kingston heath golf club - 19 POINTS
There are some days on the golf course that just seem utterly magical - the company, the course, the light, your game. For me Kingston Heath was one of those very special days. This place entranced me in a way that few courses have ever done and I came away having been totally seduced by it.
Kingston Heath was exactly what I had expected in a sandbelt course. The fairways bleed into the scrubby sand with some of the most amazing bunkering all around.
There is no choice of 5 tees to suit your game here, just white and red markers and nothing in between. The white tees when we played were pretty pushed back and as such it probably played a good 6,800 yards, but it didn’t feel terribly long. The ball would run when it hit the turf, and with the scrubby sand alongside the fairways rather than deep rough, you won’t spend long looking for balls. Like at Royal Melbourne, we barely lost a ball between us.
This a small, flat property and is oft compared with Merion because of how the course fits so adeptly into a small property, 50 acres in this case. There is a fascinating read here from Golf Course Architecture about the history and evolution of the course. The work of the last 30 years in taking out trees, exposing the sand and restoring the bunkers has meant that this course really is now one of the very best in the world.
Royal Melbourne is routed over quite hilly terrain - the use of the two rises is one of the things that makes it special. In comparison, there are no hills at Kingston Heath and the ground is pretty flat with just a few undulations. Kingston Heath is sometimes called the best flat course on earth, maybe the Old Course would have a thing or two say about that, but I do get the point!
There are probably three things that stood out for me.
Firstly, this course really showed me what the sandbelt was. If you missed the fairways then there was no 2 inch collar rough here, normally just scrub sand or light vegetation. The look is unique in world golf, but works perfectly here. Geoff Ogilvy is not only a Melbourne native but also one of the best thinkers when it comes to golf course design and if you want to understand more about what sandbelt golf is, this article by him should do the trick.
Secondly, this may well be my favourite course for par 3s anywhere in the world. There were only three and they were all absolutely stunning.
The 15th is the standout par 3. It’s a 160 yard, uphill par 3 which is superbly bunkered all around. I thought the 7th at Barnbougle was close to perfection, but this gives it a run for its money. When we played it, the tee was at the front and if you went for the pin, unless you landed it on a spot the size of beach towel, you were going to end in the deep bunkers left and right. From there it would take a very skilled golfer to get up and down. The play was very clearly another club or two to the vast green behind but we didn’t know that at the time...
While the 15th is a wonderful hole, the other 2 par 3s are almost just as compelling. Again, they are not long holes (which I like, there’s a reason there are very few long par 3s that people rave about) but the bunkering is phenomenal on them all. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better set of par 3s.
Thirdly, the bunkering on this course is just a delight. This is not a long course but, like so much of the sandbelt, you need to plot your way around the bunkers to score well. MacKenzie visited Kingston Heath and definitely left his mark on the hazards here. However, unlike some other courses we played in the sandbelt, there was plenty of sand in them and getting out wasn’t quite the monumental task it could be elsewhere.
Kingston Heath was pretty much a perfect golf course. Full of interest, visually stunning and playable. The conditioning was wonderful and the welcome in the pro shop and clubhouse was very warm. This is very much a member’s course, but I like the little of touch of the green fee ticket stating that you were an ‘Honorary Member’. It exemplifies the welcome we received and put a smile on our faces as we walked to the first tee.
The clubhouse at Kingston Heath was one of the nicest we visited on our trip. It’s a very stylish, single storey building where we got a lovely lunch and a pint before teeing off.
Conventional wisdom puts the West Course at Royal Melbourne as the number 1 course in Australia. From a purely architectural perspective, I am sure there is merit in that. But for me, Kingston Heath edged it by the finest of margins.
BOOKING THE COURSE
Like many of the Melbourne courses, getting a tee time will require you to contact the course directly and you can fill in a form here. It’s a shame that they, like other Melbourne Clubs, don’t put much information on their website (like what the green fee is). When we visited, it was A$400 for a round and as a visitor, you could play as long as you were a member of a golf club and had a letter of introduction. Tee times are available on Mondays from 12:52pm - 1:30pm, all day Tuesday, Thursday after 1pm in the summer and Friday mornings.
Kingston Heath is in the sandbelt area of Melbourne - south east of the city. It takes about 30 minutes to get here from the city centre. It is close to Royal Melbourne, Victoria and Metropolitan and a host of other courses. So you could stay in the Southern suburbs quite happily, but we decided to stay in the city centre, at the QT hotel which was really nice - cool rooms, rooftop bar and close to lots of lovely restaurants.
Food-wise, Melbourne is very Asian influenced and Chin Chin and Rice, Paper, Scissors were both great. We also went to the Tapas-style, Movida restaurant which was one of the best Spanish restaurants I have ever been to - highly recommended!
For more details of the trip, and some of the logistics, you can read the blog here.