Melbourne’s Riversdale Golf Club is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and is making significant investments in its future as it prepares for the next 125 years.
Originally known as the Surrey Hills Golf Club and based at Mont Albert, Riversdale moved to Camberwell before the club’s professional, Jock Young, laid out the original course on its current site.
With a new railway line planned to take part of the club’s land, Australian Open Champion and course architect, Alex Russell, was engaged to design a new course. Russell’s creation officially opened for play in 1930 with a match between amateurs Ivo Whitton and Mick Ryan and professionals Joe Kirkwood and the legendary Walter Hagen.
Some 88 years later, Russell’s original layout remains, on the whole, largely unchanged with the exception of the bunkers, which former Riversdale assistant professional and five-time Open champion Peter Thomson converted to pot-style traps in 1994.
The par-72 has stood the test of time and continues to host Australia’s second oldest 72-hole amateur championship, The Riversdale Cup. This speaks volumes for Russell’s work, which remains an enjoyable test of every aspect of your game, despite measuring under 6,000 metres.
The Riversdale Cup, which is now the longest running amateur event in the world staged annually by a private club, boasts an impressive lists of past competitors. Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Geoff Ogilvy, Sarah Kemp, Nikki Garrett, Aaron Baddeley and Golf Australia’s own Mike Clayton have teed up in the event, which has earned club a reputation as “the cradle of amateur golf in Australia.”
Standing on the par-3 opening tee at Riversdale, many of the design principles and visual features consistent throughout the course are laid out before you.
The long, uphill hole has water short left of the elevated green and the variety of grasses used for the short cut surfaces and surrounds offer a stunning contrast of colour, particularly during the summer months. As is the case on the majority of the other nine holes where water is present, the hazard is only in play for a well and truly mis-hit shot.
The blend of northern hemisphere and native Australian trees found across the Riversdale property deliver a stunning variety of colours at all times of the year, making the views from the refurbished Riversdale clubhouse one of the highlights of any visit.
Beyond the difficult 1st hole, the next trio of holes are far gentler, with two par-4s measuring under 350 metres (a common theme throughout) and the short par-3 3rd. This allows you to ease your way into the round and perhaps even pick up a birdie or two.
Upon reaching the par-4 5th, however, Russell’s design begins to show its teeth, with the 380-metre par-4 ranked the hardest hole on the course. The fairway, which is blind from the tee, bottlenecks to no more than 10 metres wide in parts and the green, is raised above the fairway, which makes the approach difficult to judge.
Back-to-back par-5s come next and, again, offer chances to get some shots back. But the 6th and 7th are far from pushover holes, with cambered fairways, a feature of the course, sending slightly off-centre drives into the rough, while the greens are set high above the lowest point of each hole.
Both par-5 greens are surrounded by mounding and drop offs, as well as deep bunkers. Any player missing the green is faced with multiple options and challenges to secure par, which is another of the consistent themes running through Russell’s design.
Closing out the opening nine are two of my favourite holes on the course. The downhill 8th and uphill 9th play alongside one another and each displays the risk and reward strategy of the design, which has unquestionably evolved and is perhaps slightly different than the architect intended due to modern equipment advances.
The slight dogleg right 8th plays shorter than its listed 352 metres from the back tees. The densely tree-lined fairway makes picking a playing line difficult. Hitting driver and getting as close to the green as possible might seem like the best option, but a shorter club hit to the left half of the fairway is the smarter play for longer hitters. This takes the large drop off and treacherous bunker long and left of the putting surface – both with the ability to quickly derail a good round – out of play for their second shot.
The par-4 9th again offers a choice from the tee. Long hitters can take on the dogleg right and small bunker on the inside corner to set-up a short pitch to the elevated green. But the fairway slopes hard to the right and an approach played from the rough will make hitting it close to the hole difficult, with the 9th green typically among the firmest on the course. Taking a conservative line from the tee to the left half of the fairway is the more prudent play.
