Richard Chamberlain is nearing completion of a first phase of renovation work at Royal Hobart Golf Club in Tasmania, Australia.
“We’re aiming to give this golf course a serious facelift and a valuable transition into the next era of prosperity,” said Dieter Jones, a member of the master plan committee.
The impetus for the project began in 2014 with an audit of the 1997 master plan – created by Newton, Grant & Spencer – completed in the October. A report into the original design (by Vern Morcom in the early 1960s) was completed a month later.
The ‘Vern Morcom Report’ showed that some of the original designer’s intent and instructions were not carried out during construction (Morcom was working at Kingston Heath at the time and could not supervise construction at Royal Hobart). Mowing lines had changed, plantings in 1980s and 90s had altered the original intent of Morcom design, while corridors were significantly narrowed, forcing play around vertical hazards.
The 1997 master plan was designed to make the course longer and harder. Since then, only small parts had been implemented with none since 2009. One aspect the plan failed to address was the safety issues around the first green and sixth and seventh holes.
Following both audits, the club determined that it was not vital to retain the existing Morcom design principles and the 1997 master plan was to be abandoned in favour of a new one.
“While the current layout has been a good servant, the club is keen to energise the course and bring into play a greater degree of variability, make the course a more enjoyable experience for the golfer, introduce strategic elements that provide risk and reward options, and shot choices for golfers of every handicap,” said Matthew Blackburn, Royal Hobart club president. “It is important to also restore the natural attributes of the landscape and make them integral to the layout and the overall aesthetic.”
In August 2016, a tree removal programme began and, to date, 300 blackwood trees have been removed from within the playing corridors. “We have also removed 400 very large radiata pine trees from the property,” said Blackburn. “Clearing of thick vegetation between holes adjacent to fairways has also occurred during this period and has resulted in the opening up of long views throughout the course.”
Chamberlain was appointed in August 2017 for a master plan, which he completed in February 2018.
“I believe it was identified by some that the layout had become a little ‘tired’ or ‘stagnant’ over time and the playing strategies also needed a tune up,” said Chamberlain. “The reference to the ‘Royal Hobart style’ was also a very important question in its vision to move forward.”
The first phase of construction began in February 2020, with a new seventh hole, new eighth tees, a new chipping green, and practice range tees and an extension. These components are expected to open by late October 2020.
Construction work is being undertaken by Australian contractor Golf Shapes, with a number of local firms engaged to assist. The club’s greenkeeping crew are also heavily involved in the project.
“The safety issue between holes six and seven was at the heart of the rerouting question,” said Chamberlain. “Whilst there is plenty of space on the site, these two holes are crammed up against each other and errant shots were an issue. The question was asked if these holes could be rerouted or whether or not the additional spare land to the north should be utilised to solve the problem.
“There is no doubt any number of holes could have been produced in the northern parcel of land, but the siting of the grey water dam made it difficult to maintain a flow to the routing. I also believed it was possible to stay within the existing footprint of the course whilst solving the safety issues. This would also be a less expensive option for the club.
“I saw the opportunity to dramatically reduce the length of the seventh hole to a driveable par four of about 270-295 yards. This heroic, short par four was lacking on the current layout and I saw this as a massive positive.”
The eighth tees have also been reworked, providing a better angle of play for tee shots.
“The adjacent sixth hole was retained in its current corridor but will eventually be shortened to a long par four as a result of its interface with other golf holes in the area,” said Chamberlain.
“The new seventh hole and eighth tees have been built and I have no doubt it’s my best design work so far under the Richard Chamberlain Golf Design banner. It was an opportunity to create a brand-new golf hole with an awful lot of playing options. It plays around 295 yards from the tips and is predominantly downwind, which I think will only add to the temptation of reaching the green.
“The green itself is fairly tame in its contouring and there were a couple of reasons for this,” continued Chamberlain. “Firstly, there was a lot of dramatic slopes in its surrounds and I was hesitant to ‘overdo’ the green contouring. I understand there are some great short par fours out there with dramatic green contouring, however, I didn’t think this one would need it.
“I was also a little hesitant of going over the top with the difficulty of the green on my first foray into the course changes. There is always a club political issue in the background when a club embarks on course changes and I felt this was the right move for the members of the club. There is no doubt the new golf hole will open soon and, on a benign day, with easy pin positions it may offer up many birdies. However, slip a pin nearer the edge and add in a strong wind from behind and this short hole will suddenly show its teeth.
“I personally look forward to grabbing the putter from 40 yards out and running it towards the green over the new humps and bumps!”
Work on the bunkers will also be a noticeable for members – the current sand hazards are large and greatly affected by wind. “The newer style will be much smaller and not overly deep to reduce the impact of wind blow and erosion,” said Jones. “They need to provide a challenge and a penalty for golfers while providing easy maintenance for the staff and easy access in and out for the golfers.”
Future phases of work will move forward once approval is given for the eastern practice fairway development. Members will also decide on the number of holes to be renovated during each future stage.
“When we’re finished, the golfer will need to think a lot more about their playing angles and sometimes curb their aggression,” said Jones. “There will be a time to defend and a time to attack. This is not an exercise about making the golf course harder nor easier, it is about making it better.”