You feel lucky when you know where you are…
Friday the 13th is one of those feared dates brewed by superstition down the ages. Not sure the history why and I don’t really feel the need to really find out. All I do know is that Friday the 13th in January 2017 is a good date, the reason here is Royal Melbourne West and my invitation to play it. Massive thanks to Glenn and Alistair for extending the invitation to play, as many know one is not easily obtained. Royal Melbourne West is also the first course I’m to play in the world top 10. I had heard some mutterings that the course was overrated which I completely disagree with. The course oozes quality and is too good for me to review but I’ll attempt too anyway!
There are two courses at Royal Melbourne – the West and East. Major events played at Royal Melbourne utilise the composite course. This comprises 12 holes from the West and 6 from the East. As many of you know, it’s extremely hard to score an invitation to play the Composite course (there are only a handful of opportunities for members every year) so a good reason to play both. Course was relocated to its site in Blackrock in 1926 and esteemed architect Dr Alistair Mackenzie invited to help design the new layout. He liaised with Alex Russell and left plans with him and the head greenkeeper Mick Morcom to implement. The course opened for play in 1931 and largely remains essentially the same to this day. Incidentally Russell designed the East course which opened for play a year later. The Composite course was devised in 1959 when Royal Melbourne was asked to host the World Cup of golf and has since hosted numerous events. Course is in the running to host the 2019 Presidents Cup. I for one will be attending if they are successful.
As expected the club often is visited by various aluminaries from the sporting world. Nick Faldo rates it as his favourite course. The best story I heard was Jordan Spieth. He was playing in one of the Australian PGA events and being the golf lover he is decided that he fancied a round at Australia’s elite course. Jordan rocked up unannounced and was told by club management that he was only able to play with a member. I can’t imagine what the lucky RM member felt when asked if he wouldn’t mind chaperoning Mr Spieth around the course when they turned up that morning. Once word got out I hear the party had amassed a number of spectators by the end of the round. I wonder if Spieth is a Mackenzie fan, read somewhere that Pastiempo is one of his favourite courses.
So how good is the course? As often when writing the blog I don’t feel worthy to review a course. I come up with a rating though it’s simply a way to keep track of where I’ve played. All I can say is the experience of playing a round at Royal Melbourne is magical. The conditioning is exemplary, masterful layouts and truly unique greens (try and stay below the hole). It rained when we played but can’t imagine how quick they would have been on a 35 degree summer day. The brown appearance gives them that uniqueness and will be interesting to see how the Pros tackle them if the course is chosen to host the Presidents Cup again. One of the great things about the course is how it caters to both amateur and professional golfers. Wide forgiving fairways for the shorter hitters who can then plan their attack to the green. The bunkering is canny and a number of the teeshots are risk\reward affairs for the longer hitter to attain a better position to attack the green. Penalties are severe if plan is not executed.
Round starts fairly inauspiciously with a longish Par 4 with generous room on the fairway to get the teeshot away. The second is the first of the Par 5 holes and also the first of the many dogleg holes and a great risk reward hole. Significant distance can be saved by cutting the corner to the right over the bunkers, this becomes a recurring theme around the course. The third is a short dogleg Par 4, best to stay to the right to open up the green. The fourth is a short Par 5 played around a large sand-dune, ideal to play up for a simple pitch to green rather than attacking in two. The fifth is quite possibly the best hole I’ve ever played. Layout is framed by bush and you have a feeling of hitting into a grand stage, the stage being the green and is well protected by several bunkers. The green slopes from front to back. I played the hole abysmally but would love to return and hit a few balls. The sixth is another strong Par 4 which can be attacked by taking on the bunkers to the right, hole is significantly harder is your tee shot ends up left of the hole. Next up is the second of the Par 3s, only a wedge or 9 iron and the safe is left green. A mound there will bring the ball to the centre of green. The 8th is a mid-length Par 4 played to a green framed by Cyprus trees. There are two greens here (one for the East course) and Geoff was aiming for the wrong one initially. Luckily we didn’t repeat our mistake at St George’s Hill! The outward nine concludes with a Par 4, driving the mound garners significant distance and a position right of the fairway allows better access to the green.
The tenth is one of the best Par 4s I’ve played as well. Short distance but imperative to stay right of the hole to make life easier. I skewed my 3 wood a little right and had to play over a gigantic bunker reminiscent of Royal St Georges. The members call this hole ‘Hells half-acre’. Very appropriate. The eleventh is a long Par 4 dogleg left, a nice draw from the tee is best option here to open up the hole. The twelfth is a short par 5 which is very reachable with two shorts. I managed to almost do this yet still parred the hole. The thirteenth is a short Par 3 where the green slopes off the back. Fourteenth is another short Par 4 where there is temptation to cut the corner for optimum position. The fifteenth is a short Par 5 and is reachable in two, green rises sharply from the front is a tough hole to put on. The sixteenth is the last of the Par 3s and a long one to boot. Ideal shot is a draw here though there are several bunkers waiting to snaffle errant shots to the right. This is the last of the holes across the road. The course closes with two tough Par 4s. Each requires decent length from the tee to be able to reach green in two. The 18th in particular is a hairy shot where the line is over the right side bunkers, there is a lot of fairway to play with on the other side and sets up the approach. A finish not for the faint of heart!
I certainly felt sad crossing the road after the sixteenth realising that time was almost up. The members are a lucky bunch there, mind I’m very fortunate to be able to play the National. Although the weather wasn’t great, the course certainly was and the company on the day even better. Goes without saying but never pass up the opportunity to play at Royal Melbourne.
Favourite Hole – Par 3 Fifth
Hardest Hole – Par 4 Eighteenth