The Historic Sandbelt Region: Something for Every Type of Golfer in Australia

By Shawn Nicholls, Contributor

Victoria Golf ClubMELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA -- A traveling golfer's dream destination may go something like this: impeccable climate, exotic scenery, and immaculate championship courses stooped in golf history.

Sound farfetched? Perhaps. After all, finding just a couple of solid courses in one area is hard enough of a task, but a whole collection of them? Just chalk that up to wishful thinking.

Wishful thinking, that is, to anyone who has not been to Australia's famed Sandbelt region. Those who have experienced this stretch of golf know that the dream destination does exist, even if it is on the other side of the world.

About the Region

The state of Victoria is located at the southeastern tip of the Australian mainland and is home to just under 400 golf courses. Its capital, Melbourne, is roughly 12 hours away from Sydney, but those craving golf need only travel south east of the city to the suburbs that line the shore of the Port Phillip Bay. There sits a 25 square mile mass of undulating land and delicate grass known as the Sandbelt.

Melbourne is a city all about variety, from its booming architecture, to cozy cafes, to its vineyards. And this well-rounded quality extends into the city's collection of golf courses, which, especially in the Sandbelt, provide something for every type of golfer.

The most famous grouping of courses that makes up this region is often referred to as the 'Seven Sisters,' and most have been ranked at one time or another in worldwide golf publications.

But the beauty of the Sandbelt lies not just with the quality of the courses, but also with the deep history associated with many of the private clubs. In fact, the majority of these courses have at one point or another been home to international tournaments, with some of golf's greats gracing the fairways.

Royal Melbourne

Royal Melbourne's East and West coursesAt the forefront of the region's historical significance are the Royal Melbourne's East and West courses. Both are links style tracks measuring at right around 6,600 yards.

Allister Mackenzie, one of the most notable golf architects in Australia, designed them, and the origins of the club date back to the early 1900s, and perhaps before, making it the oldest in the region.

Both courses at Royal Melbourne can arguably be referred to as the best in Australia, and holes from both courses at Royal Melbourne have often been combined to form a composite track, site to many international events such as golf's World Cup and the President's Cup in 1998.

Wide fairways and large greens are just a few of the characteristics that make Royal Melbourne appealing. But don't confuse large landing areas with an easy course, because every hole at this famous complex is a challenge.

Just take No. 3 on the West course. Although the fairway is wide and the hole rather short, it is the green that is the tricky part of this par-4. It is perhaps the most frustrating on the course because it slopes away from the fairway, making distance control and a little bit of luck a necessity.

Find out more on the Royal Melbourne at www.royalmelbourne.com.au

Tel: +61 3 9598 6755

Victoria

Situated near Royal Melbourne, the Victoria Golf Club, ranked as a top ten course on the continent by the Australian Golf Digest magazine, requires a little bit of everything to score well. Flat fairways give golfers a chance at level lies, something not always the case at other area courses, but frustrating bunkers and looming trees are this course's main obstacles.

The first hole is a unique par-4, measuring only 254 yards, but a raised green and a few deep bunkers make it a formidable challenge, but still a birdie opportunity. It is, by no means, an indication of what is to come.

With several of the other par-4s measuring around or over 430 yards, it is a safe bet that the par-5s stand to be lengthy monsters. But, actually, on the scorecard they are not that intimidating, with the 8th and 18th holes measuring close to 500 yards. By many, this means letting the driver and fairway metal rip in hopes of rolling up to the green for a chip and a putt and a nice birdie.

But the course may have something in for those rash in their decision-making.

The landing area on the 8th hole is very narrow, and the green, strategically guarded by bunkers, is not one easily accessed from 200 to 250 yards back. Losing a second shot to either side of the green, or even long is a disaster.

Similarly, the 18th is a fairly straightaway hole with trees looming in the rough and a green that slopes from front to back. As a finishing hole at a tournament, the 18th could yield anything from eagle to bogey. And for those just getting a regular round in, an approach shot that rolls off the green and is not stopped by a gallery, could net an even worse tally.

Aside from great golf, the Victoria Golf Club provides immaculate accommodations, including a state of the art clubhouse and beautiful guest rooms. But it is one of the more popular private courses, so tee times and open rooms fill up quickly.

Find out more about the Victoria Golf Club at www.victoriagolf.com.au

Tel: +61 3 9584 1733

Kingston Heath

Challenging the Royal Melbourne for top honors is the Kingston Heath. It was designed by Dan Soutar in 1923, and updated to include bunkers in 1927 by Mackenzie. Tight fairways, lengthy par-4s and dangerous obstacles such as trees and bunkers are this course's most infamous attributes.

While the Victoria Golf Club eases golfers in with a short first hole, the Kingston Heath is much less accommodating. At 457 yards, the first could easily could be a par-5, but is instead just a nasty par-4, requiring just about every shot in the bag. The tee-shot is uphill, but don't get to comfortable with this style of ball striking, because the second shot is downhill towards a well protected, massive green.

