The Hunter Valley, only 2 hours to the northwest of Sydney, is largely renowned for its wines and gastronomic fare. The lifestyle match that is golf and wine has certainly been a drawcard for Sydney folk thanks to the creation of The Vintage in 2003.
Designed by Greg Norman in collaboration with Bob Harrison the site is surrounded by bountiful vineyards, quality wineries and rolling hills. This gorgeous site however was not typically suited to course design, with a very challenging clay base and topography. Instead of battling the diverse landscape features by moving colossal amounts of land, Norman and Harrison simplistically allowed contours of the land to dictate design. This ensured The Vintage is blessed with a real Australian bush feel.
As you start your round, you are encased in open bushland. The diversity of the site is quickly apparent as it swings down past natural creeks, gullies and forest areas. Charmingly local vineyards sit adjacent in wait for your post-golf visit. The front 9 glides through the undulating landscape, whereas the back 9 features far more wastelands and wetlands. All attributes combined probably see the front side as more demanding to score, however the closing stretch on the back-side features pockets of creative genius sure to invigorate the most discerning of players.
Norman was renowned as one of the straightest of the long hitters and a cluster of solid driving holes start the journey at the 2nd. Elbowing down and to the right through a funnel of Casuarina trees, an approach confidently struck should negotiate a creek that protects a small putting target. The robust 6th is another strong driving hole and its considerable green is nestled obscured behind clumps of kangaroo grasses. Most of the bushland gum tree landscape presents in the first third of the course, the design philosophy seemingly to drop holes into the site with minimal removal of the abundant natural landscape. Consequently, the landing areas are fairly tight, however you get to open the shoulders far more on the inward half.
Gullies, creeks and small ponds dictate the course management that should be employed when tackling the more expansive back 9. Players are exposed to this immediately at the long par 5 10th, a downhill tee shot aimed toward a lake that is followed by an approach to a cleverly positioned green sitting atop a high ridge of clay.
The strong par 4 11th typifies the rural splendour of the course with a raised tee ground holding a view to an ample fairway placed across a natural wasteland. Lurking innocently to the right, a small creek catches the eye and subliminally forces you further left creating a much longer more difficult 2nd. This approach is played over a huge ridge that obscures the green which is also protected on the right by the same creek you sought to avoid from the tee.
Design team Norman and Harrison surely would have toyed with the notion of diluting the affect of the unusual natural features, however their addition makes the course a quirky if not substantial test. The bunkering is largely classical in style, enveloping many greens but used minimally as fairway hazards. Strategy on most of the driving holes is dictated by the fall and flow of the land rather than the use of penal fairway sand.
The Vintage is a fine championship layout that members and guests will grow to love as they explore its variation. Measuring 6,310 metres from the tiger tees, it is easily long enough for the most accomplished player, yet playable from shorter tees for higher handicap players. Without doubt the best course in the Hunter region, be sure to experience it along with a glass or two of vino!