Members of Melbourne’s Eastern Golf Club have begun a new chapter in their club’s history this month, with the long-awaited “soft” opening of their spectacular, brand-new Greg Norman-designed course in Yering on July 1.
The new facility, in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley, is the culmination of a massive seven-year project which followed a member vote in 2008 to sell their Doncaster property and relocate the club.
According to Eastern Golf Club General Manager Ben Telley, this month’s opening marks a special time for members.
“After seven years, it is quite special now to see members enjoying a spectacular new all-encompassing facility,” says Telley. “It’s now the time to pause and say ‘thank you’ to the members for being patient and supportive. It’s also time for them to take a moment to soak it all in from different parts of the course. They deserve it.”
The soft opening of the estimated $70 million facility includes 18 of the planned 27 holes, a high-tech Golf Academy and practice facility, tennis courts and a spacious and fully-appointed clubhouse complete with adult and kids’ games rooms, Gymnasium, conference facilities and more. The remaining nine holes, plus nine-hole par-3 course are expected to open in 2016.
According to Telley, the stunning setting of the property, in addition to the welcoming nature of the clubhouse and facility, lends itself well to the long-term success of the club.
“It is one of the properties that just changes constantly with sunrise, sunsets and different conditions. It’s truly beautiful,” Telley says. “The golf course is now just going to get better and better every day, every month of each year. Perhaps most striking is the feeling of how welcome you feel driving in and exploring. You just know you belong, or want to be here, or feel completely at home. When you visit, you know that it isn’t just a golf course, it’s a club. One focused on members, guests and families.”
The club is now experiencing unprecedented demand for membership, with waiting lists in place for both 6 and 7-day memberships.
The new facility is currently only open for play by members, with an official Grand Opening of the club expected to take place in October.
INSIDE GOLF EXCLUSIVE – Our first look at the new Eastern Golf Club.
The new clubhouse at Eastern is, in a word, stunning. It features absolutely everything that a good golf club should have, and is warm, inviting and comfortable. From the big and comfy chairs in the members lounge, to the fully-stocked proshop, to the ornate wall hangings and classy entrance, it feels like a home away from home.
Upon arriving at the club, members initially walk through a covered breezeway which has access to both the member buggy storage as well as the entry to the clubhouse, proshop and member lounge. It is a busy and buzzing spot, as it gives the always friendly members a chance to chat and catch up before/after the round, and takes them to the large practice green for a quick warm-up prior to their round.
The entire facility, when finished, will encompass 27 holes PLUS a par-3 course. For the opening, a modified 18 holes will be in play, which excludes holes 3,4, 11 and 12.
The Masterplan is below, showing the first 18 holes in play (Click image to view full size)
We absolutely love this course. Greg Norman’s team successfully nailed the original brief–which was to make a member-friendly course that is challenging to players of all levels.
On our first round, we played from the white tees, which are the middle set. (There are five tees: Yellow, Red, White, Blue and Black). Our foursome contained a mix of handicap levels (8, 13, 17 and 25), and we all felt that the course was extremely playable, fair and challenging. There were plenty of risk/reward options throughout, while every hole also featured bail-out options for the higher-handicapped players.
The T1 Bent Grass greens were absolutely stunning, and in immaculate condition. Despite their youth, they played and felt as if they were quite mature. On our round, they were running about 10 on the Stimp, but as they mature, we are told they will speed up (which will add further challenge to the course). They rolled very true, and are a real highlight of the course. As an added benefit, they are quite large.
The fairways (Grand Prix Couch) were extremely wide and forgiving. In fact, they may be among the widest fairways we’ve played. This is extremely beneficial to any wayward drives. While many of the fairways were in very good condition, there were a few that showed their youth courtesy of some bare patches. The course is currently playing “lift, clean and place” to address this, and these fairways will still need a few months to mature. But overall, they were very playable, soft and lush.
