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GOLF TRAVEL

Sandbelt Splendour There's no doubt that Melbourne's sandbelt region is home to at least a dozen world-class courses. HK Golfer's Australian correspondent Paul Myers checks out a select few

Courtesy of Victoria Golf Club

A Player’s Guide

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ydney has the glamour, but Melbourne has the golf. It’s true: Australia’s second largest city and acknowledged sporting capital has a golfing pedigree second to none Down Under. Some say it even beats St Andrews and the Monterey Peninsula – it certainly falls into the very highest echelon of the planet's finest golf destinations. Six of Australia's top-ranked courses can be found here and the appeal of the city as a golf hub par excellence is further enhanced by its convenience. You can reach each of these layouts in less than thirty minutes from the central business district, while at least another dozen world-class tracks are no more than an hour's drive from downtown. It needn't be said but these are jaw-dropping facts for those of us in golf-starved Hong Kong.

Bunkered: The approach to the eighteenth hole at Victoria Golf Club

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Melbourne Magic: Commonwealth's clubhouse (below) lies enviably picturesque setting; you don't want to miss the fairways at Victoria (top right); the famed West Course at Royal Melbourne is

This golfing nirvana is all down to physical and human influences. The sandbelt of land circling Port Phillip Bay, with Melbourne at its apex, offers the game's ideal landscape. Throw in the design skills of Dr Alister MacKenzie, the Scotsman who created Augusta National, Cypress Point and two of Melbourne's best courses and – bingo – you have the perfect mix. When all this and a Mediterranean climate come together in a vibrant, fast-growing cosmopolitan city of four million sports-mad people, the place really has it all. Which explains why, in golfing terms, Royal Melbourne, which will host the President's Cup in November for the second time, its neighbour Kingston Heath and the city's dozen other sandbelt courses are so revered. The great news for Hong Kong golfers is that while these are all private clubs – and proudly so – midweek tee times are available to international visitors if booked well in advance. An up-to-date handicap from a recognized body (in our case, the Hong Kong Golf Association) is normally all that's required. Not surprisingly, green fee rates are high (especially at the moment given the strength of the Australian dollar), but deals can be found. Victoria Golf Club, in harness with Kingston Heath and Metropolitan, for example, is currently offering attractive threeand five-night stay/play packages. Check the clubs' websites for details.

WHERE TO PLAY

ROYAL MELBOURNE (West Course) HHHHH For ye a r s , t he C omp o site C ou r se – comprising twelve holes of Alister MacKenzie's West Course and six holes of the East – was considered Australia's finest. Indeed, Golf Digest named it the sixth best course outside the United States. But although the President's Cup will be played over this combination, the powers that be have determined that the two courses be rated separately, with the favoured West now lying closely behind Kingston Heath and Sydney's New South Wales Club in the national rankings. Regardless, this takes nothing away from the individual quality and aura of the two tracks. Neither is long, measuring just over 6,000 metres (6550 yards) each, but their subtlety, especially in the bunkering and the green complexes, make them a test for even the very best. Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Fred Couples are among the club's biggest fans. Probably the most famous of the thirty-six holes at Royal Melbourne is the sixth on the West, a longish, sharply doglegging par-four featuring an elevated green that slopes steeply from back to front. ARCHITECT: Dr Alister MacKenzie (1931) YARDAGE/PAR: 6,589/72 CONTACT: royalmelbourne.com.au; (61) 3 9598 6755

Courtesy of Commonwealth Golf Club (Commonwealth); Courtesy of Victoria Golf Club (Victoria); Courtesy of Royal Melbourne Golf Club (Royal Melbourne)

KINGSTON HEATH HHHHH It's splitting hairs to differentiate Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in terms of quality – both are, quite frankly, sublime. Host of the 2009 Australian Masters, which provided Tiger Woods with his last tournament victory, MacKenzie thought it was too long at 6,312 yards when he was called in to design the bunkers after Sydney professional Dan Souter had laid down the original routing. Back then the course played as a par 82 with twelve parfives and just two par-threes. That of course has since changed (with the number of long holes reduced to just three, while the fifteenth was changed, on MacKenzie's advice, from a parfour to a par-three). Its expanded length (the course now measures close to 7,000 yards) didn't concern Tiger too much when he compiled a four-round total of 14-under, but it is certainly still a challenge for mere mortals, who find the many dips and hollows in the fairways and the abundance of native ti trees and contoured greens an extreme test even in calm conditions. Considered the toughest hole on the course, the blind par-four sixteenth, with its sloping landing 68

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area, double green (shared with the par-three eighth) and phalanx of greenside bunkering is a great example. Souter and MacKenzie's handiwork "is far and away the best of the regular tournament courses," says local boy Geoff Ogilvy. "The US Open has stunning courses but most of the American courses are nowhere near as good as Kingston Heath." ARCHITECT: Dan Souter and Dr Alister MacKenzie (1925) YARDAGE/PAR: 6,946/72 CONTACT: kingstonheath.com.au; (61) 3 8558 2700 HK Golfer・JUN 2011

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Courtesy of Royal Melbourne Golf Club (Royal Melbourne); Courtesy of Commonwealth Golf Club (Commonwealth)

