Feature Interview with Paul Daley and David Scaletti
February 2002

Paul Daley and David Scaletti have combined talents to publish The Sandbelt – Melbourne’s Golfing Heaven. A studious 5-handicap golfer, Paul is a member of Huntingdale and The National Golf Club (Cape Schanck) in Australia. A voracious reader of golf literature, he enjoys reading about the different golf architects, the inner-workings of the industry, and its various architectural schools of philosophy. Co-ordinating the overall writing effort, this is Paul’s follow-up effort to his critically acclaimed Links Golf- The Inside Story, and his first publishing venture with David, who is a highly regarded golf course photographer. Thanks to David’s photography, The Sandbelt captures the beauty and grandeur of the world famous courses outside of Melbourne like no other book before it.David is also an avid golfer, a member of Commonwealth Golf Club, and a highly ‘dangerous’ 14-handicap golfer.

1. How do you explain why such a book as The Sandbelt has never being written before?

I used to wonder about that; it did after all seem the logical book project for writers, photographers and publishers to bring to market. A few years ago, an ambitious attempt was made whereby the proprietors tried to get the clubs to contribute financially and guarantee support before the product even got off the ground. This approach did not wash with Managers/Boards of these conservative Sandbelt golf clubs, and their project died a quick death. While David and I were doing the rounds of club appointments, detailing our plan and gathering enthusiasm, we took in a ‘mock-up’ to assist each Manager in visualising our direction. However, we made it clear that neither financial assistance, nor any special treatment was sought. They seemed to appreciate this approach.

But the answer goes much deeper. Many attempts at a Sandbelt book have been dreamt up, and planned for. But invariably, when the interested parties do the hard sums about the cost of such a venture, they quickly pull out, especially if they haven’t first garnered the support of the clubs.

Collectively, the clubs have a policy of not allowing free access to the courses for photography, nor their libraries, for archival retrieval. Despite the complexity of the question, the answer on this point is straightforward: One of the underlying concerns is that a photographer waltzes in, takes a workmanlike photograph – but no better – and the picture somehow appears somewhere around the world in a prominent magazine and people panic; what will this do to the course ranking, waiting list, and so on? Often, the alarm may be unfounded, but the concern is never far from the surface.

Yet another reason exists: controversy has always raged about precisely which golf courses comprise the Melbourne Sandbelt. Ask four people to define it, and you will get four different answers. Indeed, this scenario occurred during the research phase when I put the question to some prominent golfing identities. The range of people’s perception really shocked me. David and I came to understand that perception takes into consideration the ‘old school’ tie, geology alone, and geology with other factors. Perception also taps into ‘sacred’ cow, and popular misconception. But in an ideal world, only those clubs firmly built upon sand would be considered. This also explains why a Sandbelt book has never appeared previously. To name them outright brings in winners and losers. Clubs base their fees and waiting lists upon the reality, and in some cases, perception, of being on the Sandbelt – or not.

Conventional publishers are not in the business of making losses, but some are in the business of cost cutting with key production matters. This leads to another deterrent: with something as precious as portraying the Melbourne Sandbelt courses, you simply cannot cut costs and do a good job. Likely publishers know it, and so do the club administrators. David and I realised that by combining our respective disciplines, we were half way there! Within a short time frame, the remaining publishing components were outsourced.

2. How do you geographically define the Sandbelt region of Melbourne?

Broadly speaking, it is the area stretching out in a south-easterly direction from the city, taking in the bayside suburbs and extending as far inland as Caulfield, Oakleigh and Springvale. For many golfers, the sandbelt golf region is thought to exist between Port Phillip Bay, with Dandenong Road as roughly the northern boundary, and a geological phenomenon known as the Beaumaris Monocline, which forms a reasonably straight line from Rickett’s Point to Glen Waverley in the outer east. Within this perimeter lies the Melbourne Warp – the result of a series of dramatic geological events. The traditional geographic definition of the Sandbelt region is a good place to start, but there are inherent problems. By adhering too strictly, it effectively eliminates Kingston Heath, which lies to the south east of this triangular area, plus several other sand-based golf courses. Most of the well-known sandbelt courses (The Magnificent Seven) were built upon sand types known as Black Rock Sandstones, and Red Bluff Sands. Collectively, they are referred to as the Brighton-Baxter Sands. However, what is frequently forgotten is that a layer of dune sand overlies the Brighton-Baxter Group of sands, and covers extensive areas of southeastern Melbourne down to the Mornington Peninsula. So really, Kingston Heath has every right to consider itself a legitimate member of the Melbourne Sandbelt, along with the likes of Kingswood, Spring Valley, Woodlands, and others that normally miss out on the fanfare. To assist people from overseas, any time you see a reference to the following suburbs: Cheltenham, Sandringham, Brighton, Black Rock, South Oakleigh, East Bentleigh, Dingley, South Clayton, Frankston, you will know you are in sandbelt golfing country. Taking this ‘inclusive’ argument one step further, the firm of TWP (Thomson, Wolveridge and Perrett) is undertaking a 36-hole complex at Carrum Downs, which promises to be the latest addition to the ‘belt’.

