I had the typical American checklist of expectations as I boarded the massive Qantas A380 en route to Australia: koala bears, kangaroos, surf breaks and cool accents.
I was headed to Melbourne in the state of Victoria on the country’s southern coast, so I was out of luck when it came to crocs – the fierce biters that live far to the north, not the shoes worn by several jammie-clad passengers on my overnight flight. But there would be plenty of nature on tap during Golfweek‘s visit to the second largest city in Oz and its surrounds.
I also had plenty of expectations for Victoria’s golf just south of Melbourne. The Sandbelt region is famous among fans of course architecture, for good reason. Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Victoria Golf Club and a handful of others pepper the lists of best classic courses around the world, including those compiled by Golfweek’s Best ranking program.
I knew this late-April trip to Australia would be full of big bounces, putts from off the greens, beautiful bunkers and some of the most intoxicating greens in the game. The inland equivalent of links golf would be a fair description, with firm and fast sand-based layouts that force a player to think instead of just fire away at a distant flagstick. In other words, my favorite kind of golf.
St. Andrews Beach Golf Course on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Visit Victoria/Gary Lisbon).
My hopes, based on years of reading and studying photography and watching elite international events broadcast from Australia, were high. Scotland, Ireland, England, even a handful of U.S. resorts that successfully mimic the best of links golf – this is the style of play I wanted to experience in Victoria.
With expectations so impossibly high, I was gobsmacked when Australia surpassed all of them. Every box was ticked. Simply put, Victoria serves up the best kind of golf at dozens of courses, nine of which I sampled.
The terrain, the textures, the turf – it all rolled into a level of golfing perfection on frequent repeat. I was on the ground nine full days, playing golf for six of them, and it wasn’t nearly enough time to take it all in. But the courses I did play in mostly sunny conditions and ideal autumn breezes – remember, spring in the northern hemisphere is fall to those south of the equator – ignited a desire to return. The flight is long, that much is true. But the list of courses I want to replay or tackle for a first time is even longer.
Much of this is credited to one man who put the Sandbelt on golf’s map in a big way. Alister MacKenzie – a Scot famed in America for his later course designs at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia and Cypress Point in California, among others – visited Victoria in 1926 and laid out the West Course at Royal Melbourne, which ranks among the top 10 in the world on most critics’ lists of courses. He also lent his services to several other clubs in the region, be that rebunkering an existing course or suggesting changes to putting surfaces. MacKenzie’s fingerprints are almost everywhere in the sand.
The par-3 fifth hole at Royal Melbourne’s West Course in Victoria, Australia (Jason Lusk/Golfweek).
Golf already existed around Melbourne, but it was Royal Melbourne’s West Course that proved elite golf could flourish in the Sandbelt. Other prominent designers have followed in MacKenzie’s footsteps, and in the nearly 100 years since his visit, the region has become a mecca for international golf architecture aficionados who heed the call, walk down a jetway in some faraway land and jet off to Melbourne to discover what all the fuss is about. Count this region alongside the United Kingdom and Ireland as must-sees for anybody who truly loves great golf courses.
I was in Victoria with a film crew and Golfweek contributor Averee Dovsek, a former college golfer and now a long-drive competitor who also makes fitness and instructional videos for Golfweek.com. With the government agency of Visit Victoria as our host, Dovsek and I were to play a series of matches against local golf pros and club members on several of the area’s top courses. Then I was scheduled to play several other courses on my own – when it comes to this kind of golf, I can’t get enough. Australia is a long way for an American to travel for golf, so when you’re there you have to take advantage of every possible chance to play. VisitMelbourne.com is a great place to start, as is TheSandbelt.com.
What is Sandbelt golf?
The hard-edged bunker lip on No. 12 at Victoria Golf Club perfectly illustrates the style and construction of bunkers in the Sandbelt, with the putting surface extending all the way to the bunker’s lip with no fringe or rough in between. (Jason Lusk/Golfweek).
Understanding what makes this region so great requires a bit of a geology lesson – I promise to keep this part short.
