The Heritage Golf and Country Club was where the first private Nicklaus-designed Australian golf course, St John, was opened in 2001. Set in the spectacular Yarra Valley just outside Melbourne, the 18-hole championship course is laid out over gently undulating terrain with plenty of water to add both interest and danger. A second course, the Henley, opened in late 2006.
No expense was spared in the construction process at the Heritage as the Jack Nicklaus St John layout and the Tony Cashmore Henley track were both sand-capped which allows the growth of carpet-like fairways and provides first class drainage throughout.
The St John course can be stretched to just over 7,000 yards so it will test even the longest of hitters off the tee. Apart from the water hazards, the other striking features around the course include the quality of mounding and bunkering and the immaculate conditioning throughout.
The 407-yard, par four, 8th hole is considered to be the hardest on the whole course. After teeing off through a chute of trees, the approach shot will probably be played from above your feet as the fairway slopes from right to left. The green has bunkers either side with only a narrow entrance so the luxury of two putts for par may not be one enjoyed by too many golfers.
On the back nine, many think the 180-yard, par three, 11th is the best hole. There is water down the right side and a quarry face borders the left side of the green. The putting surface is nearly forty yards in length so club selection is critical to place the tee shot close enough for a par at worst.
The St John Course is a classic parkland course in the river flats adjacent to the Yarra River. Melbourne is renowned for The Sandbelt courses, but the St John course is a lovely contrast.
In a striking parkland setting, with immaculate playing surfaces in the early years, and a compelling Nicklaus design, St John was an immediate favourite.
But a series of ownership issues inevitiably lead to decline in the maintenance of both courses as well as the clubhouse and recreation club
Notable holes include:
- hole 2, a long strong par 4 with water in play on the tee shot. Hitting the fairway leaves you with a longish uphill approach over water and bunkers
- hole 6, a delightful short par 4 with green tucked behind a pond
- hole 8, a long par 4 to a two tiered green well protected by bunkers
- hole 9, a beautiful par 5 arcing around a lake. Three accurate shots are required
- hole 10, another ripping short par 4 where the approach must carry the river to a green sitting on the river bank
- hole 11, perhaps 'the signature hole', this mid length par 3 demands a water carry to a green sitting in a old quarry site hard against the water
- hole 12, another impressive par 5 from an elevated tee, the fairway snakes between bunkers along beside the lake to a green also adjacent to the water
The St John exhibits all the trademarks of the top Nicklaus courses around the world. The course is strategically strong, offering players options on line and length. There are no surprises. The greens and bunkering are reasonably linear in design and pleasing to the eye
It is a very good members course off the regular tees, but is a monster off the championship tees In the early years the playing surfaces were superb and it was a pleasure to play..
Unfortunately the ownership issues have seen the membership dwindle in recent years and although efforts are being made to right the ship, there is still much to be done before The Heritage Golf & Country Club lives up to it's potential.
At its best it is an outstanding facility
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
The St. John course occupies the better parcel of land at this 36-hole club and is the superior of the two courses. It is for the most part quite open and flows like a links style course, but has been shaped from a relatively sparse parkland setting. There are plenty of water hazards (the course is a natural drainage line for the valley it is set in) and changes in elevation and direction that require thought about shots: this is a thinking golfers course in contrast to the need for more strength at its neighbour.
Like the Henley course, when I played there were conditioning problems, especially with bunkers and greens (which still rolled acceptably, but the patchiness didn't look great and certainly introduced doubt into the mind). I believe there had been some interesting financial issues with the owners and that was being reflected in the conditioning of the course. The rough was very penal (waist high fescue style grasses in places). Not only will you lose your ball but there is always the chance of an encounter with some of Australia's less than friendly reptiles.
I liked the options of different lines of the approach into the 2nd green, as well as the risk/reward par 5 9th (take on the traps, then take on the water if your game is in shape!). The 13th appeared to be a shortish par 4 on the scorecard but playing uphill made it more difficult. And the 18th: tough way to finish with index 1 long par 4. A good fight to keep your score on the last.
The St. John is definitely the more interesting course at The Heritage, but for the cost of the green fee (as a visitor staying in the on-site accomodation: The Yarra Valley Lodge) there are much better options available in and around Melbourne. I'd rate this course 4.5 balls at present (if I could) and if the conditioning were improved it would be closer to the allocated 5 balls.
Heritage Golf & Country Club is one of the few courses the great Jack Nicklaus has opened in Australia. The area has 36 wonderful holes of which I only got to play 18 at the St. John course with my good friend Michael Hodgson who works at the course.
Great natural land was used to form this course. great views to be had, excellent use of water hazards and bunkers are sublime!
Well worth the trek out to play if you get time whilst in Melbourne.