Three year’s on from its initial role as host of the Australian PGA Championship, the fully revamped golf course layout at RACV Royal Pines on the Gold Coast again stages the PGA Tour of Australasia’s flagship event in late November.
The 18 holes of the championship layout (there are 27 in total at the facility) underwent massive redesign over two nine-month periods in 2014 and 2015, the golf course transformed from what was a relatively benign test with limited strategies, hardly in keeping with an event of the standing of the Australian PGA Championship and the Australian Ladies Masters.
It has always been a fine tournament venue for events such as the Australian Ladies Masters and others due to its location and accompanying facilities but now the revamped layout adds another dimension and in doing so offers an outstanding test for a tournament of the standing and history of the Australian PGA Championship.
As the layout has matured and established itself after such a hectic and intense redevelopment programme, it is clear, that in 2018, it will be at its best since those works were carried out and the PGA of Australia’s Director of Tournaments for the PGA of Australia, Andrew Langford Jones, confirmed just that.
Langford Jones was on the Gold Coast recently to inspect the course’s preparations and to talk over tournament set-up ahead of the event and could hardly contain his enthusiasm in the progress the layout continues to make.
“2018 is exciting from our point of view as it will be the first time the true course has had the chance, since the renovations and alterations, to show its real potential,” said Langford Jones.
“It has had two or three years now to settle in and we feel it will be easily the best condition the course has been in the now (including this year) six-year history of the event at Royal Pines.”
In those six years, Adam Scott won the event in 2013 when the original layout was used followed by Greg Chalmers in 2014 when only nine of the new holes had been completed, Nathan Holman in 2015 the first champion under the fully completed revamp, Harold Varner 111 in 2016 and in 2017 Cameron Smith who will defend his title this year.
Designer Graham Marsh with 2016 champion Harold Varner 111
The first year of the full redesign being used came in 2015 and the demands of a firm golf course layout completed a few weeks earlier were heightened by strong winds, both conspiring to cause chaos amongst a field which included USPGA Tour star Brandt Snedeker whose opening round of 84 saw him gone from the event before the weekend.
Rookie Nathan Holman won that year and in doing so earned the right to play the European Tour but his score of even par for the 72 holes told the story of a golf course more demanding than ever before experienced at RACV Royal Pines and there was, it has to be said, concerns over its universal appeal.
Holman defeated South African Dylan Frittelli and Harold Varner 111 in a playoff for the title that year and while Holman has struggled in his career since both Frittelli and Varner 111 are both now members of the PGA Tour.
Varner’s winning score of 19 under par in 2016 and Smith’s total of 18 under par twelve months ago told the story of a golf course that had overcome its controversial start and which, as it matured, was gaining increasing acceptance by those participating at the PGA Championship and, importantly, by RACV Resort’s guests and members.
Last year’s winner Cameron Smith was full of praise for a layout that he was enjoying more and more. “Yeah, probably this year has seen the most improvement,” he said after his win. “I think we’ve played three years on this course now since the redesign.
“Last year to this year was a huge improvement, just the grass filling in and you can actually play some shots that Mr. Marsh (course designer Graham Marsh) wants you to play.
“So it was nice to be able to do that because in years past you really couldn’t do anything with some of the holes.”
Cameron Smith is the defending champion in 2018
Twelve months on and the expectations are that it will be just that much better again.
Course Superintendent Lincoln Coombes is another excited about the prospects of what 2018 will bring in terms of course maturity.
“The fairway grasses have grown in fully now and the greens have grown into their profile and are a lot more forgiving and receptive than was the case in the first couple of years.
“The golf course has certainly grown into its strategies and I often talk to golfers who enjoy playing from the back markers, the members and the forward tees as they enjoy the range of strategies each offers.
“It is very much a thinking and strategic course now compared to previously and can’t be classed as just a resort course any longer which it probably was in the past.
“Obviously when you are laying turf on the sort of soils we were faced with here it takes time for the grass to get established and to build up that all important layer so the fairways are just so much better than they were three years ago.
“We have just completed our annual renovations and everything is pretty much on track to have the course at its absolute peak for late November.”
The par 5 15th hole
While the PGA Championship provides a great focal point for the Resort, David Hogben – Manager of Golf, Sports and Leisure at RACV Royal Pines had this to say on the reaction to the new course of both members and the visiting public.
“As the course has matured over the last three years it has been especially pleasing to hear the reaction to the layout of both our members and those visiting to play as guests. The general consensus is that it is a very strategic golf course and a considerably more aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable golf course than was the case previously.
“We have had many golfers joining from other clubs in the region and it appears nearly all are delighted with their decision to move to RACV Royal Pines.
“Importantly also, from us as an operator’s point of view, has been the improved capacity of the course to recover quickly from storms and for it to be back in play almost immediately, an additional and significant benefit of the redesign.
“The PGA Championship is, admittedly, a focal point of the calendar for us here at RACV Royal Pines but especially pleasing is the day to day reaction the course is receiving from golfers of all standards.”
The last word is saved for the man who was responsible for the redesign work, Graham Marsh, who was on the property this week as preparations ramped up for the PGA Championship less than seven weeks away.
“Last year we saw the benefit of two years grow in and it certainly played much better than was the case when the works were first completed and much of that can be attributed to the course being solid turfed.
“The benefit of solid turfing, which became necessary due to the time constraints of the project, is the immediacy it provided in getting the course back into play as soon as possible, the downside is that, naturally, it took longer for the grasses to develop and establish.
“That resulted in greens that were very firm in the first couple of years which is not how the golf course was meant to be played. I certainly did not want soft greens but because of the issues surrounding the turfing, the strategies and the quality of the pin positions we had created were not immediately apparent. They are certainly becoming that way now.
“I am very proud of what has been achieved by those involved at Royal PInes and its growing acceptance as a tournament, members and resort golf course and as always will be there at the PGA this year to see just how everything comes together.”
The driveable par 4 8th hole