Royal Melbourne Golf Club (West Course)

Royal Melbourne, West course, par-three 5th – ‘magnificent!’, Brendan James

Golf is unique in that it allows its devoted followers – no matter how good or bad their swing – the opportunity to emulate the champions of their sport on the finest arenas the game has to offer. The finest arena we have in Australia is Royal Melbourne’s West course. It set the benchmark for golf course design in this country when it opened for play in 1931, and to this day it still inspires course designers who frequently attempt to replicate Royal Melbourne’s simple strategies and bold bunkering in their own creations.

The West course was created by the best design team ever assembled in Australia. The Royal Melbourne club paid a Scottish architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie, 1000 guineas to sail across in 1926 and suggest major changes to their existing course at Black Rock. It was a hefty fee. The club offset the cost by acting as agents for the visiting MacKenzie, who went on to inspect and offer design advice to 18 Australian golf clubs, plus another in Auckland en route to the United States.

At Royal Melbourne he was joined by Alex Russell, a club member and former Australian Open champion who was well-versed in MacKenzie’s design principles. Rounding out the team was Mick Morcom, Royal Melbourne’s head greenkeeper. Morcom had also read widely when it came to course architecture; MacKenzie described him as the best greenkeeper he’d ever encountered.

Upon finishing his design work on paper, MacKenzie departed Melbourne. He’d seen only the par-three 5th hole completed. Yet he had the utmost confidence in Russell and Morcom to correctly interpret his notes and sketches. The fact that Royal Melbourne’s West course remains entrenched among the world’s top 10 courses suggests they did a pretty good job.

The jewel in Australia’s golfing crown has become tarnished in recent years, as the condition of the playing surfaces on both the West and East courses went into serious decline on the back of a long drought and the employment of a difficult-to-maintain two-grass policy. The club has since dropped this policy and addressed its water issues. In early 2010 all West course fairways were converted to the hardier Legend couch grass. The putting surfaces on every hole shall also be replaced. By the time Royal Melbourne hosts the Presidents Cup in 2011, the quality of the surfaces should once again complement the brilliance of the design.

Three holes in particular figure prominently in the imagination, and form part of the composite course used for tournaments like the Presidents Cup. The 161-metre 5th is a beautiful par-three where anything less than the perfect tee shot will not be rewarded. You must hit across a valley and on to a wonderful green, set in a massive sand dune, with slick slopes and five menacing bunkers at its edges and a deep swale in front. Magnificent! The following hole, a 391-metre par-four, is another of the great holes of world golf. Its simple design – a wide dogleg-right fairway turns around a crop of bunkers and rises to a sloping green – is its strength. Nothing has been overdone here. It is the perfect hole for the landscape on which it sits.

Similar can be said of the two-shot 10th (played as the 8th on the composite course). At 279 metres, this doglegleft is the best short par-four in Australia. The direct line to the green is over a huge bunker; clear that, though, and you are still at the mercy of the vagaries of bounce thrown up by undulations 30 metres short of the green. Short lay-ups leave you no view of the putting surface, while getting too cute with a safe straight line will see you through the fairway and into the ti-tree. From there, par is improbable.

Memorable holes

4th, 5th, 6th 7th, 10th, 17th and 18th

Where to go

Cheltenham Rd, Black Rock, Victoria 3193

Book a round

(03) 9598 6755

www.royalmelbourne.com.au

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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