"So I jump ship in Hong Kong, make my way over to Yan Yean and the Growling Frog"
38 kms north-east of Melbourne, in the suburb of Yan Yean, you will find the Graham Marsh designed, Growling Frog golf course. Yan Yean has really only been known for having Melbourne's first reservoir and the 560 hectare lake still provides drinking water to the northern suburbs after being established in 1853. The golf course was opened in 2004 and the name was taken from the Growling Grass Frog, that is native to the area. The golf course gets a lot of traffic going through it, but is it any good? We came out to take a look.
The front nine starts off with a bit of a strange hole. This opening par 4 will be an easy start for the bigger hitter as a good straight drive will see the ball within chipping range of the green, but beware, the margin for error is very small. Thick rough awaits down the left and the green has deep bunkers protecting it on both sides. The smart play here is to take a long iron from the tee and hit a full wedge to the downhill green. A deep ditch sits at the back of the green so try not to go long.
We are not fans of having par 3's early into the round. A good even start of par 4's and 5's will always get traffic from the 1st tee moving better, so we do not like the 2nd hole being a 176 meter, par 3. Graham Marsh seems to like doing it though as the 3rd at Eynesbury is a par 3 as well. That being said, it is one of the better par 3's here. There is water on the hole, in the form of a pond on the right, but you will have to really cut one badly to be in it. The green is elevated and protected at the front left by a big bunker. A difficult green to putt on and par here is a good score.
The 3rd hole and things start to open up. This 515 meter, par 5 is what Growling Frog is all about. To us, the par 5's here are the feature holes and this first one is a beauty. A large fairway bunker protects the left side of the fairway, but don't worry, there is plenty of room out to the right. Your second shot will have to squeeze through a narrow opening between tall trees left and right to a smallish green. A definite birdie chance for the bigger hitters in your group.
First of the really good holes is 4. The array of different clubs you can take off this tee is great. Most will take a long iron and hit in an 8 iron/9 iron for their second. Some will take out the fairway wood and try to keep it from reaching the fairway bunker on the right. The bold will take out driver and smash it over the left bunker for a chance of getting very close to the green. All are good plays and all will take a good second shot, for this green is small and tough. do not go long as you will not find your ball.
Another par 3 next and the 5th hole does not have much to say about it, other than the fact that short, left and long are bad. This green sits at you at a bad angle, but holding it is the key to an easy par. The putting surface is flat on top, so keep it there or suffer a 4 or worse. The 6th hole runs along the side of the property and requires a left to right drive, unless you are into the wind. Then you can just blaze away, but try to keep it away from the large tree on the right. Flirting with this tree will give you the shortest shot to the green, but at 435 meters, some will not make it there. There is more room over the back than the front, so take plenty of club and just go for it.
The 7th is another risk/reward tee shot. Taking out driver, you can get very close to the green of this short, downhill par 4, but the green will not let you hold a poorly hit wedge, so either make sure you can spin it, or take a long iron off the tee and hit in a fuller wedge. The green has a large tier in the middle so make sure you pick the right place to land your second.
The par 5, 8th hole is another of the really good par 5's here. The tee shot presents a few scenarios. Hit left of the fairway trap for a better angle for your second shot or flirt with going over it for a chance at hitting the green in two. Your second will have to be good though as this green is tough to hit with anything but a short iron. The opening to the front is tight and the slope will want to take your ball right into a deep swail. the smart play is laying up and getting a wedge in for better stopping power.
Nine is a difficult par 4 because of the slope of the fairway and the high perched green. The large tree on the right is the perfect place to aim, but try to make the shot work back to the fairway left of it, otherwise a large fairway bunker will leave a very difficult second. The green itself is not wide, but it is deep. You can bail out right or long.
Heading to the back nine and the 10th is a hole that does not do much for us. A steep drop towards a lake on the right that is easily carried, so not really in play, makes hitting driver here the best play. Blaze away, because the practice fairway is here as well, but no OOB stakes were present, so use it to your advantage. Not a great way to start the back nine as the green is a little raised blob as well.