Millions of years ago, the oceans retreated from the area that today is Melbourne, a major metropolis of more than 5 million people. As the water level lowered slowly, beaches were formed on the eastern side of Port Phillip Bay, according to geologic studies. Unlike the western side of Melbourne, which is largely clay, the sandy loam just kept piling up on the eastern side of the bay in a region of some 200 square miles that stretches southward to what is now the suburban town of Frankston. Eventually, the bay shrank even more, and these former beaches were isolated several miles inland of the bay in what has become one of golf’s ultimate playgrounds.
The Sandbelt is more than 250 feet deep in places, and it’s perfect for golf. Grass tends to grow well on sand, which also provides easy drainage and ideal course conditions. Golf course architects and developers are always on the lookout for natural sand, as it eases construction while often providing natural dunes. Even in America, courses built on sand trumpet that fact in their names – think of top courses such as Sand Hills in Nebraska, Sand Valley in Wisconsin or Gamble Sands in Washington. To find sand is to strike gold for course designers.
Much of the Sandbelt region is now suburbia around Melbourne. It would be akin to driving on the outskirts of any major American city and stumbling upon golf nirvana. There are main roads, restaurants, business, all the expected goings and comings in traffic. Then, bang, behind the gates is a perfect golf course.
The firmness of the sandy terrain also allows for one of the defining features of these layouts around Melbourne. The bunkers are unlike anywhere else, their firm edges cut directly into greens and often fairways. No fringe, no fairway encircling the sand, just a putting surface right up to the edges of the traps. It’s easy to imagine a greens mower with several of its wheels hanging off into space. These bunkers often obtrude deep into greens, usually to the golfer’s consternation.
On most American courses, for example, there is a bunker and its lip at the perimeter of a green. Around the lip is usually several feet of rough or fairway set at some level of incline above or below the putting surface, then frequently a cut of fringe, and finally the edge of the putting surface. These Sandbelt bunkers are different, their edges sharper as they slice directly into the greens. Perhaps nowhere on earth is it easier to putt into a bunker. In most terrain such bunker edges would crumble under the weight of mowers and golfers, but in the Sandbelt such robustly edged bunkers are common.
No. 13 at Kingston Heath in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Visit Victoria/Gary Lisbon).
These Sandbelt bunkers shouldn’t be confused even with the revetted bunkers of Scottish and Irish links. The sand here climbs most of the way up the faces of the bunkers, instead of architects relying on stacks of sod to support the bunker wall. They contribute in a major way to the many things that make Sandbelt courses so demanding and visually spectacular.
One other favorite feature of most of the Sandbelt clubs and the other courses of Victoria: Even the elite private clubs allow various levels of unaccompanied guest play, especially if the guest is a member of a club back home. It’s not carte blanche – guests typically have to play at select times and contact the clubs well in advance. But it’s a fantastic opportunity to play some of the best private clubs in the world, much more in line with the Scottish model of welcoming overseas guests at select times instead of walling off a course, as is so often done in the U.S.
Day 1 of golf: Kingston Heath and Commonwealth
After several days touring downtown Melbourne, Kingston Heath was the first golf on our group’s itinerary. Dovsek and I had a match scheduled against two local members, John and Luke, but it was actually less about competition and more of an insider’s tour of one of the best courses in the Sandbelt.
No. 15 at Kingston Heath in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Visit Victoria/Gary Lisbon).
Kingston Heath has hosted seven Australian Opens and a slew of other top-tier events, and it will be home to the 2028 Presidents Cup. It also ranks No. 3 in the country on Golfweek’s Best list of courses in Australia and New Zealand. But at its core, Kingston Heath is really an incredible playground for fortunate members and guests – the whole place just exudes uncomplicated class and enthusiasm for the game.
The course opened in 1925 with a design by Dan Soutar, an Aussie professional, and was built by Mick Morcom, a greenskeeper who also built and contributed to the courses at Royal Melbourne. But it was MacKenzie – on his Australian trip in 1926 – who did the bunkers, among the best in the world. Flowing out of the natural terrain and into the perimeters of the greens, these traps perfectly illustrate the Sandbelt model of using bunkers, in particular those greenside, as primary hazards.
