The 13th edition of the biennial matches between the Internationals and the United States returns to Royal Melbourne in December. If you’re planning to be there, make sure to take your gear and sample 14 of the best layouts in the sandbelt.
Commonwealth has rarely been better as its centenary year in 2020 draws closer.
The current design can be attributed to a complete re-modelling in 1938 by Sloan Morpeth; a former New Zealand amateur champion and the secretary manager of the club for 33 years.
Morpeth changed all 18 greens, while a completely new system of greenside bunkering was implemented. Most of the fairway bunkers were altered and new teeing grounds built. It was a design that laid the foundations for Commonwealth to stand alongside the best courses in the Sandbelt, which it has done for more than 80 years.
The bunkering, particularly greenside, is brilliant. The bunkering combines well with the beautifully contoured green surrounds and tilted putting surfaces, which have been designed to dictate approach shots must be struck from the correct side of the fairway.
Green fee: $250.
How to play: Commonwealth is a private golf club where play is primarily restricted to members. Green fee play, however, is available for interstate guests.
KINGSTON HEATH GC
Venue for the 2016 World Cup and host of its eighth Australian Open in 2020, Kingston Heath is well-entrenched among the top-30 best courses on the planet.
1991 Open Champion Ian Baker-Finch says it’s his favourite course in the world and always tries to find the time to play there when he’s back home.
“I know many pro golfers from around the world share my opinion and make sure to play Kingston Heath whenever they’re in town. It’s my ideal course – it epitomises all that is Sandbelt golf,” says IBF.
Green fee: N/A.
How to play: International visitors and reciprocal club members from interstate and overseas are welcome. Contact the club for further information.
YARRA YARRA GC
A major restoration program at Yarra Yarra during the past two years has seen the course dramatically improve.
The club focused on restoring the quality of the playing surfaces before revegetating indigenous heathland and grassland areas. But the main change has come with the redesign of many holes – overseen by Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design company – to recapture the vision of the original designer, Alex Russell.
That vision was to create a classic test of risk versus reward that’s designed to repay good club and shot selection and the Phase 1 work carried out thus far must be applauded.
Green fee: Upon application.
How to play: Interstate golf club members can contact the club for a Monday to Friday tee time. A letter of introduction from your club is required when booking.
Home to the Victorian PGA Championship for eight years during the 1990s, Keysborough is one of the most improved Sandbelt courses during the past two decades.
The club, formed in 1899, moved to its current site in 1946 when Sam Berriman – who oversaw construction of fellow Sandbelt course, Huntingdale – was commissioned to create a layout for the club. His course covered open, former farming land but today’s course is tree-lined with five lakes coming into play.
RIGHT: Keysborough GC. PHOTO: Brendan James.
But the routing at Keysborough is very good and there is no mistaking the Sandbelt-style bunkering, large smooth putting surfaces and excellent couch-grass fairways.
Keysborough’s one-shot holes are a standout, with arguably the best of them being the par-3 12th. The hole has been opened up alongside a lake in recent times and today there is a number of lakeside teeing positions that change the angles of approach to the green. The angled green, with three bunkers left and one to the right, is a tough one to hit and pars here are well-earned.
Green fee: $65 (midweek), $100 (Saturday), $95 (Sunday).
How to play: Bookings are advisable.
Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath aside, Huntingdale is arguably the most famous of Melbourne’s Sandbelt courses, having been the home of the Australian Masters from 1979 to 2008, and again in 2015.
And, like the US Masters has done for Augusta National, it brought Huntingdale into our living rooms and we became so familiar with its fast greens, tight fairways and ominous bunkering.
RIGHT: Huntingdale GC. PHOTO: Brendan James.
In recent times, British architect Martin Hawtree has advised the club on some changes. Among them has been the clearing of introduced tree and scrubs species, replaced by more than 4,000 natives that has opened up what was, at times, a claustrophobic round of golf.
That said, Huntingdale remains one of the finest tests of accurate ball-striking to be found in this country, which was the hallmark of all the great golfers who won the gold jacket.
Green fee: Upon application by interstate visitors, who are members of a registered golf club.
