A journey through Victoria’s Yarra Valley reveals premium cellar doors and highly acclaimed golf courses co-existing in picturesque surrounds.
The Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s most acclaimed, and oldest, wine-growing regions.
With its rich soils – first planted on in 1838 – and temperate climate, the valley has become synonymous with premium, award-winning wine featuring many classic varietals and specialising in Sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet blends.
There are more than 80 wineries (as well as a fine selection of renowned breweries and distilleries) scattered across the picturesque region, making it a haven for day-trippers and those seeking the ultimate long weekend getaway where you mix delicious beverages, five-star food and, for the golfers, a few rounds of golf.
High quality golf is a relative newcomer to the valley with some of the game’s most-acclaimed course designers only being drawn to the area during the past 25 years. Today, the region boasts a wonderful mix of nationally ranked layouts and highly regarded public access courses, making the Yarra Valley one of Victoria’s great golf destinations.
Heading east from Melbourne’s city centre, an easy 60-minute drive will have you in the heart of the valley where there is a smorgasbord of golf course choices within close reach of each other.
The closest to the city is The Heritage Golf & Country Club, which delivers high quality design and presentation across both of its 18-hole layouts.
Opened for play in 2000, the St John Course is the first private Jack Nicklaus ‘Signature’ course built in Australia and was named after the Order of St John of God Catholic religious order that formerly owned the land. It seems they left a slice of golfing heaven behind when they passed it on to The Heritage’s developers.
As the greatest golfer of the 20th century, The Golden Bear won 115 professional tournaments worldwide, including 18 major titles, using the right mix of power and strategy.
As a course designer, he brings these same attributes to the table and his St John layout is evidence of that. It is, however, important you tackle this course from the appropriate tee – Blue, White or Red – to fully understand the challenge Nicklaus was creating with each hole. In saying that, St John is still a healthy 6,670 metres from the back pegs.
Nicklaus is a great fan of designing holes where the tee is elevated above the fairway or green and also favours having at least one par-5 on his courses that is “definitely reachable with two excellent shots under almost any circumstances.”
The finest example of this is the 458-metre par-5 12th. The tee is perched high above the fairway. Water right is clearly visible, as is a deep fairway trap set just to the right of the middle of the fairway. The heroic player can try and needle his drive into the small landing area between the bunker and the water, therefore, shortening the route to the green and providing an eagle opportunity. Drives to the left of the bunker eliminate almost any chance, except for the prodigious hitter, of reaching the green in two.
The Heritage also boasts a second course, Henley, which was designed by Tony Cashmore in consultation with Nicklaus Design and is located on the north side of the Yarra River, which runs through the property.
The Henley is an inland links-style layout and offers a stark contrast to the American parkland-style St John course. Henley features predominantly rolling fairways, wild rugged bunkering and massive sloping greens.
It is a wonderful location. The vast river floodplain, with its ancient oxbows and billabongs, frame the holes of the opening nine as well as the final two holes. These holes were elevated above the wetlands during construction and have been shaped to create beautiful rolling fairways.
From the wetlands, the 5,944-metre par-72 (from the Blue tees) climbs gradually up a broad valley on the memorable par-5 13th hole to reach land perched high on a plateau where you will find the 14th and 15th holes. While the climb up the hill is slow, the par-4 16th is a dramatic drop from the tee to green. The steep descent really shortens the 447-metre hole that links the high holes with the remaining flat holes.
Under the country club’s new ownership, the presentation of both courses at The Heritage has improved dramatically in recent times, which better showcases the wonderful designs created by Nicklaus and Cashmore.
This is a private member’s club. However, guests of the adjoining Yarra Valley Lodge can take advantage of play and stay deals, while interstate and international golfers can enquire with the club for a limited tee time.
The Heritage’s nearest neighbour also lies beside the banks of the Yarra River and is home to the highest nationally ranked layout in the valley.
One of the golfing jewels in the valley’s crown is the Greg Norman-designed 27-hole layout – and nine-hole short course, Shark Waters – at The Eastern Golf Club, which opened for play in 2015.
In creating The Eastern’s layouts, Norman’s design team carefully considered the prevailing winds as well as the elevation changes within the property to route the layout in all directions. This gave rise to a host of memorable and fun holes, while also taking advantage of some fabulous views of the nearby Christmas Hills and beyond to the Great Dividing Range in the east and the Dandenongs to the south. Each loop of nine holes is routed to start and finish at the clubhouse, which offers commanding views over the entire course.
The fairways are generously wide with strategically located bunkering to challenge and reward the best placed shots. The bunkering is typical of the style Norman has employed at other course projects he has been involved in throughout the country, while the greens – covered in the smooth rolling T1 bentgrass – vary in shape and size throughout. The greenside bunkering combines with tightly mown couch surrounds to place a premium on approach shot accuracy.
