Looking over 9th green to hotel in background – photo Bruce Young
The Australian PGA Championship is, this week, played for the 7th occasion at RACV Royal Pines on the Gold Coast, five of those being staged over the fully re-designed Graham Marsh layout.
When the event was brought south in 2013 from its former venue on the Sunshine Coast, where it had been since 2002, RACV began to put in place plans to redevelop the rather benign layout that had played host to many of the female game’s great players at the Australian Ladies Masters since 1992.
It was considered a pleasant resort course at the time but while the original designer had met the brief in terms of creating a golf course geared towards play for golfing tourists, it needed a revamp if it was to challenge the sort of fields that the Australian PGA envisaged would play the event over the ensuing years.
The upgrade was also becoming necessary due to the changing nature of the game since the course’s opening all those years ago, equipment changes also forcing the requirement for strengthening of the golf course.
The new layout would also appeal a lot more aesthetically than had been the case and, very importantly for the commercial viability of the golf course, it would be better engineered to move surface water in a more efficient manner, thus avoiding some of the down-time heavy rains had created previously.
In 2013, therefore, Graham Marsh, a former winner of the Australian PGA Championship and one of Australia’s best players over a thirty-year period, was appointed to make the changes which were to be undertaken in two six-month periods in 2014 and 2015.
Logistically, it was one of Marsh’s most demanding of the many design projects in which he had been involved, given the time constraints which his design company, Graham Marsh Golf Design, was required to work under and the delicate, environmental issues the site, situated in the Merrimac floodplain, presented.
In 2014 the event was played with half the course completed and in 2015 it was played for the first time as a fully revamped venue.
Now, after four years and after a shaky start as it began the maturing process, the new layout has been increasingly accepted as a fine test for a tournament of this nature and importantly for its owners, RACV, it has enticed not only an increasing number of golf tourists, it has become a highly popular club course attracting members from other clubs and many of the Gold Coast’s best amateurs to become members of RACV Royal Pines.
It has, therefore, met the brief set out by RACV back in 2013.
The history of the event at RACV Royal Pines to date has seen some outstanding contests, Adam Scott winning the inaugural staging of the event at the venue in 2013 when overcoming a weather delay during the middle of the final round to defeat Rickie Fowler by four shots.
Adam Scott 2013
Greg Chalmers claimed his second Australian PGA Championship in 2014 when defeating Scott and South Australian, Wade Ormsby, in a playoff which saw Ormsby defeated at the first hole before it took Chalmers and Scott another six holes to break the deadlock.
Another playoff was required in 2015 when the fully redesigned layout was played for the first time, Victoria’s Nathan Holman edging out South African Dylan Frittelli and American Harold Varner 111 to win and earn European Tour status in the process, the event having joined forces with the European Tour for the first time that year.
In 2016 Harold Varner 111 atoned for his playoff loss the previous year when he defeated Queenslander, Andrew Dodt, by two shots before another local, Cameron Smith, won the first of two consecutive victories when, in the event’s third playoff in four years, he defeated Jordan Zunic at the second extra hole.
Harold Varner 111
Smith would win again when he held off Marc Leishman in 2018 and so the young Presidents Cup player, who defeated Justin Thomas in the singles at Royal Melbourne just last Sunday, gets the chance to win the event for the third consecutive occasion.
The field for the 2019 event is headlined by the leading world ranked player in the field, Adam Scott, who is chasing his first victory anywhere in more than three years. Scott has however been very consistent in 2019 improving his world-ranking from 41st to 18th since this time last year despite his lack of winning success.
His most recent form has not been great having missed the cut at the Australian Open two weeks ago and going down to Xander Schauffele in last week’s singles at the Presidents Cup. It had, admittedly, been a month since he played prior to the Australian but provided he is not overly fatigued from a demanding week at Royal Melbourne, he should do well.
Cameron Smith clearly has a love affair with RACV Royal Pines and the event and venue has one for him also. A very popular figure, especially amongst the many who will travel down the M1 from Brisbane to see him play this week, Smith is looking to add his name to a very select group in Australian golfing history.
Several players have won more than three Australian PGA Championships but only Dan Soutar in the very first three Australian PGA Championships has won three in a row and so Smith can join one of Australia’s legendary figures in doing so. He will be buoyed by his impressive Presidents Cup debut and he will be a tough man to beat once again.
The Australian PGA has made a very good move in attracting a young man destined for big things in the game, Cameron Champ. Champ has just completed his first full season on the PGA Tour and has commenced his second season. He has already won twice in that time but, not only is he a proven winner, he is the longest hitter on the PGA Tour and as such will attract tremendous interest.
He will have been brought here for a considerably lower fee than many of his contemporaries would have commanded given his relative newness, but his powerful game provides a real point of difference compared to many of the mid-level players brought to the event in the past and will offer real appeal to the crowds.
Stewart Cink is in the field, the 2009 Open Champion and six time PGA Tour winner not at the peak of his game at present but an opportunity to see a player with his record will be taken up by many this week.
Greg Chalmers has already won around RACV Royal Pines and in what was his first appearance anywhere for twelve months at the recent Australian Open he finished a very impressive 5th. Chalmers has overcome a debilitating back injury with radical treatment and if his showing at the Australian Golf Club is anything to go by then he might improve even further.
Added to that list are the very impressive and ever improving, Jason Scrivener, the current leader of the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit, Ryan Fox, exciting young prospect, Min Woo Lee, Japan Tour player Mikumu Horikawa, one of the leading players in Japan this year, and of course a host of young emerging Australasian talents.
The Australian PGA Championship therefore carries plenty of interest. Can Cameron Smith join Dan Soutar in making it three in a row, can Adam Scott win his second Australian PGA Championship, can the powerhouse Cameron Champ tame the Royal Pines layout, can Ryan Fox win the PGA Tour of Australasia’s Order of Merit or will it be an relative unknown who will step up to the plate and win and, in the process, leapfrog their way onto the European Tour?
All will be revealed over the next few days and by Sunday someone will have earned themselves a very nice Xmas present, three days ahead of Santa’s arrival.