THE NATIONAL LONG ISLAND GC
Since joining the stable of The National Golf Club a few years ago, Long Island has gained greater and wider acclaim.
The sandy undulating landscape gives rise to some memorable holes, but it is the trio of holes that conclude the front nine which are among the standouts.
The par-4 8th – known as ‘Hogsback’ – is a gentle 310 metres and is unique because the fairway is shaped like a hog’s back, so tee shots down the middle are channelled to the left or right edge of the fairway. Good club selection is required to hold the green, which slopes away from front to back.
Green fee: Upon application.
How to play: Interstate golf club members can contact the club. A letter of introduction from your club is required when booking.
The Sandhurst Club offers two of the most recent championship additions to the golfing spoils to be found within a 40-minute drive of Royal Melbourne Golf Club – venue for the Presidents Cup.
Built on former cow pastures, both the older North Course and Champions Course are the work of five-time Open Champion, the late Peter Thomson, and long-time design partner Ross Perrett. In addition to the two par-72 courses, featuring expansive bunkering, rolling fairways and views of the Dandenong Ranges, Sandhurst is an all-inclusive residential community with world-class facilities and is home to the PGA
Green fee: Prices vary. Fees start from $58 (midweek) or $68 (Sunday).
How to play: Tee times are available Sunday to Friday. Bookings can be made online.
Rolling couch fairways, punctuated by creative and strategic fairway bunkering and large, subtly sloped greens generally surrounded by sand are the order of the day of this Sam Berriman design.
It is 68 years since Cranbourne opened for play and chances are, if Berriman was alive today, he may not recognise his layout. Over its first two decades, course superintendent Gordon Black transformed the landscape by planting thousands of trees, which now frame every hole. He also established Cranbourne as a beautifully maintained layout – a legacy that remains today.
Green fee: $70 (midweek).
How to play: Restricted tee times are available for visitors. Bookings are essential.
PENINSULA KINGSWOOD CGC
“Peninsula Kingswood is a gift to the game of golf – a great test that sits comfortably alongside Melbourne’s other Sandbelt gems like Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath.”
This glowing complement came from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews – a golf tragic whose favourite book is The Spirit of St Andrews, by Dr Alister MacKenzie – during the official opening of the new North and South Courses in May.
The design firm of OCCM – Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Clayton, Mike Cocking and Ashley Mead – has overseen the biggest course redevelopment in recent history, which will undoubtedly propel the remodelled North and South Courses onto the world stage.
RIGHT: Peninsula Kingswood. PHOTO: Brendan James.
What impresses most about the new layouts? It’s hard to know where to start. The routing is brilliant. But it will be the large bentgrass putting surfaces, the spectacular flash bunkering and outstanding close mown areas that ‘connect’ green complexes with the next tee that you will long remember.
Both courses are not incredibly long but require good strategy to score well but, most importantly, they are a lot of fun to play.
Green fee: N/A.
How to play: Peninsula Kingswood is a private club but offers tee times for international and reciprocal guests.
Victoria is another Melbourne Sandbelt course that has recently undergone some remodelling.
OCCM supervised the conversion of the predominantly poa annua putting surfaces to Pure Distinction bentgrass, while several greens were rebuilt with subtle changes made. The greens are now cut all the way to the edge of the surrounding bunkers to maximise the number of pin positions that can be offered and increase the strategy required to get approach shots close.
Green fee: Upon application.
How to play: Interstate guests can contact the club for a tee time.
The 2018 host of the World Cup of Golf has a worldwide reputation for presenting five-star quality playing surfaces.
Carpet-like couch fairways lead to large, fast bentgrass greens that are hand-mown to the edges of the greenside bunkers and add significantly to the challenge Metropolitan presents.
There are 96 bunkers lining the journey from 1st tee to 18th green, with most holes lined by huge stands of Australian native trees, providing a golfing oasis in the middle of suburbia.
Green fee: Upon application.
How to play: Limited tee times are available for interstate guests who are members of a golf club.
With so many world-class courses in such a small area, there will occasionally be a layout that is sadly overlooked for greater applause.
Woodlands unfortunately falls into that category, despite being ranked the No.16 course in the country by Golf Australia magazine in 2018.
