Shortly after World War One, prominent Melbourne solicitor Stanley Dutton Green led a committee of members from the Elsternwick Golf Club in a search to acquire sufficient land within the Melbourne Sandbelt to construct their own championship golf course. The search for the ideal site brought them south to Cheltenham, to a small gently undulating parcel of land with perfect sandy soil and a number of excellent natural features.
Designed by Dan Soutar with bunkering from Dr Alister MacKenzie, and constructed by Royal Melbourne greenkeeper Mick Morcom, the course was ready for play in 1925. It was officially the longest course ever seen in Australia. Measuring a little over 6200 metres, its par of 82 included 12 par 5s and just two par 3s.
Nowadays as a par 72 course, many golfers are grateful they were not around to tackle the Heath in its infancy armed with a hickory shafted Brassie and Niblick.
Since the 1948 Australian Open, Kingston Heath has regularly hosted national and international tournaments, including seven Australian Opens and one Women’s Open. Having first played at Elsternwick in 1909, the Club marked its centenary in 2009 with a new clubhouse and by staging the Australian Masters, won by Tiger Woods.
While most courses in the modern era are built on over 100 hectares, the 18 holes at Kingston Heath were built on only 50 hectares. The course is perfectly manicured. Its bunkering and clever use of dips and hollows fool the non-observant golfer. If you wildly deviate from the fairway, the rough (comprising long grass, tea-tree and sandy scrapes) will test your ability to get the ball back into play.
The 14th hole is a longish par 5 which, depending on the wind direction, can tempt the golfer into reaching the green for 2. One golfer, Roger Mackay, did better than that in the 1987 Victorian Open when he holed his second shot for an albatross. Roger went on to win the tournament.
The three par 3 holes are a feature of Kingston Heath and show off one fantastic feature of this great golf course – the classic, natural bunkering. In particular, the 15th hole is a real test – one that’s not necessarily needed towards the end of your round.
The remaining finishing holes are long par 4s and can ruin an otherwise good score. The 16th is known in golfing circles as the hole where Greg Norman took a 9 on his way to losing the 1987 Victorian Open – the very same tournament where Roger Mackay had his famous albatross.
15TH, PAR 3, 142 METRES
Originally the 15th was a short par 4 up and over the hill and down to a green by the 16th tee. Alister MacKenzie came here in 1926 and described the 260 yarder as a ‘blot on the course’ and set about making a new hole. He was determined to bring the green forward to the top of the dune and make a short but demanding par 3.
MacKenzie surrounded the beautifully contoured green with formidable bunkers and — for one so sympathetic to poorer players — he demanded real competence to play out of the sand bunkers of the 15th. When the wind is blowing northerly, the tee shot is difficult. In the 1995 Australian Open Greg Norman arrived at the 15th with a two shot lead and hit the most perfect low 5-iron to within ten feet of the hole. All who saw it knew it was the winning shot.