Especially as the sometimes flat course flows across and around a taller dune late on its front nine and again on the back, the bunkers appear to spill out of the surrounding hillside and into the putting surfaces. The best example is at the double-green for Nos. 8 and 16, both par 4s. A cluster of bunkers tumbles off the dune and into the mid-point of the green, impacting strategy as both holes approach at a roughly 90-degree angle to each other. These were among the loveliest – and scariest for wayward golfers – bunkers on our entire trip.
Many less-versed golfers – and often professional players concerned only with score – never consider a series of bunkers to be beautiful. Instead, they are hazards to be avoided. That’s a pity because at Kingston Heath, as well as many other Sandbelt courses, the bunkers are the most striking features. They are intricate works of art, perfectly fitted into their environments, always in play and even more so always front of mind.
MacKenzie only designed one hole at Kingston Heath, the uphill par-3 15th. In Soutar’s original design, the 15th was a short par 4 playing over a hill. MacKenzie moved the green atop the hill and created the mid-length par 3 with bunkers seemingly everywhere. More than any other hole at Kingston Heath, MacKenzie’s 15th requires precision in approaching the heavily sloped putting surface. The fact I somewhat blindly rolled in a 50-foot, hard-breaking birdie putt had no influence on my calling this my favorite hole on the property – plenty of others have professed their love of the 15th before I showed up.
After the round and a quick bite in the perfectly suited clubhouse, we raced around Kingston Heath’s gleaming-new, nine-hole par-3 course dubbed The Furrows. Designed by OCM Golf (Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Cocking and Ashley Mead), The Furrows opened the week we arrived, playing across previously farmed ground that provides the name. It’s a fast-paced thrill ride of incredible greens built to accommodate great short-iron and wedge shots that navigate the firm bounces and sometimes insane bunkers. The Furrows offers up the best type of golf found on such short courses around the world, namely targets that might be too intense for a traditional, full-size course but that prove incredibly fun when right-sized to the length of the holes.
Commonwealth Golf Club in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Visit Victoria/David Scaletti).
After that brisk loop, we jumped into a van for the short ride to Commonwealth Golf Club. One of the best things about a visit to the Sandbelt is that so many great courses are within a few minutes of each other, and with so much golf compressed into just a few days, proximity mattered and was greatly appreciated.
Commonwealth dates back to 1920 when the initial layout was devised by club captain Charles Lane. The greens were updated in the 1930s, and the course – ranked No. 25 on Golfweek’s Best list of all courses in Australia and New Zealand – currently is midway through a renovation by American architect Tom Doak and his Renaissance design team. Among other infrastructure work, nine greens have been replaced with the other nine to be completed late in 2023 and opening in 2024.
Commonwealth sits on a frequently rolling site with trees much more in play than at Kingston Heath and several other Sandbelt courses. It’s more of a parkland-style course familiar to many visiting Americans, but still with that firm ground providing ideal Sandbelt playing conditions.
Dovsek and I played a nine-hole match with two of the club’s professionals, Joanna Flaherty and Lachlin “Lucky” Kenny. Both these pros are legitimate sticks, throwing birdies at us on a fun course that proved receptive to good shots. A closing birdie on the par-3 ninth by the American side squared things up before Flaherty had to jump back into teacher mode for one of her well-received introductory women’s golf classes.
But the back nine was too promising to miss, so I made a beeline for the 10th tee box with Golfweek videographer Gabe Gudgel in tow. The two of us raced the sunset around the back nine and its curving doglegs. Commonwealth is a mix of tough par 3s and 4s with fairly scoreable par 5s that were within reach of two well-played shots, and it was a thrill to spend the evening on a very solid course that will only get better in the coming months.
