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COURSE REVIEW: Article courtesy of Hacker Magazine (Review by Bill Willetts)
To the world at large, Shepparton may be known as “the food bowl of Australia,” or, more obviously as the location of the largest herd of plastic cows anywhere in the world! But even the half-serious golfer would know Shepparton is also home to a golf course ranked among the top 50 in Victoria, and justifiably so. But Shepparton is not the only good golf course in the city.
Mooroopna (AKA “The Fruit Salad City”) is home to a delightful, beautifully presented and easy walking course just a few minutes from the city centre across the Goulburn River and along the Midland Highway – inevitably passing a few more multi-coloured fibreglass cows.
Some golf courses inspire love at first sight with an appearance so attractive and enticing that you know you will enjoy playing the course, and your first date here will be the fore-runner to a long and steady relationship. Such courses generate an aura of expectation, of anticipatory expectation even before you set foot on the first tee. The new Croydon course at Yering Meadow has this quality as a parkland layout; Port Fairy exerts the same magnetism in a links style setting. And so, remarkably does Mooroopna, not because of a dramatic or majestic layout, but because, when you walk through the pleasant clubhouse to the outdoor barbeque area overlooking the course, you are presented with views of what must be one of country Victoria’s best kept golf courses. Immaculate greens, sculpted bunkers, refreshingly verdant fairways, each tee inset within decorative garden areas, and native Australian trees demarcating the holes. It is no coincidence that Mooroopna has, for a country course, an above average number of green-keeping staff (6), funded in part by the club’s pokies. You can certainly see the fruits of their labour in this sylvan setting.
The Mooroopna Golf Course was first established in 1929 as a 9 hole track, extended to 18 holes soon after the close of WWII. I am told, on good authority, that until around 15 years ago it was frequently tarred with the dismissive “goat track” label. Today, as a result of progressive management and the financial benefits of the pokies, it is a lovely place to play golf.
The opening hole, somewhat unusually is the longest on the course, a dogleg right Par 5, a smidgeon under 500m. The length of the hole is such that after at least three shots, probably more, by the time you reach the green you have partly compensated for the warm-up you neglected before setting out. The green is narrow, bunkered front right and back left, but not among the most aggressively guarded on the course; that pleasure is reserved for the shorter holes.
The 2nd hole, a medium length Par 4, with a strong dogleg left, is fairly straight forward, but the third is among my favourites at Mooroopna – an almost 90⁰ dogleg right with a water hazard in the crook which continues along the right plank towards the green; there is some rather innocuous OOB wide left, and another large greenside bunker front right. At 471m this is a good risk/reward hole for the long hitting fraternity, although the stroke index of 16 is not over generous to the mid-handicap player.
Hole 4 is a good illustration of the balance designed into this course - a short Par 4 at 325m, dogleg left. Having finessed your way through the dog-leg, you are confronted by a strongly bunkered green, a not-so-easy short hole after all!
The 5th is straight and simple to a three tier green and at only 300m should be an easy par (except that I took 6 on my last visit here!)
You then enter a run of good golf holes, 6-9, varied, testing and teasing. The 7th, the first Par 3, features water perhaps 30m in front of the tee.
The 8th is perhaps quirky, but a gem – a real designer’s hole, structured to implant uncertainty in the mind where in reality a simple straight shot will suffice. Sure, there is again a small water hazard a short distance from the tee, but it is not this which troubles us: it is the 15m gap between the trees beyond the water, through which we must drive. As every golfer knows it is easy to drive gun-barrel straight to a fairway as wide as the M.C.G, unfortunately the more narrow the target, the less able we are to thread the needle. And, if by some divine intervention we do find the fairway with our drive, we are faced with a mid to long iron approach between front bunkers no more than 12m apart. As I said, the designer enjoyed making this hole!
The closing hole on the outward 9, although longer than its fore-runner, is comparatively less challenging.
The inward half opens with a tree-lined Par 3, pleasant in appearance but far from easy pickings, with the tree canopy making hazardous an approach down the right side and bunkers front and left posing problems for any other route.
Next, another mid-length Par 5 and then, Nirvana approaches! A Par 4 of only 277m, real Birdie material. But beware! The designer anticipated your thought with a fairway bunker at 220m and a green bunkered front and both sides. A lovely risk/reward hole for almost every level of golfing ability. And, if we fail at 12, the 13th offers another opportunity, virtually straight and only 308m; again we can take on a green guarded by three bunkers.
We can relax now for the homeward stretch; first the shortest of the Par 5 holes, undemanding in length, the 16th a gentle Par 4, hole 17 the last Par 3 is more testing and the course reaches an appropriate climax with the 18th – of which Gary Player is alleged to have said “We have to walk single file down this hole”. In truth, the 18th is narrow from the tee – but a bold hit and hope shot can work wonders (even I made par!)
To try and summarize Mooroopna in a few sentences, I would say you will firstly be attracted by the quality of presentation. As you play round the course, you will appreciate the balance between long, testing holes with generally more easily approached greens, and short, teasing holes often strongly bunkered. You will enjoy several excellently designed risk-reward holes, and you will find that, overall, Mooroopna rewards brave rather than cautious play.
So, next time you visit Greater Shepparton, remember that Mooroopna also has great quality - I promise you will enjoy it!
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