As I noted in this week's Golf World Monday, the cure for your primetime golf withdrawals arrives Wednesday in the form Victoria Golf Club and the JBWere Australian Masters. And while an appearance by Luke Donald along with several good storylines should be enough to interest you, it's getting the chance to see Victoria that makes this a must watch event.
I was lucky enough to get to play Victoria a few weeks ago during a fundraiser for Geoff and Juli Ogilvy's You Are My Sunshine foundation for cancer research. The course is located near Royal Melbourne and therefore unfairly takes a back seat to RM and nearby Kingston Heath on various rankings. While it may not have the number of First Team All-World holes that the Royal Melbourne Composite Course throws at you or the overall simple elegance of Kingston Heath, Victoria is every bit as interesting, original and solid from beginning to end. And because of too much rough at RM and a few too many tea trees at KH, Victoria may just be the most artfully presented of the three sandbelt elites.
In terms of elevation change, Victoria's property fits somewhere between RM and Kingston Heath: there's just enough going on to make each hole memorable but not so much that you feel like you're constantly climbing. A fantastic routing allowing for a variety of "loops" to be played, making it ideal for a club course. The green complexes offer a mix of extreme and subdued surfaces, with the par-3s standing out as some of the most intriguing on the course. And thanks to a Mike Clayton master plan that has seen tree removal and sandy areas restored and subsequently maintained to perfection by superintendent Ian Todd, Victoria really is the model sandbelt club course. I can't think of a better compliment: you would never tire of playing it on a daily basis.
Oscar Damman and Bill Meader are credited with the design, but Alister MacKenzie was very much involved in laying out the course in 1927 and his hand is evident throughout. Here are a few holes to keep an eye on this week when Golf Channel coverage begins Wednesday at 5:30 PT/8:30 ET.
The 1st is one of the most wonderfully bizarre starting holes in golf, a 260-yard par-4 that is essentially a long par-3 for the professionals. Playing downhill with normal firm-and-fast golf, it's even driveable for many recreational golfers. A tee short short and left of the green will probably yield as many birdies as the player boldly going for the flag, but like many of the great risk-reward holes, temptation gets the best of us often enough that even the world's best will walk off with a diastrous 5 now and then.
The uphill 7th has the same scorecard yardage as the 4th, but this 180-yarder plays a club longer and presents a very different shot. While the fourth is a long, narrow green, the 7th presents a wide target tempting shots at the flags cut toward the right when in fact the wise play is to go at the left center opening of the green everytime. But something about the way the green sits makes it very hard to take that line and think you'll have a reasonable putt (but you will!).
A view of the 385-yard 11th from the left side of the hole shows off all that is beautiful about sandbelt golf at its finest: sandy roughs, attractive bunkers jutting into the landing area and a setting that inspires novices and professionals alike:
The 410-yard 12th plays from elevated tee and doglegs right. The more a player cuts the corner or clings to the fairway bunker, the better the view of the green. Weak drives or those bailing out left toward the adjoining 13th fairway are almost guranteed a blind second shot thanks to a rise in the fairway:
The uphill, 156-yard 14th a heavily sloped back-to-front green with a bit of a false front. Besides presenting a fun shot to hit, the hole just sits in the landscape so artfully with perfect maintenance of hazards and native areas:
The 315-yard 15th has a slight bend left and after a slight rise in the fairway, features a peninsula green tantalizing players to have a go at the green. But errant drives will rack up some huge numbers. Here's the view just short of the green, with the trademark sandbelt bunkering in the foreground:
The 195-yard par-3 16th plays uphill to a green that plays smaller than its actual size. Missing pin high or long right is deadly: