In February, 2019 I finally was able to play Kingston Heath and I played it twice. The first time I played with two members, one a former tour pro, and the second was part of an outing. Obviously I enjoyed the first time more as the members told me so much about the history of the golf course, the holes themselves, and I had the added benefit of seeing how a truly good player would play on this course. On average, off the tee the former pro was 75-90 yards ahead of me while our other playing partner was slightly shorter than me. It was a very good way to evaluate the golf course.
I will start by saying that I would prefer to be a member of The Royal Melbourne Club simply because they have two golf courses of which one is certainly in the top ten in the world. However, if one is a member of Kingston Heath one is truly blessed. In the UK I suppose the equivalent might be Sunningdale versus Swinley Forest. In the USA the equivalent would be Winged Foot versus Sleepy Hollow or Quaker Ridge.
Kingston Heath is a stunning golf course offering everything one would ever want in a golf course.
There are some marvelous holes at Kingston Heath, outstanding fairway and green side bunkering and good undulations in the greens. It is a terrific routing that moves one around in various directions. It also has a wide variety of short and long par 4’s and a really fun and special collection of par 3’s. Arguably one of the best par 3’s is the extra hole, which is put in play when another hole is closed for renovation.
I was asked whether Kingston Heath is the best golf course on a flat piece of land. It isn’t quite flat the way Chicago GC is because KH has a couple of rises. It is also not as wide open as Chicago as most of the holes are framed by trees or bushes. So in that sense you can’t compare them, but even if you did I think Chicago is the superior course on a flat piece of land.
This is often mistaken as a Alistair Mackenzie design but it is not. Mackenzie actually spent only a couple of hours here on a one time visit. The routing was already completed, and Mackenzie walked the golf course with a sketch pad and said where to place the bunkers. That was the extent of his involvement. Des Soutar designed Kingston Heath and Mike Morcom built the course and bunkers. The bunkers are the real key to Kingston Heath, they are often long and sinewy, sometimes kept trim but also some are rugged. It is a splendid variety of bunkering. They don’t quite dip right into the edge as much as Metropolitan nor are often as raised as at the West course at Royal Melbourne, but they are plentiful and always a danger.
In my notes on Kingston Heath, I liked holes 7-10, 13, and 14-18 with the famed par 3 15th a particular highlight as the green is elevated and has slants and tilts going every which way. It is sort of a blind tee shot. 15 is a “fair” hole despite one's ability to get into substantial trouble. The par 5's offer birdie chances to the long hitters but one can easily end up with a triple bogey.
We played the tees at 6219 meters or approximately 6800 yards.
The first is a par 4 of 457 yards straight forward to a generous fairway, nearly dead flat, with trees wide left and a set of bunkers creeping in from the right that were in play for me but not for the pro. The green has some slight undulations although the front right bunkers are to be avoided. There are swales off the left side of the green but they are not difficult. This is one of the easier longer par 4’s.
The bonus hole par 3 is likely one of the best holes on the course. It plays 155 yards to a slanted green back to front and bunkers surrounded it. The green was slightly raised. It would be an incredible hole on the course if always in play.
The second hole is a short dogleg left par 4 of 384 yards. A lengthy series of bunkers guards the left side. The long hitter in my group flew right over them with ease. I played out to the right leaving a longer shot with a difficult angle back into the green which has two large bunkers left and two smaller bunkers right. The green has subtle movement to it as well as a fall-off area in the rear.
The par 4 third hole at 300 yards is really cute requiring a shot to the green that must be perfectly judged to clear the bunker fronting the green. This is a slight dogleg to the right. There is a roll off area back and right. The green tilts right to left as well as back to front in spots. You simply cannot go long here as a recovery chip is very difficult to get close.
The par 4 fourth hole of 392 yards posed no trouble for the long hitter in our group who took a hybrid and left it 140 yards out. Trees and a waste sand area guard the right side while the left side on this dogleg right has a larger collection of bunkers in the fairway. The green has seven bunkers right that end against the front right edge as well as a large bunker left. There is a depression in the green right behind the bunkers right as well as trees behind the green for additional defense for the hole.
Before better players could hit the ball so far I imagine these three holes were difficult starting holes. But if the longer player has confidence in their driver they can get very close to the green. The shorter hitter simply must find the fairway and there is ample room on all three holes to do so.
The fifth is a longer par 3 of 187 yards that has a sandy waste area and a fairway bunker well short of a landing area in front of the green. There really is no room to miss on this hole as the tee shot must be perfectly judged. There are five bunkers left that seemingly get larger as you get closer to the green as well as a bunker left that bleeds into the trees there. There are trees fairly close behind the green. The green is slightly tilted back to front with both sides sloped to those bunkers. I do not think this par 3 is as good as the “bonus” par 3 behind the first green, but on most other courses it would likely be the best par 3.