3. How did such a large body of sandy soil come to exist there? Are there comparable areas elsewhere in Australia near population centres?

A large percentage of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs are covered by heavy clay subsoil, derived from Silurian shale some 400 million years old. A powerful downward bending force – the Melbourne Warp – transported these strata in a south-westerly direction. Around 20 million years ago, tertiary seas flooded over the clay shales, depositing sandstone material in the process. Many North Eastern suburbs are well above sea level, and so inspite of the tertiary sandstone flooding, they received only a light deposit of sand. As sea levels dropped, this light sprinkling of sand eroded and left in its wake, the older Silurian clay. Locals will understand the effect of this inter-related activity upon Eastern and Riversdale golf clubs – both ‘bouncy’ clay belt courses.

Australia is an island continent, with its capital cities on the coast. It then follows that most of our best courses are near the sea. Naturally, sand abounds. Even so, there is no comparable area in Australia with such a concentration of top-line golf courses in close proximity as the Melbourne Sandbelt. Our most westerly state – Western Australia – is blessed with some very good sand-based golf courses, but its size (many times bigger than Texas) dictates long distances between clubs. Sydney (New South Wales) has some good sand-based golf courses, but again, they are not in the same quality bracket, nor the numbers. Melbourne, with its tight cluster of golf courses is truly unique in Australian golf.

4. How big an issue is tree encroachment, and trees in general, with the Sandbelt courses?

Ran, before I answer that, would you be kind enough to organise me a bulletproof vest? In short, the issue is huge, and it is currently smouldering away. The Tree Hugger’s Society is in full voice, but pleasingly, there is a growing band of knowledgeable golf enthusiasts who recognise that a good thing was being overdone. Previously, enthusiastic course ground crews were overly zealous in their planting; both in regard to the exotic nature of plants, and its numbering. Overcrowding, and overplanting, was beginning to affect fairway lines, and increasingly blur the lines of the original architects’ intentions. In some cases, the shotmaking requirement changed (not so subtly) from strategically based, to heroic and penal, in nature. In short, non-sandbelt characteristics were slipping into the internal milieu. One course – Commonwealth – comes to mind, whereby tree branches were overhanging into bunkers and forcing 45-degree escapes – right and left! Either overplanting, or neglect?

Sandbelt club members remain passionate about their beloved trees, and aesthetics in general. In truth, the finer points of course strategy are usually relegated as ‘unimportant’. They say, ‘It looks good, it must be good’. What many people are unaware of is, that the popular image of the sandbelt – the one derived between 1950 and 1985 – is not really the sandbelt look at all! It is the relatively modern look. The original sandbelt ‘look’ was when the courses had fairways sown over waves of sandy oceans, plus a profusion of heath, which by definition, is low-lying. The ‘now and then’ photographs that line the clubhouse hallways serve as priceless reminders of this very fact, along with the old club histories. Remarkably, Yarra Yarra once looked like the ideal venue for the Open Championship of Britain, despite it being located many kilometres from the sea.

Then came the Second World War, and with it, ground crews were laid off, or away fighting the common enemy. Naturally, courses evolved to sport a bushy, narrow, constrictive feeling. Claustrophobia set in! Huntingdale was affectionately known as HUNTINGBALLS. Once, club legend, Burtta Cheney, hit a rare shot off line into the ‘mulga’ and ended up yelling for assistance to find her way back to the fairway. Apparently, she became quite panicky and it took a while to regather her poise. The course became infested with snakes, and had thick tea-tree like you wouldn’t believe.

Around this time, Kingston Heath was very narrow and hemmed in; everybody sat around and wept when a huge fire in 1944 ripped through its interior, barely sparing the clubhouse. One man, Mick Ryan, an ex Australian Open champion, refused to be disconsolate and felt it would be the making of The Heath. Today, in its thinned out form, it is mighty golf course.

