We’ve seen replica holes of Amen Corner and imitation island greens of TPC Sawgrass, but never have we seen anything quite like this.
Tucked away in the foothills of Mount Nebo and Mount Glorious, 30 kilometres west of Brisbane, is “possibly the greatest backyard golf course in the world,” according to its creator Rob Nixon.
Turns out the Dubbo-raised finance guru, who has forged a niche to be the world’s foremost authority on how accounting firms can achieve peak performance, has achieved something extraordinary of his own on the grounds of his stunning Highvale property. The 10-marker has built the ultimate self-isolation facility – a par-81 golf course comprising a tricky 27-hole configuration of par 3s, all played to a triple-tiered synthetic green and complemented by an eye-catching clubhouse that’s fully equipped with a pro shop, whiskey lounge, library, “wall of hats” and a cellar that houses your membership fee (more on that later).
Yarravale Golf Club is the ultimate passion project for Nixon, whose life has been anything but dull for someone who dropped out of school at the age of 16. A chance-meeting to present a seminar at a local pub in front of eight people led to him changing the lives of tens of thousands of accountants around the world, and it’s afforded him a lifestyle that’s paved the way to follow his other dream.
“I had the idea of a backyard golf course for about 10 years,” Nixon tells Australian Golf Digest. “We had another property that was five acres and we started moving some earth around. We exited that property and when we bought this one three years ago, I saw the yard and immediately said, ‘That’s my golf course!’”
With Nixon’s new house in need of some renovations, he took the opportunity to spend “about the same amount internally and externally.” Costing roughly the same price as a “small suburban house,” that external portion of the reno included a new-look yard full of tee boxes, water hazards and a clubhouse that plays the role of home office and family rumpus room when visiting golfers aren’t making use of their exclusive membership.
“The entire family loves it,” says Nixon. “I work from there and almost every night we’re in there watching a movie or playing pool. Every one of the 81 members has a smile on their face when they are here. It’s the happiest golf place on earth!”
There was a period, though, where Yarravale wasn’t quite so serene. The complete renovation of the Nixons’ property included more than 60 separate projects on the go at once, which saw more than 100 tradesman on site over a 12-month period. “It was mental,” recalls Nixon. “One day there were 12 trucks in the yard. The green had 20 truckloads of road base, so it was busy every day. We just decided to get it all done in one go. The lawn was destroyed, the mess in the house (dust and mud) was insane. We just grinned and beared it.”
It was worth the pain, if not the meticulous planning. Nixon, who holds the current course record of 78, had the course and clubhouse 3D-imaged 18 months before building commenced. “The 3D picture was stuck on the fridge until we could afford to pay for it,” says Nixon.
Course maintenance has been factored into things as well. The fairways are mowed regularly with the help of a robot lawn mower called ‘Mo’.
“I don’t do anything by halves. I researched as much as I could online to who had what. There are hundreds of backyard golf courses … none that I have seen have the whole package – good golf, clubhouse, merchandise and members. So I figured if I am going to do it, I’ll do it properly. There is also no known list of Top 100 backyard golf courses. So why not aim for the best and get a list going?”
An avid reader of Australian Golf Digest, Nixon has a wall of hats in the clubhouse to mark each golf course he has played in the Australian Golf Digest Top 100 Courses ranking. He has also dedicated space to ticking off the World’s Top 100 Courses.
“I actually had to increase the height of the clubhouse to three metres to cater for my wall of hats,” says Nixon. “Ten hats, end-to-end, is higher than the standard 2.7m wall height. I want to play all the Top 100-ranked courses in the world and Australia. Very few have done it and I will.”
Nixon is a current member of Royal Queensland and a past player at The Hills in Queenstown. But it’s no surprise where he’s chalking up most of his rounds these days. “I play more at my course with my rules than anywhere else. Just remember, I’m the club captain, senior champion, junior champion, president, secretary, ladies champion and head greenkeeper. It’s my course, my rules, my select members (Nixon kicked someone out last month!) so it is an easy win. My short game has improved out of sight, which it good.”
So, back on that membership: just how do you join the elite company of Yarravale Golf Club? Remember that clubhouse cellar we mentioned earlier? Make a donation to that fine facility and your life membership is secure. Easy! But you better be quick. “We’ve got 81 paying members at the moment and I’m looking at capping it at 200,” warns Nixon.
So what’s Nixon’s advice for anyone else looking to build their dream golf course at home?
1) “You need the right property. Now that I have built this I realised the other property would never have worked – too steep. Because this one is flat I can get the ball to check up and spin backwards. Anything steep (the first property was going to have a hole down the side of mountain) with a synthetic green will bounce too much. I’ve used about an acre.”
2) “Pick contractors who know what they’re doing. My guys had never done a private job like this before (to this scale) but they build putt-putt and pitch & putt facilities. My main criteria was I didn’t want the ball to bounce too much and it needed to stick if you hit a good shot.”
3) “Have some fun with it and get a logo and plaster it on all manner of things. I’ve got the Yarravale logo on den caddies, balls, markers, flags, hats, mouse pads, coffee cups, stubby holders, stickers and drink coasters. New members get a bag of branded goodies as a welcome package, which makes them smile. Because it’s a bottle of wine for the cellar (for membership) I put the members name on it with their member number. It’s interesting that they recognise with their member number. I got an email from a recent member politely asking if member No.79 could come back to better his score. That happens a lot.”
4) “Double your budget and do it properly.”
Suffice to say, the Nixon family have managed just fine at home during this Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am OK with isolation … just sayin!” he grins.