The oldest club in the Queensland capital has managed to embrace its significant and historic roots while also not shying away from change and continual improvement.
Carnegie Clark was one of a host of professional Scottish golfers, who immigrated to Australia in the earliest years of the 20th century, and would ultimately play a major role in steering the course of golf in this country.
The 21-year-old professional stepped ashore in January 1902 after Holdsworth MacPherson & Company, proprietors of The Sydney Sports Depot, paid his passage to Australia to work in their store as the resident professional. His engagement was “to advise layout and improvement of links and to coach players.”
The hard-worker from Carnoustie was in immediate demand by suburban Sydney clubs. Eight months after arriving he left Sydney on a northern tour taking in stops at Grafton, Glen Innes, Armidale, Tamworth, Tenterfield and Toowoomba where matches were played, equipment orders taken and course advice provided. His tour ended in Brisbane and led to the biggest course design job of his then short career.
The Brisbane Golf Club had been established six years earlier – making it the oldest club in the Queensland capital – with a course built near the Brisbane River at Chelmer. But the club’s committee realised it would soon have to look for a new home with the development of roads and residential areas. The club found 110 acres at Yeerongpilly, less than five kilometres away and, in 1903, the club paid £1,870 for the property and Clark was soon on site laying out the new course.
When renowned course architect Dr Alister MacKenzie was invited to advise on course changes during his 1926 Australian visit. He accepted the offer and prepared a report, which ultimately polarised the committee and only some of his recommendations, mainly the addition of a few bunkers, were put into play.
Since then the course has been influenced by nearly a dozen architects, club captains, committees and professionals. Until recently, acclaimed designer Ross Watson was the club’s consulting architect – a position he held for 13 years – and with that came a level of consistency in the course’s design and presentation. The course was no longer a bag of mixed lollies.
Watson was commissioned to come up with a masterplan for the layout in 2007 and over the ensuing years significant changes were made across the course. The biggest improvement, however, came after the course was inundated by the devastating floods of 2011. In the aftermath of the flood and then the extensive clean up, the club decided to convert all of its greens to Champion ultradwarf Bermuda grass, which began in 2012 and took three years to resurface all 21 holes (yes there are 21 holes, more about that later). It remains the only course in Australia with the Champion grass surface.
Today, Brisbane’s greens are a memorable feature of a round there and I think if they are not the best putting surfaces in the Sunshine State they are on the podium. The fine leaf grass is smooth, and certainly doesn’t have as much grain as other warm climate putting surfaces. They are simply a joy to putt on.
RIGHT: Eight bunkers, a sloping fairway and water make for a stern test on the par-4 17th. PHOTO: Brendan James.
“For us it’s a major selling point because of its characteristics. It’s a great grass in terms of ball speed and ball roll and its one that is typically used by a lot of major courses in the United States,” Course Superintendent Mitch Hayes said.
Touring pro Jake McLeod, who is a member of the club, agrees.
“The greens are a lot firmer and faster compared to other Queensland courses, which makes it a lot more difficult to get around the golf course because you have to place your ball perfectly otherwise it’s pretty hard to get up and down from some spots around here.”
At first sight, the well-treed Brisbane layout appears as though it might be a tight excursion, but most holes offer a variety of playing line options from tee-to-green incorporating risk-and-reward elements. This is a welcomed design aspect given you have to take into account the firmness and speed of the greens.
There are 73 bunkers from holes 1 to 18, with an additional six on the three ‘spare’ holes. Oxley Creek, a tributary of the Brisbane River, cuts through the course, while Moolabin Creek flows into the eastern edge of the course. There are also several ponds and lakes so it shouldn’t surprise that water comes into play on 12 holes across the property.
The round opens with a Clark original design – a gentle par-5 that sees golfers play passed the predominantly timber Federation-style and heritage-listed clubhouse, which was built in 1910 a year after the original building was destroyed by fire. Measuring 423 metres from the tips, the opener calls for a drive to the crest of a hill where the hole is completely exposed. For those unable to reach the green in two blows, the right side of the fairway is ideal for a lay-up as this will leave a third shot straight up the slightly angled and gently undulating green. Five bunkers – three left and two right – and a steep, close mown drop-off through the back right of the putting surface demand accuracy from the fairway.
