Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Metropolitan Golf Club

April 21, 2010

"Three beers and three steak sandwiches, please." We were told not to miss the steak sandwich in Metropolitan's grill rooom, someone suggested it was nearly the best part of coming to the club. It was prpbably another member of one of Melbourne's other illustrious clubs. I took the lunch reccommendation very seriously, but once again I vowed to be as objective as possible while seeing the golf course for the first time. So we sat waiting for our food and began tallying the scores, recounting the highlights of the day.

The first highlight was being greeted by former professional golfer turned full time golf architect Mike Clayton. Mr. Clayton is probably most well known for his collaboration with Tom Doak on the design and construction of Barnbougle Dunes Golf Links. Mr. Clayton made a great gesture by coming to greet us on the tee. Unable to join us for our Wednesday morning round he took the time to chat, watch us tee off (I somehow managed to find the fairway with my drive) and wish us well for the day as we left the 10th tee in warm morning sunlight.

We were all immeadiatly impressed by a secluded and natural feeling on the golf course, amplified by many small chirping birds and squawking parrots. An ideal setting found only in Australia.

The back nine begins with a slight dogleg left played to a green which is open to a running approach. The next hole standing at 140 meters is a real stunner. All by itself, this short hole requires a precise approah over two large bunkers guarding the left and right sides of the green. Once on the green, a ridge protrudes naturally from the back edge of the front right bunker across to the back of the green, creating two distinct putting zones. Highlight here, we all made 3!

On the very next hole an interesting option is presented off the tee with a large diagonal cross bunker splitting the fairway in two. Having never played here before we all decided to go with the unknown and attempted a carry over to the right side of the fairway. It would be nice to come back and attempt a play down the left side, but I'd probably just repeat my bogey save from the bunkers around this well protected green.

The par 3 13th was out of play so we skipped straight over to the strong and strategic 474 meter par 5 14th. A well placed bunker on the left side guards against a thoughtless drive. A long drive up the right side is required to attempt a well placed second shot that will surely cash in on this hole. Depending on the location of the pin on this large perched green your lay up will be directed to the left or right side of the fairway. The hardest pin to get to would be a front right pin as the left side of the fairway is patrolled by a deep bunker running diagonally away from the line of play.

The next highlight came on the short par 4 16th. The landing area affords plenty of room to the left but the fairway turns nearly 90 degrees around a cluster of bunkers off the right side of the fairway. It is a deceptive hole from the tee and requires more than a little course knowledge to get the drive right. A long iron or fairway wood played to the left will leave about 140 meters to the green. My super human partners attempted driver over the corner while I was once again confronted with my golfing mortality, having to "smartly" attempt driver just left of the corner bunkers. While my partners sat snuggly in the neck of the dogleg my drive was snared by the last possible bunker on the sharp dog leg. I then expertly lofted a sand iron just past the pin and meekly two putted for my par. Phewww! A good par on a fun "thinkers" hole.

The front nine also impressed us with some strong holes. Namely the first which puts on an impressive display of bunkering along the entire hole. The green is heavily guarded on both sides requiring a precise approach for so early in the round, not an easy starter.

The second hole is also a good par 3 at 143 meters, but only a watered down version of the 11th hole. Both have similar settings, alone amongst the trees and guarded in front by bunkers. However, the number two hole is only slightly less dramatic from a visual standpoint.

The other par 3 to note on the front nine would be the 19th hole which we were delighted to play. The hole itself is only a short uphill wedge from the tee, but it was interesting to see the clubs' extra hole as we did at New South Wales. The planning of a 19th hole is a very useful addition to any club as it allows work to be done on various holes around the golf course without disrupting the 18 hole loop.

The last of the golfing highlights came on our 18th hole or the 9th. The drive is obscured off the tee by some mounding of a time gone past. However, the mounds make for any interesting perspective from the tee and hide the severity of the dogleg. All three of us drove through the left side of the fairway because of the well camoflauged dogleg. The second shot also proves to be a stern challenge as you must not miss long or left. Either result will surely end in bogey or worse. Almost comically, all three of us ended up directly behind the green. As some members casually walked past we could hear the teasing as we sized up our delicate chip shots. All we could do was smile and take our bogeys back to the grill room.

Since the cats are out of the bag on Metropolitan's golf course, I'll ease the tension some more and bring in the verdict on the steak sandwich. I assure you that it was an excellent sandwich and went down faster than my beer. However any dining experience that does not include the words "all you can eat lobster" would fall short of the satisfaction that you get from playing just 18 holes at the Metropolitan Golf Club.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Golfing Australia: The Royal Melbourne Golf Club 20/4/10

Fresh off our morning round at Commonwealth, our group took a short cab ride over to The Royal Melbourne Golf Club. The mighty Royal Melbourne, this is the image I held in my imagination. As one of the most renowned courses in the Sandbelt, I was hearing polar opposite opinions of the place for better and worse. The legend of Royal Melbourne will no doubt grow as the President's Cup returns in November 2011, but I intended to be as objective as possible. I would walk to the first tee at Royal Melbourne West with open eyes and see for myself.

