Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort is Australia’s largest public access golf facility with 45 holes on offer. With a range of non-golf activities and two layouts entrenched in the Top-100 Public Access Courses in the country it is certainly worth a visit.
Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort’s popularity as a one-stop shop destination for golfers is easy to understand when you consider it is just three hours’ drive from Melbourne, and a little over six from Sydney.
Beyond its location on the banks of the mighty Murray River, among an embarrassment of enjoyable golf course riches, the two 18-hole loops at Yarrawonga Mulwala, the Murray and Lake, are among the best golfing options located on the famous watercourse. The Murray is ranked 51st and the Lake sits at 74th on Golf Australia magazine’s Top-100 Public Access Courses in 2019.
The history of golf in the twin towns on either side of the state border, Yarrawonga in Victoria and Mulwala in New South Wales, dates back to 1886 and a three-hole course in the centre of Yarrawonga. The Yarrawonga Golf Club formed in 1897, with its course based at the racecourse, before a proposal in 1923 to cross the border.
In the years since, the club has continued to grow on its current site, a former dairy farm, with Sam Berriman designing an 18-hole layout that was then added to by Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge in the early 1980s to form the Lake Course. The same design duo was then behind the Murray Course’s completion in 1986, with the remaining original holes now partially forming a nine-hole layout splitting the two big courses, known as the Executive Course.
You would be forgiven for thinking the younger Murray layout has been here much longer than the Lake Course. Situated along the banks of the river of the same name and weaving its way through enormous gums and other natives, the par-72 has a classic country golf course feel. And is unlike any other courses I have ever played with Peter Thomson’s fingerprints on them.
The 1st hole of the Murray course plays away from the club’s expansive clubhouse and you won’t return until you have putted out on the 18th hole, and it isn’t long before players get to experience what makes this layout so special.
The par-3 2nd is fairly gentle at 148 metres, but the green framed by some imposing trees with mounded surrounds will test players’ iron play early before taking on one of my favourite holes.
The 360-metre par-4 3rd hole underwent a redesign a number of years ago and now snakes its way around a water hazard to the left, putting a premium on placing your drive in the fairway. The second shot requires accuracy yet again, played to a putting surface slightly angled to the fairway and well bunkered.
Immediately following is the slightly shorter but equally challenging 4th hole. Measuring 347-metres placement is again crucial as you make your way towards your first sight of the river that lends the layout its name.
Huge gum trees line the slight dogleg right hole that narrows the closer you get to the green. This is a common occurrence on the two- and three-shotters of the Murray course, where despite a lack of any significant rough, long hitters don’t hold as drastic advantage over more accurate hitters due to narrower landing areas and recovery shots from the trees fraught with rebounds and big scores.
RIGHT: The par-5 5th of the Murray Course sits on the banks of the river of the same name. PHOTO: Brendan James.
The kidney-shaped 4th green is again slightly higher than the fairway, adding another factor when choosing your club – a decision that can be further complicated by the low-lying land and trees blocking the ability to feel the wind.
Having putted out on the 4th, players stand on the par-5 5th tee within spitting distance of the Murray River.
The tight, winding three-shotter is the pick of the holes on the Murray course and perhaps the whole property for mine, with a large plot of gums right of the fairway bringing the banks of the river on the left and a drop into play.
At 470-metres, the 5th is reachable for the longer hitter, but another imposing river gum sits to the right of the slightly elevated green with a bunker left, meaning a very precise second shot is required. The smarter play is to lay-up to a comfortable distance, unhindered by the seemingly magnetic branches of the lone tree.
Among the stark differences between the Murray and Lake Courses beyond the dense stands of gums that give each hole a feeling of seclusion, is the movement and mounding of the fairways on the Murray that can send drives bounding down the fairway, particularly in the hot summer months, while also costing distance and potentially sending balls off line.
Another of the quirks of the newer layout is the par-3 8th and 10th holes featuring two teeing options that change the holes significantly.
The ‘A’ and ‘B’ tees of the 8th hole change the distance by 40 metres and completely alter the playing lines to the well-bunkered green where par is always a good score.
The longest hole on the course at 523-metres, with hazards (which cannot be seen from the tee) on either side of the fairway, is the par-5 9th – an incredibly narrow hole that is understandably rated as the hardest hole on the course.
The second nine follows much the same style as the front, with winding fairways and gums a constant presence and the par-5s and par-3s again among the standout holes.
My favourite of the par-3s on the back is the 13th, which at 184 metres from the back tees with water down the left and fronting the green poses a serious test of your ball striking and mental fortitude.
Finding the green here is a matter of club selection, however once on the short grass the subtle slopes of the putting surface makes holing longer putts tricky.
The greens of the Murray course mostly feature similarly nuanced breaks rather than big swings and the surfaces are regularly in fantastic condition. Summer along the Murray can be brutally hot, as I found out earlier this year, and although the traffic on the courses may be lighter at the peak of the hotter months, the ability to maintain even, true rolling coverage as well as healthy fairways is a testament to the greens staff at Yarrawonga.
