OCCM completes work on back nine holes at Royal Canberra GC


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    A before shot of the 14th hole at Royal Canberra...

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    ...and the same hole following Cocking and his team’s work

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    The 10th hole features a striking skyline as you look down the fairway

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    The 10th hole following the completion of the recent renovations

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    The 12th hole before work took place...

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    ...and now following the work’s completion

Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

The back nine holes at the Royal Canberra Golf Club have reopened for play following a renovation project led by Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead (OCCM) golf course architects.

Royal Canberra Golf Club is more than a century old and moved to its current site in the 1920s. The course was designed by John Harris, and has since been worked on by a number of architects, including Peter Thomson and Michael Wolveridge in the 1980s, who added an additional nine holes.

The firm has worked with the club in Canberra, Australia, since 2010, with the recent work focusing on holes 10-18. Royal Canberra is home to 27 holes of golf, and OCCM will be shifting its focus on the final nine holes in the near future.

OCCM architect Mike Cocking has been pleased with the work thus far as he and his team look to bring one of Australia’s most reputable courses back up to scratch.

“Growing up it always had the reputation of being a very good course,” said Cocking. “In the 1980s it was ranked in the top ten in the country and during my playing days the ACT Amateur was a big event and so it received a fair bit of attention from that too. For a country where most of our best courses are within a few kilometres of the ocean, it became known as one of our better inland courses.”

When OCCM was first brought in to work on the course, Cocking explained that the course had become very narrow, with trees encroaching on play and having an effect on the turf quality.

“One of the things we noticed watching the golfers play the course was how many shots were played from the rough,” he said. “On such a big property, there was very little fairway length grass – essentially none around the greens and the fairways were perhaps only 20 or 25 metres wide. The bunkers were badly in need of attention and there were some agronomic issues which drove the need to reconstruct the greens and tees. So it was a logical time to consider which direction the club should head in. In no way did we want to change the feel of the course – it still wanted to be a parkland, tree lined type of layout – but it could be significantly better.”

With regards to the back nine, Cocking described these holes as lying on some of the best land on the property. The project team has removed vegetation in selected areas and opened up large expanses of grass to link certain tees and greens.

“The undulations are more dramatic, with many holes playing across long valleys from tee to green, but for me the most exciting part was the ground around the lake,” he said. “I also really like how the creek has turned out on the 15th. The valley which ran across the 14th, 15th and 16th holes typically got wet in winter and rather than fighting the contours, it seemed more appropriate to work with the heavy ground, so we converted this valley into a creek. It looks great but more importantly it adds a lot of interest to the second shot on what is a very reachable par five.”

Cocking says that some club members were apprehensive at first about any tree removal, but reported that these areas have been among their favourite changes.

The fairways were widened as far as possible by Cocking and his team, in light of the fact a lot of the vegetation had to be preserved. The bunkers were all rebuilt in an artistic style, replacing the simple shapes with sands similar to those used at Augusta. 

“When building the new greens, we tried to return the ground to its natural contours so they would fit into the landscape a little better,” said Cocking. “This meant removing many of the mounds and hollows that surrounded most of the green sites. Putting surfaces now have predominantly long tilted surfaces, as opposed to tiers. The combination of slope and bunkers pinching into the putting surface sets up the strategy back on the tee. Sometimes you will need to hug the right side, other times the left. Rarely will the best line be from the middle of the fairway. Around the green there is also a lot of short grass – so missed shots may funnel away from the target a little further and the variety of recovery shots has been increased. No longer is the only shot a lob wedge from rough.”

OCCM has been tasked with creating three ‘fairly indistinguishable nines’ at Royal Canberra, and Cocking is hopeful that work on the final nine holes will commence within the next two years.

“Hopefully the rankings will reflect the comments by the members and some of the early reviews,” said Cocking. “We’d love to see the course return to the top 20 and legitimately be viewed as one of the best inland course in the country once again.”

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