There are three 18-hole combinations to play – the South (1-18), North (10-27) and East Courses (19-9) – with the South Course being rated No.54 in Golf Australia magazine’s Top-100 Courses ranking for 2022. The North Course finished just two spots outside the Top-100.
For mine, the South Course quite rightly is the pick of the combinations, as it covers some easy walking terrain as well as elevated ground where the holes follow the broad slopes that were there long before golf holes covered the landscape.
For pure aesthetics it’s hard to go past the 9th and 18th holes, which feature tees at the foot of the Dividing Range, with sweeping views over the course and surrounding farmland towards Lilydale and Coldstream. Both holes take advantage of a right-to-left sloping bowl, presenting a choice to either funnel your ball down the slope and be faced with a much shorter (but more challenging) second shot up a significant elevation, or play it safe out to the right and maintain your commanding position above the hole, albeit with a longer shot in.
Another trademark of Norman-designed layouts is the high quality of the par-3s. Two of the best at The Eastern are on the back nine of the South Course, with the 176-metre 13th particularly memorable, courtesy of a tee shot which skirts the right edge of a lake and must clear a beach-like bunker that runs the length of the left side of the green. The 163-metre 17th has an elevated green and bunkers short and to both sides making the putting surface appear smaller than it is as you stand on the tee. But there are ample landing areas to either the left or right if you take dead aim at the flag but don’t hit the perfect shot.
The Eastern Golf Club is a private members’ club, but interstate and international visitors, who are members of a golf club, are welcome to enquire about tee times. Guests staying at the adjoining Yering Gorge Cottages also have exclusive playing rights at The Eastern.
Driving away from the clubhouse at The Eastern, you can be in the car park of the neighbouring Yering Meadows Golf Club in about six minutes.
One of the first clubs to accept a property developer’s deal to relocate to the Yarra Valley was Croydon Golf Club. After 80 years on its site in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, the 47-hectare course was sold for $35.1 million and a replacement 27-hole course was built – at a cost of $20 million – on a 131-hectare site, 15 minutes’ drive away in the valley.
Course designer Ross Watson was commissioned and the first 18 holes – the Nursery Course – opened for play in June 2008. An additional nine holes, alongside the club’s 15-hectare walnut plantation, opened less than 12 months later.
The club was sold in 2016 to a property investor, who plans to enhance Yering Meadows with accommodation options as well as conference facilities.
The three combinations of 18 holes – the previously mentioned Nursery course (1-18), Valley course (10-27) and Homestead course (19-9) – cover a massive area that incorporates wetlands and more undulating topography west of the clubhouse.
Watson’s design at Yering Meadows is a good one that easily blends with the surrounding Yarra Valley landscape and the ranges to the north of the course.
On the Nursery course, the wetlands are a dominant feature of the layout and can be seen on every hole. Watson, however, has managed to route his holes successfully through the wetlands without making these water hazards too penal.
For mine, I really liked the Valley course combination (10-27). It is the shortest of the three 18-hole combinations at 6,336 metres from the Black tees, but to me it didn’t seem that much shorter … or easier.
It did, however, offer the greatest variety of holes. The front nine, again, works across generally flat terrain and is surrounded by wetlands, while the back nine features plenty of elevation changes between tee and green.
The trio of holes starting with the par-5 23rd are the highlight of this course. At 500-metres from the tips, the 23rd is cut into the side of a hill beneath one of two Walnut orchards flanking holes on the Valley course. A good drive will get some extra metres and bring the green much closer for big hitters. The second shot, from an elevated position, is then played down into a valley where the putting surface is guarded by water left and two bunkers – one right and another long.
Yering Meadows lies at the end of the Yarra Valley’s ‘Golf Avenue’, otherwise known as Victoria Rd, which runs north from the Maroondah Highway that links the region to the city. Yering Meadows, The Eastern and Gardiners Run golf course, all have entrances coming off Victoria Rd.
Gardiners Run – named after a cattle station of the same name that was established on the site by pastoralist John Gardiner in 1837 – is nearly a decade old having been created on the back of a land swap deal involving developer CSR and the original club, Chirnside Park Country Club.
Once the deal was successfully negotiated, Pacific Coast Design’s Phil Ryan got to work crafting a par-72 on its current site, which was previously used by CSR as a quarry.
Three lakes were created, most of holes are thickly tree-lined but are generally well away from the playing lines as the fairways are generous in width. Large bunkers punctuate your progress along most fairways and sand traps of varying sizes and depths protect all greens.