VICTORIA HHHHH Five-time Open champion Peter Thomson played much of his early golf at Victoria Golf Club and like all of Melbourne's first-rate sandbelt courses is renowned for its bunkering (the good doctor MacKenzie has his input here too), immaculate fairways and greens and magnificent stands of eucalyptus trees. First-time visitors are often fooled by the easy opening hole, a par-four of just 260 yards from the back tees. But what follows – three long parfours interspersed by a tight par-three – soon stamp the measure of this wonderful layout. In reality there are any number of memorable holes – although the eighteenth, a mighty par-five of 600 yards, will perhaps linger longest in the memory. One of Victoria's biggest advantages for the overseas visitor is its on-site accommodation. Not only does the club make an excellent base in which to enjoy the sandbelt (the other courses reviewed here are within a fifteen-minute drive) but houseguests are allowed to play golf on any day of the week – unlike regular visitors who are not permitted to book tee times on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. ARCHITECT: William Meader, Oscar Damman and Dr Alister MacKenzie (1927) YARDAGE/PAR: 6,866/72 CONTACT: victoriagolfclub.com.au; (61) 3 9583 1170

Picture Perfect: Royal Melbourne's characteristic greenside bunkering (above); one of the few water hazards in the Sandbelt, here at Commonwealth 70

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METROPOLITAN HHHHH Formed by members who lef t Roya l Melbourne when that club moved away from the city's south-eastern suburbs, Metropolitan was designed by MacKenzie – not Alister, but his namesake, J.B., an Australian engineer. Although unknown by comparison, his layout has stood the test of time magnificently. Renowned throughout the land for its soft couch grass landing areas and fast bent grass

greens (and, naturally, its typically wonderful sandbelt bunkering), the course is one of the most environmentally-friendly around – the vast number and variety of native birds that flock here is a testament to the ecologically sensitive practices the club has had in place since it opened its doors at the turn of the twentieth century. Golf's greatest names have flocked here since then too. Peter Thomson won the 1971 Australian Open here; Jack Newton beat an upand-coming Greg Norman by one shot for the national title in 1979 and Brad Faxon took the coveted Stonehaven Cup in 1993. Walter Hagen described it as the best course in Australia when he visited in 1930, an opinion echoed by LPGA player Katherine Hull, who was left in awe after playing her first round here a few years' back. Straight hitting is the key to scoring well at Metropolitan; it's regular practice at the club to hand-mow the bunker edges, which makes its deep-sided pits some of the easiest to find anywhere. ARCHITECT: J.B. MacKenzie (1908) YARDAGE/PAR: 6,718/72 CONTACT: metropolitangolf.com.au; (61) 3 9570 3774 COMMONWEALTH HHHHH Host course of the 2010 and 2011 Australian Women's Open, Commonwealth isn't as wellknown outside of the country as some of the other courses listed here – but as a strategic test, it's every bit as enjoyable. Add this fact to its constantly sublime conditioning and Commonwealth ranks as a definite must-play. Despite its suburban location, Commonwealth, which was the work of Sam Bennett and the great Harry Colt (who designed the famed West Course at Wentworth, among many other classic tracks), gives the feeling of being in the Australian bush, a sense aided by the club's tree management programme, which is probably the best of any Down Under. With only one par-three on the back nine, the course plays 36 out and 37 in. The opening hole, a short parfour, is the most straightforward on the course, allowing players to ease themselves into their rounds. The first three holes on the back nine are especially penal however, starting with a long par-five that features the longest green on the course, followed by two par-fours that rank as index one and three respectively. A natural lake between the third and sixth holes provides one of the few water hazards in the sandbelt. Somewhat surprisingly, Commonwealth has hosted only one major men's tournament, the 1967 Australian Open, which was won – not so surprisingly – by the indomitable Peter Thomson, who mastered the wind and shot a brilliant 11-under-par total. HKGOLFER.COM

ARCHITECT: Sam Bennet and Harry Colt (1921) YARDAGE/PAR: 6,977/73 CONTACT: commonwealthgolf.com.au; (61) 3 9570 0444

WHAT TO DO / WHERE TO STAY

Staying in the central business district (CBD) makes sense for those wanting to access Melbourne's other delights: great food and wine at a vast array of restaurants, cafes and quaint English-style pubs. Theatre is a popular draw (there are always several major productions), while watching a cricket match at the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) during the summer (or Australian Rules during the winter) is an especially agreeable way to while away the hours. Hongkongers need no introduction to horseracing, and with three tracks and one of the most important races in the sport (the Melbourne Cup, held on the second Tuesday of November), Melbourne is unquestionably the racing capital of the southern hemisphere. The Langham (langhamhotels.com.au) is one of the most highly regarded and luxurious city hotels in Australia and is ideally situated for those wanting to explore all of Melbourne's attractions, while the Crown Towers (crowntowers.com.au), located right next to

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the casino and entertainment complex of the same name, is an excellent choice for those wishing to hit the tables.

WHEN TO GO

Generally speaking, the best time to visit Melbourne is between September and May, although be warned: January and February can be searingly hot. The rest of the summer months are comfortably warm. The winter months from June to August can be cool and wet. The city has a reputation for rain, which is statistically unfounded as Melbourne receives only fifty per cent of the average rainfall of either Brisbane or Sydney.

GETTING THERE

Cathay Pacific operates three flights daily to Melbourne (two nonstop; approximately nine hours); while Qantas, the Australian carrier, flies one nonstop daily service. The city's public transport network is extensive, and while hiring a car gives you the freedom and comfort to navigate your own way to the sandbelt, it is possible (and relatively painless) to travel the 15 miles or so by train from Melbourne's Flinders Street station to the suburb of Cheltenham and take a taxi to the clubs from there.

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A Player’s Guide HKGOLFER.COM HKGOLFER.COM 66 HK GOLFER・JUN 2011 HK GOLFER・JUN 2011 67 There's no doubt that Melbourne's sandbelt region is...