"So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Swan Hill and the Murray Downs course."
Although I have played this golf course a very long time ago, recently I headed back up to experience one of the best golf courses on the Murray River. If you believe some of the recent reports(Golf Digest), Murray Downs is slipping as a premiere golfing destination, but don't believe it, this golf course still packs a punch with tee shots that will require all in your group to challenge their games.
The first challenge will be presented right off the bat with what to hit off the 1st tee? It's only 316m and had has trouble in eyesight left and right. This is typical of this golf course and what you see from the tee will often make you second guess your shot. If you take the long iron, head down the left side and have a nice wedge in, if you take anything longer, then middle is where you want to be, it'll leave you with a shorter pitch in to a back to front sloping green. It's a great test as an opener and par is a good score.
Onto the 2nd and it's the first of the longish par 3's on the front nine. At 187m, it's no push over, but you are going downhill and can get some helping run. Just make sure it's not going right or there is a large water hazard to swallow your ball. Bunkers both left and right will stop you short. The 3rd is another one of those holes where you might be scratching your head in club selection. It's a 378m par 4 that doglegs right and heads a little uphill, but the hill sits about 220-230 from the tee so driver can get you into trouble unless it is shaped to perfection. Fairway wood is the play here. Start it left and fade it back to the hill for a 7-8 iron into a left to right sloping green.
Not often that I love a par 5, but the 4th is one of the best holes here. At 525m it's a bit of a beast, but it hides a great little secret that you might like to be warned about. From the tee you see a tiny amount of fairway, lots of trees and plenty of bunkers. The long hitters can go straight over the bunkers, the shorter hitters must go right of them, but be careful of your second shot. There is a water hazard guarding this approach to the green. Unless you have played this hole before it is sometimes hard to spot from a long way out so going for it in two is really not an option. Take a long iron for your second and enjoy the low iron into the green.
Now for the hardest hole on the golf course! Well, according to the scorecard anyway. This 194m par 3 is almost all water carry if you are going for the green. There is plenty of bail out room to the left, but who lays up on a par 3? Some in my group should've that's for sure. Ball after ball was donated into the lake in front before we were all finally dancing. Apparently a 33 was taken on this hole by one of the locals. An easy 3 for some, a nightmare for others, great hole!
The 6th is another visual toughie from the tee as all you can really see is bunkers stretching across the fairway. Big hitters can go straight over, but make it the one on the left otherwise you can end up in the trees long. There is room on the left for those who are not as long to get by, but it leaves a long shot into a well guarded by bunkers sloping green. I thought this was one of the toughest holes on the front nine. The 7th is a downhill par 5 that can be reached in 2 by the big guys, but otherwise is a pretty easy 5. A wide fairway and a flat green will reward 3 good shots.
The 8th is another hole where you will be tempted to blast driver, but the fairway wood is the better option. The right hand side is not as long as the left and the driving range is just a little through the trees. The big tree on the left needs to be avoided and the green slopes severely from back to front, you want an uphill putt here.
The 9th is one of the tightest driving holes here and again the fairway wood is the best play. A well struck 3W will get you into wedge distance where you will have to hit to where the flag sits of this huge 2 tiered green. If it's up the top end, don't be afraid to go for it as there is room up there. It's a superb front nine and if you are anywhere near par, you have played very well.
The back nine starts with another tight driving hole. There is zero room down the right and some overhanging trees make it look like there is also zero room down the left, but take the fairway wood or driver and draw it around the trees and you will have a short one into an interesting green protected by a huge bunker on the left. It's only 349m but take the 4 if you can make it.
The 11th is the easiest hole here and this par 3 only measures 140 from the tips. There is still danger though because it's OOB left, bunkers short and long, water hazard long right and a severe slope on the green. Easy right? 3 is a good score and if you get above the hole, 4 is too.
The par 5 12th could be the best hole on the golf course. It has a few things that make it very unique as well as very photogenic. The visual from the tee is of 2 fairways split by trees down the middle with water guarding the right, OOB the left and 2 bunkers at about landing distance for driver. This par 5 only measures 460m so a good tee shot can set you up for an easy birdie or great eagle. I tried going left and right over a few days and found that it didn't really matter. Both were good as long as you miss the water and the sand. The green is big and flat.
No let up as the next 2 holes are tough. The par 4, 13th is all about the drive because if you don't get a straight long one away, you won't reach this green and be able to stop the ball. The green will tend to carry you towards the back if anything low is hit in. Bunkers surround the green too so you must be accurate. The par 4, 14th heads alongside the 13th, but at a hill turns a little left and uphill to a larger than it looks green. There is trouble both left and right and at 364m you could be hitting a fairly long iron in. Accuracy is the key here and if you are, an easy par should be the result.
The 15th is the last of the par 3's here, but don't think you are getting away with an easy hole. Depending on where the pin is located, this hole could measure as little as 140m or as much as 169m. The green also is surrounded by bunkers so make sure you hit the dance floor in one to get the easy par. Getting up and down from these close bunkers is a work of art.
The last of the par 5's for Murray Downs is the 472m 16th and what a hole it is. The par 5's here are some of the standout holes, not only visually, but in substance as well. The first shots are tough, so are the seconds and the greens as well. This hole showcases it perfectly with a long water hazard up the left off the tee, Thick trees and bunkers right off the tee. You just have to grip it and rip it over the water if you want the best chance of getting home on 2. If you take the high road(near the bunkers) you will have to guide your second shot around the big tree on the right to a blind green. Take the low road (over the water) and you can have an unobstructed swing at the green. Just make sure you take enough club as the front hill will stop you quickly. A tough sloping green will make any birdie putts hard to make.
Two tough par 4's to finish that both require long straight drives and accurate second shots as well. 17 has the added hazard of a green sitting on the lake and a severe slope to the green while the 18th is a longer shot in and a accurate shot through many bunkers is required. The scorecard says the 17th is tougher, I think it's the 18th, but one thing is for sure, you should go and play Murray Downs and see for yourself. This is a gem of a golf course with stay/play packages that are cheap as chips.
1. Tees 10/15
2. Fairways 13/15
3. Bunkers 10/15
4. Greens 10/15
5. Design 13/15
6. 19th 15/15
7. Price 9/10
Murray Downs is still the premiere golf course on the Murray river in my opinion. Yes places like Black Bull have got some of the press lately, but the design of this golf course stands out. It is always helped by the condition of the course thanks to the abundant supply of water. There is water everywhere here on the course and the fairways and greens are always a lush shade of deep green. The rough is full of club grabbing thickness, that will stop you from launching long irons at times and everything looks like the way it should on a well maintained golf course. It's a very tough test for any golfer off more than a single figure handicap and even those off a low mark will really need to stripe the drives all day from these difficult tee shots to score well. Make sure to spend plenty of time upstairs at the 19th because the food is great and the drinks are very reasonable.
As I mentioned earlier, Australian Golf Digest has this golf course 2020 ranked number #91 in Australia. That number is an insult from a publication that has been getting courses ranked wrong for a while now. Their latest offering does not even rank Peninsula/Kingswood in the top 100 courses, when it is clearly one of the best golf courses not only in Victoria, but Australia and has Jack Nicklaus' Heritage course at #94 as well. Time for a new ranking system, or perhaps some new blood in the course ranking ranks. How do you miss Peninsula/Kinswood in the top 100? Really? Wow!