Golf Vacations (Malaysia)
DESTINATION FOCUS Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club A merger of the Peninsula and Kingswood Golf Clubs, the new addition to the Melbourne golf scene has already peaked the attention of the golfing world.
A new shining star on the Melbourne Sandbelt adds greater flair to an inspirational collection of golf courses.
When an avalanche of praise follows the re-opening of a golf course after major restoration work, golfers of all description generally take heed of the hype and make a mental note for future reference.
When the project involves two golf courses located on the southern perimeter of the hallowed Melbourne Sandbelt, it is inevitable the broader golfing world will sit bolt upright and start making their travel plans.
As the finishing touches are applied to a multi-year project at Melbourne’s Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club, or PK for short, there is already a groundswell among members, prominent professional golfers, commentators, even Major champions, suggesting that a meteoric rise to the top handful of golf courses in the country is an absolute given.
In fact, it’s already there in the eyes of many. It is that good. Highly regarded design firm Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead - and principally, former ‘PK’ member Michael Cocking – were entrusted with the latest and most significant chapter in the evolution of the existing North and South courses that have their origins in the early 20th century, at least in the South’s case.
The current day ‘PK’ has been born out of the merger of the Peninsula and Kingswood Golf Clubs in 2013, the latter of whom forfeited their course with the subsequent land sale providing considerable funds to transform two existing courses and facilities into what could be considered a ‘21st century Sandbelt’ offering, located at the gateway to the Mornington Peninsula.
Actually, the earliest thinking about further restorative work at the current property occurred before the merger took shape. The Peninsula club wanted to take affirmative action on some lingering course conditioning issues, most notably the declining standard of putting surfaces that had become soft and infested with poa.
Merger deliberations then started to accelerate quite rapidly, ultimately leading to a project of quite epic proportions.
“The club have been brilliant really and have had a great mindset throughout the process,” Cocking said, “They were always looking at the potential to make things better, rather than being concerned about what they might lose.”
“The Kingswood members wanted to see something for their money and courses that were better than what they were giving up, however some of the people who needed most convincing might have been the older Peninsula members.
“One of the big things was they’d always been promised firm, fast, bent grass greens which had never eventuated, so they’d sort of heard it all before.”
“However, once we opened the first five or six holes on the South, it pretty much all changed. They couldn’t believe how
With around a hundred courses, many of the courses feature designs by worldrenowned golf playersbecome-architects such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and also the likes of famous golf architect, Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
good they were. They were saying, ‘These are the best greens we’ve ever seen’ and that just gave us even more licence to do what we felt would make the golf courses better.”
The large scale of the property and undulation available on the land housing the North course in particular, is unlike any other available on the sandbelt outside of Royal Melbourne.
OCCM’S work on both layouts showcases all that is great about Sandbelt golf - superbly conditioned and contoured greens, artistically designed ‘flash’ bunkering and short grass surrounds. Natural sandy heathland areas and some of the best vegetation on the Sandbelt have been embellished by the removal of many hectares of introduced species and other ‘weed’ varieties, as Cocking put it.
What Royal Melbourne offers by way of fairway width, strategic options and preferred angles into greens is largely mirrored at Peninsula North, save for a number of more exacting tee shots that force you to aim up and execute with courage.
At around 6,000m on the day we visited, pure length was not at the forefront of the course’s defences. Apart from the myriad of challenges posed by the design itself, green speeds - running at around 12 on the Stimpmeter - and the proximity to Port Phillip Bay and therefore a prevalence of wind, are routine factors that combine to thoroughly test players’ skills throughout the bag.
With more than a hint of glint in his eyes, Cocking invited us to play from some of the new back tee locations that could stretch the course to 6,500 metres to cater for the prospect of championship play in the future.
“One of the great things about the Sandbelt courses is that they’re so playable day to day for the average member and yet they can still host a tournament. They really don’t do anything other than firm the greens up a little and use some of the back tees.” he explained.
“The idea of hosting tournaments didn’t really affect our design philosophy but we really worked the angles, we wanted some pin locations tucked tight behind bunkers that force you to play to a certain side of the fairway.”