Boy did my eyes get opened, wide open. In fact, wide is a good word if you only had one to describe the golf. Royal Melbourne was built to a grand scale, noticably bigger than the others of the Sandbelt. The fairways offer considerably different lines of play from side to side and the greens come in a variety of sizes, part of the brilliance of their design. Some par 3's offer big targets like the famous 5th hole while the shorter par 5's have smaller greens, protecting against aggressive plays to have the green in two.

(5th hole 161m par 3)

The golf course gets real good starting on the famous boomerang right par 5 fourth. Played from the proper tee this hole can accommadate all skill ranges. The trick is to make the heoric uphill carry over a set of bunkers on the left. If one manages to get far enough down the ensuing hill going for the green is possible. Starting with this hole I knew I was in to see a special golf course.

(4th hole 461m Par 5)

The edges of the holes at RM, like Victoria, had sand exposed through the turf, giving you the feeling that you were on a different category of golf course. Another special feature of Royal Melboure is how big the place feels, almost like you are golfing through a game reserve. Once you get on the golf course there isn't so much as a passing airplane to bring you back to reality.

(4th hole from the fairway)

(12th hole 435m Par 5)

There were a few detractions that I would like to note however: Much of the sandy waste areas were overgrown with vegetation. Our host told us many of these plants had been beefed up since the use of automatic irrigation. The look of the course and playability would change for the better if all that extra low brush were thinned out lending to a more sandy appearance. I was slightly dissapointed by this as any ball hit into the waste was almost surely lost under the low growth. 2. The greens were extremely slow. I was able to overlook this shortfall in conditioning, however it's a shame we were not able to see the course in its top condition like the other courses in the Sandbelt. 3. A menacing lightning storm off in the bay threatened to either kill us or soak us for our entire round. Luckily we did not get struck by a single drop of water or one bolt of lightning. The rain only came in buckets as we sat relaxing over our Carlton Draughts.

Having finished our 36 hole day at Royal Melbourne those beers couldn't have tasted any sweeter as we reflected on the world class golf that we had seen on this day. Commonwealth had the conditions to match any club in the Sandbelt and Royal Melbourne will have to live up to those standards if they are to make a good impression at the President's Cup. It seems that they are experimenting with their turf, for example, a 10 yard ring of fescue will play around all of the greens to combat some notoriously dry conditions. It was an odd look but it still needs time to weather in.

(15th Hole 434m Par 5)

Through the shaggy greens however, the heart and soul of Royal Melbourne shines through easily. The qualityof the golf holes combined with the grandeur of the property make Royal Melbourne one of the special places for golf in the world. It is an incredible facility of which I only saw 18 holes! The composite course that will be put in play for the President's Cup should be something special.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Commonwealth Golf Club

Its just after 7am on a sunny morning in Melbourne. Kyle, Joe and I slide into the leather seats of our cab and head for Commonwealth Golf Club. Groggy but all happy to be driven to another sanctuary of golf. We arrive to the club around 7:40am and walk to the pro shop to meet our gracious host Robert Messina. He hands us each a brand new sleeve of Titleist Pro-V-1's and directs us to the locker room.
Not a bad way to start the day. When you walk into the locker rooms at Commonwealth you feel the great sense of pride and history of one of the Sandbelts oldest clubs. Trophies, pictures, and plaques surround you as you sit on old wooden benches among rows of wooden lockers. It is one of the great locker rooms of the Sandbelt.

After soaking in some history we're all ready to hit the tee, first off for the day. In glistening sunshine, the four of us tee off on an immaculatlely prepared golf course which just played host to an Australian Womens professional event. The whole course played fast and firm especially the greens which were approaching the "lightning" vector on your stipmeters at home.