Woodlands is contained within a small parcel of land – by comparison to many of its Sandbelt neighbours – so it is not an overtly long layout from the tips. But it doesn’t need to be.
Its quality short par-4s and smallish greens demand precise approaches and accuracy from the tee, not to mention a short game devoid of nerves.
Green fee: $165 (manager-introduced local and interstate guests).
How to play: Contact the club to apply for a tee time.
SPRING VALLEY GC
For years, Spring Valley was rarely mentioned in the same breath as the famed courses of the Melbourne Sandbelt. But in recent years, it has stepped out of the shadow of its more famous neighbours to grab a share of the limelight.
And why shouldn’t it. Spring Valley boasts well-designed strategic holes, and good bunkering, which make this a great course to play.
Vern Morcom created the course, which opened in 1949. While the routing has remained the same over the years, all of the holes were initially redesigned by Mike Clayton in 2011, while the design firm Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Mead (OCCM) remain consultants to the layout.
In the 18-hole redesign, Clayton revamped Morcom’s bunkering, new greens were built and tees repositioned to reward strategically good play, which is now one of the layout’s strengths.
Spring Valley reached an all-time high rank of No.42 spot in Golf Australia’s Top-100 in 2018 and expectations are it will push higher in 2020.
Green fee: $180 (weekdays); $200 (Sunday).
How to play: Visitors who are not the guest of a member can request a tee time by contacting the club.
Ranfurlie was Mike Clayton’s first 18-hole design and opened for play in 2002.
Clayton’s finished product has found a regular place in Golf Australia’s Top-100 ranking, based on the strategic aspects of the design and consistently good presentation.
The layout certainly impressed leading American designer Tom Doak, who visited the course a few years ago.
RIGHT: Ranfurlie GC. PHOTO: Brendan James.
“The site is very open and windswept, and the contours are very broad,” Doak said. “I would venture to say it is not the sort of property which any young designer would want to stake his reputation upon.
“Considering that, it is really a remarkably good course. The greens and bunker construction is very well done, and in many cases insists that you play the approach from one side of the fairway over the other. I really like how they ramped the greens up from the front to allow a running approach.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Green fee: $75.
How to play: Restricted visitor tee times are available five days a week.
HOW TO GET TO THE CUP
If you are interested in attending the 2019 Presidents Cup then contact GOLFSelect who has been appointed as a Licensed Travel Operator for the event.
GOLFSelect can offer you guaranteed ticket and accommodation packages as well as arranging access to a number of the famous Melbourne Sandbelt courses whilst you are in town.
Call its Presidents Cup hotline on (03)9563 6776 or visit www.golfselect.com.au
WHERE TO STAY
The Brighton Savoy has been a long-standing Bayside icon since 1967, with award-winning facilities including a full-service function and conference centre with hotel accommodation, making it one of the finest hotels Brighton has on offer.
The hotel (pictured) features the best of contemporary design with unparalleled customer service and an attention to detail only a four-star hotel can provide.
Located just 15 minutes’ drive from Royal Melbourne, is the area’s only full-service boutique hotel and is located directly on the beach front. Spoil your senses around the clock; from a high-quality dining experience to comfortable bedding for optimal sleeping conditions.
To book or check availability, visit www.brightonsavoy.com.au
The Dingley Hotel is less than 15 minutes’ drive from Royal Melbourne. The motel offers corporate, sporting and leisure travellers modern and up-to-date rooms.
There are 57 rooms comprising of standard queen rooms, standard twin and king rooms as well as executive spa suites.
The hotel also boasts a fully-renovated bistro with a lounge bar, ample dining spaces and an all-weather alfresco area.
To book or check availability, visit www.dingleyhotel.com.au
BEST WESTERN PLUSBUCKINGHAM INTERNATIONAL
Stay at this boutique motel in Highett, just a short distance from Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
The Buckingham has a fantastic Stay and Play package (from $229 per person), including a one-night stay in a standard room, fully cooked buffet breakfast and a round of golf at Woodland Golf Club (limited time slots available).
Relax in comfort in a standard, family or executive room, which boast plenty of excellent features.
To book or check availability, visit www.thebuckingham.com.au