Things went full-circle, and with the cessation of hostilities, ground crews returned and the courses eventually thinned out again. But gradually over time, they lapsed back again.

In closing, Royal Melbourne is often held up as the benchmark for good golfing practices. People may find it interesting to learn of the extent of Claude Crockford’s diligence in regard to clearing while course superintendent (1935-75). I am reliably informed that in order to maintain the playing fields that everyone so admired, he carried out work (away from prying eye’s) that the club hierarchy ‘didn’t need to know about’. As a result, tree encroachment was never of issue at Royal Melbourne.

5. Can you share with us in this Feature Interview, your blockbuster find regarding the first four holes on the East Course at Royal Melbourne?

A well-respected local golf writer named Charles Happell first reported the discovery 18 months ago in the Age Newspaper. Upon reading it, I was mildly surprised that such a landmark finding would warrant only a few lines, and so I averred to include the fuller details of the discovery in the book. There is a degree of sensitivity to the finding: Alex Russell’s son is alive and 90 years of age. For the longest time, it was assumed that MacKenzie was responsible for the West Course, while the East Course was totally Russell’s. Therefore, the club’s line about the Composite Course split has been: 12 holes MacKenzie and 6 holes Russell. This has now been rescinded.

Some background information about the discovery: In 1926 MacKenzie made his famous visit, and he was asked to design a nine-hole course for Royal Melbourne. It’s friend and rival, Royal Sydney had one, and so Royal wanted one too. The ‘short’ course meandered around the perimeter of the large paddock (then spare land) – remember, this was 1926 and there never any intention or talk of an East Course. That came five years later!

The MacKenzie Cup was played at Lahinch in 1995, and during this event, it was decided that the 2000 event should take place at Royal Melbourne. Part of the celebration involves each Club Historian delivering a speech about the state of their course, against how it was originally, and to highlight any deviation. Anyhow, in the late 1990s when preparing for the local Royal Melbourne speech, one of its historian’s noticed while rifling through the old maps, that Russell’s first four holes (East Course) traced the same boundary path as MacKenzie’s nine-hole short course. Like a thunderbolt, it was realised that MacKenzie really had a hand in 16 of the 18 Composite holes, despite RMGC acknowledging that Russell modified the first four holes on the East Course, to some degree. In some quarters there may be a degree of scepticism about the discovery, but the club itself is sufficiently convinced to include the new information on its club literature and records.

6. How would you compare the bunkering on the courses that MacKenzie visited, vs the finest non-MacKenzie courses in the area?

At courses MacKenzie didn’t visit, or advise upon, the bunkers seem to be smaller in size. At Royal Melbourne, many bunkers complexes have been condensed from two-to-one, or a bunker gaggle of three-to-one. The reasons range from ease of general maintenance, erosion control, and player access.

Also, at non-MacKenzie courses, there can be a ‘forced’, even contrived, appearance to the bunkering, as if the architect has concluded, ‘I probably should put one in here!’ The tendency is for these to blend less harmoniously into the terrain.

A lot of the best bunkering in Melbourne was achieved via the ‘horse and scoop’ method. Certainly, modern technology has made bunker construction easier, and faster, but has this been achieved at the expense of achieving the random, natural, appearance that Mackenzie made an art form of? Perhaps more than anything, bunkering was his Sandbelt legacy.

MacKenzie's bunkering helps make Kingston Heath a world class course. Pictured is the famous uphill, one shot 15th.

7. What are the design origins at Commonwealth Golf Club? Though it features many excellent holes, no single architect seems to have been the guiding hand.

The club endured several changes of location, and name, prior to settling in 1920 upon Commonwealth Golf Club. Golf professional Sam Bennett, who laid out the second nine at Woodlands, was responsible for designing Commonwealth’s front nine, and five years later in 1926, all 18 holes were in place. I am unsure as to who completed the course, but there is feeling that it may have been a Club Captain named Charles Lane, who was an ‘armchair’ architect. Lane was known to work on the course, and after overseas tours to study golf courses, was allowed free reign on the bunkers and greens. Who would dare argue with him?

A common feature with many Melbourne Sandbelt clubs has been the intermittent selling of land parcels, and occasionally, acquisitions, to accommodate housing encroachment and other council related issues. In the mid-1960s, these facts brought into being two new holes designed by Sloan Morpeth – Commonwealth’s 10th and its world-class 11th hole, which is loaded with intrigue and strategy. On account of being the Club Manager for nearly 32 years, you could say that Morpeth had the ‘inside’ running for the job.

