Kingston Heath Golf Club
Located about 25 kilometers south of Melbourne’s CBD, Kingston Heath Golf Club is one of the premier golf clubs in Australia, if not the entire world. Kingston ranks an impressive twelfth in Golf Digest’s World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2020 edition, and we couldn’t have been more excited to have received an invitation to play!
To say that we were excited is not an exaggeration! It was a warm Easter Monday, late fall in the southern hemisphere, and we drove into the driveway a full 2 hours before our afternoon tee time! After all, The Heath, as it is locally known, was one of our absolute must-plays while we were in Australia, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to play these hallowed grounds. A classic design, Kingston is known to reward strategy over strength. Not that we possess much of either!
We checked in, and immediately headed to the fantastic practice facilities, elated to play our very first Melbourne Sandbelt! We were greeted there by our wonderful host Luke. After hitting balls in a full array of directions, we joined him for a quick lunch in the grand Clubhouse. We had read about the famous tenth and fifteenth holes in the Fall 2020 issue of The Golfer’s Journal, and we were eager to learn more about the long history of the Club.
The Heath measures 6941-yards from the back Blue tees, with a par of 72. I played it from the White tees, which plays 6691-yards, and Menekse played it from the long 6029-yard par 74 Red tees.
A Short History of the Kingston Heath Golf Club
With a history that began in 1909, Kingston Heath Golf Club opened for play in its current location in 1925. And at 6812-yards and a par of 82, it was one the longest and most difficult golf courses in all of Australia.
Some of the most iconic names in golf are associated with the creation of Kingston Heath. First, was Dan Souter. Winner of the Australian Open in 1905 and 6-time runner-up, he also won the Australian PGA 4 times, including 3 years in a row. Mr. Souter is primarily responsible for the layout that we have today. When seeking advice for the design of the course, Souter turned to 6-time Open Champion Mr. Harry Vardon. Vardon’s advice was simple- “build a course that will stand the test of time.”
The next famous name associated with Kingston Heath, and in fact all the Melbourne Sandbelt, was Mick Morcom. Mr. Morcom was the greenkeeper at Royal Melbourne and constructed Souter’s design. Mr. Morcom’s son Vern Morcom oversaw most of the work and became the Head Greenkeeper in 1928, a position which he held until 1967.
The final name instrumental to the Heath was Dr. Alister Mackenzie. Dr. Mackenzie arrived for his productive visit to Melbourne in late October of 1926. Brought to the city to lay out Royal Melbourne, while he was here, the Club offered his services to other clubs in the area, including Kingston. Viewing the course, Mackenzie claimed: “Never yet have I advised upon a course where, owing to the excellence of design and construction work, the problems have been so simple.”
There are some diverse opinions on the extent of Dr. Mackenzie’s involvement, but perhaps what can be said is that he inspired the bunkers at Kingston Heath. Especially those built on the famous fifteenth.
Learning How to Play the Melbourne Sandbelt
The 384-yard par second is a dogleg left, and it is critical to get your tee shot as close to the fairway bunkers on the left as possible for the best approach towards the green. Luke said that driver might be too much club off the tee, so I hit 5-wood, which I blocked out to the right, but safe from the fairway bunkers. Even though I was still in the fairway, I was still a long way from the green, and had to hit a hard 5-iron over 2 greenside bunkers to get home.
Menekse meanwhile was better able to follow Luke’s advice and hit a good tee shot that hugged the bunkers down the left side. As I walked over to check out her angle, I realized that she was only 145-yards from the green. And even though the second green is protected on both sides by deep bunkers, from her angle she had an unobstructed view of the green. Lesson number one of Sandbelt golf- it is all about angles, and fairway bunkers are key to tee shot placement. The closer you can put your ball to the fairway bunkers, the easier your approach is going to be. It’s about playing to the angles and creating the best and easiest approach to well-protected greens.
A Golf Architect’s Dream Hole
At only 294-yards, the third hole is one of the most famous holes in the Sandbelt, and the shortest par four at Kingston. With bunkers on the left side of the fairway and no trouble right, you might be tempted to hit your tee ball down the safer right side. And this is where you would be wrong. By playing down the safe side, you will then need to navigate your approach over the half dozen or so bunkers that guard the right side of the green. Luke pointed out a gum tree on the left side of the fairway, past the bunkers, as the best target. With my sights set on the gum tree, I hit 5-wood, hoping to turn it over, but not too much left. It flew nicely down the middle, landing short of the bunkers, but didn’t move left.
Aiming at the bunkers’ left, Menekse ripped a great tee shot, also finishing down the middle just short of the bunkers. The green on three slopes towards the fairway, which means if you are past the pin, you will have a quick downhill putt. With the pin in the back, we had more than enough room to leave ourselves an uphill putt. Grabbing wedge, I landed my approach pin high, but in typical Sandbelt fashion, my ball took a bounce and rolled to the back of the firm green. Sandbelt lesson number two, always select the shorter club on approach shots if you are ever between irons. Everything about the third hole is perfect, and it is a golf architect’s dream!
