Tuesday 5 March 2013

Woodlands Golf Club

Surely the biggest surprise of my golf trip to Australia was Woodlands Golf Club, a golf course that must not be missed when in Melbourne to see the very best golf in the city.  Residing  amidst the Melbourne Sandbelt, it does not receive the same attention as more celebrated courses such as Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and Victoria.  Famed golf architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie did not advise Woodlands on his famed tour through Australia and New Zealand in 1926-27, and consequently, the course has suffered in reputation, but certainly not in design.  The golf course opened in 1913 and was designed by club professional Rowley Banks, and in 1916 was extended to eighteen holes by another golf pro, Sam Bennett.  Originally, the course was leased from a landlord that forbade earthworks on the property, and therefore hazards were wire nets which acted as a vertical impediment, leaving only a sideways pitch-out as a means of escape.  A more elaborate and traditional bunkering plan was designed by C. Plant and J.D.H. Scott.  The design and construction of the bunkers was supervised by club consultant, Mick Morcom, superintendent of Royal Melbourne, who implemented the techniques utilized by Mackenzie there, and therefore dates the bunkering to after Mackenzie's epic journey.

Woodlands is laid out over fairly subtle terrain by comparison to her Sandbelt sisters, and features a strong collection of short par fours and an excellent collection of one-shotters.  The bunkers are visually appealing and in a few instances, perfectly highlight the strategic element of the design.  The golf course is situated on a fairly small acreage, but is routed in such a fashion as to play to each cardinal point of the compass and the quartering directions in between.  A less desirable consequence of the tight acreage are the walk backs to the second and sixth tees, and the awkward relationship between the thirteenth and fourteenth holes, but these are not knocks on the holes themselves and only detract marginally from the overall walking experience.  
The first in a sweeping dogleg left that is best approached from the outside of the turn.
These fairway bunkers at No. 2 depict typical bunkering throughout the course, no rough separating it from the fairway, wild shapes, attractive and incorporation of native vegetation.
The third is a short par-four whose drive plays diagonally over these fairway bunkers.  Some may decide to lay-up short and left of the bunkers to allow a fuller shot into a small, tightly guarded and elevated green.
The drivable fourth doesn't look like much from the tee, but playing near the fairway bunker right ensures an  approach played up the length of this narrow, elevated green.  See the aerial image below for a better illustration of the strategy at No. 4. 
I'm ashamed to say I don't have a picture of the fourth green which is void of bunkers, but sits a couple of feet above the surrounding fairway.  Drives or approaches that miss wide to a front pin face delicate chips off tight lies to a firm green which could lead to higher scores that you may think a 275 yard hole would warrant. (Photo: Google Earth) 
A staple of the Australian Sandbelt, the one-shot hole demanding an accurate approach to a target surrounded by bunkers.  Here, the fifth at Woodlands.
The ever-so-slightly-snaking par five sixth is protected at left by a large bunker complex, awaiting those whose fading approach fails to fade.  The front edge of the bunker sits 35 yards short of the green, a shot no golfer looks forward to.
The seventh narrows in the landing area and features a testing front right pin guarded heavily in front and directly behind owing to a small bunker eating into the green surface.
The eighth is a long par three with plenty of room to right to run an approach onto the green or bail-out.  Replete with intimacy, the third green and fourth tee reside immediately left of the green. 
The final hole on the front side is a long par four featuring an uphill approach with lots of room provided to avoid the guarding bunkers.  Note how the fairway left merges with that of the first hole helping keep the course feel small and intimate. 
The tenth is another long par four sporting a group of greenside bunkers that infringe upon the line of play diagonally, complicating long approach shots.
The eleventh is a short par three, a must have in the Australian Sandbelt.
The raked portion of the greenside bunker at No. 12 is were wayward approaches will come to rest.  The firm faces of the bunkers help balls run away from the hole, making short-sided recovery shots more difficult.
For those players successfully challenging the fairway bunkers on the short par-four thirteenth, the green is approached from a more advantageous angle.  
Ornately shaped bunkers flank both sides of the approach into the fourteenth green, providing much needed visual contrast over a flatter section of the property.
The real fun at the fifteenth, a par five, begins on the second shot where two groups of fairway bunkers lurk on either side of the fairway at staggered distances making the second shot anything but routine and plodding.
Note the ideal condition of the rough, illustrated here at No. 16, providing lies varying from perfect to bare soil, enhancing the element of "rub of the green" to the game, not to mention being more cost efficient than the highly manicured alternative.
Another strong par three awaits at the seventeenth where the green is protected by deep bunkers and short grass swales. 
The final hole plays up and over a high ridge, propelling good drives down the fairway.  Approach shots into the short par five need to negotiate this fairway bunker which lunges into the fairway at the popular 100 yard mark. 
Woodlands Golf Club is an excellent golf course that hits all the right notes.  While the terrain might not be as inspired as some of Melbourne's other notable clubs, the design is solid and an enjoyable round is sure to await.  Because much of the clubs property is lined with trees and forest, the only thing reminding players that they are in the heart of a massive urban centre is the constant flow of airplanes flying overhead to nearby Moorabbin airport.  While not ideal, the golf course architecture here is engaging, enough to possibly prevent you from taking notice.  


  1. Thank you Tyler for a very welcome commentary on this wonderful golf course that has stood the test of time over 102 years. It is not understood by the Australian golfing community that Woodlands has been on this site since it was foundered in 1913 and is the third club on the famed Melbourne sand belt after Royal Melbourne GC in 1898 and Metropolitan in 1908. It was foundered by George Hunter Rogers who lamentered in 1913 that as there was no golf course in the district............................!
    Bill Atherton

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog Bill. Woodlands is a wonderful golf course that is overlooked my too many who venture to Melbourne to play the city's excellent collection of golf courses. I certainly hope to get back there one day to experience it's charm once again.

      I know Tom Doak has been hired to consult at the club, has any work been done?

      Tyler Kearns