From the high country east of Albury to the South Australian Border, the Murray River does more than divide Victoria from New South Wales. It has allowed man to create rich farmlands from the dust, and green fairways alongside them for his leisure.
Murray Course at Yarrawonga - pic by David Scaletti
Many of the clubs along the Murray flourished through the sixties, seventies and eighties, as gaming-deprived Victorians flocked to the border to empty their pay packets into the pokies of NSW. No surprise then, that almost without exception, the top clubs are located on the NSW side of the River!
In the early nineties, several clubs that had squandered their bounty (assisted by legislation which decreed that takings be reinvested in the facility) were in financial difficulty as first pokies came to Victoria, and then the Melbourne Casino. But, perversely, golf has been the beneficiary, as clubs came to recognise that their course, not their pokies, was the drawcard to keep the tourist dollars coming.
another perfect day on the Murray - pic by David Scaletti
The climate is temperate, and ideal for golf year round, but cold winter nights and hot summer days mean it is wise to pick your tee times carefully.
Let’s start in Albury and take a trip downstream. There are three great courses in Albury, each with its own character. Albury Golf Club has a proud history dating back over 80 years. Golf memorabilia on display includes the course record card set by none other than Jack Nicklaus. Albury has relatively tight fairways lined by lofty gums and mature deciduous trees. The course stretches out below the clubhouse and motel complex, and boasts some of the fastest greens in Victoria – Royal Melbourne notwithstanding.
Thurgoona Golf Club is a Thomson/Wolveridge design, which is almost recommendation enough. There are wide, gently undulating fairways, plenty of trees and superb bunkering. Water comes into play on many holes, but no long water carries are required. Staying on the fairways and reaching the greens is the key, but the huge tricky slopes can still rob you of par. As with Albury Golf Club (and many others) keep your ball below the hole! Once again there is excellent on course accommodation, and the modern clubhouse has a variety of gaming opportunities and a Chinese restaurant. The complex includes conference facilities, and 16 all weather tennis courts.
The third noteworthy course in Albury is the Hume Country Club. Their 27 holes are set on gently undulating, wide fairways with established trees. Interesting mounds and slopes and some water crossings. The course is fully irrigated, with excellent grass greens. The club house boasts full NSW club facilities, including showers, pokies and meals. Group accommodation packages are available.
Half an hour’s drive from Albury is the tiny town of Howlong, and its historic neighbour Chiltern – well worth a stop for coffee or a meal and a browse through the antique shops. The Howlong Country Golf Club could well earn the title of the most improved Murray course over the last ten years. The course is flat and not overly long, but the fairways are tight with well established trees of both native and deciduous varieties, and out of bounds lurks on several holes. Three or four holes bring a small dam into play, plus a most unusual hazard – the course’s trademark windmill! The fairways are always in excellent condition, the greens have been improved out of sight, and are often quite tricky being smallish and elevated. Howlong’s on course motel provides an ideal venue for a relaxing golf break – there’s a great outdoor cooking area, swimming, tennis plus of course a licensed club with a decent bistro. There are also two first class bowling greens.
Travel downstream for another half an hour and you’ll find one of Victoria’s best known wine regions – Rutherglen. Renowned for world class food and wine, Rutherglen’s fortifieds are not to be missed, and I suggest you golf early and leave plenty of time for tasting in the afternoons.
Golf does not come much better than the superb 27 holes at Corowa. This course rates in Australia’s top 100, and many consider it the best of the traditional Murray courses. The original 18 holes meander around the River itself amongst huge river red gums, whilst the newer nine is one of Australia’s longest at nearly 3400m, with some excellent water hazards in play. The entire layout is beautifully grassed, well bunkered, with true fast grass greens. The tranquil river setting is the epitome of what Murray golf is all about. The club includes a sports complex with heated indoor pool, gym, squash and tennis as well as the bistro and gaming facilities. There are many accommodation options available and some fine restaurants and old pubs in town.
