18 Aug 2014

Earlier this year the relocating Chirnside Park Country Club opened its new Gardiners Run golf course in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley. Designed by Pacific Coast Design and available for both member and public play, Gardiners Run is a somewhat nondescript modern layout notable for its pleasant clubhouse surrounds and abundant mounding. The course seems to be regarded by most as an improvement on the club's previous home, if only for the fact it is longer, harder and better maintained. Plus it has a tough pond-side par four finishing hole that a lot of club golfers like.

Literally up the street from Gardiners Run is Yering, home of both the relocated Croydon Golf Club (Yering Meadows) and the relocating Eastern Golf Club. Eastern’s new 27-hole Greg Norman Golf Course Design layout is currently under construction, with around half the holes bulk shaped and 4-5 completely finished. The first 18 holes are expected to open in mid 2015, with the rest of the $50 Million project due for completion sometime thereafter. Beyond the 27 'championship' standard holes are a range of country club type amenities, including tennis courts, gymnasium and a short 9-hole par three course that has been rough shaped on the flatter part of the property.

Given the fact that more and more clubs Australia wide are looking at relocation as a legitimate survival option, the Eastern project is certain to generate plenty of interest and discussion as it progresses. This is partly because of the fact that it is the most expensive and most ambitious of the relocation projects undertaken to date, but also because the club has moved to a region where the game seems harder to sell. The nearby Heritage Golf & Country Club, for example, has been in and out of receivership over the years while the neighbouring Yering Meadows course has struggled to grow, or even sustain, its membership base.

The difference with the Eastern site is the spaciousness and natural undulations of the Yarra River-side property. It's not great land by any stretch, but a large section is very good and certainly on the whole it is a class above Yering Meadows and Gardiners Run. It will be interesting to watch the Norman design as it develops, and to see how local golfers embrace the new facilities in the Yarra Valley.

Another 27-hole relocation project underway is the new Maroochy River golf course being built on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, for the displaced Horton Park Golf Club. Designed by Graham Marsh on a fairly flat and uninspiring landscape, 9 holes at Maroochy River have been built (fairways and tees) and handed over to the golf club to maintain, as well as most of the driving range. The rest of the holes on this $45 Million development are expected to be completed in early 2015. Construction was originally scheduled to finish later this year, but weather delays have pushed the project back by several months.


Other News

Another project to have experienced timing setbacks is the Ocean Dunes golf course on King Island in Tasmania, being designed and developed by former superintendent Graeme Grant. Despite starting construction around the same time as the nearby Cape Wickham course, which is now finished and growing-in, Ocean Dunes has only a handful of completed holes. Grant is still actively seeking investors to help finance and finish his course but recently acknowledged that they were not ‘knocking the doors down to invest with us’. He remains hopeful of generating financial support and having the golf course finished and ready for play next year.

Elsewhere, news emerged recently that the Handbury family was looking to offload both its Moonah Links and The Sands Torquay golf properties. Neither has performed near expectation when it comes to green fee play or membership sales, let alone a return on the original Handbury investment. Moonah Links is the interesting one here, because of its origins and undeniable potential. Having been initially conceived as the home of Golf Australia and the Australian Open, the facility has struggled to establish a fan base in the strong pay-for-play market of the Mornington Peninsula.

With the Australian Open cemented in Sydney and the 'home of golf' dream long gone, it would seem appropriate for the new owners of Moonah Links, when found, to look at investing in a redesign of the less popular Open Course. No longer does the Peninsula need an unlovable tournament ready ‘leviathan’ with extreme length and extreme difficulty. A strong but fun and strategic links-like test will surely suffice, and better compliment the more popular Legends Course. As the neighbouring St Andrews Beach and The Dunes courses can attest, green fee golfers generally prefer fun holes to nasty ones.

The other course for sale on the Mornington Peninsula, Eagle Ridge, provides further evidence on the difficulty associated with marketing mediocre golf to the paying public. There are simply too many better options available for golfers in the area. A quality redesign of the Open Course at Moonah Links might make it even harder on Eagle Ridge, and others like Rosebud Country Club and Portsea. It might also help elevate the Mornington Peninsula from a good golf destination in Australian terms to an outstanding one in a global sense. Given its topography and climactic suitability for 'proper' links golf, that's really where the Peninsula should have been all along.


Industry Consolidation

As with relocations, the trend of established clubs investigating their merger options is also on the increase. In Melbourne, the recent merger of the Peninsula and Kingswood Golf Club's was followed by news that the much-loved Woodlands Golf Club were investigating the feasibility of a three-way amalgamation with lesser lights Rossdale and Patterson River. The plan involves selling part of Rossdale and investing the funds in paying off club debt, improving golf facilities and establishing a security fund to finance future capital expenditure programs. On the surface the plan seems unlikely to succeed, given a reasonably full weekend timesheet at Woodlands and the fact the other courses are so clearly inferior. That these clubs are even considering such a drastic move, however, highlights difficulties in the current membership market. If it were to proceed, the potential short course at Rossdale and the redesign of Patterson River would both need to be exceptional, in order to raise the standard of available golf and prevent problems with 'super club' members all wanting to play the one course.

These are interesting times for golf in Australia, and we will watch developments closely.

Darius Oliver, Architecture Editor Australian Golf Digest Magazine

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