Alister MacKenzie did the routings of both the East and West courses in the mid 1920s. Club member Alex Russell and superintendent Michael Morcon oversaw the implementation and building of the courses and thus are co-credited with the design since MacKenzie spent only 23 days there.
Like many great designs including Pine Valley and Sand Hills, the course has wide open fairways that are playable for the average golfer, yet demand the more skilled player to drive the ball into dangerous corners to get close to the flags. It is also compared to Pine Valley because it is a “second shot” course.
Like Pine Valley, the first thing that strikes you when seeing Royal Melbourne is the scale of the course. It has a “big” feel to it with holes routed around big sand dunes, forced carries over bracken fern and sweeping fairways with big doglegs. The World Atlas of Golf describes Royal Melbourne as a “kaleidoscope experience of obstacles and emotions.”
The second hole (West), is a 485 meter (add 10% for yards) par five of excellence with a formidable sand bunker off the tee on the left and a big sweeping fairway to a well protected green.
The green has appropriately been described as “lethal.”
The second shot on the 10th features a short, blind pitch over this bunker
The small green on the 10th hole, Royal Melbourne West
View from the tee, Royal Melbourne West course, 11th hole
The difficult par five holes ate my lunch at Royal Melbourne. I played all four of them poorly. Below is the approach to the 435 meter par five twelfth (West).
The composite course was devised for tournaments in 1959 so that crowds would not have to cross Cheltenham Road. While it can be confusing playing the courses trying to figure out which holes are part of the composite, the easy rule of thumb is that if you are still on the side of Cheltenham Road near the clubhouse, you are on the composite. The holes from the East course (1,2,3,4, 17 and 18) that are part of the composite are a worthy bunch. The green on the first hole (East):
The second on the East is a great par four that has a blind tee shot to a fairway that starts far left and comes back to the right.
The third hole on the East is a dogleg right down a sweeping hill and the fourth is an interesting uphill par three. The East course has recently reached the top 100 world rankings on its own merits and I can see why. It's a great collection of holes. The par three 13th on the East, 135 meters, which doesn't play in the composite courses is a spectacular little par three. It has the best protected green of the 36 holes at Royal Melbourne.
Royal Melbourne, East Course, 13th hole
As is the custom at Australia’s top private courses, they allow visitors from overseas if you have a letter of introduction from your home club. The day you play you are made an “honorary member” and granted full privileges including the ability to eat in the clubhouse. The normal greens fee rate is A$300.
We played at Royal Melbourne for a pittance! The course has been undergoing renovations in preparation for the upcoming Presidents Cup matches and thus the course was not in the usual condition they expect, so they didn’t feel it was right to charge us. To be honest, and as you can see from the photos, the course was in very good shape. They must have an extremely high standard that they keep the course in if the conditions we played in weren’t considered good. This was a very classy move on the part of Royal Melbourne.
Congratulations to one of my mates and playing partners, Smythe, who shot a 77 on one of the premier courses in the world the first time he played it! Well done; an impressive display of golf.
Aside from one of the best golf courses in the world, Royal Melbourne also has a genteel and historic feel to it. I suggest looking around the large room located off the entrance to the clubhouse which has an impressive display of memorabilia and old course maps.
The manicured hedges add a classy touch to the entry drive:
As do the grass tennis and lawn bowling courts: