It might give the impression of being in the middle of the Australian bush, but this Top-100 ranked gem is surprisingly just a few minutes’ drive from the heart of the nation’s capital.
Canberra can rightly claim to be the greenest of Australia’s capital cities, with expansive open spaces and wide boulevards integral aspects of the Walter Burley Griffin-designed urban landscape.
With that in mind, it is hardly surprising that you will find one of Canberra’s most picturesque golf courses just a few minutes’ drive from the back door of Parliament House.
The Federal Golf Club is secreted away on the edge of the Red Hill Nature Reserve and across the foothills of the lookout of the same name. Mature native gums, banksias and dozens of other floral varieties line the fairways and provide the feel of being in the middle of nowhere.
The par-72 covers topography that varies from easy walking to hilly at times. The clubhouse occupies the highest point on the property and offers great views of the Brindabella Ranges off in the distance.
Formed in 1933, the club didn’t move to its current site at Red Hill until 1949. That was more than a decade after former Australian Open champion and acclaimed course designer Alex Russell (Royal Melbourne East and Lake Karrinyup) had recommended the site to the Royal Canberra club, which was looking for a new home following the flooding of the Molonglo River to create Lake Burley Griffin. When Red Hill was dismissed by Royal Canberra in favour of its current location at Yarralumla, Federal’s committee secured the site because its first nine-hole sand scrape course had suffered the same fate as the original Royal.
Upon arrival at Red Hill in 1950, the club had nine holes opened for play designed by James Herd Scott. More holes were added by the enthusiastic membership over the years, but all this work was completely redone in 1967 as part of a redesign masterplan by Prosper Ellis, who was widely acclaimed for creating the links at Belmont near Newcastle. His work at Federal was well received and remained largely unchanged for nearly four decades.
The most significant change the club has made in recent years has been surrounding its water resources. Several irrigation dams were constructed, while all its fairways were converted to the hardier and less thirsty Santa Ana couch grass. Easier access to water and the need for less, has seen the level of presentation reach a consistently high standard throughout the year, which is certainly what you would expect from a layout that is ranked in Australia’s Top-100 Courses and was listed earlier this year at No.48 by Golf Australia in the nation’s Top-100 Public Access Courses.
These accolades have certainly added to the pride Federal members have for their club, which has played host to national tournaments as well as several professional events in years gone by including the 1982 NSW PGA Championship, won by Frank Nobilo, and the 1987 U-Bix Classic, when Peter Senior took out the title. Greg Norman even played an exhibition round at Federal back in 1979.
The club is renowned among the ranks of Australia’s elite amateurs as the annual host of the Federal Amateur Open Championship – a world amateur golf ranking event that always attracts a high quality field of players from here and abroad. In 2005, Jason Day finished runner up to Victoria’s Andrew Martin, while Frenchman Victor Dubuisson was a second-place getter behind West Australian Matt Jager in 2008.
A club could not host high calibre events like these without a superior quality course – in both the challenge it presents and the experience it offers.
The terrain at Federal lays the foundations for some visually impressive holes that make a round here memorable, while the design asks questions of your ability throughout.
The opening hole – a 501-metre par-5 – does more than lead you downhill and away from the clubhouse. It really sets the scene for what is to come. The slight dogleg left fairway slopes down gradually from the tee to the top of a hill, marked by a deep bunker on the left edge of the fairway. Long hitters can really shorten up the hole by clearing the crest and getting a favourable kick down the hill. The fairway runs through a valley before rising slightly up to the green that is protected by three bunkers.
Federal’s best par-5, for mine, comes on the back nine. The 462-metre 13th hole (pictured right) plays significantly longer than its number might suggest on the scorecard. From the tee, the dogleg right fairway dips down into a valley before hitting another downslope and then gradually climbing towards the green. Bunkers left and right of the final uphill approach into the green, complicate the decision to be made by longer hitters thinking of getting their second shot onto the green. A much deeper bunker lies short and right of the putting surface, which also features a false front making it difficult to hit shots close when the flag is in the front third of the green.
One of the highlights of a round at Federal is the quality of its four one-shotters. All of the par-3s are of varying distances, while the greenscapes each differ in terms of shape and the demands placed on the type of tee shot you need to play to get close to the hole.
The 173-metre 3rd hole is played from an elevated tee across a valley to a putting surface that slopes from back left to front right and is guarded by two large bunkers – one cutting in from the left and the other short and right. Club selection here is crucial as it is a hole where you don’t want to be short and chipping uphill, nor do you want to be beyond the flag and be faced with a slippery downhill putt.
The shortest of Federal’s par-3s is also a gem. The 135-metre 16th hole, again, plays slightly downhill to a smallish green wedged into a space flanked by four large bunkers – three to the right and one left. A good miss here is into one of these bunkers as an over-clubbed shot will run down a steep greenside slope into the rough or trees making it extremely difficult to save par. Arguably the most memorable aspect of this little wonder is the view off to the Brindabella Range in the distance.
LOCATION: Gowrie Drive, Red Hill, ACT.
CONTACT: (02) 6281 1888.
DESIGNERS: James H. Scott (1950); Prosper Ellis (1967); Course staff (ongoing).
SLOPE RATINGS: 133 (Black men’s tees), 131 (Blue men’s tees), 127 (White men’s tees), 139 (red women’s championship) and 130 (Red women’s tees).
PLAYING SURFACES: Santa Ana couch (fairways), bentgrass (greens).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Mark Thomson.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Michael Clough, Jason Pavese, Damon Welsford.
GREEN FEE: $80. Limited tee times available for public play seven days. Bookings are essential.
MEMBERSHIPS: There are eight membership options available at Federal. The Classic Membership is the premier category designed for golfers who are passionate and committed to playing and practicing multiple times a week. Classic Members enjoy a range of benefits designed to enhance the overall experience at the club and includes full seven day playing rights, all comp and usage fees for daily events, visitor vouchers and buckets of range balls. The annual fee for the Classic is $3,950. There are also seven-day, intermediate, family, lifestyle, student, sub-junior and junior memberships. For more details visit the website.
CORPORATE GOLF: Mondays and Thursdays are available for organisations to book the course and make use of the clubhouse facilities. From the outset an experienced team is on hand to design an event to meet your requirements.
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: NSW (Bermagui, Bonnie Doon, Coffs Harbour, Coolangatta Tweed Heads, Concord, Cromer, Killara, Kooindah Waters, Mona Vale, Monash, Oatlands, Pennant Hills, Pymble, Rich River, Tura Beach); Victoria (Eastern, Portsea, Shepparton, Southern, The Sands Torquay, Warrnambool, Woodlands); Tasmania (Kingston Beach, Launceston); Queensland (Gailes, Headland, Keperra, Indooroopilly, Toowoomba, Townsville); WA (Cottesloe, Melville Glades, Mt Lawley, Royal Perth); NT (Alice Springs, Darwin); SA (Blackwood, Tee Tree Gully, Victor Harbor); NZ (Titirangi, Paraparaumu Beach).