God that was a good day! On this Day 79 we had probably the warmest welcome of the year, at probably the quirkiest named golf course we'll play all year - The Growling Frog. Mike and I are sitting here almost in disbelief at just how hospitable these good people were, to a couple of Kiwis no less!
The facility is a relatively new one, built by the local Council in 2004 40/50 km north of Melbourne, near the bushfire ravaged town of Kinglake and even nearer to the town where they evacuated all those poor folk to on Black Saturday (Whittlesea). They commissioned some famous fella by the name of Marsh to come and design it (a lot of the bunkers have a central tongue, creating the appearance of an 'M' shape - a nod to Mr. Marsh, of course). He did a good job, but I'll let Michael talk about the golf. We played a 2 man Ambrose format today you see, as part of the Saturday comp, so in keeping with the teamwork format of the day Mike'll talk golf and I'll pen a few words about our good hosts and the day in general.
The Growling Frog is one of a few golf courses that have made contact with us, inviting us to come and play - rather than responding to one of our letters. Before that email some months ago, we'd never heard of the place. I've been liaising with Simon, a young English chap who emigrated several years ago with his Aussie then girlfriend whom he'd met in London, about the day - and it's one we'd been particularly looking forward to.
The Frog's a public course - being built by the Council and all - but Simon and 250 mates run their own Club up here, just like any other. The only difference is they have to pay green fees each time they play (a modest $37, which is a steal). A great bunch of people, enthusiastic about their golf. Spending time with them in the clubhouse afterwards my memory took me back to Day 14 at Mahia, the rural 9 hole links we played on the North Island East Coast of NZ - where a handful of salt of the earth folk formed the fibre of the club, and kept it alive through their determination and shared passion for the great game that is golf.
They really looked after us. I mean really. Simon, who as I said had been the first point of contact, met us on arrival and kindly shouted us an espresso to pick us up after our 45 minute drive. Lovely. We were then presented with a couple of Growling Frog polo shirts (green, of course - would've come in handy on St. Paddy's back on Wednesday), which we chucked on straight away. Jude, a hilarious woman if ever there was one, heckled us on the 1st tee and told us that they looked putrid! I thought they were pretty good, actually. At half time, while the local reporter the club had organised to come down fired a few questions our way, Simon grabbed us a couple of ham sandwiches, to keep us going on the back side. After the round this incredible hospitality continued. Michael and I were invited to order as we pleased from the menu - I had a steak burger, chips and salad which, as Jerry the President warned me, you'd need a pole vault to jump over - and do the same from the bar. It really was unbelievable.
When Jerry had heard we were coming, this was the way it was going to be, he told me. A real country welcome. They'd organised for two different local papers to come along; donated the comp fees for the day to our charity, The First Tee NZ, along with our winnings for the day (apparently we won the comp!); and generally been the most hospitable bunch of people we've come across, certainly in 'Straya at least.
Ray, the 4th member of our four ball, was a tremendous human being. Great value on the way 'round, and he even remained a gentleman when I started sledging him on the 16th green! By then of course I felt comfortable enough in his company to offer a satirical word or two. To make up for my insolence I'll draw your attention to his 300 metre blind tee shot on the 4th hole, which came up a couple of paces short of the green - a glorious blow. Unfortunately it didn't result in birdie. (The poor chaps couldn't putt for jam on the day; on another day they might've shot a good few under the card).
Simon, Ray, Jerry, Jude, our mate Mike Hauser (from Tourism Victoria, who's a member here too) and all the other humans we met at The Growling Frog were Top Drawer Folk. I can't emphasise enough just how welcoming they were, and I'd encourage anyone in the area to head to the Frog on a Saturday afternoon for a spot of golf and a few laughs. Today fell right in the middle of our Melbourne sandbelt leg, which on the whole has been a fairly, erm, traditional affair. Most days we've turned up to play these phenomenal courses, but flown more or less under the radar. Today was an altogether different experience. A great day; one we'll remember for a long time.
Incidentally the Growling Frog is a local creature that you'll only hear in the very early morning, and probably never see.
Now over to Michael, for a few words about the golf:
Today we stepped back from our daily competition to play in The Growling Frog 'comp day', a two man ambrose. In this format we choose the best shot from the two of us, find that ball, and then try again... Put simply, we have two chances to hit one straight and then two chances to sink the putt!
The first impression of The Frog is the serenity of the place. The block of land on which the course sits is a wide expanse, and the story goes that the Council had considered putting 36 holes on it. From the clubhouse you look out over the said wide expanse across traditional Aussie flat as a flat pancake farmland speckled with gum trees and a few 'roos bouncing around. We spotted quite a few roos on the first hole, which incidentally was where we made our first birdie. The first was a downhill drivable par four (if you have warmed up..) to a tricky green guarded by bunkers.
After a few quips before the round from Mike Hauser (who was playing in the group behind us) about making a birdie record today, we didn't disappoint and had made four straight standing on the 5th tee. And then Jamie didn't let team puregolf down when he stroked an 8 iron to 10 feet. But then we both missed the putt and the cracks started to form. We both duly both missed another 10 footer on the 6th after Jamie hit a 9 iron in and so our dream of 59 was all but over. In the ambrose format, putting is king. So Jamie is an ideal partner, as opposed to, say, Ed, who would be a woeful partner.
The 8th hole was another highlight and the site of where we kickstarted our round again, with our 5th birdie. 8 is a par five which funnels between two gum trees to a green that angles away to the left from the fairway. Whilst it entices you to have a crack with a long iron, or three wood, the green is surrounded by some severe undulations and two craftily positioned bunkers which require absolute precision to navigate. We both missed the green with our second shot, but our short game was up to the task on this occasion. A tap in birdie on 9 following one of JP's pitches saw us turn with a 30, 6 under par.
Unfortunately the pitching went awry on the back nine and we failed to convert about 4 easy chances. The only birdies came from the two par 5's, despite both of them being close to 500m long and difficult to reach in two. The highlight of the back nine was the par 3 12th hole which was the only hole on the course without a bunker. The green is slightly elevated but only a high iron landing on the green will hold the green. My 8 iron landed just short and trickled back about 10 metres to leave a very difficult pitch. Fortunately Jamie's tee shot missed on the long side so we had an easier chip to the green.
If I am being picky, the course probably could do some work on the par 4's. There were about 4 or 5 par fours that measured between 330-350m and despite a couple having great greens and surround, they were not all as distinctive as they might have been. After playing sandbelt courses, you really start to appreciate the short par four that makes you think, and also the 350m dogleg par four which has all kinds of crap around the landing area for the drive. But there were some strong par fours as well, such as the dogleg right 5th, and the great finishing hole up to the clubhouse.
So in all we finished with a 64, which I have heard on the grapevine was enough to take out the day and the winnings will be put straight through to the First Tee. But I reiterate Jamie's thoughts that today was second to none as far as hospitality goes, and a day we wont forget in a hurry!
After golf we headed to the city to stay with an old mate of mine from school, Brendon Lucas and his girlfriend Emma. We also nipped out for dinner, at their suggestion, to a local thai place with a chap by the name of Simon who works for Taylormade/Adidas to talk shop and about having them jump on board. Touch wood it goes well.
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