The Hunter Valley, two hours north of Sydney, is a Mecca for food and wine enthusiasts from all over the country, catering in particular to the discerning Sydney market. Thanks to The Vintage development, Australia’s most popular wine growing district now also caters to a sophisticated golf market looking to acquire exclusive golf course real estate in the heart of this fashionable locale.
Surrounded by picturesque vineyards, historical wineries and rolling hills this charming site was far from the ideal base with which to build a championship golf course due to the diversity of its topography. Rather than fight the contrasting landscapes by manufacturing holes, the designers instead opted to allow the lie of the land, as much as the development master plan, to dictate the flow and style of the golf course. The result therefore is that The Vintage is far from your typical ‘signature’ design.
Starting off within the open bushland the course soon winds its way around undisturbed creeks and gullies, through small areas of forest and even alongside the local vineyards. The outward nine tends to play more through the undulating wilderness, while the back nine features less fairway movement but incorporates more of the naturally occurring wetlands. Though the collective strength of the front side is probably greater it’s the originality of the finishing stretch that are certain to capture most golfers imagination.
Several fine driving holes start the round including the attractive 2nd which bends hard right through a chute of Casuarina’s and over a small creek towards a narrow target. The short par four 4th is another nice driving hole as is the strong 6th with its large green partially hidden beyond ridges of wild kangaroo grass. Most of the natural wooded landscape occurs within these first six holes and the design emphasis was on dropping holes into the site without touching more of the bushland than absolutely necessary. As a result fairways are quite narrow, especially when compared with the wide playing areas throughout the rest of the course.
The strategy of the more open back nine is largely hinged around a number of existing ponds, creeks and gullies. The fun starts at the lengthy par five 10th, which swings down towards a lake and a unqiue green perched atop a clay faced ridge.
The 11th highlights the rural charm of the site with an elevated tee above a dam wall and a flat fairway set across a natural wasteland. A small creek down the right appears insignificant yet retains an ability to coerce players away which leaves a longer approach back towards the creek and over an enormous ridge obscuring the view of the green.
While it must have been tempting for the designers to reduce the affect of these quirky natural features, their inclusion makes the experience wonderfully unconventional. More conventional is the classical bunkering, which surrounds many greens but is used sparingly on the fairways. Many of the better driving holes are actually free of sand and instead use the shape of the land and the sites raw hazards to dictate the strategy.
The Vintage is a course that residents, with the opportunity to uncover its every idiosyncrasy, will particularly enjoy. There are certainly more coherent courses in this part of Australia, but The Vintage has a nice rugged unpredictability and despite its youth is a track that is certain to ripen, age well and mature into one of New South Wales’ leading golf courses.