All good things take time and a tick over four years after the official opening of The Eastern Golf Club, the club is gaining acclaim for the Greg Norman design and its superb facilities.
The signs are everywhere. From the moment you step onto the 1st tee, Greg Norman’s connection to The Eastern Golf Club is clearly evident.
His presence extends far beyond his role as designer of the 27-hole layout as well as the adjoining par-3 nine-hole course, known as ‘Shark Waters’.
Five sets of tee markers in the shape of Norman’s Shark-brand logo can be found on every hole and there’s even a shark fin emerging from the water in the lake left of the 1st tee of the short course. On the course, the bold, expansive bunkering – a trademark look for Norman course designs worldwide – can be seen everywhere. It’s a long way from the club’s suburban roots at Doncaster.
It is nearly 12 years since The Eastern Golf Club membership voted in favour to sell their Doncaster property of 84 years to developers and relocate the club to Yering – 30km away in the heart of the Yarra Valley.
It was a further seven years before Norman cut the ribbon at the official opening of the new Eastern – a $70 million facility that fulfils golfer’s dreams on and off the golf course.
A roomy and luxurious clubhouse overlooks most of the property. From the moment you walk through the breezeway to the pro-shop and are exposed to the view, it’s hard not be impressed.
Built on the southern banks of the Yarra River with the tree-covered Christmas Hills and Dividing Range providing a scenic backdrop and pleasurable location to chase a little white ball for hours on end.
With the elevated clubhouse at its hub, the course fans out onto rich flood plains in every direction. There is the South Course (1-18), North Course (10-18 and 19-27) and the East Course (19-27 and 1-9). The Shark Waters par-3 nine is laid out between vast tracts of wetlands between holes on the North Course. The entire property takes full advantage of the natural undulations while other areas were raised during construction, presumably to protect the layout during periods of heavy rainfall and potential flooding.
All 27 holes were open for play by the end of 2016 but within 18 months it was apparent an extensive upgrade to the drainage, right across the property, was required to improve the turf quality and overcome water gathering in low-lying spots. Now completed, the benefits are already evident.
RIGHT: The 163-metre par-3 6th hole is well exposed to winds from all directions. PHOTO: Brendan James.
In playing all 27 holes for this review in November, the wide Grand Prix couch fairways were firm and fast running, which brought all the elements of Norman’s design and nuances of the terrain into play. This was vastly different to the soft fairways I had experienced the first time I played The Eastern in early 2016. That day was a bit of a slog with no run and little chance to get creative with bump and run shots or banking shots off the slopes on the greens.
My round in November was the complete contrast. It required strategy to find the best side of each fairway to leave a straightforward approach, which then needed to be landed in the right spot to avoid downhill putts or running off the greens. Questions were asked on every shot and this, ultimately, provided a far more enjoyable and memorable experience than the course had offered on my first visit.
The emphasis on strategy is the foundation of Norman’s creation at The Eastern and, as a result, the design perfectly walks the fine line between being challenging for the better player as well as being fair and playable for the mid- to high-handicapped player. This fine line becomes a leisurely stroll when the course is firm under foot.
“From the moment you walk through the breezeway to the pro-shop and are exposed to the view, it’s hard not be impressed.”
Norman has a keen eye for a good par-3 – something he may have picked up in his years working with Bob Harrison – and the selection at The Eastern is no different.
The 188-metre 13th is a particularly memorable one-shotter, courtesy of a tee shot that must carry the right edge of one of the course’s lakes as well as a massive bunker short and left. The ideal shot here is one that turns ever so slightly from right-to-left and aimed at the deeper, right half of the huge putting surface.
Similarly at the 163-metre 17th hole – where Norman struck the course’s maiden shot – an elevated green and bunkers short and to both sides makes the putting surface appear smaller than it actually is, with ample landing areas to either the left or right if you take on the flag and don’t quite execute the shot.
For pure aesthetics it was hard to go past the 9th and 18th holes, which feature tee areas at the foot of the Dividing Range, with sweeping views over the entire course and beyond to the surrounding farmland. 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.
As you might expect from one of the best drivers of the golf ball the game has ever seen, Norman’s design allows for the driver to be one of your club options on the tee of every par-4 and par-5. There is enough width on most of these holes to hit the big stick and keep well clear of any bunkers or water en route. But be mindful that this strategy might see you playing away from the ideal playing line to the flag of the day.
I normally hit driver everywhere, especially on softer courses, but for the 27 holes I played at The Eastern I actually started to think more about position and the ideal club to hit to reach that position in the fairway and have an easier approach shot.
I wasn’t worried about length (for the first time in a long time) as I plotted my way from one shot to the next. I can’t tell you how much fun that type of golf is to play and it has assured I will be heading back to The Eastern sooner rather than later.
LOCATION: 215 Victoria Road, Yering, Victoria 3770
CONTACT: (03) 9739 0110
DESIGNER: Greg Norman Golf Course Design.
SLOPE RATING: South Course: Black 130, Blue 128, White 122, Red 130, Yellow 120; North Course: Black 129, Blue 127, White 124, Red 127, Yellow 117; East Course: Black 128, Blue 127, White 120, Red 124, Yellow 117.
PGA PROFESSIONAL: Scott Barradell.
PLAYING SURFACES: Grand Prix couch (fairways), T1 bentgrass (greens).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Jay Infanti.
TEE TIMES: The Eastern is a private member club. Guests of members are welcome ($60 per round) as are accommodation guests of Yering Gorge Cottages ($95). Members of international and interstate golf clubs ($150) can apply for a visitor tee time, which are available Sunday to Tuesday and Thursday to Friday.
MEMBERSHIP: There are a wide variety of membership categories at The Eastern Golf Club with traditional membership options such as a five-, six- and seven-day playing categories, as well as flexible options such as introductory memberships, family, junior and social memberships. Visit www.easterngolfclub.com.au for more information including membership fees.
CORPORATE GOLF: Corporate members have full access and reciprocal playing rights at 25 clubs around Australia and six internationally, including in Japan, Singapore, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa and the USA. Corporate members have immediate access to the best available rate for Yering Gorge Cottages at any time with bookings made through the club.
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: Members have reciprocal playing rights at 31 clubs around Australia and 12 around the world. Visit the website for the full list.
ACCOMMODATION: Overlooking The Eastern course and nestled into the hillside, alongside the Yarra River, and with stunning views of the surrounding ranges, guests can relax on their wide balcony watching the kangaroos grazing, whilst enjoying a glass of local Yarra Valley wine.
All one- and two-bedroom cottages include a separate living area with floor to ceiling windows providing a stunning outlook of the surrounding nature reserve and wood heater for those cooler nights; fully equipped kitchenette; large private deck with barbeque and separate bathroom with a corner spa bath.
The five-bedroom cottage features a full-sized kitchen and separate recreation room – ideal for families and bridal parties.
Stay and play packages priced from $489 per night (two-night minimum stay Friday and Saturday nights) with tee times subject to availability are available through the club.