Kingston Heath Golf Club
The great Harry Vardon, whose achievement in 1914 of winning his sixth British Open championship remains a record today, never laid eyes on Kingston Heath. However, few people realise that he had a profound influence on this beautiful golf course 25 kilometres from the heart of bustling Melbourne.
To trace this link with Vardon we must go back to the years just after the First World War when well known Melbourne solicitor, Stanley Dutton Green began corresponding with Vardon and J.H. Taylor, who between them had won 11 British Opens.
Dutton Green, a committee member of the Elsternwick Golf Club, was one of the group who resolved to buy land in Melbourne’s sand-belt area and build a new course to relocate that club.
He had spent a lot of time studying trends in English and Scottish golf and in one of his letters asked Vardon for advice on the course. The reply came back to construct a course of sufficient length ‘to stand the test of time’.
It says much for the foresight and strength of character of the men who founded Kingston Heath Golf Club that they stuck rigidly to this plan, despite much criticism in the early years.
When play began in 1925, the 6312 yard course, designed by the 1905 Australian Open champion, Dan Soutar and built by the Royal Melbourne greenkeeper, M.A. Morcom (on generous loan from his own club), was the longest recorded in Australia …. a fact that attracted a great deal of earnest discussion.
In that era there is no doubt this was a very searching test. A par 82, there were six par fives and only one par three on each nine. And at first, the 15th hole, now an internationally-acclaimed par three, was a short par four with the green in a depression 60 metres farther on than it is now.
Even the world-renowned course architect Dr Alister Mackenzie, who came to Melbourne in 1925 to design Royal Melbourne’s West Course and also laid out Kingston Heath’s magnificent bunkering while he was here, expressed some reservations about the length.
The committee, though, stood firm and refused to make any alterations. The issue was raised at a club annual meeting, after Mackenzie’s visit and the argument was settled once and for all with the very sound words of Dutton Green, the club’s first captain, who told the gathering: “If we are proved wrong it will be easier to shorten than lengthen the course.”
In the years from 1923 to 1925, when the club moved from the Elsternwick club to Cheltenham, times were, as expected, extremely difficult.
Many members, not wishing to transfer to a totally new course, resigned and joined other established clubs. This resulted in an obvious drain on finances. But those who stayed showed an admirable commitment to the task of coping with the transitionary period.
The first setback came only a few months after the course was opened, The drought of 1925 had a severe effect on the fairways and cape weed was rife. The members responded by forming regular working parties to pull out weeds by hand every Sunday morning for several months.
By 1935 the course was well established and already had attracted a great deal of praise. When the American Gene Sarazen played an exhibition there in 1936 he joined a growing chorus of fine players who referred to Kingston Heath as one of Australia’s greatest golf courses.