1. THE ROYAL MELBOURNE
Where is it?
21km south-east of the central business district.What’s it like?
Set up by Scottish descendants in 1891, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious club moved to its current location ten years later. By 1926, heading south on their search for larger premises in a horse-drawn dray, the founders knew they were home when they laid out their picnic lunch on Black Rock – the site of two tee boxes today.
The original Black Rock course was designed by Alister MacKenzie, globally acclaimed for Augusta National (home to the Masters): his West course is consistently rated ninth in the world by America’s Golf Digest. The East, laid out by his Australian partner in 1929, is in the top 30 and the club combines holes from both to form the championship course that was used for the Presidents’ Cup in 2011.
Set on rolling dunes, within a mile but out of sight of Port Phillip Bay, the courses are richly mature, with stands of eucalyptus and acacia and a perimeter of cypress trees. The heathland is a prized habitat for indigenous fauna, including possums and blue-tongued lizards.Contact
Cheltenham Road, Black Rock; tel +61 3 9599 0500; royalmelbourne.com.auPrice
£195, tee times available Monday-Friday. Caddies £58 plus tip (pre-book).Club hire
Callaway, £29.Club hours
27 for men, 36 for women recommended.
18 holes, 6,077m, par 72. East: 18 holes, 6,007m, par 71. Driving range, short-game practice area, putting green.After the golf
Refurbished in 2013, the clubhouse features an expansive wraparound terrace and luxurious lounges. Don’t miss the MacKenzie room, a history capsule for the club’s first 125 years. Breakfast from 7.30am, bar and restaurant service from 10am.2. KINGSTON HEATH
Where is it?
20km south-east of the CBD.What’s it like?
Since 1909, Royal Melbourne’s fiercest competition has come from one of its closest neighbours in the famous Sandbelt, a magical 30km triangle to the south-east of Melbourne. As the name suggests, the terrain is perfect for links golf, well-drained and close enough to Port Phillip Bay for big winds to play a crucial role.
At Kingston Heath, rated 20 on the global scale and host of the 2009 Australian Masters, ball-swallowing ti-tree, indigenous scrub that once covered the whole area, lines the fairways. The club offers a warm welcome and the course is a delight. Predictably, Alister MacKenzie, the commercial globetrotter of his day, left his mark, especially on the signature 15th, where he devised the notorious “Big Bertha” killer bunker. It marks the start of “Amen Corner”, a card-wrecking climax that lost the young Greg Norman an amateur championship.Contact
Kingston Road, Cheltenham; tel +61 3 8558 2700; kingstonheath.com.auPrice
£162, tee times Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays only. Caddies £46 plus tip (pre-book).Club hire
Callaway/Titleist, £30.Club hours
27 for men, 36 for women recommended.Facilities
18-hole championship course, 6,352m, par 72. Driving range, short-game practice area, putting green.After the golf
For its centenary in 2009, Kingston built itself a smart new clubhouse in the popular neo-plantation style, characterised by shaded verandahs with course views. Dining room service 10.30am-3pm; snacks until 7pm.COMMONWEALTHWhere is it?
19km south-east of the CBD.What’s it like?
Another classic club that delivers a stern challenge on the back of proud early 20th-century roots. Less commercial than Royal Melbourne, more formal than Kingston Heath, it defends its Sandbelt status fiercely. Although several rival contenders would disagree, purists allow only six authentic members, with Victoria, Metropolitan and Huntingdale completing the sextet.
On centenarian courses, mature trees are a given, but the Commonwealth’s are the most beautifully landscaped of all. They define fairways laid out on undulating ground and slick, contoured greens that take no prisoners. Best make your score before the final stretch: the signature 16th, a heavily cambered curve around a lake much loved by ducks, offers a risk-and-reward tee shot, but he who dares too much will risk being drowned.Contact
Glennie Avenue, South Oakleigh; tel +61 3 9575 0444; commonwealthgolf.com.auPrice
£105, tee times Mondays and Fridays only.Club hire
Cobra, from £18.50.Club hours
7am-6pm (first tee time 7.15am).
27 for men, 36 for women recommended.Facilities
18 holes, 6,380m, par 73. Driving range, short-game area, putting green.After the golf
The traditional clubhouse, standing on a knoll with sweeping views, is the oldest and grandest on the Sandbelt, with a wide staircase up to an imposing portico that positively demands a red carpet. Breakfast from 7am, snacks throughout the day.4. THE EASTERNWhere is it?
47km north-east of Melbourne.What’s it like?
After 70 years in Doncaster, a 30-minute drive away, the Eastern has relocated in the Yarra Valley. The first 18 of 27 holes designed by Greg Norman opened in July 2015. When the final nine are completed this year, the three loops will provide options to suit all occasions.
In sharp contrast to the Sandbelt area, lakes are a regular hazard in a layout that alternates between cambered slopes and the flat river valley floor. In time, Norman’s groves of trees will soften what is a raw, vast landscape of more than 240 hectares. With so much available space, kangaroos turn out for their early evening feed from 4pm.Contact
215 Victoria Road, Yering; tel +61 3 9739 0110; easterngolfclub.com.auPrice
£70, cottage residents £44 (includes buggy).Club hire
Mizuno, £18.50.Club hours
None if with a member.Facilities
18 holes, 6,245m, par 71. Norman’s innovative nine-hole par-3 practice course, with tees geared to standards ranging from child to scratch player, will open in mid-2016. Driving range, short-game area, putting green.After the golf
The clubhouse emphasises deep-seated comfort, especially in the members’ lounge, where golfers can be spotted napping during televised sport in front of the log fire after lunch. Sandwiches are available from the sports shop from 7am weekdays; à la carte breakfast 7am-11am weekends; international menu 11am-6pm daily. Kids’ and adult games rooms, plus 13 on-site cottages.