Monday, July 22, 2013


This picture of the 3rd hole from Darius Oliver's website (pic by David Scaletti) sums up the many qualities of Morfontaine. None of my own pictures this time around, sorry.

Course name: Morfontaine
Location: Mortefontaine, Picardy, France
Four Word Course Review: A masterclass in restraint

I had the pleasure of spending a day at Morfontaine while revisiting my favourite country in the world, and it was as wonderful an experience as you might imagine.

I arrived about 9.30am to the same empty car park that others have experienced, played the main course, took refuge from the sun (36C and fairly humid that day) for lunch on the patio - during which a delightful older French lady endured my poor French for longer than she needed to to discuss how underrated French golf is and her grievances with President Hollande - before I excused myself to tackle the Vallaire course.

Playing alone, I had soon ripped through 27 holes and lunch in quick time, so I decided to play the main course again, despite being out on my feet from the heat.

It was great to play those remarkable holes again with an idea of the challenges that awaited and where everything was. I ditched the camera and range-finder for that second round and just played by feel with the occasional glance at a sprinkler head.

Hard to imagine a more perfect afternoon than playing that course in ideal condition - burnt and brown, firm and fast, the greens not too quick - without another noise than club on ball and ball on ground.

The Vallaire was one of the wildest courses I've played, and so much fun at every turn. The land and greens reminded me a good deal of what Ogilvy Clayton Design is doing at my home club, Bonnie Doon, in Sydney. As far as inspiration, it's hard to do better. Crucially, the greens don't just have a mass of bold shapes, they present a massive variety of pin positions that change greatly the way each hole plays.

The main course combines everything I love and respect about Tom Simpson's design work from New Zealand GC, County Louth and Hardelot (Les Pins) and takes it to another level. The green sites are perfectly selected, draped over the high ground more often than not, allowing the land to create the interest without too much intervention.

If I had to sum the course up in a word, it would be "restraint".

Simpson didn't build bunkers where they weren't needed - either on the drive or at the green. With such perfect land to work with at Morfontaine, there are countless examples where the land did the job without assistance and the course is all the better for it: the 3rd green, the 7th and 8th fairways, the lay-up at the 12th, the drive at 16.

Likewise, the greens are restrained. Where the Vallaire course is over dramatic land and suits the dramatic greens, the main course is for the most par on less heaving terrain. The greens still have enough to interest you and reward a perfectly-placed approach, but their virtues are less evident from a distance than on the Vallaire.

A perfect example of both the above factors is the first hole. The drive bends slowly right, off-camber around a heathery corner, with a drive on the inside rewarded by a clear run to the green. The land short of the green cants significantly toward the LHS greenfront bunker, making any shot from the outside of the dogleg progressively challenging - but also providing land that can be used by a skilled ballstriker to run a ball onto the front-to-back green.

So perfect is the balance of the course and detail of the features, it comes as no surprise that this is a course Simpson continually tinkered with throughout his life.

I envy those who get a lifetime to discover Morfontaine's secrets and delights, but feel fortunate to have had a day to play 45 holes and see just a little of what makes these two courses so highly regarded.

Friday, March 22, 2013


The fantastic par three 4th, which required a punched 18* hybrid for me, the ridge running lengthways through the green demanding accuracy and creating some interesting recovery shots

The long two-shotter at the 8th (labelled a par five, but driver, 6i from the tips for me) was the perfect length for the approach you need to hit. The green is cut in two distinct portions by a central ridge (reminded me a bit of the 5th green at The Lakes in that sense), with the hillside allowing you to work the ball in from the left to a front pin. The first great use of this creek, with it also utilised really well at the 15th and 16th

Gorgeous bunkering and a treacherous green on the par three 10th

One creek, three great uses: This meandering stream plays a strong role along the length of the 15th, before snaking over to spoon with the 16th green

Course name: Healesville
Location: Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia
Four Word Course Review: No automatic two-putts

Healesville is just far enough out of Melbourne to feel like you've gone somewhere, but near enough that Melbournians can make a day-trip to enjoy one of the most brilliant new courses in Australia.

The course is really different to anything else I have played and has a strong character of its own.

It's owned by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and part of the club's Yarra Valley resort, but don't expect resort conditioning. It is unashamedly a country course, the rustic bunkering matching well with the "this is a playing field, not a formal lawn" conditioning.

The thought-provoking nature of such good golf at such modest length needs to be experienced.

Like the value of immense width, the fact that such a short course can be THIS good has to be experienced to be genuinely understood.

