VICTORIA GOLF CLUB - EXCLUSIVE REVIEW
by Darius Oliver, from Australia's Finest Golf Courses
The Victoria Golf Club
Course Opened – 1927
Designer – William Meader, Oscar Damman, Dr Alister MacKenzie
Melbourne businessman William Meader is considered the forefather of Victorian golf, having helped establish the state’s Golf Association in 1902 and founding the Victoria Golf Club at Fishermen’s Bend the following year. Meader was later the driving force behind the move to Cheltenham and in 1923, with club captain Oscar Damman, laid out the current course. Construction was hampered however by bad weather and problems with site access but the delay proved a blessing as it allowed travelling architect Dr Alister MacKenzie to advise on the bunkering of the unfinished course.
Clearly impressed MacKenzie told the club that ‘little more is required to make this a magnificent golf course’ and then proceeded to add finishing touches to the existing routing by mapping bunkers and suggesting a few green changes.
Perfectly situated in the heart of the Melbourne Sandbelt and across the road from Royal Melbourne, the layout these three men created is outstanding with a collection of fine holes falling beautifully across the naturally undulating terrain. Fairways are forgiving yet place a premium on preferred driving lines while the green sites are brilliantly contoured and original. The style of design together with the shape of MacKenzie’s bold bunkering, the slope of the land and use of native vegetation is somewhat reminiscent of Royal Melbourne albeit on a slightly smaller scale.
The central and southern sections of the site are the highlight particularly holes 9 through 13, which take the golfer on an absorbing journey through the most interesting undulation on the course. The long 9th is a classic Sandbelt par five running across the tumbling hills while the wonderful short 10th, described by MacKenzie in 1926 as ‘a fine drive and pitch adventure’, features a dipping, sweeping fairway and sublime green site.
Falling away toward the southwestern corner of the property, the charming 12th finishes little more than a wedge from Royal Melbourne and is followed by the best par four on the course, which heads blind over a rise and then into an elevated green from a down-sloping fairway.
Many believe Victoria’s greatest weakness is the configuration of holes as each nine closes with back to back par five’s. Despite being an unusual arrangement the 9th and 17th are both world class while the famous short 18th provides a stirring finish with many matches decided on its enormous front to back sloping green. Like most holes at Victoria gaping MacKenzie sand traps strategically line the approach to the green and dominate the vista from the top of the fairway.
Although some down play MacKenzie’s influence at Victoria, it is impossible to deny that his superb bunkers define the character of the course. Identifying a weakness in the Australian game MacKenzie actually boasted during his visit that his scheme of bunkering would help raise the standard of golf by ‘stimulating the scratch man to improve his game’. This prophecy was most famously realised at Victoria, which began producing champion golfers almost the moment he departed.
During the 1980’s one such member, five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson, was responsible for one of the only significant course changes when he raised the green on the driveable 1st hole. More recently the club sought to regenerate the layout after years of slow deterioration by employing local architect Michael Clayton to oversee the renovation of the original bunkering. Referring back to an old black and white aerial shot of the course taken shortly after the 1927 opening, Clayton expertly and faithfully restored the famous MacKenzie hazards to their former glory.
Careful to preserve the subtlety and integrity of the original design some minor tweaking also took place in preparation for the 2002 Australian Open. A number of holes 5, 9, 17 and 18 were lengthened and alterations made to strengthen the par five finishing holes. The bunkering and mounding around the 17th green was reworked significantly while the 18th tee was extended, the landing area tightened and greenside bunkers enhanced. These modern changes were relatively minor and have been generally well received.
Long regarded as one of our elite courses Victoria today exists as a tribute to the hard-working pioneers who laid the clubs foundations, and the divine contribution of Dr MacKenzie who helped shape a very good golf club into a truly great one.
This review features in Australia's Finest Golf Courses (RRP $49.95).
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