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2 miles W of the city centre
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Canberra Golf Club (later named Royal Canberra Golf Club in 1933) was established in 1926 and the club's original 9-hole course was situated on the banks of the Molongo River at nearby Acton. When the river was dammed to create Lake Burley Griffin in 1963, the club was forced to relocate to its present site in the suburb of Yarralumla.
Just after World War II, the Sydney golf professional James Scott designed a new 27-hole layout at Westbourne Woods but his plans remained on the drawing board until Commander John Harris dusted them off almost twenty years later and routed an 18-hole course through the arboretum, drawing comparisons with Augusta National in the USA.
The Harris design featured enormous greens, many of them two tiered, and these putting surfaces are among the largest in the country. Tee boxes are also big, offering clear views of any fairway bunkers that are in play. Although there are no hidden hazards, accuracy off the tee is essential for good scoring.
Peter Thomson's design company started work on a third nine in 1994, using land to the southwest of the 18th hole. Three years later, these holes opened for play on the same day that the new clubhouse was unveiled, replacing the 1963 one which burned down in 1995. More recently, Michael Clayton's design company has upgraded the Westbourne course and there are plans to improve the nine laid out by Thomson in the near future.
Michael Clayton very kindly supplied us with the following exclusive quote:
Royal Canberra was, for some, one of the most over-rated courses in the country because it had a nice ambiance, pretty trees and good undulation but the golf architecture was poor and reliant on a few good holes - primarily at the 9th and 16th.
It was known as Australia’s Augusta because it was hilly and had lots of pines but, in truth, the course bore little resemblance. The fairways were narrow and lined with rough and the greens were surrounded by rough.
The bunkers were 6-8 feet from all the greens with rough between bunker and green. The putting surfaces drained poorly, as did the bunkers, which also looked particularly ugly.
Moving the 5th meant having to move the Thomson-built (early-1980s) 4th green. Peter had made the original 4th a par five and, to compensate, the 6th a par four. Now it’s back the way it was, with the 4th as a par four and the 6th as a (much better) par five.
We fixed the two reverse camber doglegs – at the 5th and 12th – by moving tees. On hole 12, imagine the 14th at Augusta National with the tee 40 yards to the left!!
We widened the 14th to bring the lake into play and cut a creek, like the 13th at Augusta National, across the front of the left doglegged, 520-yard par five 15th. It’s not a great tee shot but a brilliant long second if you go for it and an interesting lay-up and pitch if you don’t.
We rebuilt every green and bunker and removed the trees that were encroaching to make it a much better course. I think it’s one of our best redesigns (along with The Lakes). It still has all the things people liked (such as ambiance, conditioning, clubhouse and a reputation as a classy club) but it now has course architecture to match.
Royal Canberra has 27 holes of golf, played as three loops of 18 holes. They are: Westbourne (holes 1-18), Yarralumla (holes 19-27), Brindabella (holes 19-9)
The site at Westbourne Woods is impressive. It is no surprise that the trees dominate proceedings. There are 220 species of trees and plants found on the course
A carpet of fairways meander through a rolling terrain framed by mature trees sourced from around the world. The greens are large, often elevated, and with enough movement to be interesting (but not overdone). They provide a nice variety of pin positions. The sand faced bunkering is classic in style and strategically placed.
There is an emphasis on driving accuracy at Royal Canberra as the tree lined fairways punish any errant shots. Succeed off the tee and you will be left with a challenging, but fair approach to a generous green.
When OCCM remodelled the course, their main tasks were reshaping greens, tees and bunkers (but I am sure they trimmed some trees back too)
Having played Westbourne before and after the OCCM makeover, I am impressed with the results The playing surfaces are world class. The greens are quite superb! I would go so far as to compare the Westbourne course to a Pinehurst type golfing experience!
Holes 19-27 were not part of the OCCM remodelling job, and suffer significantly in comparison to The Westbourne course. I understand that the club is considering undertaking upgrading these holes at some stage as well.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I think it is only fitting that my first course review be one that I have a lot of nice memories from. I had the privilege of being a member of Royal Canberra Golf Club and also worked there for a period of time as well. I lived in Canberra for 4 years, while my family was living there having relocated from Washington D.C.
Royal Canberra Golf Club is located in the Yarralumla suburb of Canberra, Australia on the west side of Lake Burley Griffin. The club boasts 27 holes of great golf. RCGC is known as the "Augusta National" of Australia for its treelined fairways, rolling fairways and tough green complexes. Gary Player once called Royal "the most beautiful course in Australia," and it is definitely a top contender as one of the best inland courses Australia has to offer, with exception of the Melbourne sand belt, somewhere I have had the privilege to play.
Royal Canberra is divided into 3 separate nines, with the focal point being the Westbourne Course (1-18). The original designed course by Commander John Harris in 1962 was untouched until the 2016 when the firm Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead (OCCM) came in to redo the first 18 holes. To golfers and critics alike, the renovation that took place put RCGC on the map again, and was a great addition to the club.
Royal is a classic golf club, as golf is all that is there. Walking only, and stableford competition provides members at Royal with a great membership opportunity.
The Westbourne course is lush, and manufactured using natural land and treelined fairways, with difficult undulated green complexes. You can get away with a missed tee shot on the course, yet Royal is very much a second or third shot type of course. Meaning, to score and be comfortable around the greens heavily relies on the approach shot into the greens. In the heat of the summer greens can be firm and fast, so your approach shot and pace around the greens will be incredibly important.