The First Par 3 at Kingston
The first of the incredible par threes at Kingston is the 187-yard fifth. With five or so bunkers left, a single large bunker right, and nothing but a mess of rugged tussock grasses short, it is all carry to a green that slopes from left to right. With an attacking pin that was front right and knowing that the only safe miss here is short left, I pulled an 8-iron just slightly, suffered the consequences, and walked away with a double.
Landing it short, Menekse hit 3-wood off the tee, but we watched it roll all the way to the back of the green before trickling off. Our knowledgeable host said that the entire property used to be a pear orchard 100 years or so ago. The only remnants of the orchard are a couple of pear trees on the right side of this green.
A Great Golf Hole
I really loved the fantastic 359-yard par 4 dogleg left ninth hole. Luke gave us the good advice of having a look where the pin is located on nine when you walk off the eighth tee. Because if the pin is on the right side of the green, and you are on the right side of the fairway, the large bunkers short of the green will catch anything but your best shot. Today’s pin was on the left, which meant that the best angle was from the middle left of the fairway.
The best tee shot would be within a small couple of yards of the fairway bunkers that rest at the left side of the bend. Miss that small landing area left, and you are in the bunkers. But miss the landing spot just a couple of steps right, and your ball could run through the fairway all the way off to the right side because the fairway slopes slightly downhill from left to right.
There is a mobile tower on the horizon that acts as the best target. Laying back from the fairway bunkers, I was able to turn my tee shot over from right to left. It came to rest in the middle left of the fairway, but I still had a clear shot at the pin. Digging down with a full wedge, I played it out to the right of the pin where it stayed, landing pin high. The trees framing much of the green gives the great ninth hole a cathedral-like appearance.
Making the Turn at Kingston Heath
Luke explained that the beautiful 140-yard par 3 tenth is where Mr. Souter began his routing of Kingston Heath all those years ago. The course was originally planned to be played the opposite way, with ten being the opening hole. But that caused quite a commotion with the members because the last hole would then be into the setting sun. And apparently, there was a lot of afternoon golf in the 1920s, and finishing into the setting sun isn’t what the members wanted.
The famous short tenth has a kite-shaped green, and the tail of the kite acts as the front of the green. Surrounding the kite are 3 large fluffy white bunkers, two right and one left. With 9-iron in my hands, I landed on the left side of the kite, just beyond the bunker. My ball rolled off the left side and onto a flat spot. But with the pin on the left side of the kite, it wasn’t too difficult of an up and down, and I was able to pitch up to within tap-in distance on this postcard-perfect par 3.
Our Host’s Favorite Hole
The dogleg right 413-yard eleventh is another of Kingston’s great par fours and was our host’s favorite. With bunkers on the right side of the fairway, there is a ton of room left on this dogleg right. But again, playing away from the fairway bunkers isn’t the smart play. There is another bunker just beyond the bend that rests in the fairway. Luke explained that everything on this hole depends on the wind. If the hole plays into the wind, you need to play short of that fairway bunker and be left with 170 or more yards in. If the wind is with you, it is possible to carry the bunker and only have about 120 or so in. Today the eleventh played downwind.
There are trees in the background that open to goalposts which act as the best target from the tee. Hitting it through the goalposts will give you the best approach to the tricky green. Menekse missed the goalposts but was in a great position down the right side of the fairway.
From the right side of the fairway, beyond the bunker, I only had 117-yards in. Zeroing in on today’s left side pin, I pulled my approach just slightly. Landing just left of the pin, I thought it landed softly but watched in horror as it slowly began to roll. It picked up speed and didn’t come to a stop until it had rolled all the way off the left front of the green.
A Marvelous Green Complex
As we approached the green, the reason why this hole is our host’s favorite became clear. It was the green! There are only a few safe landing areas on this good-sized, almost convex green. With bunkers right, land your approach too far right and it may end up in the bunker. Fly it long and it slopes off the back. But land it left, as I did, and you will have probably the most difficult shot of them all.
With a choice of either having to pitch or putt up the embankment, I decided that a bad putt is usually better than a bad pitch. But I had no room for error, because once (or if!) I made it up to the putting surface, the green then slopes quickly away from me, so good luck getting it to stop! I couldn’t get it to stop, and watched it roll 10-feet past the pin but was lucky that it didn’t roll into the bunker!
A player needs to have the creativity of Phil Mickelson with the wedge if you put your ball in the wrong spots at Kingston Heath. Upon reflection, a better miss on eleven would be in the bunker. At least you could get some spin out of the bunker. But miss it left like I did, and you will make five as I did!