Day 2 of golf: Royal Melbourne East Course
One of the tough parts of travel is, of course, being away from family and friends, often missing important dates and events. Such was the case for my Australia trip. But in the planning stages of this trip when my non-golfing wife heard where I would be for my upcoming birthday, she didn’t hesitate. “You have to go,” she said, because I would spend the day at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
The 18th green of the East Course at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Visit Victoria/Gary Lisbon).
Dovsek and I had a match planned against an Aussie side led by Royal Melbourne member Darcy Brereton, a professional who competes on the Handa PGA Tour of Australasia. We won’t go into the details – the lopsided match turned out as anyone might expect when a tour pro is involved. But those results didn’t matter, because this was Royal Melbourne.
We played the East Course this day, the somewhat underappreciated sister course of the world-famous West Course. The East checks in at No. 11 on the Golfweek’s Best list of top courses in Australia and New Zealand, and six of its holes are used alongside 12 from the West to create Royal Melbourne’s Composite Course that is played in many top-tier competitions, including 16 Australian Opens and three Presidents Cups.
The East frequently plays tighter than the West, stretching into the surrounding neighborhoods across rolling terrain. Opened in 1932 with a design by Alex Russell and Morcom – who together built and opened the West a year prior according to MacKenzie’s design – the East features smaller greens than the West, the putting surfaces frequently flanked by gorgeous bunkers that set the tone.
Brereton mentioned early in the round that the East actually plays tougher than its more famous sibling, and based on our experiences over the following days, it was a true statement. The effective targets for approach shots are sometimes tiny and beguiling, with balls bouncing across the putting surfaces or skittering sideways into the traps. Brereton said he does most of his tournament prep on the East, and it’s easy to see why after just one round: If you can keep an approach shot on these firm greens, you can hit the greens on any course in the world.
It was a blast, even as our American team was blasted in the nine-hole match. The course doesn’t return to the clubhouse at the turn, so we kept swinging, unwilling to miss any of this layout. As is often the case, the top-ranked course at any facility receives almost all the adulation in the press and on TV. But the East at Royal Melbourne is not to be missed, not a single shot of it.
Day 3 of golf: St. Andrews Beach and The National Golf Club
We took a break for a day after Royal Melbourne’s East course to see more of the countryside, heading an hour south of Melbourne to the Mornington Peninsula and Cape Schanck. We spent a morning riding electric bikes along a narrow path that offered frequently stunning sea views and an afternoon at the ecotourist Moonlit Sanctuary getting friendly with koala bears, kangaroos and a tame python. Even with the bike tour – and thanks largely to the tiny motors that did much of the work instead of relying purely on pedal power – it was a chance to rest our golf legs before tackling two fantastic layouts on the peninsula.
St. Andrews Beach Golf Course on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Tourism Australia/Arianna Harry).
Based on the incredibly hilly terrain of the peninsula around Cape Schanck, I couldn’t wait. On the drive down from Melbourne, I was slack-jawed looking at ground that careened up, down, around sand dunes, stretching to the coast like a miniature mountain range.
First up was St. Andrews Beach, initially intended to be a private club that fell on hard times. It has since been revived as a must-see daily-fee facility. Its layout by Tom Doak and Mike Clayton opened in 2006, and simply put, it’s familiar to the classic Sandbelt courses to its north as far as turf conditions go, but the facility’s irresistible vibe and design set it apart from other courses we played in Australia.
For comparison’s sake, St. Andrews Beach matches up well with several American layouts often favored by younger players looking for adventure. Think Sweetens Cove in Tennessee or Tobacco Road in North Carolina. The simple clubhouse at St. Andrews Beach is a temporary metal building (there are plans to build a new clubhouse), and the bathrooms are out back in a trailer – again with that Sweetens Cove comparison. There is zero pretentiousness, just golf. Not even a range, as players can warm up into a net next to the parking lot. The peak green fee is about $70 in U.S. dollars.
Gary Lisbon, an Australian golf photographer and writer of international acclaim who also helps direct golf tours, had joined us as a sherpa on much of this trip, and his drone frequently followed us around the humps and bumps and sometimes tumbling slopes of St. Andrews Beach. Kangaroos watched our threesome from adjoining fairways, with several larger specimens sauntering onto the sixth green as we played our approaches – no need for an ecotour here, the ‘roos were everywhere.