Ready for a break, yet? Don't expect one. The second hole is a sharp dogleg left, and bunkers will prevent many from cutting too much off the corner, while the third hole is short at only 295 yards, but it may be best to keep the driver in the bag, or even the 3-wood for that matter, because of the trees and bunkers. Of course, finding the fairway does not guarantee much, as the undulating green does not hold all shots, sending them rolling into the rough or yet another bunker.

As you stagger into the clubhouse, pause to admire the plaque in the fairway of the par-5 14th, where Roger Mackay registered a double-eagle in 1979 during the Victorian Open. But don't be too discouraged if you triple Mackay's score, as this is one of Australia's best holes, but by no means a pushover.

Find out more about Kingston Heath at www.kingstonheath.com.au

Tel: +61 3 9551 1955

Metropolitan

Metropolitan Golf ClubFrom one triumphant piece of history to one of sorrow, one of the Sandbelt's other most popular courses, the Metropolitan, was home to the Australian Open in 1997.

Familiar to letdowns in the major title chases of past years, Greg Norman surrendered a two stroke lead over the final two holes to Lee Westwood, with Norman eventually missing a three foot putt for par on the fourth playoff hole to hand the victory to the up and coming Westwood.

But don't get to caught up in the drama of the 17th and 18th at the Metro, because the other 16 holes on this par-73, tree lined course are worth your attention.

Find out more about the Metro at www.metropolitangolf.com.au

Tel: +61 3 9579 3122

Commonwealth

The one course of the seven that does not conform to the Sandbelt mold is the Commonwealth Golf Club, the host of the 1967 Australian Open.

Since then, the club has fallen in the eyes of many, and its ranking fell out of the world top-100. But don't necessarily count the course out.

"In 2000, the Club set about re-establishing Commonwealth's standing in the golfing world and today the course does resemble the course of old," general manager Greg Chapple said. "Much work will continue over the next five years to reinstate some of the values of the course in years gone by."

At just under 7,000 yards, the par-73 course will challenge any skill level throughout, but at the same time, several of Commonwealth's holes are much more dangerous than the rest.

Take for instance the three, and only three, holes in which water comes into play. Particularly challenging are the tee shots on the 3rd and 16th holes, which border the same body of water. No. 3 only requires a straight tee shot to find the fairway, with those prone to the slice perhaps getting a little wet.

But the 16th will surely test the courage of all golfers. Avoid the water too much, and this dogleg to the left suddenly becomes a very long hole. Cut the corner too much, and you may be hitting three sooner than you would like to.

The one constant at Commonwealth, however, is the secluded feeling golfers will get as they plod along on the tree-lined fairways towards the 18th hole and the historic clubhouse, well known throughout the region.

"The main feature that sets Commonwealth golf course apart from its fellow Sandbelt courses is our trees," Chapple said. "The trees that line our fairways have long been considered to be amongst the finest stands in this country with the result that Commonwealth is revered for its challenging driving holes."

Find out more about the Commonwealth Golf Club at www.commonwealthgolf.com.au

Tel: +61 3 9579 3033

Huntingdale

The golf club at Huntingdale is the baby of the Sandbelt, having opened in 1941. But at the same time it holds one of the most prestigious events in the region as professionals get to test the slick and massive greens at this par-73 course yearly during the Australian Masters.

As is the constant in the area, most of the fairways are lined with hovering trees and bunkers. Golfers will find challenges throughout, as the par-3s require just as much strategy and mental toughness as the long par-5s require strength.

The 18th is considered to be one of the toughest finishing holes anywhere. A tee shot that veers off to the left may catch deep bunkers that can easily ruin a good round. But don't favor the right, as there is nothing nice over there either. Bunkers continue to be a bother left and short of the green, as this hole requires precision from start to finish.

Find out more about Huntingdale at www.huntingdalegolf.com.au

Tel: +61 3 9579 4622

Yarra Yarra

The first thing that you find interesting at the site of the women's Australia Open is the layout, which situates the practice range and the first eight holes on one side of the clubhouse and parking lot, with the rest on the other side. Golfers also get to preview the challenging finishing hole as they walk down the 10th fairway.

The 5th at Yarra Yarra is rated as one of the top 500 holes worldwide and challenges golfers with its fairway and greenside bunkers. The 10th requires an accurate tee shot, but a very precise second shot to a green protected in the back by a lake.

If the challenge of avoiding the water at the 10th isn't enough to get your blood pumping on the second nine, No. 11 surely will. Ranked as one of the top-15 holes on the continent, this out of the way par-3 may not be lengthy, but miss the green in any of the several deep bunkers, and your walk to the 12th tee will not be a pleasant one.

Find out more about Yarra Yarra at www.yygc.com.au

Tel: +61 3 9563 7711

Shawn Nicholls, Contributor


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