The finishing stretch to the Murray Course will test your game as you start to think of a rewarding cold beverage in the clubhouse, with the constantly turning par-5 16th tipping out at 521-metres ranked the fourth hardest hole, before a short uphill par-3 at the penultimate hole offers some reprieve. The heavily bunkered 18th green returns you to the pro shop and like many before, it won’t be long till you are keen to come back and tackle the course again.
Sitting in front of the resort at Yarrawonga Mulwala, the Lake Course offers a very different, but enjoyable, challenge. The more sparsely treed layout has a more familiar feeling to other Thomson/Wolveridge designs, with the back nine arguably the hardest nine holes on the property.
Although still tree-lined with gums the most common species, the Lake Course allows players to open their shoulders a little more and will play into the hands of the big hitters. But more substantial and more penalising bunkers pose a threat on every hole, while water comes into play on the layouts best holes to place a premium on strategic thinking.
The short par-4 8th is one such hole, where water is the main defence of par and players are faced with a choice from the tee.
A large pond sits between the left side of the fairway and the front of the green at the 283-metre hole, with more room to the right of the water than appears from the tee. A mid- to long-iron is the wise choice off the tee to setup a wedge into the raised green, however, the aggressive play of challenging the water with something longer can leave a simple pitch and bring a birdie into play.
“The finishing stretch to the Murray Course will test your game as you start to think of a rewarding cold beverage in the clubhouse …”
During my recent game on the Lake alongside a couple of members, I was told to look forward to the par-4 11th as one of their favourite holes on the course. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.
A good drive down the fairly straight fairway with trees jutting out on the left, meant 100 metres remained into the green. But played to a partially blind green set into a hill and angled horizontally to the fairway, this is no easy approach shot. With the land falling away in numerous directions around the 11th green it is a case of picking the right club and committing to your shot.
Although impressed by the 11th and following long par-3 12th, it is the par-5 13th and par-3 14th that are the standout holes in my opinion on the Lake Course.
Out-of-bounds hugs the entire left side of the 531-metre 13th, which turns slightly right around a water hazard as you approach a green set into the side of a hill well above the fairway. The lay-up around the water is visually intimidating and will see many players play conservatively, but it is the approach to the green that must be pin point in terms of distance control if you are to have a chance at birdie.
The same water hazard lines the right side of the par-3 next, which also features two large bunkers. At 156 metres this is not the most testing one shotter at Yarrawonga Mulwala, but with a potentially good score building, Thomson’s repeated pressure on club selection is again the main factor here.
Rounding out Yarrawonga Mulwala’s 45-hole offering, the Executive Course contains four par-3s and is perfect for beginners, children or a more relaxing hit for a golf trip that needs to recharge the batteries a little.
Like most people, I have a slight preference for the design of the Murray Course at Yarrawonga, but the Lake course is also very enjoyable and for mine presents a more testing challenge. When you add in the high quality of presentation across all three layouts, it won’t be long before I find myself on my way back to attempt to better my recent efforts.
LOCATION: Golf Club Road, Mulwala, NSW, 2647.
CONTACT: (03) 5744 1911.
DESIGNERS: Sam Berriman (1957); Peter Thomson Mike Wolveridge (1982 &1986).
SLOPE RATINGS: Murray Course: Men – Blue 126; Yellow 125. Women – Red 129. Lake Course: Men – Blue 126; Yellow 125. Women – Red 126.
PLAYING SURFACES: Santa Ana Couch (fairways and tees), bentgrass/Poa annua (greens).
GREEN FEES: $55 (18 Holes), $33 (9 holes), $82 (daily access), $215 (five day Mon-Fri access).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Chris Burgess.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Evan Droop and Craig Stickling.
MEMBERSHIP: There is a range of membership options on offer at Yarrawonga Mulwala including various age categories. For those living within a 100km radius of the Yarrawonga Post Office a full membership costs $368 per year with $130 joining fee, with players aged between 18 and 21 living in the same area paying $166 per annum with no joining fee and under-18s paying $57. There is also a Country/Corporate option for $430 per year and a joining fee of $50, with complimentary course access at all times except Saturdays before 1pm when green fees apply.
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: Victoria (Cranbourne GC, Eastern GC, Keysborough GC, Patterson River CC, Rosanna GC, Yering Meadows GC); NSW (Albury GC, Murray Downs G&CC, Rich River GC Resort, Cobram-Barooga GC, Corowa GC, Mollymook GC, Orange GC, St Michael’s GC, Tocumwal GC, Nelson Bay GC, Muirfield GC, Tura Beach GC); Northern Territory (Alice Springs GC); Tasmania (Launceston GC); Queensland (Gailes GC, Palmer Gold Coast GC, Hervey Bay GC); South Australia (Tea Tree Gully GC, McCracken CC).
ACCOMMODATION: With nine different styles of accommodation, a swimming pool, tennis courts, croquet, bowls and a movie theatre all within the resort, Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort is perfect for golfers and non-golfers alike. Group bookings can be easily catered for and golf packages can be tailored to suit each individual group’s requirements.