Originally published on The Australian

Ash Barty’s decision to skip the US Open tennis tournament has allowed the world No 1 player to polish her golf game, and help promote a knowledge precinct in the once sleepy hollow where she grew up.

The 24-year-old star is backing an audacious bid by Greater Springfield in Queensland to become Australia’s “Learning City”.

Barty says Springfield, 33km southwest of the Brisbane, is well on the way to achieving that goal with 11 schools, a university campus and a TAFE college. And expressions of interest are open for a nine-storey international school.

“Our little pocket of the world is booming,” she said. “It’s one of Australia’s fastest-growing towns.”

Few aimed for a higher education when Barty was growing up there.

Maha Sinnathamby, the Malaysian-born octogenarian chairman of the Springfield City Group, said the number of schools in the Learning City would double within two decades. He said the population of Greater Springfield recently passed 43,000, and he believed the town was on track to have 138,000 residents by 2036. That would likely make it one of the biggest inland cities in Australia, comparable with cities such as Toowoomba.

Springfield is Australia’s largest master planned community, and the 10th largest globally. It’s a kind of unexpected Pleasantville, with town squares and lakes, a Greg Norman-designed golf course, and, importantly, a rail link to central Brisbane.

While the University of Southern Queensland has a campus at Springfield, The Australian understands Monash University is keen to stake a claim there, as is the University of Queensland which has been offered a tranche of land beside the Mater Hospital, perhaps for a medical school.

Right now Barty is getting golf lessons from her boyfriend, Garry Kissick, a 28-year PGA trainee who is the “irrigation technician” at the Brookwater Golf and Country Club.

The locals delight in telling you the couple’s pet names for one another: “Handsome Boy”and “Baby”.

They met on the golf course and not far away from the golf links Barty is building her “forever home”.

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