I couldn't help but think of so many cramped Sydney courses on similarly steep land and heavy soil whose members would be far better off with a 4800m (5300-yard) course like Healesville - full of shots and greens that put a smile on your face and which take a lot less time to play.

It's the greens that set Healesville apart: a set full of variety that regularly tiptoes up to the line of too zany, but never jumps over. They not only make approach shots, recoveries and putting all the more fun, they provide the teeth necessary to make the course challenging for all standards of golfer.

On the front side, I loved the long par three 4th, its green intersected by a steep ridge running from front to back, and the par-five-but-really-a-long-par-four 8th, which uses water and sand spectacularly and has a wild two-tier green.

The back side starts with an outstanding mid-iron par three with artistic bunkering that drips down the hillside on top of which the green is set, while the short par four 12th uses more brilliant terrain to create a puzzle to which the answer off the tee depends on the positioning of the hole.

Another angled creek adds value to the second-and-final par five on the course, where approaching the creekside green is made much easier by hugging the same narrow stream off the tee. The same waterway then cuts across to make your short iron to the 16th green one where distance control is at a premium.

The 17th's blindness from the tee is another case of the quirkiness that makes Healesville so beguiling, before the split fairway and ski-run green on the 18th finish this wild ride in appropriate style.

I can't recommend Healesville enough for anyone who wants to see something unique and doesn't view a tw-putt green as a birthright.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Were it not followed by the all-world 4th, the short, dogleg-right 3rd would be more widely lauded...

...But sadly for the 3rd, the 4th is right there immediately after it, so hard luck - one of the best driveable fours in the game with a confounding green that I am sure it takes dozens of plays to unravel

Some of the best flat ground  bunkering on the sandbelt, and a great challenge for the mid to long iron approach you'll have at the 10th

I love the approach to the 12th, which makes it all the more lamentable that the drive is severely lacking

More great flat land bunkering makes the second shot at the 15th a lot of fun

Course name: Woodlands
Location: Mordialloc, Melbourne, Australia
Four Word Course Review: Dotted with highlights

Magnificent par fives and short fours and a memorable closing stretch are the standouts at Woodlands, with the best moments starting with the world-class driveable 4th and coming regularly throughout the round.

The 4th, just 251 metres, is so simple and effective and shows once again why length is overrated and why greens are to a golf course as a face is to a portrait.

The hole's quality is even more pronounced when you look at the non-descript land it occupies. You just have to try not to fixate on the gigantic tin shed over the road that mars the view from the tee!

After that early highlight, the three-shotters linger strongest in my memory, the 6th and 15th with rare second-shot interest and the home hole a magnificent green and perfect terrain.

The mid-length 7th and 12th holes have remarkable greens and bunkering, but both are less than they could be due to overbearing trees that choke the drive. An hour with a chainsaw could solve the problem and lift both holes greatly.

The 10th green, approached with a long iron or more, has more special bunkering (reminiscent of the 1st at Spring Valley) that looks great and makes a heap of sense.

The short par three 17th is by far my favourite of the one-shotters, with its smart bunkering and fun greenside chipping areas.

Downsides? The Melbourne Sandbelt is, for the most part, a lesson in getting the absolute most out of a property. The courses manage vegetation perfectly and have remarkable bunkering to overcome the fact that, for the most part, the terrain isn't all that impressive.

What disappointed me about Woodlands was that despite it having a handful of the best holes on the Sandbelt, the off-piste areas of the course transitioned almost immediately from the fairway to thick, unmanaged native vegetation.

I'd love to see the maintained areas transition more into the really thick stuff to reduce the time spent searching for balls that have scarcely left the fairway.

The inconsistency of Woodlands sets it back, along with the severity of the native, but there's no doubt that the course is home to a few of the best holes in Melbourne and has an uncommon amount of potential in it compared to many of its neighbours.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Spring Valley

A good example of the course's fine presentation - the par three 5th

The attractive uphill closing hole

Course name: Spring Valley
Location: Clayton South, Victoria, Australia
Four Word Course Review: Gets the details right

Everyone should be so lucky as to call a course like Spring Valley their home and play it every weekend.

It has everything that makes golf fun - a comfortably walkable routing, interesting greens, ample variety and well-placed and sparingly-used bunkering.

It's the par fours that really stand out here, from the deceptively steep 1st green making a drive inside the dogleg a must, to the pushed-up green and great bunker pattern of the short 4th, smart centreline lay-up/foreshortening bunker at the lengthy 9th, awkwardly doglegging and off-camber 11th, tempting diagonal drive at the 16th and the visually stunning uphill approach to the 18th.