Another 30 minutes’ drive finds us in Mulwala, NSW, better known by the name of its Victorian town across the river – Yarrawonga. This is the largest golfing complex in the southern hemisphere, with 45 holes of golf. There are two championship courses, plus the "executive" nine – just great for the kids or for tuning up your game, or even an extra nine after the round.
Cobram-Barooga Golf Club
Forty minutes downstream from Yarrawonga, the twin towns of Cobram-Barooga straddle the river and play host to the most highly acclaimed golf complex on the Murray. Cobram-Barooga Golf Club boasts two exceptionally maintained championship courses. The "Old" course is considered the pick of the two, but the newer "West" has its fans. It’s a little more open. Both layouts are gently undulating, fully watered, with magnificently bunkered slick grass greens. The fully licensed club has dining and entertainment.
A little further along finds Tocumwal Golf Club, another 36 hole complex comprising the older, more wooded President’s Course and the newer Captain’s. Both are gently undulating and fully irrigated.
6 kilometres over the border from the popular tourist destination of Echuca is Rich River Golf and Country Club (left) – yet another 36 hole facility along this golf Mecca paradise. The older of the two courses is the East course, once home of the Senior Australian Open. Great gums line the fairways, classic bunkering surrounds very slick and true greens, and lush fairways are a treat. The newer West course is a more open, links style layout. Currently it is being redesigned by Peter Thomson.
The Murray flows north-west from here on, and passes close to the small town of Cohuna with its pretty, tight little golf course boasting some of the very best greens in the area. Being on the Vic side of the river, the club house is more modest. The better known course is nearby Barham & District Golf Club on the NSW side. Barham is a relatively flat, well established layout with excellent birdlife and flora. The complex includes tennis and bowling greens as well as a huge licensed club in the town. There’s plenty of accommodation – I like the All Season’s Motor Lodge opposite the Club.
Travel a little further north-west, and just over the border on the NSW side of Swan Hill, lies a genuine golfing oasis that any serious golfer mustn’t miss. Murray Downs is built on old sheep pastures, and this highly acclaimed resort-style course is a treat.
The 18 holes feature magnificent santa ana couch fairways, large quick greens, over 90 bunkers and a system of dams and lakes that help irrigate the course.
Just half an hour from Swan Hill lies the friendly little Nyah District Golf Club. This is a pretty course set amongst gum trees with a little creek beside several fairways. Great flora and fauna abound. The club has a reciprocal relationship with nearby Tooleybuc Sporting Club which has full NSW club facilities and also another 9 hole golf course. Tooleybuc Club Motor Inn offers great golf packages.
As the Murray heads towards Mildura and the SA border it passes two more Sunraysia Distict golf clubs at Robinvale and Red Cliffs. The latter is highly regarded by Mike Clayton, who rates it amongst Victoria’s Top 30. It is an excellent example of Mallee vegetation, but is a fully watered course.
Mildura boasts two fine courses, the Mildura Golf Club and Riverside Golf Club, with two more nearby at Coomealla and Wentworth. This makes the large town of Mildura with its host of accommodation and dining options an ideal hub.
Mildura Golf Club is a gently undulating, well manicured course with good fast greens and wide tree-lined fairways. It’s a great course if you shape the ball left to right! Riverside is an idyllic setting "beside the river" with river red gums and box trees and abundant bird life. The little club house has a friendly welcome and great food at modest prices. Both these clubs are on the Vic side of the river.
Coomealla Golf Club has excellent santa ana couch fairways and large fast greens. The gently undulating fairways are heavily tree lined, creating a wonderful serenity on each hole. The course is right on the Murray, and house boat moorings are available for floating golfers. There are plenty of native birds and kangaroos abound. Enjoy an after round drink and snack here or in the larger Coomealla Club in town.
Wentworth Golf Club is the last before the SA border. The town has plenty of accommodation options, and the golf course is gently undulating with fully watered fairways and greens.
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by Selwyn Berg