The bunkers throughout feature fluffy, white sand that is a pleasure to play from. On our initial round, we did notice a few plugged shots on the face, but we imagine this will settle with age. They also feature Kustom Bind lining–which allows for excellent drainage (thus keeping the bunkers dry and consistent). The fairway bunkers featured low lips, which make approach shots very playable with longer or mid irons.
It is very clear that Norman and his team took great care in designing the course in a way to maximise the breathtaking views for each hole, while also ensuring that each hole is very playable. In addition, the routing of each hole seems to take the prevailing winds into account: with most holes playing either with or into the wind, and only a few holes playing into a cross-breeze. As the area is prone to regular wind, this aspect will be key to success and enjoyment.
Below are our initial photographs and thoughts on the first 18 holes.
The Opening par-4 gently welcomes you to your round. A shortish 266m from the whites, it can be reached by the longer hitters, but they risk the large greenside bunker short-left. As the narrow green runs diagonally to the left, the best line for this hole is to play it to the right, thus opening up the green. The fairway bunker on the right is only in play for the shorter hitters, or for those playing from the back tees.
The second hole is a mid-length (441m) par-5, playing uphill towards the mountain. The fairway plays along the right side, with a lower valley of rough on the left. The left side of the fairway (in the valley) is slightly more favourable (in our opinion) as, despite playing from the rough, it allows a more open approach to the elevated green. The right (high) side of the fairway provides a safer option, but your approach to the green will require a delicate shot over a large bunker to a slightly sloping green.
Your approach to the green must be spot-on, as there is a bit of a false front to the green, forcing any short shots into a collection area on the right.
As holes 3 and 4 are not yet completed, players move to hole 5 for their third.
An early risk/reward option for your round. Like hole number 2, there are two tiers to the hole, with the fairway on the right, and a valley of rough on the left. The best line for this 288m par-4 is along the right side, thus it is best to aim at the bunkers (and hopefully just miss them!). A carefully placed teeshot will reward you with a wide open approach the green, which will slope slightly away from you. If your teeshot strays left, however, you will be forced to play a difficult uphill approach over a nasty bunker, to a narrow green that plays perpendicular to your line. If this is the case, then your approach will likely finish behind the green, resulting in a long, curling, downhill chip shot.
This 133m par-3 (which plays up to 163 from the tips) plays much longer than its yardage. Though slightly downhill, it generally plays into a prevailing headwind. During our round, it was around a two-club wind. A lovely hole that demands respect and accuracy, as missing the green anywhere will result in a tricky chip or bunker shot.
A 356m par-4, this hole is a slight dogleg-right which plays over an imposing fairway bunker off the tee to a slightly blind landing area. The hole plays quite long, and features a sloping green. Don’t be short on your approach, as there is a ball collection area short-right. Playing from here is tricky, as the two-tiered green will come into play. The best line is to stay on the left side of the green, below the hole.
An uphill 143m Par-3, this little gem (like many other holes) plays longer than its yardage. The hole features a very large and wide two-tiered green with a “backstop” in the rear. The sloping green requires that you leave the ball below the hole–but if you miss the green short, you will either be left with a bunker shot, or be stuck in a collection valley on the right. Playing too long can leave you with a treacherous downhill chip that could potentially roll off the front of the green.
A 485m par-5 that takes you back toward the clubhouse, this hole features sweeping views that can make concentration difficult. The hole plays initially downhill, then uphill to an elevated green. Featuring the course’s now common “fairway on right, valley of rough on the left” configuration, the hole is a challenging and exciting risk/reward opportunity. The preferred line is to play to the right, taking on the bunkers on the high side. Your second and third shots, however, need to be carefully placed, as the natural bounces will take your ball to the valley on the left, which leaves you with a nasty approach over the greenside bunkers.
A straightforward 349m par-4, placement is important if you want a good shot at the green. Hugging the left is probably the best bet if you want a more open approach over a well-guarded green. But stray too far left and you will contend with a water hazard that runs along the hole.
