With the construction of a $35 million waterside Sebel hotel well underway, Black Bull Golf Club and Silverwoods Golf and Lifestyle Resort are set to tee up a river of gold for Victorian tourism.
The Murray River has become the most heavily travelled golf destination in Australia. And why not? It’s wonderful golf country. There are the mighty red gums on the River course at Yarrawonga. There’s the fine, sculpted bunkering of Murray Downs near Mildura. There are kangaroos at Cobram Barooga, Tocumwal and Rich River.
And then there is “Charlie Black Bull”. Not as iconic, perhaps, as Swilcan Bridge. But then Swilcan Bridge, unlike Charlie, doesn’t have its own Instagram page.
Yet it’s not only a statue of a mighty bovine that gives Black Bull its memories. It’s a super golf course and has been voted No.76 on debut by Australian Golf Digest in its biennial Top 100 course ranking and has stamped itself as a “must play” when next planning a trip along the River.
Director of golf James McCully finds it difficult to pinpoint the finest hole on a layout just minutes from the Yarrawonga town centre. The 12th is a shortish par 4 requiring an accurate approach to a two-tiered green heavily guarded by bunkers. McCully’s father Glenn – who in 2018 marked 50 years as a PGA professional – puts it in his top-18 favourites of all time.
The 15th is a strong par 4, index 2. Water right. Long at 384m from the tips. The green surrounds are bunker-free yet the interesting dips and swales further protect its par. You can be hitting a long iron into pins tucked in aggressive spots.
And then there’s the memorable 18th, a par 5 that feeds straight towards Lake Mulwala. Rewarding if you take it on, though demanding with water left and behind the green.
Black Bull’s signature, though, is the “Bull Ring”, a three-hole sequence [Holes 4-6] marked by a mighty gate under which visitors take selfies. The ring was inspired by Jack Nicklaus’ “Bear Trap” at PGA National. A strong par 3 and par 4 are capped off with an index-1 beast of a par 4. The bookend holes are very strong. The middle one offers some reprieve but, with water all the way down the right and some funky lies, it’s no easy birdie.
Black Bull’s G2 bent greens play beautifully. It’s the first course in Australia (Greg Norman’s Eastern is the second) with 100 per cent Grand Prix couch fairways.
McCully says Black Bull is all about people enjoying themselves, with the idea that the more fun visitors have the more likely they’ll be back. He adds that feedback from visitors is consistent – book us in again.
“We’re dealing with people on holiday,” he says. “And people on holiday want to have fun. They want things to be easy, no problems. We’re a travelling destination course.”
Black Bull was the late, great Peter Thomson’s last ever design. It opened officially in January of 2017 in conjunction with the resurrected Victorian Seniors Open (which awards the Peter Thomson Trophy).
In the past three years since opening all 18 holes, it’s known 20-25 per cent growth. The game-changer will be when Black Bull can hold people on site. As it is, every golfer drives in and drives out. But when the owner, Lotus Living, finishes the luxury apartments – complete with marina, bar and top-end dining – people may never want to leave. It’s aiming to have the best restaurant on the Murray.
The greater property – known as Silverwoods Golf & Lifestyle Resort – consists of 900 blocks of land spread over 400 acres. To be a full member of Black Bull you must live on the Silverwoods Estate. The full fee is $760 for unlimited golf. There’s a restricted membership category – $200 for people with holiday homes who pay half the green fee.
And yet Black Bull is anything but exclusive. Ninety per cent of rounds are public access. They’re 100 per cent social on a Saturday, creating a niche for travelling golfers.
Construction has just begun on the 120-room Sebel luxury apartment complex. It’s the first Accor facility on the Murray River. Sebel’s brand means 4.5 stars. It’ll be on the lake’s edge and attract not just golfers but water sports enthusiasts.
“We’re a tier-one project for Vic Tourism,” says McCully. “We’re the only golf course of this scale on the Victorian side of the river. There’s a lot of push from Vic Tourism that we host conferencing and events outside of Melbourne and into the regional areas. But they won’t spend Victorian dollars in New South Wales. The Murray’s been overlooked. So having 120 rooms and a 300-seat conference centre changes the game.”
Black Bull Golf Club