A multi-million dollar renovation of one of Australia’s finest courses is set to propel it into the consciousness of discerning golfers worldwide.
Victoria Golf Club is a fantastic shot-makers course, where strategic play can compete, and often win, over brute strength.
This is probably why the club has produced so many fine players over its history. The Honourable Michael Scott was a member when he won the first Australian Open back in 1904. Peter Thomson was a member when he won his five Open Championships, while fellow Victoria Pennant team member, Doug Bachl, was the 1956 British Amateur champion. Club member Geoff Ogilvy won the 2006 US Open and more recently Gabi Ruffels claimed the US Women’s Amateur title.
It is safe to say Victoria is a golfer’s golf course (if there is such a thing) – a place where good golfers have their skills tested, and the rest of us enjoy the beauty of the walk and the chance to experience world-class playing surfaces while staying out of the sand.
There is plenty of competition offering similar, with Royal Melbourne across the road and the likes of Kingston Heath, Yarra Yarra, Metropolitan, Commonwealth, Woodlands and Huntingdale all within a short drive away.
Thomson, a life member, once said of Victoria: “Some clubs have a special character that sets them apart. It is not necessarily the quality of the course, or the accommodations of the buildings that distinguishes them. It is more essentially the membership, past, and present, and the file of achievements over such a period of decades that creates such a tradition. Victoria Golf Club is such a club.”
He’s right. There is something about Victoria that seduces your golfing senses from the moment you walk by the bronze statue immortalising Thomson en route to the pro shop. ‘Mr Five Times’ is captured in his follow-through overlooking the 1st fairway, seemingly keeping watch over players heading out for a round on his beloved Victoria – a course with an incredibly rich history.
The club, formed in 1903, moved to the current site in Cheltenham in 1926. Club founder William ‘Billy’ Meander was a driving force behind the move and, along with Club Captain, Oscar Damman they laid out the holes across the beautifully undulating terrain. But the bunkering plan was undertaken by a third party.
RIGHT: There’s more than one way to birdie the opening hole. Avoiding the sand from the tee is a good start. PHOTO: Brendan James.
As luck would have it, one Dr Alister MacKenzie was in the neighbourhood at that time.
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.
Nearly six decades later, an aerial photograph of the layout taken in 1934 was discovered showing the magnificence of MacKenzie’s bunkering, and revealing how the years had not been kind to his work as some bunkers had become 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 of the layout and Mike Clayton was commissioned to consult the club on recapturing the essence of the original layout. Using the aforementioned aerial photograph, Clayton spent most of the next 15 years tweaking aspects of the layout.
“It was an extraordinary course when it was built,” Clayton says. “Much of that great work was lost after World War II, however, with most of the bunkers turned into round pits. Much of its flair was lost and it was clearly to the detriment of the course.”
Clayton’s work elevated Victoria once again.
Fast forward to 2018 and plans were tabled for another major renovation – this time by the firm Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking & Mead (OCCM) – with the greens being the major focus. Victoria was the last remaining club in the Melbourne Sandbelt that still had most of its original greens. The decision was made to convert all the predominantly poa annua putting surfaces to Pure Distinction – a new strain of creeping bentgrass – and increase the number of pin positions each green could accommodate. The results are outstanding.
Considering the original greens were built in an era where putting speeds were no higher than eight on the stimpmeter, some of the steeply contoured greens – like those found on the 6th, 11th and 13th holes – were halved in overall pitch to allow for the faster rolling bentgrass. The surface area of most greens was also increased by extending the putting surfaces right to the edge of bunker lips, a practice synonymous with Sandbelt golf.
The changes to the greens have added another level of strategy by allowing pins to be tucked closer to bunkers, further emphasising the importance of playing an approach from the correct position in the fairway.
There are classic, memorable holes scattered across the layout but the greatest concentration of exciting golf is on the back nine where the undulating terrain gives rise to a greater variety of shots and strategies.
The 390-metre par-4 12th is a dogleg to the right that plays down to the fairway from a high tee. The corner of the dogleg was once protected by three round shallow traps that posed little threat to anyone, but today there is a large bunker that transitions into a vast tract of sandy wasteland. The new green features bunkers all on the left edge, so the best side to approach the green – especially to any flag in he left half – is from the right near the sandy wasteland. Players hitting left from the tee have few options but to play for the wide expanse of putting surface to the right.
“The changes to the greens have added another level of strategy by allowing pins to be tucked closer to bunkers, further emphasising the importance of playing an approach from the correct position in the fairway.”
Many experts point to the 15th as being the finest hole at Victoria and one of the best short par-4s in Australia. Measuring just 297 metres from the championship markers, it presents players with some intriguing choices. The bunkering starts down the left side of the hole, about 180-metres from the tee, and runs all the way to the green. Players can, however, choose to lay-up short of the sand, leaving a shot of about 90 metres. Big hitters with a perfect running draw will find the green, however a bunker 20 metres short leaves anyone in it with a horrible prospect. A big Spotted Gum tree to the left of the green looks out of place and it is. It was planted after Jack Nicklaus holed a wedge from the other side of the parallel 11th fairway after hooking his tee shot when going for the green.
Victoria has always been a wonderful place to play (and stay in the clubhouse guest rooms) but this recent renovation thrusts it back towards the world stage. When the Australian Open returns to the layout in 2022, a worldwide TV audience will be exposed to one of our great golfing wonders and, like me, they are sure to be seduced by what they see.
LOCATION: Park Rd, Cheltenham, Victoria, 3192.
CONTACT: (03) 9584 1733.
DESIGNER: Oscar Damman, William Meader & Dr Alister MacKenzie (1927); Mike Clayton (1995); Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Clayton, Mike Cocking & Ashley Mead – OCCM (2019).
SLOPE RATINGS: Men – Black 134, White 129, Silver 135, Blue 132; Women – Red 137, Yellow 118 and Silver 146.
PLAYING SURFACES: Pure Distinction creeping bentgrass greens; couch fairways and tees.
GREEN FEES: Victoria is a private club but interstate and overseas guests, who are members of a golf club, can apply for a tee time.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Steven Newell.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Paul Wright, Andrew Cooper and Denis McDade.
FACILITIES: The Victoria Golf Club Teaching Centre was opened in 2013 featuring the latest in state-of-the-art coaching and fitting technology. There is also a superb range and short-game area.
STAY AND PLAY: You can play and stay in the club’s heritage-listed clubhouse. Each of the 15 elegant, well-appointed rooms has ensuite facilities and house guests enjoy the same playing rights as members. Guests can stay for $360 per person twin share, which includes accommodation, buffet breakfast, lunch, a la carte dinner and a round of golf.
During your stay, be sure to visit the Bachi Thomson Room where you satisfy your golf reading desires with a Bernard Darwin essay or a more modern tome whilst relaxing on one of the leather lounges.