From 1986 onwards, Commonwealth commenced its ‘modernising’ program. Most significantly, this saw the elimination of its classic opening hole – a driveable par-4. In time, the wonderful par-3 7th went as well. These two holes aside, the impact of architect, Kevin Hartley lies somewhere between neutral-and-positive. The course has been lengthened, and I do like the new 8th hole fairway bunkering, and mounding.

If only the course could somehow match the conditioning of the other Sandbelt courses, it would assume its rightful position in the pecking order.

The 16th at Commonwealth swings left around this pond.

8. How do you explain the overabundance of excellent one-shot holes on the Sandbelt?

It would be taking the easy way out to comment that excellence breeds excellence. Many of the Sandbelt courses take advantage of the undulating terrain – sometimes gentle – elsewhere, appreciably so. So for a start, the vistas at many par 3s are terrific. It is hard to imagine anyone complaining about hitting to a clearly defined target: one that is invariably ringed by attractive bunkers, and frequently across a gaping valley, or towards a green perched on high ground. It would also appear that in most cases, architects have utilised the natural topography, rather than impose their predetermined thoughts upon the land. Of course, the influence of Dr. Alister MacKenzie cannot be ignored.

Another reason, and we thank our lucky stars for this, the par 3s are generally of a fair and equitable length. Being subjected to a succession of overly long par 3s is a real turn-off. Obviously, these holes played relatively longer when first built, so maybe I am according too much credit. Regardless, today’s flattering equipment has converted many of our par 3s into highly desirable lengths. Some of the best examples include the 5th and 7th at Royal Melbourne West, Kingston Heath’s 10th and 15th holes, Long Island’s 9th (The Lookout), Huntingdale’s 3rd, and Metropolitan’s 2nd hole. But you could easily name another 20, and I do like the 13th hole at Royal Melbourne East. One tremendously under-rated par-3 is the uphill 14th at Victoria with its ever-changing club selection. At 142 metres, it varies from a long iron into the wind, to a mere pitch down gale. The back-to-front tilting green can easily bring grown golfers to their knees. However, among a strong list, my favourite par-3 remains the 16th at Royal Melbourne East, which is probably a case of ‘heart over head’.

Melbourne’s best short pars 3s have interesting and undulating greens, where two-putting is never automatic. So in summary, the combination of inviting vistas, sensible hole lengths, clever green complexes, interesting putting challenges, and well-bunkered targets makes for great short holes – often played in a crosswind.

The one shot 2nd at Metropolitan Golf Club.

9. How do you explain the relative dearth of excellent three-shot holes?

I agree. By comparison to the 3s, the Sandbelt 5s are less exciting. Whether it is because of the confined space within suburban limits – I don’t really know. Perhaps the 5s were once great as well, with the old equipment. However, there still are quite a few strong three-shot holes: the 8th at Peninsula South, Victoria’s 9th hole, plus the 15th at Woodlands which successfully combines length, accuracy, and forces a decision about laying up, or taking on the cross-bunkers with the 2nd shot. One really fine par 5 is Huntingdale’s 6th hole. The professionals make nonsense of it during the Australian Masters, on account of the tightly mown fairway, and seemingly always playing downwind during the tournament. But the members find it an absorbing and challenging hole. Huntingdale’s 7th hole, though only 470 metres, is one of my favourites, being narrow off the tee and posing the ‘risk and reward’ question on the tee box. For those prepared to lose their ball with a wild drive, a birdie is just reward for finding the fairway. After this, the fairway’s gentle incline and subtle sweep to the left, along with its excellent bunkering – right and left – makes for a terrific 2nd shot.

Royal Melbourne’s shortish par 5, 4th hole (West), appeals – in a dramatic sort of way as its terrain tilts and falls in every which way.

Most of the Sandbelt courses have at least one good par 5, but are short on outstanding par 5s. Kingston Heath may well have the pick of very good ones: its 7th, 12th and 14th holes present varied challenges. The 14th is a tremendous hole – visually and architecturally.

10. Kingston Heath features some of the world’s greatest bunkering, and green complexes. How would that course look if its interior were treeless?

On account of the course ‘look’ progressively trending back to its 1925 ‘look’, the question is not totally speculative. Visually, a denuded Kingston Heath may suffer a tad, but golf quality wise – a pure assessment of the shotmaking requirements – it would lose nothing.

