Royal Park Golf Course
Located just north of the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, Royal Park Golf Course was an absolute must-play for us! Why you wonder? Because Royal Park is the childhood home course of Mr. Peter Thomson! And naturally, we were curious to find out how this course turned Mr. Thomson into one of Australia’s greatest Champion Golfers.
It was a late evening, and we were keen to meet up for an after-work round of golf with our good mate Carl Murphy. You know Carl as Aussie Golf Quest on Instagram. We first played together at Lost Farm, and we were excited to catch up with him again at one of Melbourne’s more uncommon layouts.
Royal Park Golf Course is a 9-hole course that plays 2533-yards from the back tees, and 2362 from the forward tees. Par at Royal Park is 35.
A Brief History of Royal Park Golf Course
Golf at Royal Park first started when a lease was granted to build and maintain an 18-hole course in 1903. Located directly in the city, according to the book A Centenary in the Park, by Denise Hilton, the golf course was routed “so that a circuit of the Melbourne Zoo was made”. In 1910, in a Club victory against a strong Royal Melbourne Club team, it was reported that the “visiting players were greatly disturbed by the roaring of lions and tigers in the neighboring Zoo”! One of the competitors even declared that “an animal like a small tiger hand pounced on a green and run off with his ball.”
Due to falling membership, the decision was made in 1911 to shorten the golf course to 9-holes. Because of its location, many other changes to the layout have been made over the years. Losing land to build a tramline, as well as redevelopment of the Zoo significantly altered the routing of the course.
However, over the years, some of the biggest names associated with Australian golf have walked the fairways at Royal Park. The first famous name association is Morcom. Synonymous with golf in Melbourne, Mr. Mick Morcom was the head Greenkeeper at Royal Melbourne, and two of his sons grew up at Royal Park. Son Afton was Club Champion 4 times, and his brother Vern, who went on to be the head Greenkeeper at Kingston Heath, was a pennant team member for 9 seasons.
The other name associated with Royal Park, and the reason why the golf course was on our ultimate bucket list, is Mr. Peter Thomson.
Mr. Peter Thomson
Peter Thomson is arguably Australia’s greatest player. He won a remarkable 98 professional victories around the world. Most notably, Mr. Thomson won the Open Championship an incredible 5 times. Including an unprecedented 3 consecutive years in 1954, 1955, and 1956. In fact, he is the only player to win the Open three consecutive times in the 20th century!
But well before Mr. Thomson was Champion Golfer of the Year, he learned his trade at Royal Park. Born in Melbourne in 1929, at age 13 he ‘officially’ joined Royal Park in 1942. However, Mr. Thomson admitted that he had been sneaking in a few holes for a number of years before! Beginning with a handicap of 20, he was playing off scratch at age 16 and was Club Champion in 1945.
In an interview with Mr. Mike Clayton in 1999, Thomson was asked where his first revelation that he was a good golfer took place. “I suppose the club championship at Royal Park.” He went on to say, “I’ve often stressed the point that winning a tiny thing- in retrospect it was tiny, but at the time it was enormous- is really the same as winning the ultimate, like the British Open, because everything comes from within you. You know you bring tension and pressure on yourself, and it doesn’t matter how many noughts are on the prize cheque or even the number of people watching… that’s nothing to do with it, it’s really all within you. The same pressure can generate within you when trying to hole a putt to win a pennant match as hole a putt of the Open- it’s the same thing.”
Beware of Golf
Just getting to the second hole at Royal Park is an adventure in itself! First, you walk behind the chain-link fence behind the opening green. Continuing down a path to the road that borders the Melbourne Zoo, you cross the Upfield Line train tracks, taking special care crossing, before walking up the hill to the tee box! We haven’t had this much excitement carrying our clubs through the cityscape since our amazing day playing Urban Golf!
Once safely on the tee, the uphill, straight-away 324-yard par 4 second is a beautiful golf hole, and Royal Park’s number one handicap. With train bells whistling, and tigers roaring, the trees lining both sides of the fairway seem like a painless non-life-threatening task. Left off the tee is better than right, but it didn’t matter because Menekse boomed one down the middle. There is a small greenside bunker on the right side, but it shouldn’t come into play. We are very happy to report that no tiger pounced on our ball!
A Fantastic Public Golf Course
Big hitters might be tempted to take their tee shots over the gum tree that guards the left side of the dogleg left 247-yard par 4 third. Playing downhill, I never gave any serious consideration to going for it and hit 5-iron off the tee. With a solid strike, it had some right to left draw on it, but not enough, because the bend left is much more than we were expecting. Next time we play, I will hit either a 6 or 7-iron off the tee because of the fairway bend. Or, turn it over more! From the right side of the fairway, I had to hit my approach low to avoid the trees and was pleased when it settled long and left of the back pin. There is a single greenside bunker left of one of the larger greens on the golf course.
With tracks from the tram bordering the right side, the short 423-yard par 5 fifth feels like a city course that could be found in any city. This, to me, embodies public golf, and it is simply fantastic! Banging driver right to left off the tee would be the best shape here. Aiming slightly right, I hit my driver right down the middle. Unless you put something out on the tracks, you should be able to get home in two on the fifth.
Royal Park, Home of a Champion Golfer
So, what exactly is it about this parkland golf course that turned Peter Thomson into one of the greatest links players of all time? That is a great question and one that we couldn’t answer with any certainty.
Royal Park isn’t a course where you would learn to play the ball on the ground, like the true links courses of The Open. But the golf course offers a good variety of golf holes with plenty of movement. With doglegs both left and right, to play well here you need to possess the ability to shape the ball in all directions.
Royal Park also has greens that are smaller in scale. Small greens would certainly produce a good iron player. They would also help to hone your short game as well. But if growing up on small greens is all that is needed to become an Open Champion, then I’m puzzled as to why I never won one. Let alone five!
Mr. Thomson won his 5 Opens at Royal Birkdale, the Old Course, Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham, and St Annes, and again at Royal Birkdale. None of which, in our experience, are even remotely close in nature to Royal Park.
While we never figured out exactly how Royal Park Golf Course could conceive a Champion Golfer, the golf course was an incredibly unique layout. And we have to say that Royal Park was a ton of fun to play!