Commenwealth has an excellent opening stretch of holes and some very challenging short holes. The ninth is a potentential wrecker. Not only are there gaping bunkers protecting the front edge of the green but the hole plays almost imperceptively uphill and through a shoot of trees, making club selection difficult.
On the way in the 17th hole is a difficult short par 4 seemingly birdieable but emanently harder than it appears. A long iron off the tee must be accurate to the right side of a narrow fairway or choose the other option and rip driver as close to the green as possible. I tried option 2 and was left with 65 yards to a green pitched heavily from front to back. I landed my ball on the front edge of the green and still could not stop it until it reached the back. Four is a good score here.
Of the courses we saw in the Sandbelt, Commonwealth probably has the least elevation change, but it had the most total yardage from the back tees. All of the holes here were of top quality asking us to execute precisely. One of the most important strategies to execute was missing on the right side of the hole, short-siding yourself in a bunker at Commonwealth is the quickest way to get double bogey dust all over your golf ball (it sure is hard to wipe that dust off of your score card).
Commonwealth is a fun course to play with some buddies, but I would probably not be inclined to come back and play it by myself. It just doesn't have that extra appeal. Unfortunately for the sake of this club it gets overshadowed by the stable of over qualified tracks just minutes away. The bottom line is that Commonwealth Golf Club is an excellent members course, which I would be more than satisfied to play on a weekly basis. It was an honor to be a guest for a day at a club so rich in history and atmosphere.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Never assume. A good lesson to learn. It turns out I won't be going to Scotland this summer. In what seems a strange turn of events to me, I was originally offered the job at the end of April only to hear that it was being pushed back until the Fall. Then I receive an e-mail on May 13 asking if I was still interested to go. Of course! This is where I fell trap to excitement and assumption. Renaissance is assembling a team of men most likely shipping off from the US and giving an opportunity to some new guys who have not worked with them before. The project in Askernish is on a tight budget for time and money and New Zealand is just a bit too far to ship the talent.

There is always more work in the pipelines...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I am flying to Glasgow on my way to Askernish in the outer islands of Scotland. This is the chance of a lifetime to work on the renovation of an original Old Tom Morris golf course, the father of golf architecture. Once "lost" and buried under wild flowers and heather, Askernish golf course is being rediscovered and massaged to meet the modern golf markets around the world. I could not be more excited to be travelling to the home of golf and participate in the history of the game. 10 days and counting...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Sandbelt of Melbourne

The Victoria Golf Club
Victoria was a last minute selection for our trip to the Sandbelt. Had I really known about this gem my group and I would have planned our arrival a bit better. The first lesson we learned on this golf trip was never to count on your budget airline carrier to ensure a speedy arrival of your marginally overweight golf bags. Over an hour after landing in Melbourne we hopped into a cab and headed straight to the golf course. The one smart thing we did was dress in our golf clothes prior to boarding our 8am flight from Sydney. This gave us just enough time to tie our shoe laces and take our ceremonial first tee photograph.

The first hole at Victoria is a precursor for what lays ahead of you. The fairway and green are both heavily bunkered begging for a smart decision from the tee. There are a few tricks to learn at Victoria, but clear strategies are presented from tee to green demanding the golfer to make smart choices. The penalties are great for missing the green on the wrong side. The bunkering at Victoria is the epitome of the Sandbelt courses. Deep and dug straight from the sandy earth beneath, the bunkers are seamlessly tied in to the edges of the playing surfaces. They also present a real hazard as it is up to the player to figure out just how deep the sand is under the ball.
In concert with the seemingly random surface of the bunkers Victoria exhibited the sandy nature of its site the best of any of the Sandbelt courses we played. There was a wild and untamed look to margins of the well maintained playing surfaces that stood out against a more country club feel at Commonwealth and Metropolitan. Most of the par 3 holes (arguably the best holes) required a carry over these sandy waste areas, combined with formal bunkers the targets were somewhat obscured by a sea of sand. Very cool!

As soon as you step on to the first tee at Victoria you get the sense that you are in for a special day. The golf course never lets you down, leading you from green to tee while gently meandering through 18 solid holes. On this day the Victoria Golf Club played fast and firm providing us with the quintisential golf experience of Melbourne.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Golfing Australia

Three months ago after a round of golf at Kinloch in NZ I said to two friends that we should all go to Tasmania. It was only a suggestion, but that is all it took to convince these two mad golfers (three including myself). I can hardly believe that now I am writing about my latest golf trip to Australia, accompanied by two golf buddies Kyle Butler from Dallas/Fort Worth Texas and Joe Campo of Leland, Michigan.

We set out together from Auckland to see for ourselves what Australian golf was all about. We explored the striking harbor views of La Peruse from New South Wales in Sydney, then to then vast and sandy expanse that is the sandbelt of Melbourne, and on to the rugged and remote Barnbougle dunes in Bridport, Tasmania, and lastly, back to Sydney for another picture perfect day of golf. It was the golf trip to end all golf trips, squeezed in to ten days. We played 7 of the best golf courses in Australia, all globally recognized. I know I missed a few but I certainly got the picture of just how good the golf courses can be. This trip fulfilled a promise to myself and the best part is that I got to share it with so many people along the way.
Pictured from left to right: Kyle, Joe, Jeff, and Olympic gold medalist James Tomkins, after a round of golf at Barnbougle Dunes.