Thankfully, the 11th makes up for what the 10th lacks. This is another great par 5 where you will have to take your drive just to the right of the left fairway bunker to have any chance of getting home in two. If the wind is blowing though, forget it as the second shot requires a very long carry to work out well. The easiest way to come at this green is from the left, because as you look at it from the fairway, all you see is sand. Probably the best place to snap a picture of this golf course as it looks like waves of sand crashing on the green ahead. The green has a small tier on the right and if the flag is there, it's a tough shot to get close.
The uninspiring 12th, par 3 has nothing but a green really. A scruffy tee and a poor flat stretch of grass stretching towards an undulating green that seems to be very unfair. Putting from every direction seems to hit a nasty slope and we couldn't see a good place to put the pin that would be very good.
The 13th just needs a drive down the left hand side of the fairway to have a short iron in towards a smallish green that is only protected on the right by a bunker. An easy par or birdie chance for most. The 14th is another par 4 and plays relatively the same as 13, except it's uphill a little more. The green is a lot tougher, but the distance is about the same and so is the interest. Yawn your way through this 3 hole stretch to get to another great par 5.
The 15th is in our opinion, the best hole on the course and it needs to be. So far on the back nine we have only really played 1 hole that we enjoyed, so we were crying out for more. This hole delivered. Keep your drive out to the right from the tee to avoid the very deep rough and fairway bunker on the left. Your second shot needs to be kept away from a water hazard on the right or a fairway bunker on the left. If you hit it long enough down there, both of these hazards will disappear though. The green is a ripper with a large swail in the front left, a tier running through half way and bunkers left and right. Long will see you playing a difficult shot from deep rough with boulders through it as well. This is a very, very good golf hole and it left us wanting to return to the tee to play it again.
A walk up the path to the par 3, 16th and we were hoping for the good holes to continue. Sadly, they did not. This is not a great par 3, it's just long to a bowl shaped green with plenty of room to miss on the right. So, so much room. Keep it away from the left bunker and you should make 3.
The closing two holes here were much better. The 336 meter, downhill par 4, 17th provodes a great chance to catch up a shot before the final hole. Pick the line and hit a good drive and you just might be on this green with an eagle putt. There is trouble if you hit too straight or too far right, so make it count. Otherwise, a long iron/hybrid is the play. Leave yourself a fullish wedge to the green as it does run away from you towards the back. There is plenty of sand on this hole with 2 fairway bunkers down the right and a green surrounded by left , right and back traps.
That brings us to the last hole, the 18th. You want the last hole of a golf course to really leave an impression on all the golfers who play there. This hole does just that. It's a magnificent 371 meter par 4 with decisions to be made off the tee, (left of the bunker? over it? right?) then a difficult second shot uphill to a blind landing area, followed by a sloping green that will not leave very many easy putts. All under the watch of those having a drink in the clubhouse. Just enjoy it.
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The golf course itself is much like the other Graham Marsh designed course, Eynesbury. It started out its life with a lot of promise, but over the years, has been left a little ragged around the edges. There were too many very wet areas throughout the course. The bunkers were inconsistent and many had thick mud in them. The course looks like it gets far too much traffic through it and although it looks firm and dry on the high areas, is soggy and soft throughout the low areas. The front nine was the more interesting nine of the 2, but the par 5's were fantastic to play on both. The saving grace of this golf course are the greens. They are true and they are pretty quick as well. It's stange to play a course with such good greens, but poorly conditioned in most other areas. I know it all sounds like a bit of doom and gloom, but it shouldn't, Growling Frog has a great base to build a fantastic complex. A really good clubhouse, practice area, pro shop and the ability to attract big numbers of green fee players all work in their favour. The land itself and the upkeep are working against it, but this can be fixed with a little TLC. There are plenty of Kangaroos on the course, which is always great to see.
1. Tees 8/15
2. Fairways 9/15
3. Bunkers 7/15
4. Greens 12/15
5. Design 8/15
6. The 19th 13/15
7. Price 9/10
The price is right for this golf course. During the week it is $40 and $45 on the weekend. They do a weekday pass for $900 per year and a 7 day pass for $1,500. Both very reasonable. Electric carts are available for hire and if it's windy, we suggest getting one. Some of the walks into the strong wind here are killers on the calves. Growling Frog, strange name, but worth a look. Go play it!