Averee Dovsek hits a tee shot as kangaroos saunter in the rough at St. Andrews Beach Golf Course in Victoria, Australia. (Jason Lusk/Golfweek).
St. Andrews Beach presented a totally relaxed setting, just golf and laughs and big animals that could care less about first, second and sometimes third attempts to escape deep bunkers. Those traps might not be as impeccably maintained as at some of the nearby private clubs, but they fit perfectly well in the raw terrain and add greatly to the memorability factor. The course ranks No. 19 in Australia and New Zealand.
The design features linksy golf turned up to an 11. Doak and Clayton built greens with backboards, sideboards, extreme runoffs and deep bunkers that, as with the Sandbelt courses, are frequently carved right into greens that are tied perfectly into their lumpy surrounds.
Many of the fairways are wide enough to land an aircraft, but the demands of the greens require players to pick precise lines off the tees to set up the best angles of approach. It’s a minimalist layout with little dirt having been moved, as is Doak’s reputation, but there’s nothing minimal about the fun factor. You often have to aim away from the hole and use the extreme slopes to feed a ball toward the flag, similar to the aforementioned Tobacco Road. It’s incredibly fun golf, the type of place I could see myself playing every week and never tiring of it.
We wrapped up our nine-hole video shoot, then Lisbon and I raced around the back nine to try to keep our itinerary on schedule. We had more golf to play, but I’ll likely never stop thinking about playing St. Andrews Beach again.
The sunset view from above The National Golf Club in Victoria, Australia (Jason Lusk/Golfweek).
Proximity again benefitted our trip, as it was just a few minutes along the coast to The National Golf Club, home to three 18-hole layouts on-site and a fourth less than an hour away. The Gunnamatta renovated by Doak, the Moonah by Greg Norman and Bob Harrison, and the Old Course by Robert Trent Jones Jr. are together on the Mornington Peninsula. The club’s Long Island course by Gordon Oliver is in Frankston closer to Melbourne.
After a quick lunch in a clubhouse perched atop a hill with incredible views across golf holes to the beach and breaking waves beyond, Lisbon and I teamed up for a nine-hole match against Dovsek and club professional Sheradyn Johnson. The boys melted down in this one and the ladies surged to victory behind the consistency of Johnson’s golf swing.
The Old is different than the other courses we played, up and down formidable hills with large greens full of challenging slopes – perhaps too much so in some cases. It has that Australian firm and bouncy turf, but it’s largely an aerial game at the Old, with more forced carries than the other Australian layouts we played. The fairways are fairly wide, but the outlying native areas are sometimes impenetrable. Basically, it’s a hard golf course.
No. 7 at The National Golf Club’s Old Course in Victoria, Australia (Jason Lusk/Golfweek).
But to focus on that entirely would be to miss the views. As the Old climbs on its front nine, it offers panoramas not seen at the other Victoria courses we played. Sand and surf far below are the backdrops for several holes, and then there’s the 152-yard, par-3 seventh that plays across a jungled chasm to a peninsula green perched high above the beach. It’s a do-or-die tee shot, struck well into the heart of the green or, if misplayed, gone forever.
We didn’t get to play the other two courses at The National’s main location, but the Moonah Course ranks No. 21 in Australia and New Zealand, followed by the Gunnamatta Course in the 12th spot. Each course varies in style, but it’s the fantastic surroundings and views that set this club apart from its neighbors in Victoria.
Day 4 of golf: Metropolitan and Victoria Golf Club
It was back to the city after our round at The National, and most of our crew had to fly home the next day. I hung around for more golf – why go this far and not see as much as possible?
No. 16 at Metropolitan Golf Club in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Visit Victoria/David Scaletti).
