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Classic Golf Holes - Royal Melbourne West 5th

This article courtesy of the Golf Architecture Magazine

The 5th Hole, West Course, Par 3, 161 metres
Royal Melbourne Golf Club
Melbourne, Victoria

Hole Architects – Dr Alister Mackenzie and Alex Russell


The Par 3, 5th at Royal Melbourne West - pic by David Scaletti

There is arguably no other hole that better encompasses all that is great about the wonderful sand belt courses of Melbourne than the par three 5th at Royal Melbourne’s famous West Course. And who better to describe this hole than our very own Peter Thomson, whose formative years were spent playing these courses. In the book "Peter Thomson’s Classic Golf Holes of Australia", Peter neatly encapsulates the character and challenge of the 5th in his description:

"One shot holes across valleys abound in courses all over the world. They have no prototype in classic links golf since the game’s original courses were all flat. But somewhere along the line the urge to hit "all-carry" shots to a perfectly visible target became a must in course architecture. The Composite 5th (also West 5th) is a superb example of this type of hole. The view from the tee is inspiring, but even for the best of players the scoring possibilities lie between one and six. The green, of admirable proportion and shape, has a decided tilt from back to front and given the usual glassy speed of all Royal Melbourne greens, putting from far off can be very testing indeed, particularly downhill. Three and even four putts are common for the careless or over exuberant. To miss the target with the tee shot is to compound the woes. Altogether an outstanding piece of architecture."

One of the major elements to confront the golfer from the tee, apart from the awe-inspiring setting and the intimidating bunkering, is the steep and closely mown bank at the front of the green that inevitably sheds a too feeble approach back towards the bottom of the valley. The bunkering comprises three beautifully built traps at the right that are more formal at the green edge and then appear to merge imperceptibly with the heathland vegetation beyond. The pair of bunkers on the left form an ideal counterpoint to those opposite. The first is large and dramatic, set back some distance from the green, while the second of the pair is the defining hazard of the hole, eating into the middle left of the green and guarding fiercely the back left pin position.

What makes this hole even more unique is the fact that it is the only hole at Royal Melbourne that was built by constructor Mick Morcom under the direct direction of Dr Mackenzie while the Doctor was in Melbourne during November 1926. Mackenzie himself described the creation of a special par 3 in his report on his Australian trip of 1926 published in Golf Illustrated magazine in 1927, and reproduced in full in this issue of Golf Architecture – see "Around the World on a Golf Tour". The Doctor elaborates on its development:

"While I was in Melbourne Morcom commenced some of the construction work on the new course, and he made a new short hole of a somewhat similar type to the Eden hole at St Andrews, which new hole is, I think, the best example of artificial work I have ever seen on any golf course, and will certainly be better than any short hole south of the Equator."

How right he was. But how do we know that the 5th West is the par 3 hole the Doctor referred to? It is known that Mackenzie prepared a sketch plan for this hole for Mick Morcom’s use – this plan is still in the possession of the Morcom family according to John Scarth, the biographer of Mick Morcom and his son Vern. The Mackenzie / Russell plan, as reported in The Register newspaper of Adelaide on 17th December 1926, comprised 8 new holes, with 10 of the Club’s Sandringham course holes retained, albeit modified. The 5th is described as a new hole and "an iron shot to the north" of 170 yards. The other par 3 on the front nine, the seventh, was described as "the present ninth with modifications" of 120 yards. However, this hole was eventually deleted when Ivo Whitton’s new par 3 seventh was built in 1937. The other two par 3’s were part of the original Sandringham course.

As a result, the new hole that Mick Morcom built under the watchful eye of the Doctor and no doubt Alex Russell as well, was the 5th at Royal Melbourne West. With this pedigree, and the timeless character of the finished product, can there be any argument that this isn’t the finest short hole in the Southern Hemisphere?

by Neil Crafter and Paul Mogford

courtesy of the Golf Architecture Magazine - click for more