This Murray River golfing haven is not resting on 90 years of history as it continues to go from strength-to-strength, on and off the course.
The roaring ‘20s marked the start of a boom in golf’s popularity with new courses being built here and overseas, while some of the biggest names in the history of the game were being feted as superstars.
In 1927, Bobby Jones won his second successive British Open title and Walter Hagen was victorious for a fourth consecutive time at the US PGA Championship.
Here in Australia, new layouts were taking shape in the Melbourne Sandbelt and the demand for new courses in regional Australia was keeping a small band of local course designers busy. In Yarrawonga, on the banks of the beautiful Murray River, a group of local golfers were planning a move of their own.
Led by local identity Thomas Baillie, the group had its sights set on 110 acres of dairy farm land just across the river into NSW. At a cost of eight pounds per acre, the land was purchased and Yarrawonga had a nine hole course within a year. Since 1886, the golfers of Yarrawonga had graduated from a three-hole course right in the centre of town, to a nine-hole course laid out around the racecourse to a dairy farm at Mulwala.
In the 90 years since moving to Mulwala, the Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort has grown to become the largest public access golf resort in Australia. A first class clubhouse – boasting a health and fitness centre, bistro, bar, movie theatre and massage facilities – now stands where the dairy farm homestead once presided over the surrounding paddocks.
Having started as nine holes on the present site, the course was extended to 18 holes over the following two decades and it has been growing ever since.
In 1957, course architect Sam Berriman, who created well-regarded layouts like Horsham and Keysborough, was commissioned to design a new 18-hole layout. Nearly 25 years later, designers Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge added another nine before completing a further 18 holes five years later. Today, Yarrawonga Mulwala has 45 holes – the Lake and Murray courses as well as a shorter nine-hole layout known as the Executive course. Both 18-hole layouts are well entrenched in the Top-100 Public Access Courses in Australia as ranked by Golf Australia magazine.
The Murray course, designed by Thomson and Wolveridge, is, in my opinion, one of the best layouts you will find anywhere along the Murray. Huge river gums dominate the flood basin landscape and natural lagoons border many of the fairways.
This par-72 has been highly acclaimed for many years but the management and course maintenance teams at Yarrawonga have not rested on their laurels and are always looking for ways to improve the layout. In the past decade, several greens have been modernised, bunkers have been redone and the overall presentation has been consistently very good.
More recently, the 352-metre par-4 3rd has undergone some major changes. What was a relatively straight hole between tall stands of trees left and right, has been altered with the introduction of a wetland cutting into the left of the fairway, creating a slight dogleg around the water. The green and bunkering here has also been upgraded with a larger, angled putting surface now in play.
The upgraded 3rd has added to the challenge of the opening quartet of holes that lead you to the north bank of the river and an excellent sequence of holes. Coming hot on the heels of the 3rd is the 347-metre 4th. It is a good short par-4 with the narrow and slightly dogleg right lined either side by very large river gums. The further you hit your drive here the tighter the fairway becomes. The correct mid- or short-iron has to be selected for the second shot to find the kidney-shaped green, which is raised slightly above the fairway.
The following hole is also a highlight of the Murray course. On the 5th tee there is no missing the flowing waters of the Murray off to your left. The 470-metre par-5 runs along the riverbank with only a row of river gums and wattles as well as a deep gully separating the left of the fairway from the water. The fairway ebbs and flows like a raging torrent, toward a slightly elevated green guarded by an enormous gum tree and a small bunker front left. By the time you reach the 6th green you will have a good feel for the course as it continues to wind its way through huge river gums.
On the lower stretches of the layout, through a flood basin, many holes are bordered by natural lagoons. One such hole is one of my favourites at Yarrawonga. The 184-metre par-3 13th is an absolute gem with water all down the left side of the hole and short of the putting surface, which features subtle slopes. The real challenge here is to select the right club to make the distance from tee to green and to keep your ball dry.
The Lake course is very different in design to the Murray course. It is more open but still features some big gums, lakes and plenty of bunkers. This course incorporates some older-style design holes with newer holes created by Thomson and Wolveridge. It is one of the old Berriman-designed holes that will get your heart racing as you near the turn. The 283-metre par-4 8th is a picturesque hole that is dominated by a lake that is easily reachable from the elevated tee. This pretty hazard also comes into play for the wedge approach to a small green.
Water also comes into play on two of the best holes on the back nine – the 531-metre par-5 13th and the 156-metre par-3 14th. The par-5 twists and turns right and then left with out-of-bounds not far from the left edge of the fairway. A lake then looms up on the right as the fairway rises to the elevated green.
The following par-3 plays alongside the other side of the lake and if you keep your tee shot out of the hazard, you’ll still need to negotiate the bunkers right and left of the putting surface.
While water dominates at 13 and 14, it is sand that will be your curse at the 322-metre par-4 15th. This is a trademark Thomson and Wolveridge hole with the strategic use of bunkers, on the fairway and around the green, as well as mounding. The fairway narrows in the landing area with three bunkers and a small mound presenting problems. The second shot is to an elevated green nestled between bunkers and mounds. Standing down on the fairway it is a great sight – bunker cut into the hill and mounds defining the landscape behind the flag.
LOCATION: Golf Club Drive, Mulwala.
CONTACT: (03) 5744 1911.
DESIGNERS: Sam Berriman (1957); Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge (1986).
PLAYING SURFACES: Bentgrass (greens); predominantly couch (fairways, tees).
PGA PROs: Evan Droop and Shane Casley.
GREEN FEES: $52 (18 holes); $77 (unlimited
daily golf ticket); $200 (five-day pass, Monday to Friday).
MEMBERSHIPS: There are limited memberships on offer but the club has a current promotion until capacity is reached with 16 months full membership for only $495.
ACCOMMODATION: Long stay or short, this modern resort offers all styles of accommodation experiences for the budget conscious or those looking for a taste of luxury. Enjoy spectacular views of the golf course or native bushland from the balcony of your self-contained spacious accommodation.
There are nine different types of accommodation from basic cabin-style to well-appointed luxurious apartments and villas, each with cooking facilities, private bathrooms and a car parking space.
FACILITIES: When not playing golf, guests can explore the spectacular surrounds, tempt their tastebuds with quality dining, workout in the gym or catch the latest blockbuster in the luxury 60 seat movie theatre and wine lounge. Why not have a hit of tennis, take a dip in the solar-heated pool, relax with a massage or take a quiet stroll along the banks of the Murray River and shores of Lake Mulwala.