fairways.”
If you’re looking for a hole to – forgive us – grab by the horns, it’s the par-3 eighth. Stretching as long as 201 metres and often played into a north-westerly wind, it’s as much a one-shotter as most golfers can handle. While the green is generous in size and there is a gap to bounce a shot on between the two front bunkers (four traps in total guard the green), it’s a target where finishing in the wrong section is a fast ticket to a three-putt.
Later, the finish is outstanding. A strong par 4 at the 15th precedes a cute short par 3 at 16 and a water-lined par 4 at 17. The closer is a 478-metre par 5 that heads straight for the lake that frames the entire Black Bull site. Water also lines the left side of the 18th but is hopefully far enough from the playing line to be an easy obstacle to avoid. Hopefully…
And in what is fast forming as the hub of the Murray, you may not want to leave the Yarrawonga section of the river in a hurry.
“The biggest asset Yarrawonga has up its sleeve here is we have probably the biggest choice of accommodation along the entire river,” McCully enthuses. “Secondly, we’ve probably got the biggest choice of activities, from water activities through to your golf, through to your shopping, through to your food trails, your wine. It really has become a central location where people can experience what the Murray River has to offer.”
Black Bull Golf Club
Where: 1-7 Silverwoods Boulevard, Yarrawonga VIC 3730
Phone: (03) 5744 0044
E-mail: [email protected]
For more information on a Golfing Great head to Visit Victoria.