Photo: Nick Wall – Airswing Media.

By Peter Owen

WHEN Dandenong councillor Bill Dunlop popped into a barber shop in Springvale, in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, more than 75 years ago all he was looking for was a neat trim and perhaps a quick shave.

But when he left 30 minutes later he’d achieved a whole lot more – he’d disposed of a parcel of overgrown land he no longer needed, and he’d played an important role in the creation of a golf course that’s now ranked one of the best in the country.

The barber who trimmed Dunlop’s locks that morning was Jack Leech, captain of little Forest Hills Golf Club in Dandenong who, with club president Phil Courtney and a group of members, had been searching for a suitable site to establish a new course.

They’d had little luck until Dunlop told the barber he’d be willing to lease 28ha of his land at nearby Clayton – an area known as Spring Valley Estate, which consisted of an apple orchard and thick native woodland – with an option for the proposed new golf club to purchase it after 10 years.

The block wasn’t large enough for an 18-hole layout, so Leech and Courtney knocked on the doors of adjacent land owners and eventually secured another 27ha – just enough for a compact championship golf course located within Melbourne’s famed Sandbelt.

And so, on September 21, 1948, Courtney, Leech and 33 enthusiastic members convened the first meeting of the Spring Valley Golf Club and committed to the construction of 18 holes that would come to be ranked one of Australia’s top 50 golf courses.

Photo: Nick Wall – Airswing Media.

Today Spring Valley is recognised as a world class facility, with a beautiful, challenging golf course that has hosted four Victorian Opens and a host of significant tournaments; magnificent practice facilities; a modern two-storey clubhouse; and a golfing academy that houses the Victorian Institute of Sport and Golf Victoria’s Elite Players Program.

The club’s founding members turned to H. V. (Vern) Morcom to design their course. 

Morcom, whose father Mick was head greenkeeper at Royal Melbourne and helped implement many of Dr Alister MacKenzie’s inspired design work, was the superintendent at nearby Kingston Heath and an accomplished golf course architect himself.

When Morcom came to mark out the course, he had to fight his way through dense native bush and ti-tree that covered parts of the property, pockets of which remain today.

He engaged one of his Kingston Heath assistants, Ernie Tilley, to construct the course with a crew of six men, supplemented by a dozen enthusiastic members who spent their weekends felling trees, digging out stumps, laying drainage and collecting couch grass stolons from the sides of roads to plant out the fairways.

By mid-1951, nine holes were complete and Phil Courtney opened the course by striking the first drive on June 30, 1951. The remaining nine holes were completed by 1953.

H. V. (Vern) Morcom was approached to design the course. 

Measuring more than 6100m from the championship tees, Spring Valley presents a challenge for players of all abilities, and features some of Melbourne’s very best holes.  

The second, for instance, is a fine dogleg left, with classic design principles reminiscent of the 17th hole on Royal Melbourne’s west course, and beautifully crafted bunkers. Golfers playing the sixth must drive over one of the last remaining plots of remnant scrub vegetation on the Sandbelt, a patch that comes alive with native wildflowers in the spring.

One of the most memorable holes is the 134m 10th – a short, charming par three that can be devilishly difficult if you miss the green. And the 18th is a magnificent hole – a long par four to an elevated green framed by four bunkers beautifully sculpted into the hill.  

Not only could Jack Leech swing an axe, but he was good with the clippers and scissors.

A feature of Morcom’s design was routing holes in a series of triangles which ensured golfers were constantly changing direction, making for a more interesting experience. While the routing has remained the same, Mike Clayton was engaged in the late 1990s and early 2000s to make course improvements, revamping some of Morcom’s bunkering, re-building a number of greens and repositioning tees. 

The club continues to work with OCM (Ogilvy Cocking and Mead) Golf on a Master Plan aimed at making further improvements and updates to an already outstanding course.

Members originally gathered in a rambling, converted wooden farmhouse by the side of the 11th hole. It was replaced in 1962 by a two-storey brick clubhouse overlooking the 18th green, which remained until 2004 when the current modern clubhouse was built.

The working bee group take a well-earned break.

It provides a comfortable environment to relax and dine in the Terrace Café and offers a grandstand view to the finish of a round of golf. It’s also well utilised for weddings, meetings, conferences and family and work functions.

“It’s a great place to play golf,” said Matthew Delahunty, a member of Spring Valley for the past 34 years. “We have a much better course than some people give us credit for, and an excellent membership.

“They’re a real cross-section of the community. They take their golf seriously, but they enjoy themselves, as well,” he said. 

Spring Valley members are blessed with exceptional practice facilities, including two driving ranges with turf tees, two chipping greens, two practice nets and a large putting area. Club professionals, led by Director of Golf Tim Angwin, with support from teaching professional Finlay Bellingham, are available to assist with any coaching requirements in their Golf Service Centre.

As the ‘Home of Elite Golf’, Spring Valley hosted the VIS and Golf Victoria Elite Programs under the guidance of professional Marty Joyce. The Titleist National Fitting Centre is also there, centrally located next to the southern driving range.

Lunch was enjoyed outdoors.

Joyce, a former Victorian Institute head coach and Golf Australia national coach, and teaching professional Travis Harrison, who is currently working with Golf Australia as one of their High Performance coaches, along with a role in regional development, are available to coach Spring Valley members and the wider golfing public, as well as their elite students, at the club’s facilities.

Little wonder Spring Valley has produced so many fine golfers, including international Stewart Ginn, David Armstrong, Legends Tour rookie Jason Norris, who won the 2010 Victorian Open, and national amateur representative Stacey Doggett. Teenage star Sid Nadimpalli, 18, is the 2022 Tasmanian Amateur champion and recently tied for second in the Riversdale Cup. 

Current member Tom Power Horan was runner-up in this season’s Australasian Tour Order of Merit, while another member, cancer survivor Daniel Beckmann won a $100,000 prize when he scored a hole-in-one in this year’s Portsea Pro-Am.  

As well as hosting the Victorian Open from 2009 to 2012 – when it was the first ever mixed gender event – Spring Valley was the venue for the 1968 Victorian Close Championship, qualifying rounds for Victorian and Australian Opens, Division 1 Pennant finals, the Australian Amateur Championship and the Australian PGA Tour School. 

Spring Valley is currently accepting membership applications for full seven-day, six day and a sliding scale under 34 membership, as well as for juniors aged under 18. Annual subscriptions are all-inclusive, with no extra charge for competitions, insurance or bar levies.

Phil Courtney hit the very first tee shot at Spring Valley GC 75 years ago.

While it is a members’ club, visitors may request a tee time by contacting the club though, typically, availability is limited to Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons. Visitor play on Sunday is only with the general manager’s approval.

General manager Chris Poulton said Spring Valley’s founders were a group of unpretentious people with a vision to establish a ‘golfer’s club’ where people could come and play an excellent golf course in a friendly environment.  

“In 75 years, the club has experienced many trials and tribulations but it has stayed true to that vision and now stands as a monument to the hard work and ideals of those founding members,” he said.

To celebrate its 75th anniversary, Spring Valley will host a ‘Festival of Golf’ during October, with a gala evening planned for Saturday, October 7. A number of golf events will be played in the weeks leading up to the anniversary.  

Spring Valley Golf Club
619 Heatherton Road
Clayton South, Vic
(03) 9562 3811

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