The reason I say this is because if you examine the intrinsic challenge of Kingston Heath, it tends to be non-tree related: Selecting the correct lay-up yardage from the 3rd tee to ensure safe pitching, judging the fluky crosswind at the par-3 5th hole, answering the question – to pitch onto the 7th green, or run through the deep gully in front? Approaching the 8th green is all about calculating the degree of ‘dead’ ground, as is the case on the 9th hole. The diminutive 10th hole taunts you into going for a suicide pin position. Admittedly, the drive on the 11th brings in the spectre of trees, but the key decision occurs with tee-shot selection – 3 wood or driver? The result of that decision determines the prescribed amount of fade. At first glance, there is no trouble to be found from the 12th tee, due to the vast margin (75 metres) between the tea-tree flanking the fairway’s right side, and a semi-hidden water-hazard down the left. Then you notice the bunker in the middle of the fairway, which forces a few decisions: to fly the bunker, skirt around to the right or left, and will it be a fade or a draw? What is the wind doing at the moment? Given Melbourne’s weather patterns, the answer to the question posed on this tee may vary 3-4 times a week. Again, non-tree related!

The tiny two shot 3rd at Kingston Heath, as captured in the morning light.

Australian Opens have been settled on the par-3 15th hole – surely one the best few short holes in the country. The skill here is with accurate club selection, and judging the buffeting crosswind. But there are plenty of trees to torment a blocked drive on the 16th, or a big drive that fails to be shaped gently to the right. A pulled drive on the 17th results in a ball ‘donation’, but for the drives that find the ample fairway, the trick is to successfully judge the uphill, semi-blind 2nd shot – often played with a long-iron. The green is huge, and so three-putting is quite common. For many years this was a par-5, and was just one of ten Kingston Heath holes to be reduced to a par 4. Most of the 18th-hole challenge relates to avoiding the lurking left-hand bunkers. One bunker in particular was very harsh in the penalty it doled out to golfers who strayed marginally left. Pleasingly, a degree of relief has come and it has been shallowed out.

So, of all the Sandbelt golf courses, my guess is that three courses would maintain their integrity in the advent of being denuded of trees: Kingston Heath, Royal Melbourne East and West. A sound case could also be made for Victoria and Woodlands.

11. Who deserves the design credit, and bunker credit, for the underrated Woodlands Golf Club? Also, is there any other relevant information to share?

Like so much pertaining to Woodlands, knowledge is patchy. Sadly, in 1927 a ferocious fire destroyed its clubhouse, along with many early records. However, I have pieced together that in 1913 a professional by the name of Rowley Banks from the Albert Park Golf Club was responsible for laying out nine holes, along with assistance of the Greens Committee. The new course was situated on the stately grounds of the old Mayfield Estate. Banks was considered an expert who had made an architectural study of golf courses.

In 1917, Sam Bennett, the club’s professional, designed and supervised the laying out of the next nine holes.

Mick Morcom, Royal Melbourne’s head greenkeeper, was called in to consult on their terrible greens. Then, they were just rolled natural grass. His advice centred upon proper manuring processes, and general upkeep methods.

As for the bunkers, it seems incredible to reflect upon now, that owing to an agreement with the Trustees of the 314-acre Mayfair Estate, no provision was made to turn earth for bunker construction. Therefore, wire nettings (3-foot high hurdles) were utilised as bunker substitutes.

By 1921, the club became disgruntled with its woeful bunkering arrangement, and took the necessary steps to invalidate the previous bunker agreement. It sought the advice of one C.C. Plant, an avid golfer, who had studied the bunkering of golf courses. To assist his task, an aerial map of Woodlands was undertaken by Hunter Rogers, who a few years earlier, was feted for his aerial map-making skills in France during the war. Today the practice is commonplace, but Rogers’ noteworthy effort was the first of its kind in Australian golf. Not enough has been made of this great achievement! Club legend has it that Plant put forth his bunkering suggestions based on Hunter’s survey. But owing to financial difficulties, and time constraints, they were not all implemented. Indeed, in 1925, English architect, J. Scott, was visiting Australia, and accepted an invitation from Woodlands Golf Club to advise upon its bunkering. One could conclude that they were not totally enamoured with Plant’s suggestions, or merely seeking a second opinion.

Thanks to the combined efforts of Plant, Rogers, and Scott, the bunkering at Woodlands was finally completed in early 1927. But just who is due the lion’s share of bunkering credit is a point of conjecture. Also, what is not fully understood is the role of Mick Morcom. As late as the mid-1920s he was advising the club greenkeeper about matters pertaining to fertilizing the fairways and greens. If this was so, I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have also advised upon bunker location, and or, construction.

