The Royal Melbourne Golf Club – Since 1891.
Prior to 1891 there had been attempts to form golf clubs in Melbourne and the other locations in Australia. None of these continued hence Royal Melbourne Golf Club is the oldest golf club in Australia without interruption. A group of men, many of them with Scottish roots, gathered together and after a series of informal meetings, a circular was sent out inviting those who were interested to attend a meeting, on Friday 22 May 1891, at Scott’s Hotel, Collins Street. It had been ascertained that 100 members, each prepared to subscribe fifteen guineas, would be necessary if the club was to be financially viable. The 100 men who subscribed were granted Life Membership and are known as the Founders of the Melbourne Golf Club. It is said that J M Bruce, who was to become the Club’s first Captain collected some 80 signatures; he and the inaugural President William Knox are regarded by early historians as the founding fathers of the Club.
Caulfield 1891 – 1901
At a meeting of members five weeks later it was reported that the Club had been offered land at Caulfield, on the basis of permissive occupancy only. This land was close to Caulfield Railway Station, rail access being essential in that era. Starting near Waverley Road the land included the present Central Park and Hedgeley Dene Gardens, East Malvern. The course no longer exists, as much of it was subdivided for housing as was the original intention, something that had been delayed by the financial crash of 1891. In a matter of weeks, the course was laid out by Thomas Finlay and David Conacher, who had grown up together in St Andrews. It was officially opened on 4 July 1891. A house a short distance from the course was rented for 30 shillings per week. This house at 16 Turner Street, East Malvern still exists.
Women were accepted into the Club as Associates in September 1892. In 1894, with their numbers steadily increasing, and the main clubhouse not large, arrangements were made for a Clubhouse opposite at No 9 Turner Street for the use of the Associates.
In 1894, the Melbourne Golf Club instigated the Victorian Golf Cup, inviting players from all states and New Zealand to compete. This event was held for four years. With the formation of the Australian Golf Union in 1898, it was replaced by the Australian Amateur Championship and winners of the Victorian Golf Cup are recognized as Australian Amateur champions.
In 1895, Queen Victoria granted the Club the privilege of prefixing its name with “Royal”.
Sandringham 1901 to 1931
The Club always knew that its occupancy of the Caulfield site was temporary, and as the blocks sold off for housing intruded into the course, the Club needed another site. Several sites had been considered before suitable land at Sandringham was found in 1898. By the end of that year, the purchase of the land for the course had been successfully negotiated.
Construction of the course was slow as the land was largely covered by scrub and ti-tree, which needed to be cleared. The new course was officially opened on 27 July 1901. The clubhouse was at the corner of Fernhill Avenue and Victoria Street a walk of approximately 3k from Sandringham Station.
During the period 1903-1904, an additional 28 acres was purchased. In 1905 the course was changed radically and modernized and earned the reputation as being the best in Australia. This was the time when the Haskell ball was replacing the gutty. At that time the course extended through five ‘paddocks’; three were to the north-west of the 15 West tee. The eastern border ran from the current flagpole to half way down 2 East. In 1911 the Club purchased a further 68 acres located between this eastern boundary and Reserve Road. The onset of World War 1 delayed development of that land. Of importance to the Club was the opening of a tramline running from Sandringham Station to Black Rock, in 1919.
The Sandringham era was one when the course was used for many championships and Royal Melbourne dominated both men’s and women’s pennant. Players associated with the Club were also prominent in both state and national championships, amongst whom the most outstanding were Hon Michael Scott, Ivo Whitton, Mrs Austin Gatehouse, and Mona MacLeod.
Black Rock 1931 to current
Since the tramline also ran down Bluff Road, it opened the possibility of moving the clubhouse further south and using the land to the east. The Sandringham area was expanding and the land in the first three blocks of the course was becoming more valuable; selling these blocks would finance the move and the creation of a new course.