Holes 11-12 are still under construction, so players now play a few holes in the completed 19-27 circuit.
Playing slightly uphill back to the clubhouse, this 289m par-4 finishes your first nine holes. Playing over water off the tee (though too close to be in play), the hole appears fairly straightforward. The key is to avoid the bunkers–especially the large ones in the middle of the fairway, which are right in the landing zone for many players. Finding these bunkers will leave you with a 100-120m+ approach from fluffy sand–not the easiest of shots! To play it safe, aim for the bail-out area on the right, then make your way up the hill.
Starting your back-9, this 436m par-5 is a shortish hole that gives the longer hitters a shot at getting home in 2. But they will risk numerous bunkers surrounding the green on the right, so accuracy on the approach is key. A bail-out area on the left of the green gives “safe” players a chance for a good score as well.
This 151m par-3 plays directly into the prevailing headwind, so club selection is key. Bunkers left and right will grab any wayward shots, while the large and slick green will take your best putting skills to master.
Another risk/reward opportunity, this 374m par-4 dogleg-right requires a decision from the tee: do you play it safe on the left or take on the water on the right to greatly reduce the yardage for your approach? Playing safe can leave you with a very long approach (190-200m), whereas cutting the corner over the water can reduce this by 50m or more (depending on your distance and bounce, etc). It’s a “slicer’s nightmare”, but an exciting prospect.
This spectacular 147m par-3 begins your return journey home. The massive bunker left of the green extends all the way to the pond, and can be a challenge to play from. Playing your teeshot to the right can be a safe play, yet the large mound on the far-right can either send your ball curling to the back of the huge green (definite 3-putt territory) or bounce it further right to more serious trouble.
One of the more challenging holes on the course, this 498m par-5 requires accuracy and a solid mental resolve. You must first avoid large fairway bunkers off the tee, while also placing your drive carefully in order to set up your second shot. Clearing those, your second shot is one of the most difficult on the course, as the fairway gradually narrows as you get closer to the green, with water hazards on both sides. It’s a knee-knocking situation, and worthy of your utmost concentration. You’ll be forced to either go for the gusto with a full shot (and risk the water), or hit a safety punch along the narrow fairway to set up a full wedge approach.
This 315m Par-4 is all about your approach shot to the green. The elevated green is a slight dome shape, which demands that you land your approach dead centre–lest your ball rolls off to the sides and collect some 30m away. With a tight lie surrounding the dome, a chip shot that isn’t perfect could very easily end up back at your feet.
A 331m par-4 features a spectacular view of the on-course accommodation in the distance (Yering Gorge Cottages), as well as an amazing set-up for a golf hole. A gentle dogleg-right, the risk/reward option is clear: either take on the corner (and risk going out of bounds near the Yarra River), or play safe to the left. A safe drive left will leave you with a difficult long-iron approach to an elevated green protected by a water hazard in front. Taking on the corner off the tee, however, will leave you with a mid-iron approach (and more breathing room to clear the creek).
A great par-3 that plays 132m uphill. On the green or short-right is safe. Everywhere else is all but dead, with bunkers stringently protecting the green. A great par-3 that requires a solid shot for any hope at par.
The final hole of the round, this 404m par-4 is the number 1 index, and represents an amazing finishing hole. With sweeping views of the course from the tee, you will need to pay close attention to every shot. Another of the many split fairway/valley layouts, this hole plays much longer than the yardage. Again, the key is to take the high road on the right, yet you will likely still have a long-ish approach to the green. Bunkers guard the right side of the green, while a valley on the left grabs wayward draws/hooks. A large and sloping two-tiered green can easily throw a 3-putt onto your card, so aim to stay below the hole.
Overall, the course is one of our favourite new developments, and we are sure it will one day take its place among Norman’s best designs. with its mixture of challenge and playability, we’re confident it will stand the test of time, and entice players to yearn to return again and again.