"So I jump ship in Hong Kong, make my way over to Yarrawonga and the Black Bull golf course."
The Black Bull took the best part of seven years to become the 18 hole layout we see today. It’s a fairly typical Thompson-Perret design with wide and inviting fairways, large greens and thoughtful bunkering. From all reports the black bull, the newest addition to the mighty Murray courses, is destined to become the number one course on the river. In all fairness, we played on the back of one of the wettest Septembers in history, in fact the course had been closed in the week prior to our arrival, but you could definitely see it’s potential. In some of the low lying areas on the fairways it was a little heavy but generally it wasn’t too bad. Carts were allowed on course and at the end of the round our shoes were not covered in mud!
The new clubhouse and pro shop is still under construction, thus for the purpose of this review we will write it in the order of how you will play the intended layout. The Daddyshack crew had been wanting to make this trip for some time, so the minute we had the chance we were on the phone and booking a tee time. It is a 3-hour drive from Melbourne which is doable in a day but seeing that there are numerous quality tracks within 40 minutes of Black Bull, we made a trip out of it and stayed a night.
The first (current 12th) is a short par 4 at 329m that played downwind - a gentle opener. The conservative play is to lay up short of the left fairway at 240m off the tips but Carl had his driver out as we weren’t here for a haircut – apparently. Fair enough, we both took the aggressive line and skirted the water right and left ourselves with a short pitch to the pin – sometimes the golfing gods do smile!
Number 2 is a par 5 that measures just over 500m from the back and with the wind pushing tee shots away from the water right there was little to worry off the tee. The right fairway bunker at 280m rules all but the longest out so for most it is a genuine 3 shotter. When laying up avoid the traps left and water right – right centre will give you the best angle at the pin.
The mid-length par 4 3rd is fairly straightforward. At 359m and any wind with north in it helping, you feel like you can “have a crack”. Miss the right side fairway bunkers and aim your second centre right of the green taking the three traps on the left out of play – well that’s the theory.
Enter the “Bullring” – 4th, 5th and 6th form The Bullring. This pocket of holes consists of a strong par three with a long water carry, a shortish par 4 and a very tough, long par 4 which we played into a stiff breeze.
Carl and I both carded threes on 4, but in very different ways. Not having the honour, I watched as he played a ripper right over the flag to about fifteen feet. “I have to lean sideways to see the pin”. I took one less club and didn’t really catch it! But it was down wind and it looked pretty good…..right up until it finished short in the front right bunker – Carl just gave me that knowing look and shook his head. Another win for the golfing ego – will I ever learn?
The sand in the bunkers is “shelly” and with the rain we had had, they were “heavy” (more about that later), so I hit it hard an inch behind the ball and it popped out and rolled to about 8 feet. Carl brushed his to six inches and I knocked mine in for a sandy par. Simple game golf!
The 5th is the easiest of the three holes and heading pretty much downwind it was playing short. Stay left off the tee and aim centre right of the green to give yourself a look at a birdie, two commercial fours carded and off to 6, hardest on the course.
This is a solid hole, and to get to the green in regulation – especially into the wind – requires two of your best. Staring down a long, straight and narrow fairway, Carl and I both hit rippers but still had a long way home – and you can add a club as its slightly uphill. It’s crucial to avoid the bunkers off the tee to give yourself any real chance. An up and down 4 for Carl and a bogey 5 for me – what Bullring!
If you’re in need of a birdie, the 7th just might deliver – a short par 5 of 464m – avoid the fairway bunkers on the right off the tee and go for your life! There is a narrow mouth to the green, but if you thread the needle with your second a birdie awaits! The wind was hurting the day we played, so home in two was just out of reach. Beware the fairway bunker right 80m from the green when laying up.
Number 8 is an awesome hole. A 201m par 3 played into the prevailing summer wind to a very long green. If the pin is cut to the back and you are on but short you face a daunting putt indeed! Carls two iron was the shot of the day, a bullet into the wind setting up an easy three! I pulled a 5 wood left where there was plenty of space to miss, a fairly straightforward chip and two putts later a “solid” 4 was recorded.
Standing on the 9th tee, the shortish 351m par four doesn’t look like anything out of the ordinary, its only when you get to your ball on the green that the fun really begins. Take dead aim with your approach and try to finish on the same level as the pin, otherwise a very interesting putt awaits. We had no one behind us all day so we were able to have a few putts, it took me three goes to get within 4 feet of the hole from where my approach finished!
