PHOTOGRAPHY BY GARY LISBON
Moving house is never easy to do. For Melbourne’s Eastern Golf Club, the relocation from suburban Doncaster to Yering in 2015 was an emotional mix of sorrow and opportunity. The former sentiment was over the loss of 90-odd years of history at one site and the latter a chance to simultaneously make a powerful statement and fortify a new chapter in the club’s history.
Eastern isn’t the first – and surely won’t be the last – club to relocate to a new home. Next-door neighbour Yering Meadows was among the first to do so. In Sydney, Ashlar to Stonecutters Ridge was another relocation, as was Horton Park to Maroochy River in Queensland. And there will be more to come, especially given the land value of many long-standing suburban clubs. The challenge comes in executing the move in the right way, which is where Eastern is ahead of the game.
For starters, the club was not content with just 18 holes. The 36-hole complex now includes a nine-hole par-3 course – named Shark Waters – that is an ideal complement to the primary layout. And they aren’t dinky, pitch-and-putt par 3s. Some holes measure into the 160 and 170-metre range and the full nine requires most irons in the bag to complete. What the Shark Waters course does, though, is provide an alternative playing option for members and visitors, as well as enhancing the family friendly aspect of Eastern’s new location.
Scott Barradell, Eastern’s director of golf, tells a story of one couple that stayed in the club’s on-site cottages and were short on time so couldn’t play the entire 36 holes. He recommended that if they had time for only 18 holes, to play one of the main nines plus Shark Waters. Their initial response was somewhat dismissive, but upon finishing the next day, they took the time to phone Barradell and tell him how much they enjoyed the par-3 nine.
And if there’s a comment he and the sports shop staff hear all the time from members and visitors, it’s compliments about the state of the putting surfaces. “The best thing is the condition of the greens,” Barradell says. “They’re some of the best greens I’ve ever putted on, and they’re only going to get better.”
Those who know the Greg Norman style of architecture will recognise his fingerprints all over Eastern. With a largely treeless site and room to play with, the Shark weaved three nine-hole loops with poise and precision. The result is a primary 27-hole course that won’t overly tax the novice golfer but will repeatedly challenge good players in a variety of ways.
The course is anything but confronting off the tee, yet is subtly intricate. Most of the golf course occupies flat, wetlands-style land, although the opening nine and parts of the third loop make good use of the modest undulations. Wide open spaces dominate the tee shots on almost every hole, but the task becomes one of choosing the correct option. The more daring line usually opens up the best angle to the green, or to the flag, while the alternate path delivers the opposite outcome. In short, you can make Eastern as difficult as you like off the tee, but the difficulty of the second shot will be in direct proportion to the risk you took from the tee.
Norman’s angular work in the fairway invariably culminates in huge greens. Yet the vast putting surfaces play like multiple greens in one and penalise bad misses. Golfers with a multi-dimensional short game – strong chippers, pitchers, bump-’n-runners and those with imagination around the green – will thrive at Eastern. Meanwhile, those who do find the target in regulation are likely to find having a straightforward two-putt is another proposition entirely.
The bunkering style is a mix of target-style obstacles, fairway-splitting pots, a network of traps to avoid when taking the aggressive line from the tee and greenside guardians. While the fairways are wide, on numerous occasions the short grass is split in two by a central bunker that asks the golfer to make a decision standing on the tee: left or right? On an exposed site where the two predominant winds tend to be direct opposites, the answer to that question is likely to be different on a daily basis.
Hints of Norman are everywhere, including the Great White Shark logo-shaped tee markers on all 36 holes. There are some bold driving lines available for golfers brimming with bravado, but also more manageable, timid routes for the more cautious. It has become a hallmark of Norman’s most recent design work in Australia – to give golfers enough rope to metaphorically hang themselves but also a safe play that might whack the ego but not the scorecard.
The club has rectified an initial irrigation problem that plagued the course’s early years as the entire site continues to mature. One of the best aspects of the 27-hole layout is how no nine-hole loop is inferior to another. The club does view the 1-18 sequence as the premier 18-hole option, but the 19-27 nine is rich in strategy and all that makes golf cerebrally enticing. And then there’s Shark Waters, which offers two flags – and two hole sizes – on each green. Play to the regulation white flags by all means, but if introducing a newcomer or a child to the game, at the base of the blue flags is a more user-friendly option in the form of an oversize hole that will both delight and encourage first-timers and learners. Indeed, the appeal to the club’s female and junior members is strong, Eastern also initiating a membership category that isolates access to Sharks Waters if golfers wish to play only the par-3 course. It’s a simple recipe for capturing the golf imagination, really, but one so often overlooked in our sport.
It’s a facility that members and visitors needn’t leave in a hurry, either. The sprawling clubhouse is home to a spacious lounge area with bar and restaurant where many a post-round post mortem has taken place. For golfers looking to refine their game, the practice fairway accompanies the 36 holes in what is a complete golf package. And then there’s the on-site Yering Gorge Cottages [see below], which vary between course-frontage positions and secluded little pockets of the property. So once you drive through the gates, often there isn’t any need to leave for a day or longer.
Make A Stay Of It
Completing the picture at Eastern Golf Club is Yering Gorge Cottages, a smattering of modern and luxurious cottages on a hillside overlooking the golf course and adjoining the nearby Yarra River. The cottages allow complete freedom to roam the property in this delightful corner of the Yarra Valley, making the notion of letting a weekend slip away without leaving the premises both real and inviting.
The 13 cottages include one and two-bedroom configurations, plus one five-bedder for larger groups. Each includes a separate living area with floor-to-ceiling windows providing a stunning outlook of the surrounding nature reserve and resident kangaroo population. The cottages also feature a wood heater, fully equipped kitchenette, a large private deck with barbecue and a separate bathroom with corner bath.
‘Stay & Play’ packages start from $489 in a one-bedroom cottage for two people. All cottage guests receive priority access to the full course and Shark Waters with green fees starting from $95 per person for 18 holes, inclusive of a cart (one per two players) with tee-times subject to availability. Guests don’t need to be a reciprocal club member to play, providing they are staying on-site. More information is available at: yeringcottages.com.au/cms/accommodation/stay-play/
This winter, Yering Gorge Cottages has launched a ‘Winter Stay & Save’ package: stay three nights midweek and pay for only two nights. Priced from $638, twin share, stay in a one-bedroom cottage and enjoy a continental breakfast hamper, a welcome bottle of Yarra Valley wine and complimentary Netflix. Winter Stay & Save packages are valid for Sunday to Thursday night bookings from May 1 until August 30, 2019, and can only be booked via the club’s website or by telephone (terms and conditions apply).
Eastern Golf Club
Where: Victoria Rd, Yering VIC 3770
Phone: (03) 9739 0110
For more information on a Golfing Great head to Visit Victoria.