After an early wakeup call and short cab ride to Metropolitan Golf Club in the Sandbelt, I teed off under threatening skies with a couple of Aussies on holiday. After so much sunshine for the early stages of this trip, I was curious to see how one of the Sandbelt layouts would hold up in the pelting rain that lashed us on the front nine. Turns out, it was almost as if it didn’t rain at all, as the sand-based Metropolitan course drained like a sieve – not a puddle to be found, and the greens retained their bouncy qualities, much like a Scottish links course shedding moisture.
Metropolitan shares history with Royal Melbourne, as they were founded in 1891 as Melbourne Golf Club. Some members left in 1901 and formed what has become Royal Melbourne while others moved to a new site and what became Metropolitan Golf Club at its current site in 1908.
Designed by member J.B. MacKenzie on former farmland, Metropolitan is flatter than several of its Sandbelt neighbors, but the conditioning is first-rate and the green sites feature the same unbelievable bunker styles that cut directly into the putting surfaces as found elsewhere in the Sandbelt. It’s an easy course to walk alongside tall trees, and all in all, is a lovely course close to the city. It ranks No. 15 in Australia and New Zealand.
The skies cleared for the back nine, and I finished almost dry and ready for more golf. I hopped into another cab for a quick ride to Victoria Golf Club, which ranks No. 10 in Australia and New Zealand. But despite having boned up on the histories and legacies of these various clubs, I wasn’t quite prepared for what came next.
The 18th green at Victoria Golf Club in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Visit Victoria/David Scaletti).
You walk behind the clubhouse at Victoria, and there’s no doubt, this is different. The hills peeled off before me in all directions, tall trees filtering the afternoon sunshine that finally had broken free. A statue of five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson – a longtime Victoria member – greets players near the first and 10th tees, and he seemed poised to send me on my way down and to the left into the dogleg 10th fairway as I dashed around the back nine before sunset.
I hate hyperbole for the sake of itself, and I thought to myself that I might just be loopy after so much golf on foot – but there’s no denying that Victoria Golf Club has a bit of an Augusta National vibe. Alister MacKenzie had a major hand in the design of both, after all. Victoria was founded in 1903 and moved to its current site in 1926, coinciding with MacKenzie’s visit to Australia. The Scotsman added much to an unfinished course originally routed by Billy Meader and Oscar Damman, and as you walk down the 13th fairway with impossibly beautiful light filtering through the trees and a green perched atop a rise, it’s hard not to think of Augusta National. Same for the tee shot on the uphill par-3 14th, which immediately calls to mind aspects of No. 6 at Augusta National. Not all of Victoria shares commonality with the home of the Masters, but it’s there in places and one doesn’t need to search too hard to find it.
And I’ll just say it: Victoria features perhaps the best greens in the Sandbelt, rivaling and possibly surpassing even those at Royal Melbourne’s West Course in the minds of several locals who were happy to share their opinions. The greens were resurfaced in 2019, their texture is immaculate and the slopes of the putting surfaces are masterfully tied into the surrounding terrain. These greens are blessed with perfect false fronts, runoffs, and internal slopes that fit seamlessly within the shapes of the holes. Again with what might be considered hyperbole, but Victoria’s might be among the top sets of greens in the world.
All I can say is get on an airplane to experience these putting surfaces – it’s not like you have to paddle to Australia – and you will never forget Victoria Golf Club.
Day 5 of golf: Royal Melbourne West (and East again)
This was the day I had been waiting for, the course that lured me onto the Qantas flight across the Pacific Ocean. I had seen Royal Melbourne’s West Course from afar for way too long, read way too much about Alister MacKenzie’s masterful design to go through life without playing this course.
No. 4 of Royal Melbourne’s West Course in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Visit Victoria/Gary Lisbon).
I was joined by videographer Gabe Gudgel again. He had lingered in Melbourne an extra two days for this round, and he would join me for another loop with tour pro Darcy Brereton, this time on the West. The layout is ranked by Golfweek’s Best as the No. 1 course in all of Australia and New Zealand, and it ties for No. 3 on Golfweek’s Best list of top classic courses in all the world outside the United States.
