The Takeaway: The premier course in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the finest tracks on Mother Earth. Pictures don’t begin to sufficiently show the curves, subtleties, and movement that this property enjoys. Architecturally it is a masterpiece that is only trumped by the Composite course as having the ultimate property for golf in Melbourne. Grade A+
Designer: Alister MacKenzie in 1931
Cost: Private Private (Interstate, International, and Reciprocal visitors welcome) Click for membership information
Phone Number: 61 3 9599 0500
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Royal Melbourne Golf Club (West)'s official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - Cheltenham Road, Black Rock, Victoria 3193
Accolades: Ranked 3rd in Australia by Golf Course Gurus.
What to Expect: Simply one of the finest golf courses in the world. This is the course that sets the standard for Australia golfing greatness and an attraction that draws in players from all over the world. Heading into my round I was a bit worried that Royal Melbourne would be overrated because the pictures I saw depicted little movement in the property and it was difficult to identify the architectural greatness. After the first hole, my worries increased. After the second hole, I was feeling a little better. By the time I came to the world class 5th hole I knew I would be experiencing golfing nirvana. The movement throughout the property exceeds virtually anything else in the Melbourne area with holes 4 - 11 being a particularly excellent stretch. It becomes more impressive to consider how good the holes are and the undulations in the property when you see the primitive shovel and plow equipment that was used along with a horse to do construction. The West course is not long, but instead relies on top shelf green complexes and testy pin locations to put some teeth in the layout while tempting you with risk/reward opportunities that can bite you hard if you get too greedy. The one-shotters stand out at Royal Melbourne with brilliant bunkering and green surfaces that are demanding in both slope and speed while some of the par fours are as good as anything you’ll ever play. Crossing the road and getting to the flatter part of the property on holes 13 - 16 is less inspiring and a worthy omission when Royal Melbourne routs the Composite course that is used for major competitions such as the President’s Cup. The vast majority of players will walk the course and caddies are available, particularly for visitors, but there are some medical exceptions that would allow a motorized cart. In the end, Royal Melbourne is world class. The staff and membership is extremely friendly, accommodating, and not near as stuffy as one would expect as a similar caliber course in the United States. A true fan of golf course architecture hasn’t completed their studies without a visit to Royal Melbourne; it is the fundamental of minimalist greatness.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 5th Hole – 176 Yard Par 3 – The instant you stand on the tee box for the 5th hole you know you have arrived as a special one-shotter and one of the best mid-length par threes in the world. A total of five bunkers hug the edges of the putting surface and flighting your ball far enough onto the green that it stays is paramount for success as chipping from the apron short of the green requires the finest of touch. Getting above the hole is one of the scariest experiences in golf, and if you have some side slope to add to it your knees will be knocking over a three footer more than anywhere else that you've likely experienced. The hill the green sits on with the natural amphitheater surrounding the putting surface is truly one of the finest greensites in the world and never provides a dull moment.
Best Par 3: 7th Hole – 148 Yards – The 7th is further proof that you don't need length to design a testing par three. At less than 150 yards, the hole looks like a pushover on paper; but we all know that golf isn't played on paper. A brilliant uphill one-shotter, this hole features a modest sized green protected on the right by a series of three bunkers while the solo bunker long and left ensures that you can't completely bail out when firing at this hole. The green slopes hard from left to right with the only flat spot being afforded on the right third or quarter of the green. That flat portion is a tiny target to hit but yields big rewards if you do, whereas staying left affords more putting surface to play with but a much more challenging putt afterwards. Experiencing the brilliance of Alister MacKenzie and Royal Melbourne is one of the great experiences in the world of golf, and the 7th hole contributes to that.
Best Par 4: 6th Hole – 428 Yards – Like the 8th at Pebble Beach, it takes about a millisecond to see how the 6th hole on Royal Melbourne's West course is one of the finest par fours on Mother Earth. The bunkering on the corner of the dogleg is the best I've ever seen in an effort to protect the hole without being unreasonable. The bunkering on that corner stretches out farther the further right you aim; so if you are going to try and cut the corner you darn well better hit your ball solid and precisely online. If you don't take on the bunkers then you aim left of them to what appears to be a wide landing area but can quickly turn against you as the fairway slopes away from the player and towards the tall grass and foliage on the far side. The further left you are off the tee the more challenging the approach shot is as the heinous bunker fronting the left side of the green comes into play; and that is the most difficult bunker on the entire property to save par from. The severely sloping green is a challenge on its own and would surely be considered a par three on a miniature golf course going from one end to the other, and four putts are not that uncommon. This is a fantastic hole that challenges every level of golfer and greatly rewards those that can tame it.
Best Par 5: 4th Hole – 504 Yards – Ascending and then descending over a large sand dune, the 4th hole is a great par five and an even better scoring opportunity. The tee shot plays to a blind landing area with the ideal line being just right of the three fairway bunkers that separates this hole from the neighboring 17th hole of the East course. Well struck tee shots will tumble down the backside of the dune and follow the right bend in the fairway. With a clean look from the fairway, there is no reason not to take a rip at hitting this green in two with a generous opening being afforded in front of the putting surface and a flat green to putt on once you are there. The miss you can’t have here is to the right; both on the tee shot where trees line the fairway and on the approach shot where the bunker complex short of the green is a nasty, and awkward, place to recover from.
Birdie Time: 10th Hole – 312 Yard Par 4 – There are so many great short par fours Melbourne’s Sandbelt, but none are better than this hole. From the elevated tee players are presented a choice on what club to hit and how aggressive of a play that will result in. The cavernous bunker on the left side must be avoided at all costs and protects a direct line to the green. Laying up to the generous fairway right of the bunker brings some sloping contours into play with the fairway tilting back towards the player for much of the time and then falling away to the brush once you’ve crested the peak. Many players have taken out a longer club in an attempt to drive the green only to find themselves tumbling through the brush on the backside if their line wasn’t perfect. The ideal play is a 3-wood that starts right of the fairway bunker and draws in toward the green while staying short of the bunker complex flanking the right side of the putting surface. The small green features a swell in front which gathers approach shots not given sufficient oomph while trying to reach the flag. The sloping putting surface is found at the high point of the hill and is unkind to shots that are struck with reckless accuracy. Pure genius in design and terrain, the 10th on Royal Melbourne’s West course is simply one of the best driveable par fours on the planet.
Bogey Beware: 11th Hole – 455 Yard Par 4 – After coming off a great birdie chance, Dr. MacKenzie and Royal Melbourne counter with a hole that wants to take that stroke right back. The tee shot plays well downhill before doglegging left and uphill to the greensite, but the key is picking the correct line with your driver. A line straight away likely runs through the fairway into the brush so the best line is at the corner of the dogleg that carries the bunker without getting swatted down by the tea trees on the left. Obviously the shorter the approach shot you leave yourself the better, especially if you can control the spin while engaging this green that slopes hard from the high point on the right down to the left. The miss is to the left that will allow you to be more aggressive on the chip shot back into the green’s grain. Hitting the green from 200+ yards out is a monumental feat so if you need to layup then pick your spot short of the greenside bunkers that allows for the best angle to that day’s pin placement.