Royal Melbourne Golf Club (East Course)

Toughest of endings: Royal Melbourne, East course, 18th hole, Brendan James

Dr Alister MacKenzie was long gone from Royal Melbourne and construction of his West course was in full swing when the idea of a second course was mooted. Two plots of land east of the main site at Black Rock had become available. The club’s members decided to go ahead with this second layout, to be known as the East course, and Alex Russell was given the task of designing it. Covering three parcels of land, the East course is played in a single loop away from the clubhouse. It requires golfers to cross several roads during their round. This was one factor that led to the formation of a composite course, combining 12 West course holes with six from the East, in 1956. All 18 holes of the composite are played within the boundaries of the ‘home paddock’.

The East course lacks the beautiful rolling terrain that is a trademark of the West course, and over the years suburbia has encroached upon its edges, detracting a little from the visual pleasure of Russell’s design. But the simplicity of the risk-and-reward options is textbook MacKenzie, and the first-class routing and use of the land stamps this as Russell’s finest work.

Highlights of a round here are the seven East course holes that fall within Royal Melbourne’s main property. They cover the most interesting terrain, with Russell’s creative touches making for some world-class holes. If the East course were the only course it would attract far higher acclaim. Instead, as with St Andrews in Scotland, where the New course sits alongside the famous Old course, the East course is rated less highly than perhaps it should be simply because the layout next door is so damn good.

Opening proceedings is a delightful short par-four of 304 metres. It is a deceptive little hole played over the crest of a hill that nonetheless offers the smart player a birdie chance from the outset. A drive to the left half of the fairway will leave a pitch into a small and treacherous tiered green. The green is firm, and any approach shot that is less than perfect will be deflected into a nearby swale or bunker.

The first par-three, the 184-metre 4th, is a difficult proposition involving an uphill tee shot to a green that is tilted away from your approach. Knowing which club to choose from the tee is tricky. The preferred shot shape here is slightly right to left, threading your ball between two deep bunkers left and a further two to the right. An arguably superior par-three presents itself later: the 153-metre 16th is attractive and well-bunkered, widely regarded as one of Royal Melbourne’s best oneshotters. The real test comes around the green. Getting out of the bunkers is one thing; holing putts on the sloping surface is quite another. This hole is left off the composite course because it is of similar length to the 5th and 7th holes, and the long 4th on the East is preferred.

Taking you back to the clubhouse is the 395-metre, par-four 18th, perhaps the toughest closing hole in Australian golf, at least at tournament level. It doubles as the final hole of the composite course – and for good reason. It can be a brute, especially in unfavourable wind conditions, when even the biggest hitters will need to hit a long approach shot into a green surrounded by a sea of sand. The green is stunning to look at, ringed by six massive bunkers, with clumps of tall native grasses around their edges capable of swallowing balls forever.

Royal Melbourne is a private members’ club but golfers from overseas or interstate are welcome during the week, subject to course availability. A letter of introduction from the secretary of the visiting player’s home club is required.

Memorable holes

1st, 2nd, 3rd, 12th, 16th, 17th and 18th

Where to go

Cheltenham Rd, Black Rock, Victoria 3193

Book a round

(03) 9598 6755

Where to stay

Dingley International Hotel, 8 km east of Royal Melbourne and in the heart of the sandbelt, is an excellent base from which to explore the courses of the area

Before/after your round

Head into the city and walk the Golden Mile, where you will learn about some colourful characters of yesteryear and see how gold shaped Melbourne’s early architecture. Walking tours depart daily from Federation Square.

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