The World-Famous Fifteenth
The sun was beginning its descent when we reached the world-famous 154-yard par 3 fifteenth. Standing on the tee, all you can see is trouble! The green is surrounded by deep and punishing bunkers. I think I counted 12 in total! None are more famous than the 6-foot deep Big Bertha which cuts sharply into the green on the left. I lasered 133-yards to the pin, which rested in the middle of the green. Fifteen was playing with the wind, which I thought would cancel out the fact that the hole is uphill. With enough calculations to satisfy my inner math geek, I settled on a 9-iron and eyed my target- the right side of the green.
With numbers swirling in my mind, Big Bertha struck fear in me at the top of my backswing. Overcompensating for a pull, I didn’t commit to the swing and left it out to the right. I did everything at the last second to avoid that bunker, only to watch it descend into one of the many bunkers on the right. But mission accomplished because I missed Big Bertha! I hit a great bunker shot out, but couldn’t save par.
Menekse also overcompensated for Big Bertha and joined me in one of the many bunkers right. Fifteen was only 133-yards, but you must hit a perfect shot to have any chance at par!
Our host told us that during Mackenzie’s visit to Kingston Heath, he made only one design suggestion. He recommended changing the original fifteenth from a blind 222-yard par four, to the existing uphill par three.
The Only Hole on the Course Without Bunkers
Seventeen is a 459-yard dogleg left par 4 which played much longer than the scorecard indicated. It was beginning to cool, and we were racing against the last rays of sunlight. With a group of bunkers on the left angle, I blocked my driver out to the right, which, you guessed it, left me with a long iron home. The approach on seventeen is uphill, and I couldn’t see any of the green, just the tip-top of a very tall flag. I hit a 5-iron very well that finished just over the back of the only green on the course that isn’t protected by bunkers.
One of the Greatest Walks in Golf
Our host played hickory; brilliantly we might add. Playing hickories is something we have on our bucket list and hope to do someday. But in all the years I have played golf, I have never swung a hickory club. So, when Luke invited me to give his beautiful Brassie a swing on the 428-yard par 4 eighteenth, I jumped at the opportunity! I must admit- I haven’t been that nervous about a swing since my opening tee shot at The Old Course! I was scared to death of hitting it fat and snapping the shaft! But like my opening swing at St Andrews, I took a deep breath, relaxed, and made a smooth stroke that found the middle of the fairway. I handed back his club, to my relief, still in one piece.
Walking down the eighteenth fairway at Kingston Heath as the sun was disappearing was one of the greatest walks in all our golf travels. The white clubhouse seemed to almost glow as the evening sky began its brilliant and colorful show. Blue skies transitioned into pink, which transitioned into a mixture of orange and fiery red. I found my ball near the left side bunker, perfectly placed for my approach. Surprisingly, it finished not that far behind my tee shot with my driver!
The Key to Success on the Melbourne Sandbelt
The key to having any success at Kingston Heath, or any of the Melbourne Sandbelt courses, is the fairway bunkers. The closer you are to the fairway bunkers, typically the easier approach you will have to the greens. The farther you are, the more difficult your approach will be. Fairway bunkers guard the perfect position to the many doglegs, and length off the tee plays a distant second to the position.
You must think your way around a golf course like Kingston Heath. You can’t just come out and hit it anywhere. To keep a clean scorecard, you will need to be able to put your golf ball in spots. And by spots, we mean small spots. If you can get into those small spots, then the golf course will reward you. But if you miss these small spots, this can be a tough golf course.
Playing golf at Kingston Heath is a mathematician’s dream, proof again why math is an important subject in school! All those years ago, Mr. Kerns taught that geometry is the study of lines, angles, shapes, and their properties. That it takes a series of steps to solve a mathematical computation. Acute angles, logic, probability. This sounds a lot like playing golf at Kingston Heath!
The Subtle Genius of Kingston Heath Golf Club
With one of the greatest hosts we have ever had, we could see these small spots, but couldn’t execute very many of them. And as a result, my scorecard looked more like a Fibonacci sequence. You remember that one; it’s the mathematical equation where the number is the sum of the two preceding ones. 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc., for example. Well, except for the two that is! But it didn’t matter because the score isn’t necessarily the measure of success.
Luke was extremely knowledgeable about the game. And he especially knows every aspect of Kingston Heath. Where to hit it, and often more important as we found out, where to miss it. He portrayed the history, and the larger-than-life characters of the Club like Hemmingway would, and we savored every word.
The golf course really sneaked snuck up on me, and its subtle genius has grown on me as time has passed. The greens were incredible. They were quick but not too fast, and they rolled pure. The bunkers were treacherous but beautiful. There were more trees than I thought, but they never encroached into play, but rather added to the aesthetics of the course.
Mr. Harry Vardon would be happy to know that not only has the course stood the test of time, but like a fine wine, Kingston Heath Golf Club has aged to perfection!