12. Would you cut down the row of swamp cypress tress that protrude into the right-hand side of the 17th fairway at Metropolitan Golf Club?

No, I would leave it there, as long as individually, the trees are not diseased, nor in any danger of falling on golfers. Over the years, there has been much discussion about how it can block off the green, following even an accurately played drive marginally to the right of the fairway’s centreline. From there, either an up-and-over shot is required or a faded second shot (right-handed golfer). The row places a real premium upon driving, coming as it does on the 17th hole when things may be little tight ‘around the collar’. The Sandbelt region is short on eccentricity, another reason to leave well enough alone.

13. Are you pleased with the work that was carried out at Huntingdale Golf Club in 1998?

Who can be objective and dispassionate when commenting about their home course? I’ll probably fail terribly here. Drainage was the central issue, and this is not surprising considering that Huntingdale’s inward nine was built upon an old reclaimed swamp – once the home of the Melbourne Hunt Club. Previously, golf committee’s over 60 years made various attempts at improving the drainage, with little or no success. The 1998 committee felt that drastic action was called for, and so in addition to installing sub-surface drainage, surface drainage work was undertaken in the form of links-style humps and hollows, with sweeping run-offs to the sides of fairways, and the positioning of water collection grates. How does it look? Absolutely terrible! But has it worked in relation to keeping Huntingdale more playable in winter? Yes, a significant improvement! So there you have it: fix one problem and create another! Many people howl about the course being at odds with the traditional character of Huntingdale (and I’m not at ease myself), but it appears that a degree of desertion was necessary to improve the drainage. Perhaps a more burning issue has been the radical changes to the greens. There was an argument that on account of its ageing greens, they had become sunken, and prone to flooding. Huge swales now appear in the 14th, 16th 17th and 18th greens. To me, they appear a good thing overdone; not unlike the sick patient who reached for the aspirin and ended up taking the whole bottle. However, the new 10th green with its pinched in entrance is excellent. The new 2nd green is quite okay as well, and the new 1st green, while excessively generous, is not too bad either.

The work commencing in 1998 pertained mainly to the northern end of the course. Now three years on, as part of the overall 5-year plan, work on the southern end is in progress. The first hole (currently under construction) will feature a bunker at driving length to the fairway’s right, the new 4th hole sports an eye-catching improvement in its tee-to-corner vista, and then unaccountably, falls down badly with its lack-lustre new green and surrounds. The 5th was a much-loved short par four; it has since departed and made way for an uphill 200 metre par-3. Interestingly, the original 5th hole in 1941 was a long par-3 along Centre Road. The landing area of the 9th hole was always wet and muddy in winter, lying among the lowest points of the course. The entire fairway level has been raised appreciably, along with the addition of mounding, grates, and run-offs. There is also a new 9th green, which has been enlarged considerably; again in my opinion – excessively. However, the fairway remodelling effort on this hole is highly promising.

14. The name courses in the U.K. typically don’t play anywhere near as firm and fast as they did 40 years ago. Can the same be said of the Sandbelt courses?

The situation varies from club-to-club, but a couple of examples to consider. Prior to eliminating its two-grass policy, and adhering to a strict couch regimen, Huntingdale was a relatively bouncy golf course. There is hard evidence to back this up. Frank Dixon, a prodigious hitter of a golf ball, and popular club member, regularly hit 5-6 irons into the long 6th hole during the 1960s in summer. With the agency of a strong northerly wind on the 10th hole, he drove, not infrequently, to the right-hand bunker fifty metres short of the green. Frank was huge, but no one can be that long without unusual fairway assistance.

And yet, at Metropolitan, the opposite applies. Growing up, we all remember the backbreaking par-4 10th hole that required a ‘burst’ drive and a long iron to get home. I recently mentioned to Michael Clayton, how after slightly mishitting my drive, I was safely on the green with a nine-iron. Perhaps this is a commentary on equipment improvement over the last 25 years? But more likely, it is Metropolitan’s change to predominantly common couch fairways over planted with wintergreen couch. At lunch one day, Peter Thomson whispered in my ear: ‘fairway’s that resemble concrete runway’s’.

Recently, I was playing Royal Melbourne (West) on one of those typically windy Melbourne days, and the course was plenty fast and furious. Suffice to say, the course won!

