The 18 holes of the Championship layout underwent a massive redesign over two nine-month periods in 2014 and 2015, the golf course transformed from what was a relatively benign test with limited strategies. The old course was hardly in keeping with an event of the standing of the Australian PGA Championship and the Australian Ladies Masters which it held continuously from 1992 to 2016.
The new layout has matured immensely and it is clear, that in 2018, it will be at its best since the redevelopment.
The PGA of Australia’s Director of Tournaments Andrew Langford Jones was on the Gold Coast recently to inspect the course’s preparations and to talk over tournament set-up ahead of the event and his enthusiasm for the venue was clear.
“2018 is exciting from our point of view as it will be the first time the true course has had the chance, since the renovations and alterations, to show its real potential,” said Langford Jones.
“It has had two or three years now to settle in and we feel it will be easily the best condition the course has been in the now (including 2018) six-year history of the event at Royal Pines.”
Royal Pines' par-five 15th hole.
Since Adam Scott's 2013 victory on the original layout, Greg Chalmers won in 2014 when only nine of the new holes had been completed and Nathan Holman was the first champion under the fully completed revamp in 2015.
American Harold Varner III added some international flair to the honour roll in 2016 before Queenslander Cameron Smith's gripping playoff win last year.
The changing face of Royal Pines over the previous three hostings has been captivating to watch.
In 2015 - the first year of the full redesign - the new layout had been completed only a few weeks earlier and firm conditions were made more difficult by strong winds. It caused chaos amongst a field which included USPGA Tour star Brandt Snedeker whose opening round of 84 saw him gone from the event before the weekend.
Holman's eventual win earned him the right to play the European Tour but his score of even par for the 72 holes told the story of a golf course more demanding than ever before and raised concerns over its universal appeal.
Holman defeated South African Dylan Frittelli and Harold Varner III in a playoff for the title that year and while the Victorian has struggled in his career since, both Frittelli and Varner III are both now members of the PGA Tour.
Varner’s winning score of 19 under par in 2016 and Smith’s total of 18 under par last year told the story of a golf course that had overcome its controversial start and which, as it matured, was gaining increasing acceptance by the pros competing and the RACV Resort’s guests and members alike.
Smith was full of praise for the layout in the immediate aftermath of his 2017 win. “Probably this year has seen the most improvement,” he said.
“Last year to this year was a huge improvement, just the grass filling in and you can actually play some shots that Mr. Marsh (course designer Graham Marsh) wants you to play.
“So it was nice to be able to do that because in years past you really couldn't do anything with some of the holes.”
Royal Pines' 8th green pictured in May 2015.
Almost 12 months on and the expectations are that it will be just that much better again.
Course Superintendent Lincoln Coombes is another excited about the prospects of what 2018 will bring in terms of course maturity.
“The fairway grasses have grown in fully now and the greens have grown into their profile and are a lot more forgiving and receptive than was the case in the first couple of years.
“The golf course has certainly grown into its strategies and I often talk to golfers who enjoy playing from the back markers, the members and the forward tees as they enjoy the range of strategies each offers.
“It is very much a thinking and strategic course now compared to previously and can’t be classed as just a resort course any longer which it probably was in the past.
“We have just completed our annual renovations and everything is pretty much on track to have the course at its absolute peak for late November.”
Course designer Graham Marsh with 2016 champion Harold Varner III.
The last word is saved for the man who was responsible for the redesign work, Graham Marsh, who was on the property this week as preparations ramped up.
“Last year we saw the benefit of two years grow-in and it certainly played much better than was the case when the works were first completed and much of that can be attributed to the course being solid turfed.
“The benefit of solid turfing, which became necessary due to the time constraints of the project, is the immediacy it provided in getting the course back into play as soon as possible, the downside is that, naturally, it took longer for the grasses to develop and establish.
“That resulted in greens that were very firm in the first couple of years which is not how the golf course was meant to be played. I certainly did not want soft greens but because of the issues surrounding the turfing, the strategies and the quality of the pin positions we had created were not immediately apparent. They are certainly becoming that way now.
“I am very proud of what has been achieved by those involved at Royal PInes and its growing acceptance as a tournament, members and resort golf course and as always will be there at the PGA this year to see just how everything comes together.”
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