Royal Canberra Golf Club (Westbourne course)

Royal Canberra, 9th green – ‘every putt’s a knee-trembler’, Brendan James

When the site for the nation’s capital was selected in 1909, it was mainly rolling grassy plains with few trees. Little was known about what species might flourish in Canberra’s environment. The federal government appointed English horticulturist Charles Weston to test and choose some suitable trees and shrubs. On a 160-hectare site at Yarralumla he developed a plant nursery and arboretum, now known as Westbourne Woods. He planted California and Mediterranean pines, blue-grey cypress pines, radiata pines, cedars from the Himalayas and English birch. Dozens of natives were also added to the landscape. Nowadays the woods surround the fairways and are found within the grounds of Royal Canberra Golf Club. Royal Canberra became custodian of the arboretum when the club moved there in 1962, after the damming of the Molonglo River to form Lake Burley Griffin submerged its former home at suburban Acton. Years earlier, Sydney professional and architect James Herd Scott had begun the routing and shaping of fairways within the arboretum, and British course designer Commander John Harris was commissioned to finish the job. The only significant changes to Harris’s layout occurred in the 1980s when Peter Thomson and MikeWolveridge made major alterations to the 4th, 5th, 6th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 17th holes. They also created an additional nine-hole links layout.

Royal Canberra’s Westbourne course (holes 1 to 18) has evolved into one of Australia’s pre-eminent inland courses and is regularly ranked among the best 50 layouts in the land. Its high standing is built on its natural beauty, immaculate conditioning and demanding design, especially from tee to green. Tight and heavily treelined fairways dogleg left and right, placing paramount importance on quality ball-striking and good strategy if you are to avoid hitting into the trees or one of the dozens of bunkers scattered across the rolling layout. A little respite arrives at the end of each narrow fairway in the form of massive, receptive greens. The greens are slick, though, and many are two-tiered or dramatically contoured, making every putt a knee-trembler.

The narrow playing lines set up some terrific driving holes. The best and most demanding on the outward half is the 395-metre, par-four 9th, where the fairway doglegs left between tall stands of pines. Clearing a lone bunker on the inside of the bend with your driver can significantly shorten the hole. But the risk is high, for the bunker is deep and will almost assuredly inflict a bogey or worse if found. Any drive to the right of the bunker is a good one, leaving a long or mid-iron uphill approach to a 30-metrelong green guarded by bunkers left and right.

The back nine at Westbourne is world class, with greater elevation changes between tee and green paving the way for a wider variety of lies and shots. It was this aspect of the layout that inspired the legendary Arnold Palmer to draw comparisons between Royal Canberra and Augusta National, home of the US Masters. No hole is more challenging or Augusta-like than the 393-metre, par-four 16th. Framed by majestic Monterey pines, the slender fairway rises gradually from the tee – creating a blind tee shot – then dips into a valley before rising again to meet the green. The approach here involves a difficult long shot from a downhill lie, thus encouraging a low trajectory, when a high shot is what is needed if you are to find the elevated putting surface. Royal Canberra is a private members’ club. Members of interstate and overseas clubs can request a tee time through the general manager.

Memorable holes

1st, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 16th and 18th.

Where to go

Bentham St, Yarralumla, ACT 2600

Book a round

(02) 6282 7000

Where to stay

The Hyatt Hotel Canberra, with more than 250 rooms and suites, is a few minutes’ drive from the course and central to all of Canberra’s major attractions.

Before/after your round

Visit the Australian War Memorial, which commemorates the sacrifi ce of men and women who have served in war. It is one of the world’s great museums and an outstanding archive of Australia’s wartime history.

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