One of my favourite holes at The Brisbane Golf Club is also, for mine, its toughest. The 396-metre par-4 5th demands a blind tee shot over the crest of a hill to a dogleg left fairway that wraps around the edge of a lake. The best, or most direct, line for the shortest second shot is from as close to the lake as possible but I would urge first-timers to aim just left of the tallest gum tree in the distance and let the camber of the fairway feed the ball left. This long approach, from a slight downhill lie, must carry the water to find the putting surface, wedged between the water left and two bunkers to the right. It’s a wonderful tough hole that doesn’t give up too many birdies.
Water is also a key hazard of the 343-metre par-4 8th hole where, again, the fairway rises and falls gently over the crest of a hill. The fairway is receptive and there’s no need for a driver here as Moolabin Creek cuts the hole in two, almost halfway between the green and the top of the hill. A 200-metre tee shot, alongside the lone fairway bunker right, will leave a mid- or short-iron into the green, which is guarded by sand left, right and long as well as a lake to the right. There is a three-club difference between the front and back of the tiered putting surface, placing a real importance on correct club selection.
By the time you get deep into the heart of the back nine, you will realise one of the great attributes of The Brisbane layout is the variety – of clubs used and shots required – it demands. This, along with the quality putting surfaces, makes a round here a lot of fun.
Even the brutal 180-metre par-3 13th hole is fun. Water lines the entire right edge of the hole and can also be found long and left. Two bunkers wedged between the right of the undulating green and the water can be a saviour for slight mis-hits. When the hole was first opened in 2001, members were very critical. In 2003, US PGA Champion Wayne Grady was commissioned to modify the hole and the end result is tough but fair offering.
My favourite hole on the inward half is the 361-metre par-4 17th, which was originally the 15th hole of Clark’s 1904 creation. The face of the two-shotter has changed considerably over the 116 years since but the bones of a quality par-4 remain. The tee shot is played across a creek to a steep uphill landing zone guarded by three fairway bunkers right and one to the left. A drive carrying the hill will leave a downhill approach to a well-guarded green protected by bunkers on the both sides and a lake to
the right. It is a terrific hole that stands
out among a host of others at Brisbane that are highly enjoyable and you won’t find anywhere else.
And what about the three spare holes? Up until 1999 The Brisbane club boasted 27 holes, the 18-hole layout plus another nine, known as the West Course. The closure of the West Course saw changes to the overall layout but three of the shorter holes in the heart of the property were retained. The best of these is the short par-4 20th, which plays up and around the side of a hill and then down to a small green. Play long from the tee and bring sand right and water left into play. Taking a conservative option from the tee could leave a longer, blind second shot into the diminutive target.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing The Brisbane Golf Club layout. The questions asked on most of the tees were fair and reasonable and, again, I loved the greens … oh, the greens!
LOCATION: Tennyson Memorial Ave, Yeerongpilly, Queensland, 4105.
CONTACT: (07) 3848 1008.
DESIGNERS: Carnegie Clark (1904); other design influences included Dr Alister MacKenzie, Joe Kirkwood, Al Howard and Wayne Grady; Ross Watson (2007-2020).
GREEN FEES: The Brisbane GC is a private club. Members of reciprocal clubs are welcome and opportunities to play do exist for international and interstate visitors. Interstate visitors $150; Member’s guest $75.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Mitch Hayes.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Joe Janison (Director of Golf), Gary Calder,
Lee Eagleton and Reece McRae (teaching professionals).
MEMBERSHIPS: The Brisbane Golf Club offers a wide range of membership types and categories including seven- and six-day memberships, as well as a host of age based memberships.
The club has one of the most successful Ladies’ Let’s Golf programs in Queensland and the junior membership, with coaching clinics conducted regularly, is growing.
FACILITIES: The club offers practice facilities close to the clubhouse and open seven days a week.
The 270-metre driving range can be used to warm up before a round of golf or to work on improving your swing. For those looking to strengthen their short game there are two practice putting greens and a chipping area that features two practice bunkers. Members also have the luxury of playing on the club’s three spare holes.
ACCOLADES: 2014-2020 Golf Australia magazine Top-100 Courses ranking.