“Where it did influence our mindset was that we tried to build a few extra black tees. Sometimes you don’t even know they’re there, it just looks like short fairway grass.”
The South course may not boast the more undulating tract of land but is an excellent layout with its own charm and character nonetheless. Cocking noted the South was always the ‘main’ course of the two going back to his junior days and beyond, although the recent work at the North may have switched the public perception of the two.
Cocking recalled a story told by the granddaughter of Sloan Morpeth, who designed the North course when the Peninsula club expanded to 36-holes back in the ‘60s. Morpeth was told: ‘Don’t spend any time on the North as it’s only going to be a ‘ladies’ course.’
“He apparently lamented that it was on such good land but it was interesting when we went to work because it was really well preserved. Nobody had touched it because people hadn’t paid it as much attention over the years, despite it having the potential to be the better course,” Cocking said.
Today, many of the members retain a soft spot for the South and part of the overarching brief for OCCM and Cocking was to not only unearth the sandbelt features of the property housing the North, but to make adjustments to the South that removes something of a ‘parkland’ status it had earned over time.
“Other than the creeks you see on the South, there’s not much difference now between the two courses in terms of a sandbelt feel,” Cocking said.
“In relation to the creeks, we really hadn’t planned on building any but I found an old photo of some of the creeks at Augusta National. They had a stone wall in the bank of Rae’s Creek on the 13th that made things look attractive and solved some of the maintenance issues that they were having.”
“We introduced a stone wall in a small section and the Board loved it so much that we’ve introduced more and reinstated some of the creeks that we found in old plans that had once existed on the South.”
Peninsula Kingswood’s pursuit of excellence extends well
beyond the golf courses and the creation of a world-class short game facility.
The recently opened state-of-the-art clubhouse, complete with indoor pool, gymnasium, tennis courts and bowling green, includes eight hotel style rooms with an additional 10 luxury cabins that establish a new mark for on-course accommodations in Australia and a rival to those anywhere else one cares to visit.
There’s nothing at all austere or cramped about these lodgings, in fact, they would be likened to ‘show home’ standards in terms of the quality of features and fixtures. Spacious bathrooms include walk-in showers and baths, kingsize beds that can be reconfigured into two singles if required, smart TVS, and balconies with course views.
House guests will be wowed by the first class cuisine and beverage options in a variety of well-appointed dining, verandah or lounge areas and in the cooler months, the lure of a comfy chair in front of one of the many fireplaces dotted throughout the clubhouse will be hard to pass up.
The club’s aspirations also extend to the prospect of hosting championships of significant proportion into the future and just like Royal Melbourne, they have ample space at their disposal to comfortably cater for spectator movement, corporate hospitality and television needs.
The routing of each course, some of the amphitheatre settings and with many holes in close proximity to the clubhouse also suggests a ‘Composite’ layout, or layouts, are a real option for an event staged at PK.
“We’ve talked about a Composite course and it’s quite complicated to get your head around because there are so many options between the North and South,” Cocking explained,
“We have a number of holes that finish around the clubhouse and can push tees back into fairway on other holes if we want, convert some holes to Par 4s, there are a few opportunities like that.”
“Tournaments are not the ‘be all and end all’ for members but it would be validation I think, for the whole project, for the ground staff. I think it would create a great buzz and show the members just how good the course is too.”
1991 Open Champion Ian Baker-finch applauded Cocking and the OCCM team following a recent visit for ‘a fantastic transformation of the North’ into a demanding but also enjoyable golf course.
“I love the views they have created with some wider corridors, along with many spectacular greens, great fun.” Baker-finch said. “I prefer the South course as a tournament test, a thoroughly enjoyable walk and Sandbelt experience with many truly great holes, green complexes and bunkering.”
High praise indeed and time will tell how good the golf courses will become with further maturity over the coming years. However, what’s not in question is that Peninsula Kingswood has now well and truly been thrust into the mix of any conversation about the best golf courses on the Melbourne Sandbelt and therefore, in Australia.
That alone is an honour in itself.