The back nine opens with a 372m par 4 which if played downwind, invites you to unleash. Fairway bunkers at 230 right and 260 left are the only issues off the tee, but the fairway is wide so let the big dog bark! The second is to a large green – our pin was cut in the right side pocket of the dancefloor; you’d be wise to aim for the middle of the green as the bunker protecting this pin placement is a ripper.
The 11th is a strong par four, the second longest on the course at 393m. Fortunately, our wind was helping, though it didn’t make the any easier. You need to be accurate – and long – off the tee. If you’re able to carry the fairway bunkers at 235m, the narrow fairway widens a little. I missed right off the tee and from an ugly lie was able to advance my ball short and left of the green, miss right for very little joy!
Hole 12 is a fairly straightforward par 4 at 353m, though water runs the left side tee too green. Avoid the fairway bunkers both left and right off the tee and leave yourself a short iron to the green protected short and right by a deep bunker and a large swale left, not an easy up and down if you miss this green.
The par 5 13th measures 490m and played into the wind will test your ability to keep it low and straight. Unless your super long, stay right off the tee and right with your second setting yourself up for a third “down” the green. If your feeling superhuman and you’ve nailed your tee shot, a long high draw for your second may set up a birdie, I did say may!
Hole 14, which is currently the 1st, is a straight forward par three to a large, uncomplicated green. Miss right and you’ll end up in one of two deep bunkers or have a difficult chip up onto the green. There’s lots of room left and makes for an easier chip.
The 15th is a long tough par 4 of 384m which was again into a stiff breeze – a solid tee shot to the left centre of the fairway, will still leave you with a mid to long iron to a difficult two-tiered green. This hole is difficult and deserves it’s rating of 2. Carl smashed his drive and hit a very solid four iron and still came up shy. Now Carl lacks a little height, but he’s not short by any stretch!
The par 3 16th is no snack even at 150m, as water skirts the left side from tee too green and missing right requires you to play a brave chip from the swales and mounding with the knowledge of water waiting on the other side. This hole played downwind and I missed long, don’t do that either! A good hole the 17th, though think seriously about your options off the tee, the lesser of two evils is right - at least you won’t drown playing your second, but that leaves a tougher shot over four bunkers to a narrow green – a four is a very good score!
If you’ve been having trouble off the tee all day, the 18th will give you probably the widest fairway on the course to hit. At 478m off the tips, it’s not the longest par 5 but played into the wind after a long day on the course, it could feel like its 650m in length. Left edge of the fairway bunker at 230m right is ideal and that gives you the best angle of attack. Into the wind it is a solid blow to get on in two, or take the more conservative option and fire your second up the right hand side. Water cuts into the left side and there is a smaller second lake you can’t see that swallows balls, Carl thought he was just fine – not to be!
Lake Mulwala forms the back drop to this hole and you get a fine view across the water so get your camera out and take home a couple of snaps along with your memories.
Did The Black Bull live up to the hype? Well in light of the weather Yarrawonga had been exposed to over the winter and the course only finished recently, I believe it did. We played off the back markers but with most holes having multiple options, golfers of all levels will enjoy their day. The greens were superb, playing fast and true. I can only imagine how awesome they would be mid-summer, though in saying that I love fast greens but not everyone does. They were generally large ranging from relatively uncomplicated to complex structures you’d need a compass to navigate, especially if you’ve finished on a different level to where the pin is cut.
Now I’m no agronomist, but I suspect the type of sand in the bunkers is conducive to the weather conditions typically encountered – wind! A fine blend would get blown away leaving them bare, so a thicker, heavier sand has been utilised. Use the bounce on your sand wedge as it was intended and don’t quit on the shot. Pick your spot behind the ball and blast away.
The fairways were pretty good considering. We took casual water relief a few times and there were certain areas that were OOB for the cart, but as mentioned our feet remained dry. changes in elevation, uneven lies, bumps and swales are all part of the recipe, which when a course is built on pretty much flat land you can expect. There was a good mix of wide and inviting fairways cleverly bunkered to put you back in your box when you think you’re longer than you really are.
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1. Tees 10/15
2. Fairways 11/15
3. Greens 13/15
4. Bunkers 11/15
5. Design 12/15
6. 19th Hole 11/15
7. Price 9/10
We were very impressed with the reception we received and the staff could not have been more helpful. The Back Bull is a super golf super course that will only improve with time. Visit www.blackbullgc.com.au for details or call (03) 5744 0044 for phone bookings. We would have loved to of taken some drone vision here, but the close by airport makes flying the drone frowned upon. Make sure to take an Instagram pic and upload it using #charlieblackbull to get a free ball marker from the pro shop. At only $45 for 18 holes, go and play it!