IT WAS prob­a­bly no co­in­ci­dence Mel­bourne re­cently lost its ti­tle of the “world’s most live­able city” to Vienna as an­other golf course closed.

For some­one who has lived in this town for the best part of 70 years, I re­garded this du­bi­ous tag with deep sus­pi­cion be­cause what was a mar­vel­lous town in the 1950s, when it hosted the Olympic Games, has gone steadily down­hill since.

The pub­lic course in ques­tion is El­stern­wick, about eight kilo­me­tres south of the CBD, which was shut down by the Bay­side City Coun­cil on June 30. Rather than lament the loss of a lay­out, which has pro­vided en­joy­ment and healthy ex­er­cise since 1909, the city fa­thers (pos­si­bly some moth­ers as well) cel­e­brated it with a pub­lic sausage siz­zle.

Then they fol­lowed up with this breath-tak­ing state­ment: “Late 2018/19 – mas­ter plan­ning process com­mences to de­velop con­cept plans for a pas­sive open space/en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly­fo­cussed re­serve in the area of El­stern­wick Park North.” In a city where the nett im­mi­gra­tion gain an­nu­ally is put at 100,000 or more, they have re­moved a course with­out hav­ing a clue what they are go­ing to do with the land, or when.

Among the many things that got Mel­bourne its “live­able” rat­ing, with Syd­ney and Ade­laide also in the top 10, was the pro­fu­sion and va­ri­ety of its golf cour­ses. Pub­lic tracks like El­stern­wick aren’t as ap­pre­ci­ated as those on the Sand­belt but they have con­trib­uted greatly to the de­vel­op­ment of the game and the rep­u­ta­tion of our play­ers around the world.

In Mel­bourne, the Royal Park course was where the late and great Peter Thom­son learnt to play and Wat­tle Park was the golf­ing nurs­ery of David Gra­ham. Be­tween them they won seven ma­jor cham­pi­onships. Such cour­ses, where any­one can play, are pre­cious and should be pro­tected, not shut down to pro­vide places where peo­ple take their dogs to defe­cate.

One can only hope that the Bay­side Coun­cil will at least recog­nise the his­tory that it erased, al­though this is likely wish­ful think­ing. It is im­pos­si­ble to es­cape the con­clu­sion that Mel­bourne coun­cils are anti-golf and ea­ger to aid spec­u­la­tors re­zone land for lu­cra­tive hous­ing and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ments.

Cen­tral Park in sub­ur­ban Malvern East con­tains part of the orig­i­nal 1891 Royal Mel­bourne course, home of Aus­tralian golf. It has a plaque to Herb El­liott who used to train there when set­ting world records for run­ning the mile in the 1950s but ef­forts to get golf recog­nised as well by the coun­cil have fallen on deaf ears.

A plaque at El­stern­wick could in­form vis­i­tors that the club was formed on May 16, 1909, by a group of golfers in the pub which has stood next door since 1854. Af­ter the sad ex­pe­ri­ence of pho­tograph­ing a dead golf course, I re­tired there for lunch and be­cause of my ad­vanced years was able to en­joy the “se­niors spe­cial” of a bowl of hearty soup, bread roll and a chicken parmi­giana for the bar­gain price of $12. One of the early pub­li­cans was Henry Figsby Young, who pur­chased the fa­mous nude paint­ing of Chloe by Jules Joseph Le­feb­vre which now graces Young & Jack­son’s pub in the city.

Th­ese early golfers got out in 1925 when they were again shafted, to use an old golf­ing term, by the coun­cil which raised the rent from 30 to 100 pounds for the 40 hectare site. Th­ese mem­bers formed the Kingston Heath Golf Club and the sub­urb of Chel­tenham got one of the world’s great cour­ses. In re­search­ing its cen­te­nary his­tory, the Heath man­aged to track down an eye­wit­ness to th­ese events.

He was Ted Oak­ley, who played at both El­stern­wick and Chel­tenham, the son of Percy Oak­ley, a club mem­ber and ar­chi­tect who de­signed the orig­i­nal club­house in 1909.

“I used to cad­die for my father and started play­ing at El­stern­wick at the age of nine,” re­called the man who was 10 at the time of the move. “My father was a good player, about a 10 to 12 hand­i­cap. El­stern­wick was 18 holes in those days. It played across what we used to call a creek but it was re­ally a drain. It was a good course with a nice lit­tle weath­er­board club­house that my father built for them.

“When they moved from there to here, there was a lot of con­tention among the club mem­bers who wanted a great big brick club­house. Dut­ton Green, a solic­i­tor, my father, the ar­chi­tect, and Sloan Mor­peth (for­mer New Zealand Open cham­pion and noted golf ad­min­is­tra­tor) said they were go­ing to keep their orig­i­nal club­house and they won. They put it on a dray pulled by horses and brought it here. I saw them do­ing it. I ac­tu­ally saw it leave the prop­erty and head off down the road. They only needed two horses to pull the dray. It was not a big build­ing, only three rooms. And it was tim­ber, so it was light. It was an ex­cit­ing thing for a boy. My father came down with it to su­per­vise the un­load­ing.”

The Bay­side Coun­cil – and their coun­ter­parts in the Vienna Rathaus – should dwell on this when Kingston Heath hosts the Aus­tralian Open again in 2020.

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