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Golf Course Reviews - Australia

Hunter Valley Golf & Country Club

Name: Hunter Valley Golf & Country Club
Location: Pokolbin, NSW, Australia
Par: 72
Length: 5815m
Holes: 18

Hunter Valley Golf & Country Club

First impressions are everything aren't they? And after playing the first two or three holes at the new Hunter Valley Golf & Country Club, your first impressions would be of a pleasant enough course. Nice greens, tight tree lined fairways and plenty of water hazards to catch the wayward tee shot. Based on the first three holes, it's a course you might describe as nice in a golf resort kind of way.

But first impressions aren't actually everything. After a gentle start, the fourth hole here is as tough a par three as you'd want with a huge green offering anything upwards of 160 meters of carry over water. That's followed by a monster of a par four bordered by the main road, requiring both length and pinpoint accuracy just to make the fairway. And then you come to the sixth.

From the back markers, the sixth hole has one of those "you must be joking" tee shots. Whilst the carry over the vast lake is "only" some 170 metres, from the tee the fairway looks miles away. After one of the gentlest starts of any golf course I've ever played, five and six here are monsters.

Once known as Portofino Golf Club, the Hunter Valley Golf and Country Club re-opened last year after renovations, complete with a major new hotel development. The Crowne Plaza hotel features condominium style accommodation that borders a number of the early holes. This not one of those courses surrounded by properties however and once away from the clubhouse, the course is set in a beautiful green valley bordered with the vines that make the area famous and featuring views of the Brokenback Mountains. It's a green and well kept course with numerous lakes and water features that suggest that it will not ever be short of water.

Located just off the main wine trail road that meanders through the Hunter Valley, the course is virtually opposite the main tourist information office. Golf facilities are well signposted and first impressions are of a well run, modern course with a friendly pro-shop. Very much a resort, we didn't see anyone walking the course n the day we played and like most modern facilities, we were quickly shown to our waiting golf buggy and on the first tee within moments of taking the clubs from the car.

Having been fooled by the soft opening holes and the monsters that follow, the course takes another turn in character as you reach the seventh hole. Bordered on one side by the road and with bunkers waiting to catch a soft fade, this hole is rightly rated the toughest on the course. Should you manage to find the fairway, anything but your best struck drive will leave you in the twilight zone facing a long carry over a water hazard both wider and closer to the green than it looks. For reasons we won't go into, we played the hole twice and failed to get a single ball onto the green in regulation. Tough hole.
Hunter Valley Golf & Country Club
Coming as a gentle relief after another tough par three, the par five ninth is a chance to get a shot back, best played by playing safe. The double green shared with the 18th is a nice feature and most players would be disappointed not to finish the nine with a par.

Like many resort courses, if time is on your side, there's ample opportunity to stop and reflect on the first nine whilst enjoying a leisurely cold one before venturing out to the back nine.

Back Nine Flanked by an array of building plots, the tenth is a shortish par three protected by mature trees and a vast expanse of water that borders the hole in the right. Leading away from the clubhouse, the hole is a pretty start to the nine and you can't help but feel that this might have been a much better starting hole. The feeling is continued by the beguiling 11th which is guaranteed to stay in your memory long after you've fought your way home though the Sydney Sunday traffic.

Signposts remind you that the 11th is a blind dogleg right over the gully. Despite the signposts, it's almost impossible to judge the shape of the hole when playing for the first time. At only 262 meters, the temptation to hit a big high power fade is only tempered by the fact that you can't see where you are going. Five bunkers also confuse and visually foreshorten the tee shot. The common sense approach would have been to hit a simple four iron over the corner of the trees leaving a short pitch and two putt par. But then hindsight is a wonderful thing in golf.

Turning out away from the 11th, you come to a loop of four holes across a flatter piece of land that all require well struck and accurate tee shots due to the various well placed water hazards and cultivated rough. The fairways here are generally very good and boast a generous covering of grass, but some of the couch grass in the rough has been left to grow thick and dense, so much so that you almost have to tread on a ball before you'll find it. It's not quite "US Open" tough, but you're definitely better off keeping it straight.

The final three holes feature yet another change in character. The 16th, a meandering par five is lined with young pine trees and has the look and feel of a traditional Scottish layout like Rosemount or Gleneagles. Except for the warm sunshine of course. The green on the par three 17th sits on top of a treacherous shelf and is guarded by two huge welcoming bunkers, whilst the 18th plays all of its length with even a well placed tee shot still requiring a slight fade around the trees to make the green.

Based on the Sunday we played, getting a game on this course isn't difficult and whilst it's not as tough as its near neighbours the Vintage and Cypress Lakes, this course is no pushover and we couldn't fault the quality of the course and the evenly paced greens.

If I've got one criticism, it's that start. I'd definitely swap the nines around, not only because of the poor first impressions from the first few tame holes but also because that way round you'd have a course that features four or five of the toughest finishing holes anyone could want.

That having been said, it's a well set up and friendly operation and having enjoyed our day on the course, it was a treat to spend a little time afterwards enjoying a great choice of restaurant quality food and drink in the bar overlooking the swimming pool. With all that, and one of the best wine lists you'll see in any golf club, you've only yourself to blame if you don't have a great day here!

Visit the Hunter Valley Golf and Country Club's website: Hunter Valley Golf and Country Club


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