No one could have possibly imagined Dr Alister MacKenzie’s brief visit to Melbourne in 1926 would have such a significant influence on the future of golf course design in this country.
MacKenzie, of course, passed his knowledge on to his Australian design associate, Alex Russell, as well as the head greenkeeper at Royal Melbourne, Mick Morcom. MacKenzie was so impressed with Morcom’s construction work he told the club “construction (of the West course) be left entirely in the hands of the greenkeeper … Morcom is in many respects better than I have seen on any other golf course in Britain or Australia.”
Working alongside Mick was his son, Vernon, who would later spend 40 years as the head greenkeeper at Kingston Heath while also designing and remodelling courses throughout the Sandbelt, across Victoria and beyond. Vernon proved to be as talented as his father in crafting wonderful layouts and many believe his bunkering is the equal of anything MacKenzie designed during his stay here.
Vern Morcom’s style, adopted from what he learned from his father, has stood the test of time and as a result has influenced several astute course designers in the modern era.
One of those designers is Mike Clayton. Long before the formation of Clayton’s current design partnership with Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Cocking and Ashley Mead, the former touring professional created the Ranfurlie course.
Ranfurlie opened for play 2001 and with its wide fairways, big rolling putting surfaces and visually intimidating bunkering from tee to green, one can imagine Morcom would have given this layout a tick of approval for its strategic challenge and the enjoyment it offers golfers of all standards.
The fairways might be generous in width but the key here is to play the course from the edges of the fairways. A drive up the middle of the fairway might give you a good lie for your next shot, but the angle of the approach into the putting surface might be so difficult that you are next to no chance of getting your shot close.
Clayton’s positioning of bunkers and green shaping just adds to the strategy required to make a good score at Ranfurlie. This can be seen from the opening shot on the par-72 layout. The 294-metre par-4 1st hole offers plenty of temptation for big hitters to attack the green with their drive. With out-of-bounds left and deep rough to the right of the fairway, the risks are high but a well-executed blow will be rewarded. A lone bunker on the left edge of the fairway, about 160 metres from the tee, does complicate the lay-up tee shot. But skirting close by the sand here will leave a pitch straight up the green. With two bunkers left and right, this diagonally laid green has been designed to be best approached from the left edge of the fairway. Approach shots from the right half of the fairway must carry sand and have the ball stop quickly to avoid more sand beyond.
Ranfurlie’s par-3s are also a highlight of the round. Arguably the best of them comes early at the 184-metre 3rd hole. Again, Clayton has angled the green to sit at a slight diagonal (short right to long left) to the approach, which is best suited to the right-hander drawing a tee shot.
A long iron or hybrid is needed to find the putting surface, which slopes markedly from back to front and features two distinct ridges encroaching from edges near the greenside bunkers.
In recent years, the quality of Clayton’s design has been complemented by a marked improvement in the course’s presentation with an excellent cover of couch grass on the fairways and very good bentgrass greens.
ADDRESS: Cranbourne Frankston Rd, Cranbourne, Victoria, 3977.
CONTACT: (03) 9788 8288; www.ranfurlie.com.au
DESIGNER: Mike Clayton (2001).
GREEN FEES: Limited tee-times are available for visitors on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday afternoon, Friday and Sunday.
GOLF AUSTRALIA MAGAZINE TOP-100 COURSES HISTORY: No.60 (2012); No.65 (2014); No.60 (2016).
RANKING JUDGE’S COMMENTS:
“It took me a few rounds here to fully appreciate the quality of the design. On my last visit, I was really pleased to find a marked improvement in the conditioning across the entire course. In fact, I couldn’t fault the greens.” – Alex Chapman (2016).
“Love the width here, which you don’t often find on modern creations. The bunkering, right across the layout, was terrific.” – Lucas Andrews (2016).
“Strategically very good and plenty of fun to play as well.” – Brendan James (2016).