The attraction of wide open vistas is exhibited well at the 10th, 11th and 18th, which all sit in the same open plain, a few trees dotting the landscape for effect. Standing on the 10th tee (a tricky little drop shot par three to a green in a a sea of sand), it's hard to think of a more pleasant way to present a golf course (similar to the great vista over the 1st, 6th, 5th and 18th from the clubhouse at Kingston Heath).

The 10th mentioned above was my favourite of the one-shotters, but the long iron or hybrid required at the uphill 14th is another shot that lingers in my memory and I'll look forward to having another crack at someday.

Of course continuity is an important part of creating the best course you can, and some old features from previous architects around the course could be removed to make Spring Valley even better. Most notable to me where the rough-covered moguls right of the 12th fairway and overly-fancy shape of the bunker guarding the 6th green.

I love the way the course is presented, especially the fairway-height transitions from green surrounds to tees that blends the holes together and avoids an overly-busy look.

The lack of a handful of genuinely great holes is probably what keeps Spring Valley behind its most fancied neighbours, but by the same token it's also devoid of any real horrors.

Spring Valley might not get included in many visitors' Melbourne Sandbelt itineraries, but the powers that be at similar clubs elsewhere in Melbourne and around Australia would do well to pay a visit and see how doing the inexpensive little things right can make such a great difference to a course.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Expansive views from the 2nd tee and the dramatic rise and fall of the land around the green hides the reality of how steep the green is

One of the bst long shots I have seen is the 200m or so in to the green on this short par five. The massive foreground bunker dominates the eye and obscures the safe ground between it and the green

There's nothing else quite like the 12th hole at Durban

The simple but challenging green of the driveable 18th

Viewed from behind (upstairs in the clubhouse!), the challenge and interest of the 18th is obvious

Course name: Durban
Location: Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa
Four Word Course Review: Stratospheric highs, subterranean lows

Playing Durban Country Club was always a goal of mine, so I made sure to set a couple of days aside during a recent trip to check it out.

Royal Melbourne (East) was always my barometer for hot and cold courses, but Durban CC leaves it in the shade in that regard.

It follows almost without exception at Durban CC that the good holes are on the good land and the poor on the flat land.

The best of the land is on the seaside east of the course and the southern area near the clubhouse (much of the front nine and the last two holes), while north and west, where the lion's share of the back nine sits, is plain and poorly used.

The undulations on the good land are extreme, with greens largely built on the high ground, maximising those landforms and ensuring you can't miss them.

The standout in that regard is the mid-length par four 17th, which plunges from a highpoint in the fairway to a series of ocean swell rolls before climbing up high again at the green. It's as dramatic as natural, traditional golf can get.

Two par fives on the front side - the 3rd and 8th - both occupy fantastic ground for golf, the former dropping from a high tee and the latter playing flat before rising to a well-elevated green. Both possess yawning fairway bunkers that both draw the eye and obscure what lies in the distance.

On the back nine, the unique short par three 12th - the famed Prince of Wales Hole - plays from one tall dune to another with the narrow green reaching all the way to the edges of the raised platform, meaning plenty of balls that land on the short stuff end up rolling down one of the flanks 25ft below the putting surface. If that's not tough enough, bunkers sit at the front and back of the green. I always thought the 17th at NSWGC was a severe short iron test in a high wind zone, but this is something else.

The last of the notables, the 18th is an extremely short four over some really fun land. Easily driveable, but if you take a straight line to the green you have to traverse a deep valley that kicks the ball right towards a steep falloff down to the driving range. The ideal shot is either a fade that lands on the higher ground and runs down to the green or a bold draw that flirts with the right before landing into the slope and running up the hill to the green. The putting surface is made by the flow of the central valley that runs naturally to a great right-hand side chipping area.

The vegetation management is a disappointment, with jungle so thick just off the fairways that going in to look for a ball is the definition of futile. Another let-down on the back nine is the removal of two epic fairway bunkers that would previously have made the par five 10th and 14th standouts on plain land, where now they lack something exciting.

With some judicious work, Durban CC could be a good two tiers better than it is and a worthy inclusion in the World Top 100, within which it nonetheless sits. Not many courses have as many breathtaking holes or such incredible land.

I highly recommend a visit despite the drawbacks. There's a lot to see that you won't see elsewhere and - my favourite thing about golf travel - you get to enjoy the game played a different way in a different culture.