9 Dec 2019

This week, visitors attending the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne will receive a welcoming booklet produced by the Victorian Government (or at least its tourism agency) titled Victoria: A Golfing Great. The booklet is attractive, well produced, and includes relevant tourist information on four key golf destinations within the State – Melbourne, the Murray River and Mornington and Bellarine Peninsulas.

What it fails to include, yet again, is an independent and honest depiction of the best golf in Melbourne, referencing instead golf courses within the Sandbelt Group rather than the best golf courses within the Sandbelt region. In the view of many here, there is an important distinction.

For the sake of completeness, let me urge any visitors coming to Victoria for a golf trip to do their research and, if time permits, to include one additional course on their Melbourne itinerary that is not featured in the “Golfing Great” booklet. That course is Woodlands.

Woodlands’ continued omission from the ‘official’ Sandbelt group is not only an anomaly and an injustice, but in some ways an insult to the game here. The Sandbelt group includes eight clubs and ten courses, of which only a few are obviously superior to Woodlands.

Woodlands lies smack in the heart of the Sandbelt region. The course has as much, or more, sand beneath its fairways than many of the so-called “Sandbelt” elite, features the bunkering of legendary Royal Melbourne superintendent Mick Morcom and was designed in as quintessentially a Melbourne manner as any of its neighbours. Furthermore, one could probably argue that, with the exception of Royal Melbourne West and Kingston Heath, it has as many genuine A-Grade holes as any course in our state.

What makes the Presidents Cup slight more offensive this year, is the inclusion within the ‘information’ booklet of 26 regional courses promoted by Tourism Victoria as representing the best of Victorian golf. While each course, and region, is worthy of some level of acknowledgement, unless you were limiting yourself to just three or four rounds here then conversation around the best of Victorian golf MUST include Woodlands.

Far be it from me to suggest the Melbourne Sandbelt group does anything outside its own self-interest, but for the sake of golf tourism in this city, not to mention the health of Woodlands itself, they really should bring the club into the fold and add a ninth member to their esteemed group. They all know that Woodlands belongs, and can surely see that revealing the odd hidden gem to visitors can only serve to make the entire city a more appealing golf destination. Woodlands to Melbourne is really like Woking to the London Heathland, not a course to miss if you want to experience the best holes in the region, or understand what makes the city such a golfing hotbed.

As a Victorian, I’d be embarrassed if any visitor looked at the Presidents Cup booklet and chose Eagle Ridge or Portarlington over a round of golf at the unlisted Woodlands. No offence to those or other clubs listed, but we are talking about a course universally acknowledged (by Australian Golf Digest, Planet Golf and Golf Australia) as being among Melbourne’s Top 5 or 6.

Given the Victorian Government has chosen to subcontract out the promotion of Melbourne golf to the Melbourne Sandbelt group, the time has come for that group to open its doors and accept one new member. A member that will certainly make them stronger and, potentially, our state more appealing. There is no slippery slope argument here either, especially now that Long Island is part of a Mornington Peninsula golf club. The second tier in Melbourne is clear and well established. Each of Spring Valley, Southern, Keysborough and Cranbourne has their strengths and should be promoted as providing a great alternative to the more prestigious and expensive private clubs here. Woodlands does not belong in that same category, and letting them into the official Sandbelt Group does not suggest for one moment that other clubs belong. Woodlands is the only glaring omission.

This is a great week for golf in Victoria, and long may our government continue to invest in events and the promotion of our strong golfing regions. Visitors, if you like what you see at Royal Melbourne please know that there is plenty more of it available across the city. If you have time, don’t miss Woodlands – it’s subtle, strategic, marvellous and memorable. Holes like 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, 15 and 17 are everything you could want from a Sandbelt golf experience.

 

by Darius Oliver

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Photo: Woolands Golf Club

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