By Henry Peters.
Halls Gap Golf Club has a clubhouse you won’t soon forget – a near-century-old former shearing shed.
Once a farm, the club’s site has been home to the Mount Difficult Golf Course since the late 1990s and the shed’s interior preserves much of its past.
“That’s what they call a two-stand shearing plant,” club treasurer John Muller says pointing to the mechanism only a few feet away. “There [was] one shearer on the right hand side and one shearer on the left hand side.”
Muller and club vice president Neill McIntosh – a local bakery owner and operator – sit beneath a wooden plank which reads, “Welcome to Halls Gap the heart of The Grampians”, and was once the sign greeting motorists as they drove into town.
The clubhouse also has a few tables, a bar, kitchen, fireplace, scattered furniture, some Club honour boards and walls with a story to tell.
McIntosh remembers a clubhouse break-in the late 2000s when the offender(s) smashed a few windows and fled with the honesty box.
“They might have got 30 bucks,” he says.
The club later installed a motion sensor camera inside the main entrance which quickly paid dividends.
“About a fortnight later, this kid broke in, he opened up the door and it went ‘click’, took a photo of him straight away,” McIntosh says.
“He got one of the green mowers and drove it into Halls Gap, because he had his trailer backed up to a gutter, but it didn’t fit on his trailer so he just left it there.”
“They caught the fella.”
Known as Mount Difficult Golf Course, Halls Gap’s nine-holer is named after its stunning backdrop – the Mount Difficult Ranges – and the course can be traced to a meeting of six locals in July 1995 when the Golf Club’s initial committee was formed.
The committee raised $30,000, sourced dozens of smaller investments, purchased the land and commissioned the design of an 18-hole course by famous tour professional Bob Shearer who won 18 tournaments on the PGA Tour of Australasia in the 70s and 80s.
“They came up here and they were shown the site and they went to the Kookaburra [Hotel] and drank red wine until late and a week later [Shearer] sent back a first plan for the course,” Muller says. “They came back a second time and refined it a bit.”
Shearer and his team were paid for the design but the club relied on local volunteers to build the course and only nine holes opened for play in 1997.
Twenty three years later, the nine remaining holes have never been played; their outlines clearly visible on the club’s paddocks.
“All the greens are there, already got sprinklers on them, tee boxes, we just haven’t got people to look after it,” McIntosh says.
“Neil and I get the same amount of money we did 10 years ago: zero,” Muller says with a chuckle.
Muller and McIntosh spend countless hours each week mowing the nine existing greens, tees and any territory marked by the dozens of emus roaming the property while the kangaroos and wallabies keep the fairway grass short.
“We had a visitors book where [golfers] write in what they thought of the course, but it filled up so we didn’t get another one,” McIntosh says.
“Tourists love it, they love the kangaroos and emus.”
All day golf is only $10 and the club pulls in up to $20,000 annually from green fees; close to four times what they make from the subscriptions of 30-odd members.
Local sports leagues were cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic and McIntosh convinced almost a dozen Stawell footballers to join.
“They want to do something so they come out here and play a bit of golf.”
Halls Gap has shown its resilience since 2011 when it endured excessive flooding and two locust plagues which forced the replacement of several greens.
The club began holding its November annual tournament in 2013, won a $150,000 Victorian Government grant in 2016 for a new watering system and now offers hire clubs to visitors. To unlock the clubs, golfers need to ring any of the three mobile phone number listed on the honesty box to get the combination.
Green fee golfers must remember to put the hire sets back in their cage after the round and to watch out for the roos dashing across the two-kilometre dirt road out of Halls Gap Golf club.
Honesty Box Golf Courses of Western Victoria by Henry Peters and Hugh Peters is available at the website www.underthecard.com/shop