Dr Alister MacKenzie, a Scot from England, was chosen to design the new course, and after a few weeks examining the site, he produced a layout, which was accepted by the members on 10 December 1926. Alex Russell, a member of the club, 1924 Australian Open winner, and whom MacKenzie took as his Australian partner, was chosen, along with Hugh Ross, to supervise the construction of the course. A number of alterations from the original plan were necessary, but it is almost certain that these were done in consultation with MacKenzie. This became the West Course one of MacKenzie’s great designs in what was an illustrious career during the “golden age” of golf architecture. Alex Russell’s input is hard to ascertain after such a long period, but it was certainly important. The Club was also fortunate to have as its head greenkeeper M A (Mick) Morcom a master craftsman when it came to course construction. Apart from the West, he also constructed the East Course under Alex Russell, and the course of Kingston Heath Golf Club.
Throughout the 1920s, many of the Members had been pressing for a second course. A member, T C Trumble, obtained options on many small portions of land east of Reserve Road, now occupied by the East Course; the land between Reserve Road and Morey Road proving to be the most difficult. At a hastily called Extraordinary General Meeting, on 1 November 1929, the members enthusiastically endorsed the purchase of the land. Alex Russell was chosen to layout the course, and the “Cheltenham Course”, now known as the East Course, was constructed by Morcom under Russell’s supervision.
Both the West and the East have stood the test of time, and each has been used twice for an Australian Open. West and East courses are consistently rated in the top 100 courses in the world. There has been very little in the way of changes carried out until recently. However, with modern golf equipment, sending the ball higher and further, the problem at many holes of errant golf balls became one that could no longer be ignored. Therefore, since 2003 several holes on the East have been changed, as have some on the West.
The Black Rock era has seen three Clubhouses. The first was the ‘temporary’ 1931 Clubhouse, finally replaced in 1968 by a low single-storey design of the time. In 2001, after another series of plans and debates, a two-storey Clubhouse on the site was agreed to. During the construction, the Club operated from a marquee on the Bowling Green and the office in a portable building nearby. This time of informality is generally agreed to have been a special time for the membership. The current Clubhouse was opened in June 2003.
In 1959 the Club was chosen to host the Canada Cup, an event that brought international recognition to Royal Melbourne. In order to avoid crossing busy roads, 12 holes of the West Course and six from the East, all in the “main paddock” were chosen. This course became known as the ‘Composite Course’ and was rated in the top 10 courses in the world for many years. A number of important international tournaments have been played over this layout, including the Eisenhower Trophy (1968), and the World Cup, [previously the Canada Cup] (1972, 1988).
The Club has hosted The Presidents Cup twice – in 1998, the first occasion it was held outside the USA, and for a second time in 2011. November 2013 saw the return of the World Cup international team event, held the week following the Australian Masters played at Royal Melbourne for the first time.
Important Australian events, into which strong fields of international players have entered, include: the Chrysler Classic (1974-1976), Australian PGA Championship (1978-1983), Australian Open (1984, 1985), Australian Bicentennial Classic (1988), Coca Cola Classic (1998), Heineken Classic (2002-2005), the Australian Women’s Open (2012), Australian Masters (2013).
In 2015 the return of the Women’s Australian Open to the Composite Course saw New Zealand teenager Lydia Ko beat a strong field including several world Top 10 players.
The Men’s Australian Amateur Championship was last played at the Club in 2005, on the West Course. The Master of the Amateurs event has been played at the Club since 2011 and in 2013 saw a particularly strong field of top international amateur golfers. The Club recently hosted a very successful Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and the winner, Australian Antonio Murdaca, will have the opportunity to play in the US Masters.
Four Club histories have been published, the first in 1941 (50 years), one in 1976 (75 years), the Centenary History in 1991 and recently in 2016 (125 years). These volumes provide comprehensive accounts of the people and events that shaped the Club.
ELLIS, AD (1941) The Royal Melbourne Golf Club
BARNABY, JW (1976) The Royal Melbourne Golf Club
JOHNSON, Joseph (1991) The Royal Melbourne Golf Club -The Centenary History
ALLEN, Richard (2016) The Royal Melbourne Golf Club – 125 Years
In 2011, a comprehensive history of “The Courses of Royal Melbourne” was also published. This is available by contacting the office on email@example.com or +61 (03) 9599 0500.
In 2011, GREEN, JS (2011) The Royal Melbourne Golf Club: History of the Courses was published.
Prepared by History & Archives Committee