If you are planning a golfing getaway along the Murray River, you should consider adding the superb Tocumwal Golf & Bowls Club to your itinerary.
The Murray River region has long held a reputation for being one of this country’s best golfing destinations.
That standing in the Australian golfing landscape has grown significantly during the past 25 years with several layouts now ranked among the best courses in the nation, while others are knocking on the door for inclusion.
One of those clubs that has been in top-100 discussions in recent times is the Tocumwal Golf & Bowls Club, such has been the improvement of its two layouts – the Presidents and Captains Courses – during the last few years. The Presidents layout had some ranking success, cracking into the Top-100 Public Access Courses rank in 2015, with the Captains Course finishing just outside the list of centurions.
To have both layouts so highly ranked is an amazing achievement for a club that sits on the edge of a township where the population doesn’t quite reach 1,900 people. That said, there are nearly 4,000 members of the club.
Situated on the northern bank of the Murray amidst the flatlands of the Riverina, Tocumwal is about 700km south-west of Sydney and nearly 260km north of Melbourne. Its riverside location and beautiful natural surrounds have made it popular with tourists in the past few decades. Golfers, too, have in ever-increasing numbers found Tocumwal to their liking.
I have been among those golf visitors for nearly 30 years and Tocumwal’s golfing landscape has changed markedly in that time. It grew to 36 holes in the late 1990s and quickly established a spot alongside the best of the Murray golf resort courses including its neighbour Cobram-Barooga, and others including Rich River, Murray Downs and Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Clubs.
Tocumwal’s 36 holes offers a combination of old and new design work, which created a deal of diversity from one nine to another.
The majority of the Presidents course is made up of holes that were first created back in the 1950s after land was purchased from the RAAF.
RIGHT: The tight tree-lined approach into the par-4 17th of the Presidents Course. PHOTO: Brendan James.
During World War II, a 60 square kilometre area, including the site of both courses today, was commissioned by the US Army Air Corps as part of its top secret aerodrome. It was a base for 54 Liberator B-24 bombers, prepared for an attempted Japanese invasion. At the height of the war, the complex was the largest of its kind in the Commonwealth, with more than 600 buildings – including seven hangars – and four runways. The club’s link to this time in history is recalled with a scale replica of a B-24 mounted on a pole next to the club’s entrance.
Those first nine holes were played with sand greens until they were converted to grass in 1970. Another nine holes were added four years later, while the second 18-hole layout, known as the Captains course, was completed in 1993. All the new holes were created by former Australian amateur representative and course designer, Kevin Hartley.
Hartley transformed what was grazing land, next to the original 18 holes, into a fine selection of wintergreen couch fairways and 1020 bentgrass greens. Hartley’s bunkering, while not especially deep, is more dynamic and he has utilised the native river gums and pine trees to create some very good holes.
Tocumwal’s more established holes make up the majority of the Presidents Course and are often more highly regarded. That said, every golfer this writer has ever spoken to who has played both Tocumwal’s layouts has their favourite. The club is in an enviable position in that it can offer six 18-hole combinations as the 1st and 10th tees of both the Presidents and Captains Courses are right beside the clubhouse or pro-shop. For mine, I’d be happy playing the back nine of both layouts every time I visit Tocumwal.
The Presidents course opens with a very good short par-4. The 330-metre 1st hole is a tight right-to-left dogleg that will intimidate those of us right-handers with a penchant for slicing their driver. The green, which can be reached with a mid- or short-iron, is narrow and deep. An enormous bunker flanks the right of the green and will snare even the slightest mis-hit.
The opening hole sets the tone for the Presidents Course. There are only a few holes that can be considered straight and the tree-lined doglegs make Tocumwal a lot of fun for players who like to shape their shots. Even deep into the back nine of the Presidents course there are sharp and slight doglegs to contend with.
The 383-metre par-4 15th calls for a blind tee shot over a hill past a large river gum to the left of the fairway. The fairway doglegs sharply to the left and long hitters trying to shorten the hole have to flirt with a bunker on the inside of the dogleg. The lengthy approach must be threaded between large gums to find the green, which features a huge bunker right and a smaller sand trap left.
The following hole is a superb uphill short par-4. At 330-metres, the 16th is a thinking man’s hole. The urge to hit driver from the tee should be avoided as there is trouble everywhere from the tee. Two bunkers and a tall river gum make the left side of the fairway and rough a no-go zone. But driving down the right needs to also be precise – too long through the slight dogleg and you’ll be playing from the pine trees. The elevated green is a narrow target and there is at least four clubs difference from front to back.
The newest hole at Tocumwal closes the Presidents Course. When the club decided last year to build two artificial grass bowling greens, the area that was the par-3 10th hole of the Presidents Course was earmarked. That par-3 was taken out of play and a new par-3 was built adjacent to the old hole but heading in the opposite direction. Both the new bowling greens and 18th hole opened in March this year.
One of Tocumwal’s prettiest holes is the 482-metre par-5 3rd hole on the Captains course. Water borders the entire left side of the fairway while a huge red sandy bunker is strategically positioned to the right to make the tee shot arguably the most challenging on the hole. Long hitters going for the green in two must also overcome the dangers of four bunkers and the ever-present water to reach the green safely. Playing short with a wedge to the green is the smart play.
The Captains layout also ends with a tight driving par-4. The drive must be directed to the right half of the fairway as going left will inevitably find the trees lining this doglegging right fairway. Bogey or double bogey is the best score you can make from left of the fairway.
Tocumwal has flourished in recent years and its reputation for having some of the best putting surfaces to be found along the Murray River precedes it, which is probably why it now gets the nod to host major tournaments, like the 2017 NSW Mid Amateur Championship.
LOCATION: Barooga Rd, Tocumwal, NSW, 2714.
CONTACT: 1800 631 197, (03) 5874 9111 or Pro Shop (03) 5874 9172.
DESIGNERS: Original holes unknown (1956); Kevin Hartley (1991).
PLAYING SURFACES: Wintergreen couch (fairways and tees); Bentgrass (greens).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Ben Lucas.
PGA PROFESSIONAL: Rodney Booth.
GREEN FEES: $45.
MEMBERSHIPS: Tocumwal has a wide range of full and country membership options. A full golf membership, including a $100 clubhouse credit, is $620. You can also take a golf and bowls membership for $730. Country golf memberships for people living more than 80km from the course cost $220. For further information email firstname.lastname@example.org
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: Tocumwal has reciprocal rights arrangements with more than 60 clubs throughout Australia. Check the club’s website for a full list and contact details.
PLAY & STAY PACKAGES: The club can assist with play and stay arrangements. There are two main packages available with the Sunday to Thursday mid-week special – including two days unlimited golf, two nights’ two share accommodation, continental motel breakfast, $20 meal voucher and a golf package VIP discount card – starts from $220 per person. The weekend package, for Friday and Saturday nights, starts from $260 per person. Golf carts and group bookings can also be arranged. For more details call the club on 1800 631 197.