New look Royal Pines taking shape

Just over three months after the final putt had dropped at this year's Volvik RACV Ladies Masters at RACV Royal Pines, you could be excused for not recognising the golf course which saw Cheyenne Woods take the iconic Australian golfing title.

The major revamp of the existing Australian PGA Championship and Australian Ladies Masters tournament layout is now building momentum and at present the first hole to be grassed is all but complete with the green's grass applied this week, a few days after the fairway had been solid turfed.

Ertech, the West Australian Construction company, began works with the securing of the site and removal of approved trees in February and from there earthworks got underway to align with the design of Graham Marsh Golf Design (the golf course designers appointed to the remodelling) and client, RACV, the owners of RACV Royal Pines.

The work is complex, the remodelling of an existing course often more demanding than the creation of something from a blank canvass, especially one in a delicate floodplain. To make matters even more demanding for those involved is the tight deadline which requires nine holes of the redevelopment to be ready for tournament play by the Australian PGA Championship in mid December.

Royal Pines is blessed with another quality nine holes across the road which is being used to maintain eighteen holes open while all of this is going on.

The on-site Project Manager, Sean Kelly however is confident that works are on schedule and that the deadline will be well and truly met. "Sure it is a tight deadline but we are very confident that it will be met," said Kelly who has worked on several large golf course projects in Victoria.

The complexity of works includes the neutralising of the acid sulfate soils in order that their necessary disturbance during earthworks will not impact environmentally on the adjoining waterways.

Acid sulfate soils are those that contain iron sulfides and when exposed to the atmospheric oxygen can oxidise and leak potentially dangerous chemicals into waterways. In order that this does not happen, all soils removed in the reshaping works have to be treated with lime in order that they be neutralised and replaced back onto the golf course prior to final shaping then grassing. It is a time consuming, costly, but crucial and necessary process.

The changes that are being made at Royal Pines are being done so for a range of reasons. The commitment to strengthening the golf course was one of the factors that helped win RACV Royal Pines the right to stage the Australian PGA Championship over the next five years at least.

Not only will golfers who arrive for the event in December see a stronger golf course in terms of strategy, but it will be one that offers a more aesthetically pleasing layout and one that functions considerably better in respect to its drainage and as a user friendly tournament course for spectators.

One of the issues Royal Pines has suffered from is its high water table and subsequent poor drainage and as a consequence there have often been occasions when tournament days are lost or compromised by a drenched golf course.

The reshaping of key areas on the golf course will help address this issue and provide a greater opportunity for water to move and escape.

That same reshaping also improves strategy as the predominantly flat and at times uninteresting playing areas are being given character and landing areas to either target or avoid.

All greens complexes will be remodelled, again to get away from large flat greens to those that are divided into several defined areas and more often than not reduced in size and to allow, at times, pin positions tucked away behind rebuilt green bunkering.

The overall bunkering which has been so benign for the better player at Royal Pines has been enhanced by bringing many closer to play and while the actual area of bunkering has been reduced by more than half there will be actually more bunkers, offering greater penalty for the wayward shot, even from the better player.

Another key component in the changes is the introduction of spectator mounding behind many of the greens to allow greater tournament viewing than has been the case in the past. Already there is clear evidence of those enhancements.

The initial nine holes under works at present involve the opening nine of the tournament layout. Holes will be constructed in an order beginning with the 7th, then the 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 9th, 8th, 2nd and 1st.

Once complete and the Australian PGA Championship and Volvik RACV Masters are played in December and February respectively, the remaining nine holes will undergo the same treatment over a similar time period in 2015.

For both events the contrast between the old and the new will be chalk and cheese but the finished product in late 2015 will reveal a high end championship course with consideration also for the many resort and public users who will enjoy the opportunity to play the home of championship golf in Queensland.

Grassing is now all but complete on the 7th hole, apart from final trimming and growing in, with the new look already highlighting just what we can expect in December. Bunkering is a lot more defined, strategic, visible and in play from the tee and the introduced greenside bunkering is very strategically positioned in order to protect newly created pin positions and to visually set the green.

Grasses being used include Winter Green on areas other than the greens and the highly regarded TifEagle replacing the original Bermuda 328 grass on the greens.

An issue with the originally contracted fairway grass supplier threatened to slow proceedings but replacement suppliers were quickly found and the quality of grass being used is believed to be even better than originally sourced.

The importance of a reliable grass supply is obvious enough under normal circumstances but it becomes even more important in a project such as this where time constraints require the whole site to be solid turfed rather than sprigged or stolonized. Already, just a few days after the solid turf has been laid over the 7th fairway, there is clear evidence of its success.

The holes where most work has been undertaken to date include the 7th, 6th 5th and 4th holes.

The accompanying photos show the dramatic new bunkering at the 5th, the defined fairway and greenside bunkering at the 7th, the very strategic bunkering on the short par four 6th and the shaping and bunkering work at the 4th.

While these changes are appealing, the hole that may yet be the talk of those on the opening nine may well be the 8th (see design image in gallery) on which earthworks are yet to begin but one that promises to be a superb risk / reward drivable par four.

The green is to be brought forward and closer to the water than its current location with bunkering added to protect the area on the opposite side of the fairway to the water and of course the green entrance.

Spectator mounding behind the green and behind the tee will make this a must watch hole for whatever event is held as a lengthened tee (70 metres) will allow tournament organisers to tweak the hole daily to accommodate any conditions and both men's and women's events.

The tight deadlines and delicate floodplain location make this project a demanding one for all involved but if things continue to fall into place and the weather remains kind then the field assembled for the 2014 Australian PGA Championship are in for a treat.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

More Articles from Bruce Young