The Melbourne course owns a timeless appeal that’s hard to replicate
Taking an aggressive strategy while playing Woodlands Golf Club is a fool’s errand. One of the most endearing – and enduring – attributes of this ‘sleeper’ course on the Melbourne Sandbelt is its ability to lull golfers into thinking the 6,111-metre layout is not overly difficult. Yet the truth is the opposite, as Woodlands is one of those charming old-school designs that gives you just enough rope to wreck a good score.
We say ‘sleeper’ and ‘Sandbelt’, as some question marks linger about Woodlands’ true place in the fabric of Melbourne golf. Various interpretations of what constitutes the Sandbelt place the course either just on or just outside the fabled swath, but whichever side of the geographical divide you sit on, Woodlands doesn’t receive the credit it deserves. First-time visitors often comment how pleasantly surprised they are with the course and facilities, acting like they’ve struck gold.
“The amazing thing about Woodlands is – apart from Royal Melbourne and maybe Peninsula North – it’s probably got the most undisturbed land among the Sandbelt golf courses,” says course architect Harley Kruse. “But it’s always been treated as a bit of a ‘poor cousin’ in relation to the other Sandbelt golf courses, to the point that it’s not included in that Sandbelt ‘club’ of eight or nine courses. Which it should be, of course.”
Kruse and Mike Clayton were recently announced as consulting architects to Woodlands. Both men are intimately familiar with Melbourne golf, while Kruse’s additional expertise in landscaping and biodiversity is a rising asset in the ever-evolving golf ecosystem. Their plan is not to overhaul but rather to enhance.
“Woodlands, by the virtue of good management… has kind of left the place alone,” Kruse says. “It’s really good. So our advice to Woodlands is: we love the architecture; it’s a classic Melbourne Sandbelt 18. It might be a bit short, but that’s OK. It’s still a good, fun test of golf. So let’s leave the golf architecture alone and look at the vegetation and where trees are crowding holes or the wrong tree species has been put in.”
The site in the suburb of Mordialloc is also one of the most significant in the area for indigenous vegetation and fauna. The club has managed it in a fashion that has allowed regionally uncommon and declining species to persist, such as the Grey-Crowned Babbler and Southern Brown Bandicoot. The retention of dense undergrowth in shrubbery bordering open-grassed areas provides shelter and breeding sites.
Kruse also hopes to revive some of the heathland flora that he says may well still exist underneath the existing vegetation. If not, it’ll be planted. “A lot can be done to improve the place by simply looking at the vegetation right around the entire golf course,” he says.
Woodlands rebuilt its spacious and welcoming clubhouse several years ago to introduce modern elegance and comfort, while maintaining its traditional character – and is bringing that same approach to the golf course. Yet it’s very much a case of evolution rather than revolution in a bid to elevate golfers’ experience. Things like improving the practice facility and incorporating a short-game area as well as revitalising the ‘hub’ that includes the halfway house and teeing area for the first and 10th holes. It might be mostly one-percent tweaks in the works, but no alterations can take the soul of a golf club like Woodlands. “The picture is there; we are improving the frame,” the club likes to say.
But back to how you handle playing the layout. It’s high on strategy, even if in only subtle ways. It’s not an easy course to learn all the nuances of quickly. The club says new members often find their handicaps blow out a little while they learn the best way to tackle the course for their handicap and ability level. Soon enough, savvy golfers figure out how best to approach it with their skills.
Australian Golf Digest currently ranks the course 22nd in the country and in the past 30 years, it has never sat lower than 32nd on our biennial ranking. The Richard Banks/Sam Bennett design is known for its genius holes like the short par-4 fourth, where a tabletop green makes for an inviting yet sinister target, however several more are worthy of attention. Each of the par 3s demands a pinpoint shot, while members know a good score often hinges on how they play the 12th and 13th, a pair of short to medium-length par 4s where a definite strategy is required from the tee. There is scope to attack both holes with a driver, but the more prudent play – as is often the case at Woodlands – is to throttle back and use a shorter club.
Throttling back while moving forward. Woodlands is using its past to guide its future.
Woodlands Golf Club
Where: White St, Mordialloc VIC 3195
Phone: (03) 9580 3455