Federal Golf Club – a review

Federal Golf Club Canberra, intertwined with a city

Federal Golf Club is one of the best golf courses in Canberra. At the last Australian Golf Digest top 100 rankings it improved 8 spots to No.80 .It’s placement at Red Hill in a hanging, bushland valley, just a mile away from the hurly- burly of the Federal Parliament, gives it a sanctuary feel. Many fine players have honed their game here but it also has a deep history with the city of Canberra, being the oldest golf club in city.

Kangaroos at the par 3 12th

A history that starts with a new city

Federal Golf Club started in 1933 and was a nine hole layout with 6 holes enclosed within the Acton Racetrack on the northern bank of the Molonglo River. Acton was the administrative heart for the building of the new capital and it was also a sports precinct. The club membership was mainly blue collar, maintenance and building workers and the course  stared across the waters of the Molonglo at the newly formed Canberra Golf Club (eventually to become Royal Canberra). Canberra Golf Club was the home of the policitans, senior public servants and the growing professional class. It occupied the south bank of the river near the Hotel Canberra which is now the Hyatt. Originally Federal tried to keep up appearances with it’s higher class cousin across the water by calling itself  “The Federal Capital Territory Golf Club.” The Territory Administrator suggested politely that should choose a “less pretentious name”. The name was promptly shortened.  This division between north and south of the river is still alive today with many Canberrans identifying whether they are northside or southside.

Federal golfers had to deal with nearby Kaye’s farm and their sheep which ran willingly across the greens. They had to be protected through wire fences which players had to chip over when they were playing. The club grew and it become evident that a new site was going to be needed to be found. In 1946 when the unexpected decision was made to grade and redesign the racetrack, the issue was forced. The current site at Red Hill was chosen because of its potential and it offered a security of tenue. A band of 15 hardy members carved the course out of the valley with their bare hands, giving up their weekends and annual leave. The first nine holes was designed by James Herd Scott with the second nine finished in 1951. The layout was redesigned in 1967 by Prosper Ellis, an A grade player  who also designed Belmont, Windsor, Woollahra and Camden Valley Golf Courses.

Although it is a spectacular valley, it agronomically difficult place to grow as there is shelf of rock which runs under the surface (at times only 1 m down) and down the valley, draining water from the topsoil.

8th Hole Federal GC

A new beginning...

A few years ago the Federal Golf Club was in trouble. Membership and revenue were down. The golf course condition had been crippled by difficult growing conditions.Plans for a sell off of land and a development of a retirement village in the middle of the course had bogged down. With a lot of golf experience from Asia, golf administrator Anthony Sinclair was brought in as General Manager to “fix the business.” Anthony brought in a new team and with the use of COVID lockdowns ,much needed long term maintenance work was done on the golf course. Partly due to COVID and an improved atmosphere within the club, membership has doubled and the course is in the best condition it has been in years.  Recently Anthony was awarded the 2021 NSW/ACT Management Professional of the Year by the PGA of Australia.

A twisting, testing layout

Federal is a hilly course. It is probably the course we recommend to clients on a weekly tour to save their legs and cart it. However it not all up and down. It negotiates the slopes with a twisting layout where there is a premium on choosing the right line off the tee. The fairways are Santa Ana Couch and are bouncy. You may get some of the longest drives of your life at Federal but you can just as easily bounce yourself into a desert like waste. For golf at Federal is different from any other course in Canberra. It is a harder, flintier type of golf. The greens are always  hard. It is like playing at Royal Melbourne and this is not target golf. 

17th hole and the Tidbinbilla Range behind

Federal has also a set of the most demanding par 3’s and 4’s in the capital. The 9th and 18th are long uphill par 4’s back to the clubhouse which require  a long carry and a precise line. If I par the 18th ( the toughest par 4 in Canberra) you don’t see me around. I am out doing a victory lap! The 154m uphill 8th is arguably the best par 3 in Canberra. With it’s long, narrow bunkered green it can be a short iron or a long iron. The par 5’s at Federal are where you can pick up shots but a poorly played tee shot can easily have you fighting. It can be like playing at Augusta National here where a draw can be handy off the tee but the ability to hit a high fade can see you holding the greens.  The club has held one of the top amateur tournaments in Australia for decades, the Federal Amateur and have had players like Jason Day and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson try their luck but have not won here.

It is has an expansive clubhouse with a verandah that overlooks the course and the  Tidbinbilla and Brindabella Ranges. The food is excellent  where it was recently given a 4.5 plate rating by Restaurant and Catering Australia. A trip to Federal should always be included in Capital Bucketlist tour with us as it adds to the rich tapestry that is golf in Canberra. You should just put it down.

Sources: Canberry Tales-an informal history   G. A. Mawer

The History of Federal Golf Club- The Federal Golf Club

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