The new renovation brought a modern touch to a classic layout at Royal. Opening the fairways, as well as adding strategic bunkers, and amping up the green complexes contours. To say Royal is the Augusta of Australia can be quite accurate, as Royal embodies the natural beauty and fairway qualities, as well as difficult green complexes. The added renovation solidified RCGC as course with natural beauty and a classic Australian design, something that is quite unique to the Oceania region.
The 19-27 nine at RCGC is the most different nine on the property. The links style abandons the Westbourne's natural like fairways, and tree lined holes, and replaces them with a different links style course. Completed in 1997, the club bought a separate plot of land in order to complete the new nine. 5 of the 9 holes have a links style to them, with very undulating fairways, and easier greens than the first 18. Yet still like the Westbourne course, 19-27 makes you think on your approach shot with plateaued greens with significant false fronts. The 19-27 is certainly not to miss, but isn't as strong as the manicured original 18 which is the reason Royal is as great of a course.
Some of the notable holes to look at are #4,7,9,14,15,16,25,26. They happen to be most difficult of the holes, but are architecturally strong and quirky as well.
Royal is a course not to miss in inland Australia. It is a nice easy walk, very beautiful, and quiet on the course. It is golf as it should be played, and is challenging even to the best players. Better yet, you can play there as well. Despite being private, Royal welcomes visitors, just call in advance. Make sure to play on competition day! Meet some great members and if you play well you can win some cash. I would recommend RCGC to many visitors, and I would not be surprised to see it jump into the top 20 of the rankings in the future.
Royal is definitely the best course in the ACT, right in front of its neighboring Federal GC, a strong course as well. Yet Royal is a classic course you go to play. I would compare it to that of Pinehurst No. 4. Like 4, after the recent renovation, 4 was put on the map, encompassing a classic style layout, with modern touches to produce not just a solid architecture of a course, but also something fun and easy to enjoy yourself on. If you ever find yourself in the southern hemisphere don't shy away from a trip to Canberra to play Royal, they are welcoming, laid back, and are proud of their club for their great course. A great layout, that is fun, and if you're like me, you'll have a fun time walking and experiencing the course for what it is and the layout it provides. I hope you have the same experience as I had so many times at Royal.
I try to make my reviews different than those I read. I have a hard time reading a hole by hole analysis as words on a screen do not do justice to what you see. If you want to see it for yourself, go do it! I would rather tell you about my experience on the course, and what I experienced that made me think so highly of the course. You may not play the best course by any means, but if you love it and you have some great memories there, there is no reason the course should rank highly for you. Some of my favourite courses are the Muni's down the street, as everyone is welcome there. I am biased to RCGC as I had so many memories there from playing and working that I hold that course dear to my heart and encourage people to make the pilgrimage to Australia and play as much as much as you can, including Royal. If you have played there and want to tell me about your experience feel free to contact me! And if you are in the DFW area and want to every play and make a new friend, feel free to contact me! I'm always open to new people!
I was exceptionally lucky to be invited to play Royal Canberra GC, I have played there before 4 times, but had never played holes 1 - 9 as the renovations were still taking place. So how good is the newly redeveloped front nine, very good in my opinion. Fairways have been widened, bunkers filled with what I can call fluffy white Augusta National like sand. Good use of variation in depth of bunkers, and from a strategic point of view they've been placed with an emphasis on the player hitting their tee shot to the correct side of the fairway for best entry to the green. Undulating greens that are not quite Melbourne sandbelt quick, but not far behind on the stimp metre. Short shots around the green use to be played out of long grass, but the short grass that's now around the greens makes life a lot easier, appears like Augusta National in this regard. tee boxes are superb. Additions like - concrete paths, new bins and sand bucket boxes all make for a better experience. Tree removal is typical of Michael Clayton, but it enhances the aesthetics of the course. If Royal Canberra isn't ranked in the top 20 for the 2018 rankings list then I'd be very surprised. Because once is never enough, I've been lucky enough to be invited back for second look! Tyson.
Royal Canberra is a private golf club less than a five minute drive west from Parliament House in the A.C.T. It is a 27 hole facility with the Westbourne 18 originally designed by Commander Harris. The Peter Thomson design company added a further nine holes in the 1990’s.
Michael Clayton design firm was contracted in 2014 to upgrade the Westbourne layout and there are plans in future for the company to alter the Thomson nine as well. The majority of the Thomson holes are set across a road south west of Dunrossil Drive. One can see a lot of ground has been moved to create artificial mounds spread throughout holes 19 to 27
I recently played the revised Westbourne holes and what a refreshing sight I saw. There has been a lot of tree removal and all the greens and bunkers have been redone. The changes made the course all the more enjoyable to play. The 4th and 6th were shortened and lengthened respectively to a P4 and P5 in-line with the original layout.
I found the back nine immeasurably more enjoyable to play and love the new set of tees on the 14th (see pic). The lake is much more in play as is the new bunker on the centre line drive.
The 15th has been remodelled to have a creek cross in front of it. The 16th through 18th are as tough a P4, P3, P5 finish as there is to play in Australia from the back tees.
The thing that still lets Royal Canberra down for mine are the collection of P3’s. None are particularly “great” holes. The 3rd is a long P3 and the 8th the total opposite. The 13th is a downhill P3 and the 17th is an uphill one.
That said the ambience and conditioning of Royal Canberra is first rate and it is in my opinion, the best course in the A.C.T.