15. List your five favourite green complexes in the Sandbelt region, and what makes each a favourite.

Royal Melbourne – for its sheer grandeur – both East and West, but with a leaning towards the West. Their construction was artful, they look great, and even today, offer golfers of all abilities a choice method of approach work – aerial bombardment or the old-fashioned low-runner. So many of the green complexes are open in front – MacKenzie and his disciples at work – but heavily flanked with any number of problems, including falloffs, and gaping bunkers. The variety of green sites, and elevation, is remarkable: some sit at the same fairway level, others are seemingly suspended from the clouds, while others like the 3rd hole (West) lie beneath the golfer when approaching. Without fail, they are all visually stunning. Size does matter! Royal Melbourne’s greens vary from small (7 West, 5 East and 13 East), to vast (18 East, 1 West, 2 West, 15 West and 18 West), and there are numerous medium-sized greens to round out the full range.

The 6th green at RM West features some of the boldest contours found in championship golf.

Woodlands

Incredible variety right the way around the course. So many holes offer various approach options, and who can quibble about that! The greens here are small by comparison to the other Sandbelt courses, with the possible exception of Commonwealth.

Commonwealth

Give Charlie Lane a medal. He did a great job, and had the sculptor’s touch. Although commonalities abound on the Sandbelt, Commonwealth has achieved its own unique look in regard to its green and bunker surrounds. Accurate iron play into the tight targets is mandatory here. Were it possible, a brilliant picnic spot would be the surrounds of the 2nd green, just sitting and watching the golfers’ ‘fun and games’ – and embarrassment – as they make a mess of their nightmarish chip shots and pitches. Circumnavigating the green, every few metres demands that a different shot is played!

Kingston Heath

Being completely different to the two course above, its green complexes are vast and in places, unruly, in a seemingly natural, rambling sort of manner. Certainly work has been carried out, but one could easily be fooled into thinking nature had done it all. It boasts the unique feature on the Sandbelt of one green sharing two holes: the 8th and 16th holes.

Victoria

Around one-third of Victoria’s greens are not to be seen with any repeatability elsewhere on the Sandbelt: 3rd, 6th, 10th, 13th, 14th, and 18th greens. Apart from the 18th green, which falls distinctly from front-to-back, the others mentioned – especially the 6th and 14th greens – climb steadily at a constant gradient. As for the other 12 green complexes, they could easily blend in harmoniously at any number of Sandbelt courses. I am particularly fond of the challenge provided by the narrow entrance to the 15th green; one befitting a par-4 hole that is increasingly being driven these days. Another standout green complex is found at the medium-length par 3, 7th hole. Invariably, the pin is stationed somewhere over the front bunker; and yet with a reasonable gap to the left of the green, it provides an avenue of attack for senior golfers with driver in hand! If they find the gap successfully, the lie of the land slews their ball towards the middle of the green. Among its senior membership, the gap is affectionately referred to as the Bishop’s Gate.

16. David, how do you decide on which holes to photograph, is it a matter of how good a golf hole it is, or how it looks?

The primary aim of my golf course photography is to present the course at its most glorious. This often means that the most challenging, difficult holes on the course, and those which the golfer looks forward to pitting his skills against unfortunately do not photograph well.

This can be for many of reasons. At times it¹s simply a matter of the hole¹s location. Sometimes the placement of trees near the green is such that at both sunrise and sunset the putting surface is always in shadow. Many times the elements that constitute the difficulties of the hole, while firmly in the golfers mind, are physically removed from each other when it comes to placing them within the frame of a camera. I like to show the challenges presented if I can, but if they are too far apart it tends to make the image look boring.

It¹s an advantage if the great holes of any course are also photogenic, but the essential element to me is the visual aspect. I always imagine what the hole is going to look like in a picture. If the course is set in a majestic landscape then I endeavour to show how it sits within the environment. The Moonah Course at The National Gold Club in Victoria is a case in point. Set among rolling dunes the course is surrounded by open farmlands and there is a sense of freedom and space as you play the course. So in photographing that course I always had in my mind a feeling of vastness which I attempted to show by taking a viewpoint that more often than not showed plenty of the surrounding landscape.

At other times, particularly if the hole in question is surrounded by trees and is an island unto itself, then my approach is to come in closer and feature a bunker in the foreground or whatever hazard it seems the architect has set to challenge the golfer.

There are many elements that make a hole worth photographing. However it is not necessarily the fact that it is a great challenge. I do always hope that the memorable holes to play are worth photographing, but for me it is the way a hole looks that is important. If I can leave the viewer, presumably a golfer, with the desire to play the course then I feel the shot is a success. Should the viewer not play the game then I am just as satisfied if the comment is that they never realised how beautiful a golf course can be.

