Melbourne's south-east is a congregation of exceptional golf courses known around the world.
Within a handful of square kilometres in Melbourne's south-east is a congregation of exceptional golf courses known around the world. Not only can you play there, you can stay on course too.
Ardent golfers the world over might profess to love the game more than many things in their lives but rarely do they get to spend a night on one of the world’s elite courses. While the sun is in the sky the golf course is a playground; come sunset, however, the activity by necessity moves indoors and by closing time the clubhouse joins the golf course in nocturnal silence.
Everywhere, that is, except Victoria Golf Club on Melbourne’s famed Sandbelt. The multiple Australian Open and Masters venue is a top-ten-ranked course in Australia and the home club of luminaries such as Peter Thomson and Geoff Ogilvy. It also happens to have one of the best – and certainly most convenient – places to stay of anywhere on the Sandbelt.
Upstairs in the stately clubhouse are 15 rooms that are ideal for travelling golfers to rest at the end of a day’s play, while the restaurant completes the traveller’s checklist by offering a sumptuous menu to ensure you won’t need to depart the premises for 24 hours or longer. Indeed, having flown into town on a Sunday evening, I arrived at Victoria’s clubhouse and automatically relaxed in the knowledge that it would be Tuesday morning before I next needed to pass through the front gate. In that time I enjoyed a fantastic meal with colleagues as a wickedly good bottle of red disappeared between us, slept like a log in the spacious and comfortable accommodation and toured the venerable golf course. And with nowhere else to go one evening, I even managed to straighten out my balky putting stroke by spending an hour on Victoria’s huge practice green, which was the most time I can remember devoting to practising my stroke in one session since my teenage years.
Of all the places a travelling golfer or group of friends can stay while playing the Sandbelt courses, few can deliver the complete experience Victoria provides. And there’s something intangibly wondrous about nodding off just metres from one of the country’s best golf courses and waking up to unmistakably ‘golfy’ sounds the next morning. Drinking your first coffee while still in pyjamas and hearing the sounds of early morning tee shots outside your room adds another layer to an already rich golf getaway.
The rooms offer plenty of space and include an en suite bathroom. The look is modern although there is no television but I frankly didn’t miss it – in fact, I was there a full day before I even noticed its absence. They’ve been designed with golfers in mind with plenty of reading material and ample space to place the plethora of paraphernalia golfers inevitably collect during a trip. Single rooms are $370 per person, per night, or $305 per person for twin-share rooms. These rates include accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus golf on availability. In winter, you can knock $55 off those nightly rates.
After breakfast the next morning I joined a friend to take on the Victoria layout, with its short par-4s, difficult par-3s and mixture of par-5 strategies. In vogue across the Sandbelt at present is returning these famed courses to the look of years past. Trees have grown and dominated the vistas in several cases where the lines were once more open and uncluttered. The trees might look stunning and beautify the course but decades of growth have created a different look. As a result, Victoria is one club to have gradually introduced open sandy waste areas off some of its fairways instead. The look is clean yet appropriately unkempt as such terrain should yield a lucky dip of lies. My tee shot off the par-4 12th veered left into a waste area between the 12th and 13th fairways, punishing a wide drive but at the same time facilitating several escape options. After a solid recovery from the sand I managed to save par.
Three of Victoria’s par-3s play uphill and the 7th and 16th are also lengthy, requiring towering middle or long irons to hit then hold the greens. No wonder Ogilvy learned how to hit his “moon ball”, as Johnny Miller calls it – it’s a powerful asset right across Victoria. Yet it’s the short par-4s at the 1st and 15th that befuddle the golf brain here. Both are driveable, yet both are eagle opportunities wrapped in the spectre of double-bogeys if things go awry. I managed to birdie the 15th by playing safe off the tee and pitching close but bogeyed the 1st despite hitting my tee shot 30 feet from the hole in the front bunker. These are the kind of ingenious holes that intrigue and perplex in equal doses – brilliant stuff.
