The West course at Royal Melbourne is the only truly great course in the southern hemisphere. In Australia, however, this fact is obscured at times. With its narrow fairways ruthlessly rewarding accurate driving, some consider Kingston Heath as the finest course in Melbourne. Others claim that title goes to Metropolitan with its beautifully prepared playing surfaces. How can there be such a discrepancy among reasonable men when the choice is so clear?
The naysayers would point to Melbourne’s incredibly wide fairways and huge greens. After all, what kind of a driving test is the first at Melbourne? Embarrassment to miss the seventy yard wide fairway would be supreme. The greens can appear so large as to be hard to miss. Furthermore, there is no water to be found on any of Royal Melbourne’s thirty six holes to tighten the challenge.
Large greens and wide fairways, however, are part of what make Royal Melbourne so compelling. The wide fairways give the golfer of all levels numerous options from the tee. To gain the optimum advantage off the tee, the better golfer must confront the holes primary defenses. For example, if the fairway bunker on the five par second hole is successfully carried, the stronger golfer is rewarded with a second shot into a big green (he won’t know exactly how far as there are no yardage markers anywhere on the course). However, being on the green is not nearly as important as being on the correct side. Given the contouring, firmness, and pace of the these famed putting surfaces, three putt opportunities abound. The better golfer is continually challenged until the putt drops; the less accomplished player can bumble along without fear of losing his ball while still playing to his handicap.
Kingston Heath is confined to a small piece of property. The goal is just to hit the fairway, given the trouble that surrounds most fairways. As for Metropolitan, the course is set on flattish land without enjoying Royal Melbourne’s natural rolling features and has nowhere near the huge scale of Royal Melbourne. The corresponding strategic element of granting the golfer room to play is therefore lacking at both these courses.
When you get right down to it, a great golf course must have great holes. This ultimately is the attribute that lifts Royal Melbourne (West) above the other courses in Melbourne’s famed Sandbelt region and places it among the world’s half dozen greatest courses.
Holes to Note:
Third hole, 355 yards; An all-world medium-short length two shotter made by its green site. After a drive or three wood, the golfer is left with a shortish iron to a relatively big green. So what is the big deal? The fairway slopes gradually down to a green that continues to slope away from the golfer. In the fairway, the golfer now realizes that he has to land the ball on the front third of the green or the ball will eventually end up at the back of the green, if not off it. If the approach pulls up just shy of the green, it is likely to collect in a swale, leaving the player a chip to a green that races away from him. Greens like this identify whether the approach shot has been properly struck: a little thin and the ball heads for the back. From there, it is all too easy to turn two strokes into three.The competent golfer heading to the fourth tee after a bogey on a potential birdie hole is not pleased.
Fourth hole, 475 yards; One of the greatest examples of a half par hole, in this case a four and a half par for most low markers. A decent drive over the crest will roll an extra 25 yards to bring the green in reach. However, what a shot! It is certainly among a handful of the most thrilling shots in Australia. On the right side of the green and extending thirty yards out into the fairway is what has been described as the greatest bunker in the country – fifteen feet deep with all varieties of native shrubs and vegetation to keep the lonely golfer company.