Imagine if Pine Valley, Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes, Shinnecock Hills and Sand Hills were all within an hour-and-a-half of a dynamic city like San Francisco and each of those courses, even the private ones, would let people like you and me book a tee time.
Believe it or not, that fantasy land actually exists 8,000 miles away in Southern Australia. It's called Melbourne, and if you are passionate about golf it is a place you have to visit.
To help get you started, I will give you my thoughts on the best places to play, stay, eat and drink in Australia’s cultural capital.
Where to play golf in Melbourne, Australia
With two of Australia’s top 10 courses, Royal Melbourne Golf Club stands out in the sandy golfing paradise of Melbourne. The opening and closing stretches of the club’s East Course are certainly memorable, but the West Course is in a league of its own and epitomizes all that is great about golf in Australia’s Sandbelt: imposing bunkers, rugged terrain and thought-provoking green complexes.
Kingston Heath, located just down the road from Royal Melbourne, sometimes plays second fiddle to its more famous neighbor but the course, thanks to Dr. Alister MacKenzie, has arguably the best bunkering of any course in the world and is not to be missed. The perfectly manicured layout will be on display during this year’s World Cup of Golf and the brilliant arrangement of bunkered holes will, without a doubt, whet the appetite of any aspiring golf traveler.
Literally across the street from Royal Melbourne is another world top 100 track at Victoria Golf Club. I boldly asserted the supremacy of Kingston Heath’s bunkers but Victoria’s aren’t far behind and they frame the course beautifully. The layout uniquely opens with a 250-yard par 4 and each nine closes with back-to-back par fives but scoring is never as easy as it seems it should be.
The Metropolitan Golf Club shares the same expanse of divine golfing terrain with the gems above and is widely considered to be Australia’s best-conditioned course, even drawing comparisons to Augusta National in regards to the quality of its fairways and greens. The course has played host to its fair share of high profile events but, most days during the year, the course feels like an immaculate golfing sanctuary that is detached from the rest of the world.
The course at St. Andrews Beach sits just over an hour south of the Melbourne city center amid the prime golfing real estate of the Mornington Peninsula. Tom Doak was commissioned to design the course, and he made use of the Victorian duneland’s natural ridges and valleys to create a variety of captivating holes that perfectly integrate the course and the rolling landscape.
Just down the road from St. Andrews Beach is the Dunes Golf Links, a course that feels like a mix of the Scottish Highlands and the Melbourne Sandbelt. Wind plays a significant role at the Dunes, but local architect Tony Cashmore did well to give every level of golfer a chance to post a score.
The closest things Australia has to a true Scottish links is found on the Bellarine Peninsula southwest of Melbourne at Barwon Heads Golf Club. The 6,400-yard course ventures right up next to the coastline of the Bass Straight and the firm fairways, ever-changing wind, and subtle nuances mimic the challenges of many of the world’s great old links.
A stone’s throw from Barwon Heads is the 36-hole facility at Thirteenth Beach. The Beach Course, the club’s preeminent course, has the rustic, bedraggled look that many minimalist course architects aim to create. The great variety and natural feeling of the par threes is particularly striking, especially on the standout 12th and the postage stamp-like short 16th.
In Part 2, I let you know where to stay, eat, and drink in Melbourne.
Jonathan Alden is a contributor at Golf News Net and the founder of Worldwide Golf Adventures, a golf travel company based in Austin, TX that offers dream vacations to the world's top golf destinations.