Victoria Golf Club near Melbourne, Australia, has reopened to members following a greens replacement project overseen by Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking & Mead (OCCM).
“Victoria Golf Club was the last remaining sandbelt club to still have most of their original greens, dating back to the 1920s,” said Michael Cocking of OCCM. “Like many sandbelt clubs, Alistair Mackenzie influenced the design of the course as a result of his 10-week trip to Australia in 1926.
“Whilst it is known that he influenced the design of a number of holes, his most significant input was to create a magnificent bunkering scheme, evident in the 1936 aerial of the course. This has been the source of much restoration work over the last 20 years or so.”
The club brought OCCM in to complete a greens replacement project – converting greens that had largely become poa annua and were inconsistent and difficult to manage, to a new variety of creeping bentgrass – Pure Distinction.
“In converting the greens to bentgrass there were a few things to consider,” said Cocking. “Like many greens built in an era when seven or eight on the stimpmeter was considered fast; greens six, eleven and thirteen were so steeply contoured that they would need to be adjusted to allow a reasonable number of pins and general playability with a modern bentgrass.
“Whilst we wanted to increase the number of pin positions, we also wanted to give the illusion that no changes had occurred. To create this illusion, we retained the internal contours of these three greens but changed the overall pitch of the putting surface, from around 5 percent down to 2.5 percent.
“Outside of this, there have been a few areas where we have been able to add a pin position as a result of extending the greens to the edge of bunkers, or into areas where they had shrunken and become surround – something that has become quite common on the sandbelt since The Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne first made this change in the 1990s.
“These subtle changes have helped add to the variety and create even more interesting golf. It helps to maximise the number of pin positions and emphasise the strategy by allowing pins to be tucked even closer to the surrounding hazards.
“Of particular note will be the new back-right pin on the second; the back-left pin at the third; the pin at the front of the seventh; the front pin on the ninth; and the pin on the left of the sixteenth.”
Construction began in July 2018 and was completed in December. The project has seen the involvement of Victoria GC course superintendent Steven Newell and his staff; Gary Thomas and Neil Maddigan from Yellowbox Computing Services, who undertook surveying work; and turf consultant John Neylan, who advised on agronomic matters.
“For the most part, the greens replacement has been about faithfully putting the contours back as they were with extensive survey before and after and the use of some purpose-built machinery designed to replicate contours within a few millimetres,” said Cocking.
“Perhaps the most difficult aspect of reinstating the greens has been the work around the greens. Where the pitch of greens has been altered, it has resulted in a lowering or raising of the fronts and backs of greens by as much as 300 millimetres. The greens, overall, have been lowered slightly to remove the thatch build up, rather than import a foreign sand to the native push-up greens.
“This has meant working the ground well around the putting surface in order to give the illusion that no changes have occurred. One could easily argue that the new greens have been taken back closer to their original heights, with putting surfaces on classic courses quite often building up over time, considerably through years of bunker play and top dressing.”
The project has also presented an opportunity for OCCM to recommend some design changes, the most noticeable come at the fifth, twelfth and seventeenth holes, which weren’t original greens.
“The new fifth green has shifted slightly left and combined with some adjustments to the fairway bunkers offers a more interesting hole, and importantly helps differentiate it from the second and third which all featured very similar tee shots,” said Cocking. “The new green is bunkered left and right and is wide at the back and narrower at the front. Back left pins will reward play down the right near the original fairway bunker, while pins in the right half will favour tee shots over the new short-left fairway bunker and near the indigenous area up the left.
“A larger high tee behind the fourth green offers the alternative to play the fifth as a short par four, a pleasant alternative to the more common long par four tee.
“The new twelfth green better matches the strategy set up on the tee, with hazards front-left and back-left clearly rewarding play from the inside corner of the dogleg and near the hazard,” continued Cocking. “What was previously a fairway bunker here has been converted into a shallower indigenous area, which offers a better chance of recovery.
“Finally, the seventeenth fairway bunkers now feature down the right of the hole, which help soften the bank of the water storage but also guard the inside corner of the dogleg, a more conventional way to arrange a hole that turns. The new green has been shifted a little forward and left, out from behind the trees, and matches with the strategy of bunkers down the right. The new green has hazards guarding the left and back of the green, while a deep hollow sit front right, similar to the fabulous hollow on the fourth hole.”
A new irrigation system was installed by Superior Green; and seven hectares of cool season grass was replaced with couch from on site and off.
The course reopened to members on 16 February and will fully reopen for guest play on 1 March.