I’ve played enough courses by MacKenzie to kind of know what to expect. In a simplified nutshell, that would be beautiful and often deceptive bunkering, frequently wide fairways that demand strategy to set up appropriate approach angles and gorgeous greens that fit perfectly into their environments. A former British Army surgeon, MacKenzie had transitioned to course design after the Second Boer War and World War I, during which he studied how battlefield camouflage could be constructed with natural cover. His fascination with that subject has been credited with his flare for natural design and visual trickery on golf courses, and he spelled out many of the tenets of classic course architecture.
And it’s all there at Royal Melbourne’s West Course.
From the opening tee shot into a relatively wide and open fairway to the closing green surrounded by bunkers, it’s all there. The contours of the terrain were perfect for MacKenzie’s artistry, with not a boring shot on the course. The traps slice into the fairways and especially the greens, their hard edges forcing players to steer clear and possibly misplay a shot in fear of finding sand. It’s not an impossibly difficult course, and in following one of MacKenzie’s design principles, there are alternate and more timid routes to most holes that avoid the traps, usually at the cost of one stroke.
A major part of the magic is the firm ground. Slopes are most effective when the golf ball bounces and rolls, as it certainly does on the West. As the green sites are tied into the surrounding mounds, it’s possible on many greens to bounce the ball onto the putting surface. But those long gradients also can repel shots struck too aggressively at a flagstick or those that are even slightly mis-struck and lack the appropriate amount of spin control. The West is the ultimate in golf design, allowing any level of player to get around while challenging even the top players in the world to get a ball close.
We wrapped up on No. 18 just as the skies opened up, rain threatening our afternoon round on the East. We had played the East days before, but as I have mentioned several times, my Australian motto was why stop now? Brereton couldn’t join us for a second 18 that day, so he handed off hosting duties to his friend and fellow member Harrison Gilbert, who competes on the Asian Tour with an Official World Golf Ranking inside the top 1,000 and climbing.
Golfweek’s Jason Lusk chats with touring pro Harrison Gilbert, left, at Royal Melbourne’s East Course in Victoria, Australia (Gabe Gudgel/Golfweek).
Gilbert hits it a mile, as might be expected for a young tour professional, but he was stuck with two drenched and tired American amateurs for a casual round in a rainstorm with nothing on the line. Don’t know how he kept up his enthusiasm, but he couldn’t have been a more inviting host. That was true of all our hosts – each of the Aussies with whom I played seemed thrilled to show off their golf and country. Their passion was contagious.
Day 6 of golf: Peninsula Kingswood North Course
I was on my own for my final day of golf in Australia, Gudgel having had to take off for the States. But I didn’t want to leave until I had seen one final course that offers perhaps the most modern take on Sandbelt golf.
No. 18 green at Peninsula Kingswood in Victoria, Australia (Courtesy of Visit Victoria/Anne Morely).
Peninsula Kingswood was formed in 2013 with the joining of two existing clubs, Peninsula Country Club and Kingswood Golf Club. Just south of Melbourne in Frankston, Peninsula Country Club was the site of 36 holes, and it became the home of the newly formed Peninsula Kingswood Golf Club.
Since the two clubs joined, just about everything has been changed. The club embarked on the construction of a gorgeous clubhouse and lodge accommodations, new practice facilities and a complete renovation to both 18-hole courses, the North and the South. The course work was done by what was then the firm of OCCM (Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Cocking, Mike Clayton and Ashley Mead).
From the start, the goal was to make Peninsula Kingswood a rival to any Sandbelt club, with modern amenities and challenging golf. The bunkers were rebuilt in the Sandbelt fashion, and the overall design of both courses was elevated. The North – the 18 I played – is laid across hillier terrain than the South, but both courses can now claim fans who describe these layouts as among the best in the region. The North Course in particular draws favorable comparisons to its neighbors and is ranked by Golfweek’s Best as No. 21 in all of Australia and New Zealand. The model has proved successful, and as with most of the clubs in the Sandbelt, the new Peninsula Kingswood has a years-long waiting list for membership.
