ROBERT Trent Jones Jnr required enormous doses of imagination when he first laid eyes on the Joondalup site in the early 1980s. The outpost north of Perth was about to explode with residents and businesses as the Mitchell Freeway extended north and the Joondalup railway line became reality. But at the time, Jones couldn’t have known what future the suburb would have; he only knew of its past, one that would significantly shape the
27-hole Joondalup Resort.
The area’s history as a limestone quarry was equal parts unique and useable, as possessing such a striking architectural feature to work with, around and over gave the Quarry nine its peerless character. The lunar-style landscape of the Dune nine is subtly different, as the limestone walls are higher than eye-level on most occasions rather than being pits to gaze into. The Lake nine begins and ends beside a huge watery expanse, covering less dramatic but still highly interesting terrain for the seven holes in between.
Joondalup has one history, three nines and more than 30 years of tales of woe and wonder. Atop the edge of the major quarry that acts as the centrepiece of the third, fourth and fifth holes on the loop of the same name are signs scattered to warn golfers of the dangers of attempting to retrieve an errant ball. The signs are necessary in a litigious age but would be entirely superfluous if common sense were only more common. A golfer with even moderate judgment skills would realise the risk of life and limb for a used golf ball is an irrational equation. Yet eventually gravity takes hold. In case you’re wondering, yes, golf carts have been inadvertently piloted into the depths of the quarry – including by the course staff. Such incidents remain furtive talking points among those at Joondalup who remember them.
The premier combination of holes at Joondalup blends the Quarry and Dune nines. Both loops begin sedately enough, not revealing the extent of their hands on the first trick. But the big cards are soon dealt. The trio of holes navigating the old pit on the Quarry nine represents exceptional ingenuity. The 128-metre third is a short par 3 with a target that’s larger than most greens for a hole that short, but the golfer quivering on the tee doesn’t refuse the extra space. Set flush against the front and right edges of the putting surface is the steep descent into rocky oblivion. Few tee shots across our wide, brown land grab your attention more.
The resort’s pro shop keeps a larger stock of golf balls than most, partly due to the fascination with the third hole. Rather than proceed to the drop zone, golfer stubbornness, competitiveness, ego – or all three – sees a high rate of re-teeing on the par 3 in an often futile bid to conquer it. On my last visit, I confess to hitting a meekly struck pitching wedge that somehow still found the green yet I still re-pegged another ball.
The par-5 fourth twists left then right, the second turn bending around a huge expanse of sand guarded by a sheer rock wall that will force sideways or backwards escapes more often than not – and perhaps with more than one swing. The raised green looks like a pulpit set high above the fairway but, again, offers more room to move than first impressions allow. The downhill fifth completes the treble, a 393-metre par-4 where the quarry has to be carried in order to find the green in regulation. More timid players can tack left and board the surface in three or more shots but will miss the thrill of attempting the daring carry.
They are the cornerstone holes of the Quarry nine, yet others find a way to shine. The uphill approaches to the par-4 second and sixth holes require distance control or an ensuing devilish recovery, while the par-5 eighth isn’t the pushover the scorecard might indicate.
Across on the Dune nine, things also become interesting at the par-4 third hole, which, along with the par-3 fourth, are flanked along the right side by towering walls as you climb then descend the steep terrain. Like the uphill holes on the Quarry nine, the approach shot to Dune’s third hole is an exacting exercise where skill and judgment need to unite.
Your correspondent has always enjoyed the remaining holes on the Dune course. The tee shot at the 390-metre sixth provides multiple strategies – longer to leave a shorter but more uphill second shot or less club from the tee for a longer but more level approach shot. One hole later, the triple-tiered surface at the seventh is arguably the coolest green complex among the 27, as the pin positions on each segment alter the mindset standing on the tee of the 139-metre par-3.
The Lake nine lacks the dramatic features of the other two but includes highlights of its own as it traverses a more exposed but still undulating piece of the property. The best of this nine might be the two closing holes, a downhill par 3 and par 5 combo to return play towards the stately clubhouse.
Not much has changed at Joondalup over the years, largely because little needed to. The severity of the movement in some of the greens might have been viewed as extreme in the mid to late 1980s, but we’ve since come to appreciate the use of sloping ground as an architectural defence mechanism as play moves nearer to the cup – just as Robert Trent Jones Jnr is today revered among the game’s most adventurous but astute course designers. This first foray into golf-course design in Australia technically ranks second to his work at The National’s Old course, yet it was Joondalup that gave us our first taste of his intricate but enthralling design genius.
And it all began with a remarkable site coupled with remarkable vision.