Renaissance ready to return to Commonwealth

  • Commonwealth
    Will Watt

    The fifteenth hole at Commonwealth Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia, one of 10 already renovated by Renaissance Golf Design

  • Commonwealth
    Renaissance Golf Design

    Brian Slawnik, who is leading the project for Renaissance Golf Design, has prepared a masterplan

  • Commonwealth
    Will Watt

    Work already completed on the second hole includes new bunkering

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Renaissance Golf Design will return to Commonwealth Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia, in August, to continue with renovation work.

Principal architect Brian Slawnik says this second phase of work will see the project “dialled up a little”.

“With the relocation of the maintenance facility between the tenth and twelfth holes completed in 2021, there is an opportunity to open an area of the course that was previously pretty tucked in,” said course manager Adam Lamb. “The seventh, tenth and twelfth greens will be pushed a little closer together, creating the feel they are linked, which is very common through the northern half of the course, for example the greens at four and fourteen, and five and thirteen.

“The first green and approach area will receive a major makeover and the seventh, tenth, twelfth and nineteenth greens will all be redesigned. The eleventh’s putting surface, notorious for its severe back-to-front fall, will also be softened.”

Commonwealth’s layout was designed by club professional Sam Bennett in 1924 and in the following 14 years the greens were redesigned twice, first to a classic push-up style by club captain Charles Lane, following an architectural study in the USA and UK, and again by club manager Sloan Morpeth in 1938. Since then, the greens remain largely unchanged, apart from some tweaks during a drainage programme completed in 1992.

Commonwealth began a strategic review of its course and property in 2017, identifying areas that required work to elevate the layout, in part motivated by a desire to keep up with other Melbourne Sandbelt courses. Key points to be addressed were the greens, vegetation, course conditioning, maintenance facilities and the irrigation system.

Commonwealth appointed Renaissance Golf Design in 2020, with Slawnik as the principal architect. Tom Doak was involved in the early stages of planning and the creation of the concept plan, advising that the club should restore as much as they could.

Renaissance completed the first phase – described by Slawnik as “knocking off some low hanging fruit” – in 2022. This covered greens two to five, thirteen to eighteen and the chipping green, all within the northern portion of the property, as well as some fairway expansion, new bunkers and tee reorientation.

The club also commissioned Harley Kruse to prepare a vegetation and landscape document, which was to be used by Commonwealth’s course management team and committee, as well as the club’s vegetation architect, Paul Mogford. Slawnik is working closely with Mogford to ensure the golf course and vegetation projects proceed in step with one another.

“Like a lot of Australian courses built in the early 1900s, well-intended but perhaps misguided planting led to many non-native trees introduced over a long period of time,” said Lamb. “Large trees, native and non-native, were either planted too close to the lines of play and greens and in areas that created shade issues and moisture competition to the fine-cut turf. During the restoration planning stage of the course, the vegetation principles document was a large contributing factor that helped identify areas on the course where trees were either affecting turf conditions or limiting how a hole could be played or possibly expanded.”

This work is particularly notable on the seventeenth, according to Lamb. “Vegetation that had encroached a long way into the left side of the hole has been cut back” he said. “The green, which sits on a left-to-right angle with a bunker guarding the left side, is set up for an approach from the right side of the fairway. Following the removal of vegetation, it opened a lot of space, and the left side of the fairway was pushed further left by another 20 metres to give golfers much more room from the tee, but those who play to the new area of fairway will face a much more difficult angle to approach the green.”

While the greens were being rebuilt, the team took great care to retain existing contouring. “This was seen as a critical detail by Brian to maintain the character of Commonwealth’s greens and he made only a few very subtle changes to some sand build-up and extensions of some flat areas to gain extra pin locations,” said Lamb.

A 150-200-milimetre thatch layer was removed, with a 300mm sand profile stockpiled for use elsewhere as topdressing before final removal of the 100mm gravel layer. “The thatch layer and gravel were taken to the northern end of the practice fairway and used to raise a low area,” said Lamb. “Excess material was also used to build three target greens on the practice fairway. An average depth of 600mm was removed from each green with a two-metre collar and new sand imported. The profile was 450mm deep, effectively taking the greens back to the heights they were in the early 1990s when they were last reconstructed.”

Think Water installed new Rain Bird IC and CirrusPRO irrigation systems, Australian Seed and Turf hydroseeded all greens and supplied and laid large areas of Santa Ana turf.

Pure Distinction creeping bentgrass, developed by Atlas Turf International and Pure Seed, was selected for greens. “Following advice from superintendents Glenn Stuart of Peninsula-Kingswood, Steven Newell of Victoria GC, Leigh Yanner of The National and Tay Wilson of Kooringal GC, who have all recently grown in Pure Distinction, fungicide applications were made as early as possible to all greens,” said Lamb. The new greens were in play by February 2023 and the club has reported that early feedback from members has been positive.

All 18 holes are expected to be back in play in early 2024.