Now that the edges and surrounds of many holes have filled out with vegetation, it feels like the layout has been in the ground here for much longer.
The long par-4 18th has become widely regarded as a tough, but memorable, closing hole. The dogleg left of 384 metres has a crop of bunkers lying just right of the driving zone, but it is the approach that excites. With water wrapping around most of the green from front left, through the back and to the right, the best line into the angled green is from the right, near the fairway bunkers.
The last of the Yarra Valley golfing gems to be showcased here is also ranked among the country’s finest. RACV Healesville Country Club was listed at No.60 in Golf Australia magazine’s Top-100 Courses ranking, published in January this year.
RACV Healesville has only been nationally ranked since the redesign work of Mike Clayton was revealed in 2009. Since then, the little course nestled in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range has received rave reviews.
"Here’s proof that a good course doesn’t need to be long or a par-72, to be deserving of a spot on the Top-100 list." – Top-100 Courses ranking judge, DJ Loypur.
“RACV Healesville is not your average course; par-68 measuring just under 5,000 metres. The course possesses many holes of wonderful design. It is a layout focussing primarily upon fun and playability,” commented Top-100 Courses judge, Matt Mollica. “It is a unique, intelligent design. Despite its modest length, it demands a place in the upper echelon of the nation’s courses. It boasts many fine holes, which would be the envy of countless courses through the country.”
Australian touring pro and Top-100 judge D.J Loypur added: “Here’s proof that a good course doesn’t need to be long or a par-72, to be deserving of a spot on the Top-100 list.”
Clayton’s layout covers some nicely undulating land, which offers stereotypical Australian bushland vistas. The views of rolling hills in the distance and gums on either side of the fairways add to the layout’s visual appeal.
The course was designed with repeat member play in mind. The RACV member demographic encompasses a broad age range, and likely an even broader spread of golfing skill and frequency of play. The course measures 4,944 metres from the back markers (4,272m for women) and is a par-68. The fairways are generously wide and there are no forced carries, while the greens feature dramatic undulations and are a lot of fun to putt on. They’re playable for golfers of all standards, yet demand accuracy and respect from regular golfers trying to post a good score.
Clayton once wrote: “It’s 5,500 yards and the aim was to make a course where Geoff Ogilvy, his dad and his mum could play off the same tees and all really enjoy it. There are enough really fun shots on and around the greens for Geoff to enjoy it – as well as a couple of long 3s, short but interesting 4s and a couple of longish two-shotters to give him some difficult long shots.”
The shining lights of any round here are the 423-metre par-5 8th, the driveable (for some) 265-metre par-4 12th and the closing four holes. Among the closing quartet is most noticeably, the reachable par-5 15th, which features a creek fiendishly weaving through the fairway, and back around the right of the green. The 18th green, a boomerang-shaped putting surface with a bunker cut into its middle, is different and memorable.
RACV Healesville bucks the trend of modern course design and construction, where length is king and developers demand a 6,500-metre plus par-72 punctuated by dozens of bunkers and fairways bordered by long grass. Such layouts are also costly to build, and expensive to maintain and all too often they can be anything but fun when you spend five hours on the course and lose a bagful of balls.
But Clayton has created a course where there are just 38 bunkers and the fairways are wide, which reward correctly placed drives. Around the greens, short grass has been widely used, which adds to the premium placed on accuracy with your approach shots.
So, what does this all mean? The layout is challenging and great fun for players of all standards and a round here will only take you three and a half hours at the most.
RACV Healesville is private for members of Melbourne’s RACV City Club and their guests. However, resort guests are also able to play the course.
WHERE TO STAY
YERING GORGE COTTAGES
Yering Gorge Cottages, which overlook parts of The Eastern layout, offer 4.5-star cottage-style accommodation featuring separate living and bedroom areas, with a private deck. There are 13 self-contained cottages with one-, two- or four-bedroom configurations.
The cottages (pictured below) are located in a private nature reserve offering bushwalking trails and an abundance of wildlife that roam freely across the property including Eastern Grey kangaroos, wombats, as well as 85+ different species of birdlife.
The Eastern Golf Club has a stay and play package that starts from $519 per night in a one-bedroom cottage for two people. The package includes a continental breakfast hamper, wifi, car parking and a welcome amenity as well as 18 holes of golf per person and one golf cart.
Guests will also enjoy full use of the clubhouse facilities and driving range – which offers unlimited range balls –fitness centre and tennis courts during their stay. Golf bookings must be made in advance and are subject to available tee times.
Additional green fees charges are $95 per person for 18 holes; $55 per person for 9 holes and $35 per person for Shark Waters.
