Golf is a truly unique sport in that it allows its devoted followers – no matter how good or bad their swing is – the opportunity to try and emulate the champions of the 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 the modern course designers to try and emulate the strength of its simple strategies and bold bunkering into their own creations.

The West course was created by the best design team ever assembled in this country. The Royal Melbourne club paid Scottish architect Dr Alister MacKenzie 1,000 guineas to travel to Australia in 1926 and suggest major changes to their existing course at Black Rock.

MacKenzie was joined on site at Royal Melbourne by Alex Russell – a member of the club and a former Australian Open champion, who was well read on MacKenzie’s design principles. Completing the team was Mick Morcom, Royal Melbourne’s head greenkeeper. Morcom, who was also well read on course architecture, was described by MacKenzie as the best greenkeeper he had ever encountered.

Having finished his design work on paper, MacKenzie left Melbourne having only seen the par-3 5th hole completed. The Scot had the utmost confidence that Russell and Morcom would be able to correctly interpret his notes and sketches. The fact that Royal Melbourne’s West course remains entrenched among the top-10 courses in the world suggests Russell and Morcom did a brilliant job.

Green fee: $300 (Interstate guests). Must have a Golflink handicap less than 27 for men and 36 for women.

Kingston Heath GC. PHOTO: Gary Lisbon/Golf Select.


Kingston Heath is well-established among the best courses in Australia and is Melbourne’s second-highest ranked course in the World’s Top-100.

The ‘Heath’ has been squeezed into a small area and across relatively flat terrain, yet its design is so impressive despite covering almost half the amount of land of most modern layouts.

Sydney-based professional and course designer Dan Soutar routed the original layout in 1925 and created the entire course starting from the outstanding 130-metre par-3 10th hole that lies right at the heart of the property. The genius of Soutar’s routing is that seven other holes surround this diminutive offering, a factor which has undoubtedly led Kingston Heath to become a popular tournament venue for spectators.

The creativity and strength of Soutar’s routing in such a confined space is only outdone by the bunkering, which was added to the layout by Dr Alister MacKenzie and masterfully constructed by Mick Morcom, the course superintendent who brought MacKenzie’s Royal Melbourne sketches and masterplan to life.

MacKenzie thought Soutar’s layout, although long for the time at 6,200 metres, was excellent but suggested one important change – that the then blind par-4 15th be turned into an uphill par-3 with bunkers covering 75 percent of the route to the green. MacKenzie’s addition is today regarded as one of the finest, if not the finest, one-shot holes in Australia.

Green fee: Upon application.

Royal Melbourne East Course. PHOTO: Gary Lisbon/Golf Select.


Dr Alister MacKenzie had long gone from the Royal Melbourne site and construction of his design was in full swing when the idea of a second course wad first mooted.

The concept was raised when two plots of land east of the main Black Rock site became available. The membership decided to go ahead with the second layout, to become known as the East course, and Alex Russell was given the task of designing the layout.

Covering three parcels of land, the East course is played in a single loop away from the clubhouse and demands that golfers cross several roads during the round. This is one factor that led to the formation of the first Composite course in 1956, combining 12 West course holes and six from the East. All 18 holes of the original, and subsequent incarnations of the Composite, are played within the boundaries of the ‘home paddock’.

The East course doesn’t have the beautiful rolling terrain that is a highlight of the West course and over the years the encroaching of suburbia to the edges of the eastern property have marginally detracted from the visual pleasure of Russell’s design. The simplicity of the risk-and-reward options is text book MacKenzie but the routing and use of the land is first class and stamps this as one of Russell’s finest works. In recent years, American course designer Tom Doak has advised the club on changes to the East Course and these have generally been really well received.

The seven East layout holes contained within Royal Melbourne’s main property are the highlights of the round. They cover the best terrain and Russell’s creative touches here have produced some world class holes. These holes, combined with the remainder of the East course, would be far more acclaimed if it was the only layout here. As is the case with the New course at St Andrews in Scotland, which sits alongside the famed Old course, the East is not rated as highly as it possibly should be simply because the layout next door is so damn good.

Green fee: $300 (Interstate guests). Must have a Golflink handicap less than 27 for men and 36 for women.

Victoria GC. PHOTO: Gary Lisbon/Golf Select.


Victoria is acclaimed worldwide as a fantastic shot-makers course where strategy always wins out over brute strength.

This is probably why the club has produced so many fine players over the years including Peter Thomson, Doug Bachl and Geoff Ogilvy.

Who actually designed the course was a mystery for many years. For decades it was thought the driving force behind the formation of the club, William Meader, and the founding captain, Oscar Damman, were solely responsible for the creation of the course, which opened for play in 1927. They did lay out the holes across the beautifully undulating terrain but the bunkering plan was undertaken by a third party – one Dr Alister MacKenzie.

MacKenzie was working on the design of Royal Melbourne’s West course across the road when approached by Meader to have a look at the Victoria layout. Impressed by what he saw he recommended a few hole changes and drafted a plan for the bunkering. An aerial photograph of the layout taken in 1934 shows the magnificence of MacKenzie’s bunkering work, which sadly became obscured or lost over the decades because of overplanting, the extensive spread of Ti-tree and growth of huge Cypress Pines.

In 1995, the club recognised the course had lost some of its star quality because of overgrown areas across the layout and Mike Clayton was commissioned to consult the club on recapturing the essence of the original layout.

Today, much of the original design that was lost after World War II, was recaptured with the Clayton redesign. There are now classic, memorable holes scattered right across the layout but the greatest concentration of exciting golf is on the back nine where the undulating terrain gives rise to a fantastic variety of shots and strategies.

Green fee: Upon application for interstate and overseas guests.