Starting the back nine, the 10th measures just 251 metres with a green surrounded by water and a fairway scattered with pot bunkers. There is little reward for taking on the green from the tee, which makes this par-4 the weakest to be found at Riversdale.
However, it doesn’t take long for Russell’s design nous, which was enough to convince Dr Alister MacKenzie to make him his Australian design partner, to be on full display again as the holes begin to offer players a wide range of shot options with a variety of clubs.
The dogleg left 12th is arguably the most enjoyable of the short par-4s on the property, with an aggressive and conservative option again on offer from a tee set below the fairway. With the left side of the fairway heavily tree-lined, a long iron from the tee is more than enough to leave an approach from inside 100 metres to the green perched on the highest point of the property. The putting surface features subtle folds that can make it tricky to get your approach close, depending on where the pin is located.
The side-by-side par-5 13th and 15th holes once again offer the chance to improve your score, before the final three holes provide a final test of your mettle if you have a good score going.
The downhill narrow fairway of the 16th hole requires an accurate and long drive before a second shot, which is best approached by landing short and running up to the green set well below the fairway. This will take the ‘worst miss’, being long of the putting surface, out
The 187-metre penultimate hole is the final of Riversdale’s strong collection of par-3s that will typically require four different clubs despite three holes offering similar visual challenges from the tee and, from which, four pars is a more than acceptable result.
The 18th tee offers a final picturesque outlook across the course to the clubhouse, as well as one last choice of whether to take driver and challenge the 10-plus bunkers or to lay back off the tee and trust your approach play to set-up a birdie chance on the course’s true rolling greens.
Indeed the quality of the Riversdale’s greens is real feature, as they run smooth and quick.
And while the conditioning is impressive, the true standout is how well Russell’s 1930 design has stood the test of time, which is a credit to both the designer and proud membership, who have ignored the trend of altering their course to match the modern power game of the elite player.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that Riversdale, the second oldest golf club in one of the greatest golf cities in the world, would buck such a trend and offer a memorable golfing experience. And because it has done so, Riversdale remains a significant piece of Australian golf history that continues to offer a varied and highly enjoyable test of golf.
LOCATION: 200-280 Huntingdale Road, Mount Waverley, VIC, 3149.
CONTACT: (03) 9807 1411.
DESIGNERS: Alex Russell (1930), Peter Thomson (1994, bunkers), Neil Crafter and Paul Mogford (ongoing).
SLOPE RATINGS: 129 (blue), 129 (white), 127 (green), 130 (red women), 111 (yellow women).
PLAYING SURFACES: Santa Ana couch fairways, Poa/Bent greens, Wintergrass and Kentucky bluegrass.
GREEN FEES: $130 for unaccompanied interstate and overseas visitors. A letter of introduction is required.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Travis Scott.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: John Horvath, Euan Walters and Sam Hingeley.
MEMBERSHIP: Riversdale is a private club and offers a range of membership options including Ordinary (full), Intermediate and Mid-Week, which are all broken down further into in a variety of age categories, as well as offering Country, Junior and Young Adult memberships. Seven-Day membership is currently open. Details are available through the club’s website.
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: Victoria: Green Acres GC, Kew GC, Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, Southern GC, Spring Valley GC, Woodlands GC. ACT: Yowani CC. NSW: Avondale GC, Bonnie Doon GC, Castle Hill CC, Pennant Hills GC. NT: Alice Springs GC. QLD: The Brisbane GC, Sanctuary Cove G&CC, Surfers Paradise GC. SA: Blackwood GC, The Grange GC. TAS: Kingston Beach GC. WA: Cottesloe GC, Western Australian GC.
FUNCTIONS: Having had a refurbishment completed in 2010, the historic clubhouse at Riversdale offers picturesque views over the course and is the perfect venue for any private function including weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. The club caters for bookings of 40-plus people, with functions available for members and non-members alike.