The greens on the North are the stars of this show, especially the conditioning – they are covered with modern Pure Distinction bent grass, the same strain used at Victoria Golf Club. These putting surfaces are immaculate.
Offering smaller targets than at most of its Sandbelt neighbors, many of the North’s greens are flanked on all sides by those Sandbelt-style, sharp-edged bunkers cutting into the putting surfaces. Precision is everything, especially when flags are tucked tight to the bunker lips.
The North is a very different experience than most other Sandbelt courses. Its closest comparison might be Royal Melbourne’s East Course, which also has tiny approach targets. There’s not a lot of forgiveness for sloppy play, but good shots are rewarded. I know not because I hit many great shots at the end of a long trip, but because I watched the threesome of members with whom I was paired hit several solid approach shots to set up birdies. As with most private clubs, the members learn where to go and definitely where not to go. If you get the chance to play the North with an accommodating group of members, watch closely and learn.
We stayed at three hotels for this trip, two of them in Melbourne and one near the beach south of town on the Mornington Peninsula. The Melbourne hotels proved totally convenient to the Sandbelt courses, while the Mornington Peninsula location was a perfect jumping-off spot for St. Andrews Beach, National Golf Club, our Red Hill e-bike tour, the Moonlit Sanctuary and even a stop at the new and swanky Alba Thermal Springs & Spa, where guests in luxurious robes wander between and into pools of various temperature.
Golf photographer Gary Lisbon plays it cool with a python at Moonlit Sanctuary in Victoria, Australia. (Jason Lusk/Golfweek).
We spent the first several nights at the Crowne Towers Melbourne, a luxurious hotel alongside the Yarra River that carves through the city. The Crowne Towers feature a bustling casino along with dozens of restaurant options both internally and along the popular riverwalk.
From there we moved to the Mornington Peninsula and the RACV Cape Schanck Resort, a more casual spot with great views of the coast and its own 18-hole course that we unfortunately didn’t get the chance to play. This is a popular spot for families escaping Melbourne, with children playing on the lawn out back. It’s a perfect launching pad for all the peninsula has to offer, from wineries and dining to ecotours.
We moved finally to our next hotel in downtown Melbourne, which is actually named Next Hotel. It’s a trendy high-rise in the city’s newly developed 80 Collins precinct, offering great rooms within an easy walk of all kinds of dining, shopping, nightlife and city tours.
One thing was certain: We wouldn’t go hungry in Melbourne. The city is a foodie’s dream with a diverse array of dining options. From fish to steak to sushi and way beyond, the Melbourne dining scene is inspired by the natural bounty of its coast as well as the influence of its large and growing international population. Ask your hotel concierge for suggestions or check online, but you can’t go wrong just setting out on a walk through the city’s boroughs to see what dining options capture your imagination.
We took several such borough tours around the city to see the shopping and dining scenes. All along the riverwalk and into downtown, the options seem endless on foot. Melbourne is a very modern city, and it’s just a cool place to wander around on foot to see what’s going on.
Melbourne Cricket Ground is one of the largest stadiums in the world with a maximum attendance of more than 100,000. (Jason Lusk/Golfweek).
A couple of suggestions.
We visited the Melbourne Skydeck, the highest observation platform in the southern hemisphere. On the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower commercial building, it offers panoramic views of the city and bay. It also offers the Edge, a glass-walled box hanging off the side of the building where patrons can hang out for a few minutes with nothing between them and the ground but a clear floor and 935 feet of air. Yes, it’s a bit touristy, but sometimes being a tourist is kind of the point.
We also took a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, one of the largest stadiums in the world with a maximum capacity of just over 100,000. Besides cricket, as the name implies, it’s home to Australian football, soccer, rugby, concerts and much more, and it was the main stadium for the 1956 Olympics. It sits next to Rod Laver Arena and Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open tennis tournament.
So food, lodging, sports – Melbourne and Victoria have a lot to offer. It’s a wonder we made it out of town to play so much golf. But then again, when the courses are as good as those in Victoria and especially along the Sandbelt, golfers have plenty of motivation to keep swinging.