One more convenience about staying at Victoria Golf Club is how close you are to the seven other Sandbelt courses. You’re in ‘golf central’ with short commutes to wherever else you need to be. My next round was at famed Royal Melbourne Golf Club, where if Reserve Rd weren’t in the way the two courses would touch. Still, it’s just a three-minute drive to get to ‘RM’ and as luck would have it, I’m playing the Composite course for the first time.
It’s only a matter of weeks before the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and the early spring weather has been kind, making the most revered layout in the land look as pristine as ever on this warm sunny day. The great dame of Australian golf might lack the modern length required to fully test today’s arsenal of weaponry and balls when in the hands of professionals but for handicap golfers the guile of the Composite course is always on full show. Try as one might, you don’t overpower this golf course without the requisite accuracy and finesse to match. And mediocre putters will be found out on the greens, which are pure putting surfaces and truly scary once you find the wrong parts. At times three-putting seems more like an achievement than a disaster.
Unfortunately the Royal greens did me in but still enhanced my love of the place during the harsh lesson. I made a mess of the iconic 5th hole on the West but hit a cheeky recovery from the cross bunkers on the 6th to steal a par. The six holes contributed by the East course are fairways I had previously only ever walked but knew enough about them to have some idea about how to play them. All 36 holes at RM provide high-level golf regardless of which of the three courses you tour, but there’s no question the rarely used Composite course unifies the best 18.
Like many of the Sandbelt courses, access to Royal Melbourne is more open than you might think. Go through the appropriate channels – a letter of introduction from your home club is a good start – and tee-times are available on certain days. Interstate golfers in particular will be pleasantly surprised at how welcoming the Sandbelt courses are
My third and final stop on this trip was Commonwealth Golf Club. It’s only my second visit and the first occurred in pouring rain so I was keen to return and take advantage of a seam of perfect spring weather. Commonwealth might lack the natural terrain advantages of a Royal Melbourne or a Kingston Heath but it remains an excellent layout and deserving of its top-20 status. The mostly flat site does serve up some subtle undulations and the fairways are generous enough yet deceptively narrow in places. This is a ball-striker’s paradise.
Commonwealth’s strong par-4s are a hallmark. The cute par-3 9th hole and par-5 10th separate a run of excellent two-shotters from the 8th to 12th. The 8th is a strong test with playing lines for both the powerful and timid drivers before the fairway climbs uphill to a large angled green with bunkers flanking the right side. Hugging the left edge off the tee is recommended to improve the angle for the second but that requires a long carry over fairway bunkers. It’s a quintessential Sandbelt hole in that bogeys are easy to score but pars are challenging and birdies more so.
The 11th and 12th holes continue the theme of robust par-4s. The former bends right around a large fairway bunker and trees further right before culminating in a long green with contours to match its gentle hillside setting; the latter is straight but long at 408 metres with sand framing the tee and approach shots. Yet the pick of the long par-4s is still to be played and doesn’t fall until the 16th hole. A large lake – also in play right of the excellent par-4 3rd hole – looms large along the inside of the dogleg left, and while there’s acres of space in the other direction, the temptation is to hug the water’s edge to create the best line to the right-to-left sloping green. A second shot fired from the right side must be high, handsome and curving left-to-right to hold the green – no easy task.
One more monster par-4 comes at the final hole, which curves gently right-to-left towards a green almost ringed by sand. It’s a narrower entrance than you might expect for the green of a 424-metre par-4 although most bunker shots won’t be too arduous. Indeed, my ‘sandy’ from the left greenside trap for a par on Commonwealth’s 18th made my pillow back at Victoria Golf Club feel just that little bit softer as this Sandbelt stay drew to a comforting close.
Victoria Golf Club
Location: Park Rd, Cheltenham
Green fees: On application.
Contact: (03) 9583 1170;
Royal Melbourne Golf Club
Location: Cheltenham Rd, Black Rock
Green fees: On application.
Contact: (03) 9598 2600;
Commonwealth Golf Club
Location: Glennie Ave, Oakleigh South
Green fees: $170.
Contact: (03) 9575 0444;
Where To Stay
Victoria Golf Club
Location: Park Rd, Cheltenham
Tariffs: From $305 per person per night, twin share, which includes three meals and golf when available.
Contact: (03) 9583 1733;
Photography: Brendan James