The 16th at Metropolitan doglegs sharply to the right past this nest of bunkers.

17. Do you take in to consideration the changing nature of the holes and what the outcome is going to be after updates and remodelling?

No, I can¹t be concerned with what is going to happen in the future. There is always discussion,……and that¹s a polite way of describing the bun fight that goes on over changes to holes and indeed entire courses…. but photography has to be concerned only with the present.. It¹s difficult enough planning a shot and then executing it when God finally presents me with good light without having to also think about what might happen when modifications are made. Even this morning the difficulties of what I do were manifest. When I looked out of my bedroom window before 5.00 am this morning the sky was clear, the moon was shining and all looked great for getting some shots at a course I am currently photographing. It is an hour¹s drive there and after travelling to the course the sky was heavily overcast and the camera did not even come out of it¹s bag!

Another argument is that while the aim of the exercise is to create a pleasing image of the course, in it¹s most basic form the photograph is a document of how the hole looks at a certain date. So despite the possible future changes there is an historical perspective to having the shot taken before the alterations.

Everything, not only golf courses, evolve with time. We can¹t wait around until the final form is made, that just won¹t happen. In regard to golf courses I can only concern myself with photographing what exists now.

18. Is there a preferred time of day to take the shots?

There are simply two times of day to capture good images. It¹s pretty much like all landscape photography, early morning and late afternoon. At these times the light casts long shadows because the sun is close to the horizon, and the warmth of the light gives a saturated and visually pleasing appearance. I can¹t really elaborate on this, the rest of the day is for the everyday routine of running a business, or if time allows…and often it does…. a game of golf is also a welcome activity.

The morning light adds appeal to this photograph of the 4th at Victoria Golf Club.

19. While spending time on the courses were you able to see strategic possibilities for playing the holes?

Going about my work gives me plenty of time to survey the various ways in which a golf hole can be played. Sometimes I am waiting for an hour hoping the sun will do what I want, and at those times I have plenty of opportunity to imagine what would be the best manner in which to tackle the hole. Compared to the golfer who plays the hole in a matter of about fifteen minutes I am there for a comparative eternity, and possibly on many different occasions while I¹m trying to get the best light.

However while I might just come up with a wonderful insight as regards strategy I have to admit that my plans often require far more skill than I am able to bring to the game. So while I may dream up the most apt strategy it still comes down to my level of ability, which is most adequately described as ³well at least he enjoys his game!²

20. Can you share some of the secrets in getting quality photographs?

I don¹t think there are any real secrets in taking good shots of golf courses. There are many photographers capable of capturing wonderful images of our natural environment. I simply have concentrated on the golfing landscape, and here in Australia at least, not too many have decided to do that…. thankfully for me.

An important aspect is some degree of understanding of golf and the hazards that confront the golfer during their game. Some times I wonder if I have a pessimistic view of the world, because if my golf photography is a reflection on my outlook on life then maybe I have to worry a bit about the focus I put on the traps and the pitfalls that can befall the golfer. But these are the elements which challenge us on the golf course, without them we may as well swing a mallet on a smoothly grassed croquet pitch. Smooth, verdant swathes of well manicured grasses without bunkers, swales and the odd creek and water hazard to challenge us would be dull golf and certainly be uninspiring visually.

The most important discipline in photographing a golf hole is being there at the right time. Many times I have heard golfers describe in rapturous tones how fabulous a particular hole appears. They often express their disappointment in not having a camera with them, and they resolve to return in the future and record their vision on film. However it is extremely rare that I have seen the results of their plan, they simply never get around to it. Getting the shot takes planning and strong resolve to return at the appropriate time. Most casual observers of the golf courses are aware of what is a picturesque view, and with a little planning and a dose of determination they could eventually record on film the view they glimpsed out on the course.

If there is a secret perhaps my biggest one is simply that I enjoy what I do. Being out on a course at the best times of the day is not a chore. I enjoy the sense of solitude and quietness which surrounds me early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the courses are at their visual best, and the crowds are sparse. It seems easy to get the shots when the surrounds are beautiful and, with a bit of luck, the sun is shining at the right time and place. Others could do it if they made the effort.

21. Is another book in the offing from the pair of you?

Yes. Setting up the publishing infrastructure to do a book takes a lot of effort, and is wasted if left to a single project. We have plans for a few more.

The End