All good things take time and the relocation of The Eastern Golf Club is no exception, with acclaim already being bestowed upon Greg Norman’s design.
WORDS: DAMIAN SHUTIE PHOTOGRAPHY: BRENDAN JAMES
It’s hard to get everything right at a golf club. We’ve all been to clubs where the quality of the course is as good as anything, anywhere, yet the 19th hole experience leaves a bit to be desired.
And then there are other venues where the off-course setup is almost worth the price of admission alone, but the golf itself doesn’t quite measure up.
Courses that manage to nail both are so rare that when we come across one, we tend to gush a bit.
So it says plenty that I’d texted four people about The Eastern Golf Club before I’d even left the car park after playing a round at its newly opened course recently.
Those of you in the Melbourne golfing fraternity would likely know Eastern’s much-publicised recent history, with the club having elected to sell its prime land in suburban Doncaster for a mint, to relocate 40 minutes west to Yering, in the heart of Yarra Valley wine country.
With cash to splash, the club enlisted Greg Norman to transform its stunning new tract of land into something infinitely more impressive than its former digs.
For starters, there are 27 holes offering three different potential course combinations. Actually, that’s not entirely correct. In truth there are 36 holes, if you include the purpose-built nine-hole par-3 course that takes pride of place in the middle of the second and third nines.
We’ll get to the golf itself in a moment, but from the second you drive through the gates, you’re eminently aware that this is a truly striking piece of golfing architecture.
Built on the southern banks of the Yarra River and with the tree-blanketed valley wall of Christmas Hills and the Dividing Range as a dramatic backdrop, the site already has much in its favour.
With a central clubhouse at its core, the course gently unfolds onto rich flood plains in every direction, taking full toll of the land’s natural undulations while raising certain areas, presumably to protect the course during periods of heavy rainfall.
It’s one of the most stunning new layouts we’ve seen or played in years, and it’s not even finished yet. Eighteen of the course’s holes opened in late 2015, and the order in which the holes have been constructed means that some from each nine are still on the production line, as is the par-3 course.
It’s all expected to be finished later this year but, for now, members are playing an eclectic layout that starts at the 1st and finishes at the 27th. Our 18 holes were as follows: 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 27, 19, 25, 26, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 – a mix that took us to the north, south and western boundaries of the course, but left much of the eastern side, as well as the par-3 course, as a mystery to be unlocked and enjoyed next time.
And there will certainly be a next time, if we can help it, though with a reported wait of more than two years for a seven-day membership, we might have to get in line like the rest of the golfers who didn’t get on board early.
Aside from the club’s obvious beauty, what struck us the entire way around the course was how perfectly it straddles the line between challenging and fair.
Putting a premium on strategy to keep your score down, rarely are you penalised excessively for taking the course on, with well thought out bailout areas – particularly around the greens – as well as few places where you’re likely to relieve yourself of a ball.
The par-3s were almost universally highlights (as you might expect from a club that’s created an entire course dedicated to them), with the 13th particularly memorable, courtesy of a tee shot that kisses the right edge of one of the course’s water hazards and must clear a bunker short and left that’s of similar size to the green.
Similarly at the 163-metre 17th (where Norman hit the course’s maiden shot), an elevated green and bunkers short and to both sides makes the putting surface appear smaller than it is, with ample landing areas to either the left or right if you take on the flag but go amiss.
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 over the surrounding farmland towards Lilydale and Coldstream. 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.
But back to that perfect on-course/off-course blend. Aside from the truly impressive clubhouse, with its plush armchairs in the restaurant and bar and those inspiring views, it was the little things that sung to us: Endless free balls at the practice range. The free entry into the club’s weekly competitions. The kids’ room in the clubhouse. The choice to play off any of the tee markers in any competition, with the slope rating and your handicap adjusted accordingly. The well-designed, immaculately modern pro shop. The access to the club’s tennis courts and other leisure facilities. The somewhat more relaxed attitude towards clubhouse attire than you tend to see at other elite clubs.
Oh, and the friendly and helpful staff.
Listening to The Eastern’s general manager Ben Telley lovingly discuss the course’s relocation and transformation, he points out that everything from the course to the facilities to the club’s rules were fashioned with a family-first ethos.
It’s why the club abandoned a proposed four-lane lap pool as part of its initial plans: it would have appealed to adult members, but not their kids.
On that front, there are both adults and kids’ games rooms, as well as mountain bike hire for use on the trails within the course’s surrounding reserve. There are also four tennis courts (and a coach if you want one), not to mention the on-site accommodation at Yering Gorge Cottages, which enjoys its own space on the property’s north-western corner.
Telley informs us that while the waiting list for seven-day memberships is showing no signs of shortening in the near future, five and six-day access is still available.
Though with the ribbon due to be cut on the remaining nine holes and the par-3 course in the coming months, it’s a safe bet that the vacancy sign won’t be out for long.
LOCATION: 215 Victoria Road, Yering, Victoria 3770
CONTACT: (03) 9739 0110
DESIGNER: Greg Norman.
SLOPE RATING: Men: 126/124/120; Women: 121/117
PGA PROFESSIONAL: Scott Barradell
PLAYING SURFACES: Grand Prix couch (fairways), T1 Bentgrass (greens).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Clayton Howell.
GREEN FEES: As a private member club, golf access is limited to members of The Eastern Golf Club or accommodation guests of Yering Gorge Cottages.
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 Member and Customer Relations Manager at 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.