YARRA VALLEY LODGE
The 4.5-star Yarra Valley Lodge offers spacious and superbly appointed guest rooms, with at least half the rooms enjoying a view across The Heritage Golf & Country Club’s St John course.
All guests are welcome to enjoy golf at The Heritage and the clubhouse facilities usually reserved for members and their guests. Stay and Play packages including two rounds of golf on either the St John or Henley courses and an optional electric cart are available.
For accommodation details, contact: www.rydges.com/accommodation/melbourne-vic/yarra-valley-lodge
SIPS AT THE 19TH
From small boutique vineyards, distilleries and breweries to well-known estates, every taste is covered in the Yarra Valley.
Rochford has become renowned for creating memorable experiences through its entertainment, fine dining and classic local wines.
Handpicked, unrefined and unfiltered, Rochford wines reflect passion and creativity in their winemaking. With grapes grown sustainably on three diverse vineyards, Rochford wines capture the essence of each season and celebrate the diverse microclimates found in the Yarra Valley.
With multiple restaurants, cellar doors, function spaces, wedding options and music events; Rochford is one of the top wineries near Melbourne offering a one-stop Yarra Valley experience like no other.
You can’t miss for drinking quality with any Rochford Chardonnay, while the 2021 Rochford Pinot Noir and 2021 Rochford Estate Pinot Gris are a must try.
De Bortoli’s Yarra Valley Estate offers a range of tasting options from general tastings of their Yarra Valley wines, to gourmet tastings including most of their premium labels as well as carefully selected cheeses from its Cheese Room.
The Melba Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is outstanding or, if you’re after a ‘sticky’ experience, try their iconic Noble One (2018) Botrytis Semillon.
Domaine Chandon was established by French champagne house Moët & Chandon in 1986 and is dedicated to the production of méthode traditionnelle sparkling wine and premium quality, cool-climate still wines.
There are three cellar door experiences to choose from – tastings to masterclasses, between 20 and 55 minutes and $18 to $60. Then adjourn to the lounge bar for a glass of Chandon Rose or Vintage Brut and soak in the Yarra Valley view.
With vines first planted in 1838, Yering Station is proudly Victoria’s first vineyard. A jewel of the Yarra Valley, Yering Station produces world-class cool climate wines.
Housed in the original winery building circa 1859, Yering’s heritage cellar door and wine store allows visitors to be taken on a journey of their wines best suited to your palate and preference.
One of only two dedicated Rum distilleries in Victoria and the only Australian producer of High Ester Rum, Killik is a unique experience within Australia.
At their cellar door, nestled into the picturesque Sherbrooke Forest in Belgrave, you can experience all of their rums along with a range of delicious food options designed by their chef to compliment the drinks menu.
FOUR PILLARS GIN
Since launching in 2013, Four Pillars gins have received the highest accolades at spirit competitions around the world.
The Four Pillars Distillery was built in a former timber yard, on Healesville’s main street, and is home to four German sister-stills Wilma, Jude, Eileen and Beth.
The Distillery Door is open seven days a week, where guests can do a tasting of all the gins in the Four Pillars range or enjoy a multitude of gin drinks from the bar, including gin and tonic paddles.
WATTS RIVER BREWING
This small, independent, family-owned brewery located in Healesville is focused on producing high quality, simple but flavoursome beers to suit a diverse range of palates.
With five core range beers always on tap, plus regularly rotating small-batch creations, they draw inspiration from old-world Belgian ales as well as new world craft techniques to create a range of really drinkable beers.
Coldstream Brewery has beers and ciders on tap for tasting and to take away as well as short-run seasonal limited release beer, which is also available on tap.
Coldstream Brewery provides a friendly place to stop and relax at the gateway of the stunning Yarra Valley and is the perfect start or end to your journey through the region. Cheers!
WHERE TO PLAY
THE HERITAGE G&CC
Green fees: Members only but tee times available for guests of adjoining Yarra Valley Lodge ($100 18 holes, weekdays; $115 weekends) as well as interstate and international visitors.
THE EASTERN GC
Green fee: The Eastern (pictured above) is a private members’ club. Interstate and international visitors ($150 per round) can enquire about tee times. Yering Gorge Cottage guests have access to the course ($95 per round).
YERING MEADOWS GC
Green fees: $50 (18 holes, weekdays), $60 (weekends).
GARDINERS RUN GOLF COURSE
Green fees: $50 (18 holes, weekdays), $60 (weekends).
RACV HEALESVILLE CC (pictured below)
Green fee: For members of the RACV Club ($23, 18 holes, weekdays; $34 weekends) and their guests ($40 and $50 weekends). Non -members staying at the resort can enquire with the pro shop.