Where to escape
Just launched in July, 2015, Ezard @ Levantine Hill restaurant
is a gastronomical partnership between hatted chef Teage Ezard
and Levantine Hill Estate.
“We do a lot of tricks too out there that will fool you and you don’t realise you’re being fooled.”
Norman says Eastern general manager Ben Telley has to take most of the credit for the move and seizing the chance to secure the club’s long-term future. Telley had the unenviable job of sealing the complex deal and ensuring a smooth shift.
“Asset-rich, cash-poor is a common scenario,” says Telley. “It’s becoming increasingly common for clubs to start looking not to the next five years, but ten and twenty years ahead and how they’re going to secure their future long-term.
“When Eastern made the decision to relocate [seven years ago], remarkably it had cash in the bank, whereas a lot of clubs wait until they’re in debt, often considerable debt, before they make those decisions.
“What that resulted in was the club having control of its destiny. They were able to be patient in the land sale of Doncaster and be able to apply rigour in the process of planning and design in the Yarra Valley.”
Eastern is the latest of a trio of Melbourne clubs to gravitate to the Yarra Valley for future-proofing. On a five-kilometre stretch of road there is also Yering Meadows, which evolved from the landlocked Melbourne club Croydon in 2008, and Gardiners Run, which rose out of the ashes of nearby Chirnside Park to open in May 2014.
Only slightly further afield are four other clubs, including the Jack Nicklaus-designed Heritage Golf Club, a private parklands but also open to New Zealand visitors seven days a week.
The profusion of choice in the area is already inciting debate over whether there are enough members to go around.
But sustainability issues aside, the upshot for the New Zealand golfer is that there’s never been a better time to visit, particularly for foodies and lovers of fine wine.
Eastern is arguably the easiest — and one of the most cost effective — options from which to explore the region rich in culinary and scenic delights.
The club also boasts on-site accommodation via its Yering Gorge Cottages, the keys to which also unlock generous green fee discounts (see sidebar).
There are eight free-standing luxury one-bedroom hideaways overlooking the course, two two-bedroom freestanding chalets and another two two-bedroom choices that can be booked separately or together to create a fourbedroom complex.
Each comes with its own electric golf cart which makes exploring the majestic reserve and its abundance of friendly resident kangaroos and wombats even easier.
For a more historic perspective on the serene surrounds, consider the nearby Chateau Yering Hotel as your golfing base (see sidebar for rates). With origins back to the 1850s, the country house-style hotel set on 250 acres and with a 2.5km frontage to the Yarra River, has been beautifully decorated by co-owner Elly Milner with antique furniture and fittings befitting its rich heritage.
Although deceptively large — there’s 32 luxurious accommodation options, a restaurant and a purpose- built function centre under the shadow of its signature heritage Chilean Palm — you’ll feel more like a guest in a private home.
Just 4km away lies another lovingly restored shrine to the Yarra’s glory days, Coombe Yarra Valley. It’s the former home of Australia’s most famous celebrity of the early 1900s, opera diva Dame Nellie Melba.
For years visitors wondered what lay behind the property’s giant hedges at the region’s gateway. Now, well-heeled Melburnians make a beeline here in the weekends for garden tours, weddings and, above all else, to saviour the delights of executive chef Tony Milton’s Melba Estate restaurant.
There’s also a cellar door for wine tastings and a minimuseum where you can learn all about the world of Dame Nellie.
There’s certainly a renewed buzz about Yarra Valley, insist those in the know. It’s even on the gin-lovers’ radar now thanks to the launch of award-winning start-up Four Pillars — the pillars referring to brand mainstays; the still, botanicals, water and the love of craft.
Part-owned by former Aussie 400m sprinting star Cameron MacKenzie, a hands-on regular at the newly opened converted timber yard HQ, Four Pillars adds an air of hipster-cool to the region’s wine-centric terroir.
Aside from four core ‘modern Aussie’ variants to choose from, visitors can also make their own bespoke gin on-site, in just three hours.
With so much variety in the Yarra Valley, Norman, for one, believes the New Zealand golf traveller would be “crazy” to go anywhere else.
“The last couple of days I’ve got to enjoy this part of the world more than ever because I’ve stayed out here [on a friend’s farm]. Yarra Valley is now a magnet for golfers and tourism — and we know if we get them there for the first time, they’ll always come back.”