The Heritage Golf & Country Club (St John course)

The 9th at The Heritage – ‘mind over muscles’, Brendan James

Jack Nicklaus, the golfer, was the most powerful player of his generation and also its finest strategist, a man who could win a tournament based on smart play and at other times on pure heroics. Jack Nicklaus, the golf course architect, incorporates these same attributes into his designs. His second Australian signature course – the St John layout at The Heritage Golf & Country Club, east of Melbourne – rewards players who can think their way around a course and know exactly the right moment to be aggressive. To make your best score, Nicklaus once said, you must ‘map and then play your way through each hole most intelligently’. ‘For many years now,’ he went on, ‘that is how I have designed my courses. My No. 1 goal . . . is to make the player use his mind ahead of his muscles.’ Strategy is the order of the day at The Heritage. But to fully understand the challenge Nicklaus was creating with each hole, it is important that you tackle the course from the appropriate tee. From the championship tees, The Heritage is a lengthy 6667 metres. These tees were created for the cream of golfers, demanding brute strength as well as brains to test par.

The gold tees offer a layout of 6378 metres, a stern but fair test of the club golfer. There are three more tees – blue, white and red – set at shorter distances to suit all levels of player. Nicklaus presents five teeing grounds at each hole because, as he puts it: ‘No one in golf forces anyone else to bite off more than he can comfortably chew.’

After a gentle opening par-four, the examination of skill begins at the 2nd hole. At 399 metres from the gold tees, this par-four calls for an accurate drive to a fairway sitting diagonally from the tee. The further right your tee shot lands, the shorter your approach to the green. There is a catch, though. This right side of the fairway slopes steeply into rough, bordered by a large lake. The lake cuts the fairway in two, short of the green, which lies diagonally to the fairway and is guarded by six amoebalike shaped bunkers. The good golfer ideally requires a left-to-right shaped drive and a right-to-left shaped approach shot to even entertain breaking par here. The best par-three is the round’s penultimate hole. The 171-metre 17th is perched high above several back nine holes, just inside the boundary of the highest residential viewing points that look out over the course. Players with the ability to hit a high, left-to-right tee shot can eliminate the deep bunkers short of the green. But watch out for two more bunkers – one left, another right – at the back.

Before or after your round, take some time to drink in the view from the front of the impressive clubhouse. The different shades of green – lush, strip-cut couch fairways; fast-running bent-grass greens; long, dark fescue rough – are clearly defined. The white sandy bunkers present yet another stark colour contrast, as do the various shades of brown on the surrounding hills of the Yarra Valley. Colours aside, the presentation of the layout is superb and complements Nicklaus’s five-star design. The Heritage Golf & Country Club is a private members’ club, but access to the St John and neighbouring Henley course is available for guests staying at the adjoining hotel.

Memorable holes

2nd, 8th, 9th, 11th, 12th and 17th

Where to go

Cnr Hughes & Yarraview Rds, Wonga Park, Victoria 3115

Book a round

(03) 9760 3322

Where to stay

The Sebel Heritage Yarra Valley is a luxury boutique hotel located next to the clubhouse. It offers playand- stay packages for visiting golfers.

Before/after your round

With more than 90 wineries scattered through the Yarra Valley, it is easy to sample Australia’s fi nest pinot noir and sparkling wines. Balgownie Estate, De Bortoli, Domaine Chandon, McWilliam’s and Rochford are a must for any visitor.

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