Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Royal Melbourne Golf Club

A golf course ranked in the top ten in the world should be a special place and Royal Melbourne is. There are two courses at Royal Melbourne, an East and a West. The composite course at Royal Melbourne Golf Club (ranked #8 in the world) is made up of twelve holes from the West course and six holes from the East Course. The composite can only be played in tournaments, thus I played both the East and West courses on separate days.

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 approach to par five 2nd green

From the World Atlas: “The third hole is a Russell creation of 324 meters. Few holes of this length anywhere have its class. The tee shot aims out to a wide expanse except for the spread of sand on the right at the crown of the hill. Beyond, the fairway rushes down to a hollow before a two-tiered green that steps down from right to left, the third stage dropping into a final huge trap at its lowest and farthest left point.”

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The 3rd green

The fifth and sixth holes on the West course are two great ones. The fifth is a 161 meter par three that plays up a hill. It has the MacKenzie look and feel of Cypress Point and is clearly well-bunkered. You also get a good sense from this picture of the massive scale the course achieves by using the elevation changes to maximum impact. This is a real man's course with some teeth.

The classic par three 5th hole

One of the distinctive features of Royal Melbourne are the hard edges many of the greens have, cut at a 90 degree angle to the bunkers. As a result, it is highly likely that a shot not perfectly hit will remain in the bunker or run through the green.

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Detail of the 5th bunker and green

The 391 meter par four sixth is one of the best in golf. It plays from an elevated tee down into a sweeping valley over bracken and with tea trees protecting the right side. It’s classic risk-reward. If you can pull off a shot further to the right over the bracken and bunkers, you will have a much shorter shot to the demanding green set on top of a hill. The farther left the tee shot runs, the more it brings into play the deep bunker guarding the left side of the green.

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The view from the tee at Royal Melbourne West's 6th

The green has appropriately been described as “lethal.”

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The wicked 6th green at Royal Melbourne West

I also very much liked the West’s tenth hole, a 279 meter par four. Note the “big bertha” style bunker protecting those who dare to shoot directly for the green. Nobody rings a bell when you get to one of the greatest golf holes in the world. There also isn’t a sign telling you; there doesn’t need to be. You just know it’s a fabulous hole because it bowls you over. The tenth is a hole like that. It was the inspiration for Tom Doak’s world-class short par four fourth hole at Barnbougle Dunes.

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The short par four tenth from the tee

The World Atlas of Golf describes the tenth hole eloquently: “Few holes of 300 yards can be reckoned to be anything more than stop-gaps. This hole is a grand exception. In golf course design two interesting themes run counter to each other. The one standard principle, that the farther one hits and the nearer one approachs the target the finer becomes the margin of error, is cleverly offset by the axiom that the more finely judged second shot gets progressively more difficult the farther one falls short of the green. The hole crosses a pleasant valley from one crest to the next.”

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The second shot on the 10th features a short, blind pitch over this bunker

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The small green on the 10th hole, Royal Melbourne West

The 416 meter eleventh (West) has a feel similar to Pine Valley and Sunningdale, with a demanding tee shot that must be hit through a long chute of trees.

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).

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The 12th green

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):

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The 1st green, Royal Melbourne East Course

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.

Royal Melbourne East, 2nd hole approach to green

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 78 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:


Anonymous said...

hello john, ehats your handicap, low double figures? or better?


2ndSwingGolf said...

How do you plan on getting on August? Good luck!

Golf Club Reviews said...

Yikes! That second shot on the tenth looks pretty crazy, where you have to go blind. What an awesome course!

Top 100 Golfer said...


Anonymous said...

I must admit, I am a little disappointed at your write ups of the Australian courses. They are very clinical, simple and to the point and lacking the usual depth and analysis of most of your other posts.
It almost seems as if you are entirely non-plussed by the experience of playing the courses.
The great irony is that by playing only the top 5 courses you have missed the great diversity that Australia has to offer. As an Australian, the only courses that you played that I would recommend to a visitor are Barnbougle and NSW. A better start may have been the Mornington Peninsula followed by Bonville then The Lakes, Newcastle and Joondalup. A more diverse set of courses you will not see any where in any other country...and all easily accessible to the public.

Anonymous said...

Bonville? Really? This is a top 100 course in the world blog. Not a top 100 course on the mid north coast of NSW blog.

Chanceman said...

Dont listen to Anonymous who obviously comes from New South Wales where golf is pretty second rate, apart from NSW itself (I think Dr Mackenzie got lost once he left Melbourne). Royal Melbourne is a great course for we lesser lights as Dr Mackenzie designed it. Huge wide fairways so you cant lose your ball but devilish green complexes. In this part of Aus we have about 20 top 100-ish courses within 100km/60 miles. Kingston Heath and Victoria are over the back fence from Royal and both epic tracks. Then the Moonahs and the National and the Dunes, with a short flight to King island where Cape Wickham awaits.