The sixth is a longer par 4 of 418 yards that is straight forward back at the club house with fairway bunkers ad trees left and right to be avoided on the tee shot, an area of sandy waste area, mounds and bunkers on the right short of the green that chase up right to the front edge and a bunker left short of the green, The green is raised with slopes left, back, and back right and is very titled. It is easily the most difficult green so far on the golf course given the tilts and slants.
The seventh is the first par five on the golf course at 504 yards. It is short but feels very narrow as the fairway is tree lined most of the way to the green. There are fairway bunkers left that creep into the fairway for those who typically fade the ball and perhaps hit a straight shot. As you approach the green more bunkers on the right come into play for the shorter hitter while the longer hitter contends with bunkers on the front left of the green as well as a bunker on the right that spans the entire right side of the green. There is ample room in front of the green to run a shot on. It is a cleverly designed hole. If one does not try too hard on this hole, then a par is likely, but the slightest missed shot will likely find danger. This is a birdie or eagle chance for the long hitter.
The eighth once again is tree lined some of the right side but all the left side so the miss is to the right where a wide opening can be found. However a large tree blocks one’s way to recover from missing the fairway to the right with other trees between you and the green. So if one missed too far to the right you have a blind shot to the green and you have to consider pitching back to the fairway. There are bunkers surrounding this tree as well. This slightly dogleg right has numerous bunkers fronting the green which is thin and narrow and difficult to hit on this 435 yard par 4. There are six bunkers left sort of mounded that end at the edge of the green and three bunkers right with a slight gap between them and the green. I found this to be a hole with a lot of challenge to it, beautifully designed and very well defended. The green is joined with the sixteenth green.
The ninth is a short par 4 that is very tree lined, particularly left on this dogleg left. The fairway has bunkers on the left side that cut off a third of the fairway for those trying to shorten the hole. The former pro drove it to the right with a 5 iron where there is ample space. There are an additional 3 bunkers left that should not come into play as they are well short of the green and two bunkers on the right and one back left of the green. The green is relatively flat but does not hold approach shots unless they are hit high to land softly. The back right side of the green pushes right against the trees and bushes. It is a genius short par 4.
The tenth hole is a par 3 of 140 yards clearing a waste area. The green is elevated surrounded by bunkers on either side. The front of the green narrows about 15% versus the rest of this already skinny, but deep green. There is a spine in the front section of this green tilting it back to front. This is a fabulous short par 3.
The 435 yard par four eleventh has a fairway that narrows for the longer hitter. For a shorter hitter there is ample room despite the tree lined fairways that have sand underneath them all the way in. There is a fairway bunker right to navigate as well. There are six bunkers beginning well short of the right side of the green that cut into that right side. The green is crowned with run-offs on either side. It is a difficult hole but one that I found visually was not at the same level as the holes just played, perhaps because behind the green it is more open with the exception of a single tree.
Twelve is a 557 yard par five with two fairway bunkers in the middle of the hole. The one interesting thing about these bunkers is that playing to either side does not provide an advantage over the other side. This slight dogleg left has another large collection of bunkers about 100 yards out from the green on the left. There are three bunkers on the right well short of the green and one left right against the green. You can run a shot onto the green on this hole and I found the green to be easier than some others. Visually this is a really pretty hole as it is one of the few times you see a parallel fairway.
I loved the thirteenth hole, a short par 4 of 353 yards that has fairway bunkers to navigate on either side and a large fairway bunker on the front right and back left. The green continues on the right beyond the bunker and is raised. You simply cannot miss long or to the right. The green is slanted back to front and has a ridge separating it about a third of the way from the left.
Fourteen is the longest par 5 at 564 yards with a generous landing area. It is a straight hole that requires a second shot to miss the five bunkers and trees on the right with one’s second shot. The bunkers are raised and are some of the most difficult bunkers on the golf course. They seemingly never end. There are additional bunkers on the left side that ultimately end at the green including a bunker that might be the biggest on the golf course. The green is raised slightly but not difficult. Trees line the back to catch a shot hit with too much pace.
Now it is on the famous fifteenth, a par 3 of 141 yards to a very raised green on the only “hill” on the golf course. There is a long stretch of waste area down the right side that does not come into play but add to the beauty of the golf hole. There are two bunkers left and four to the right of the green. The green is small and has a narrow opening. It has a wonderful set of pitches to it near those bunkers. The green side bunkers spill down both sides of the hill. Both times I made 3 here but I did witness the “pro” hit out of a bunker on the right with his feet outside the sand and his ball near the lip. It was a blind shot and the pin was in the narrowest par of the green with those bunkers opposite. He hit it to one foot. I am glad I witnessed such a wonderful shot because it proved to me that those bunkers were not impossible. This is considered to be one of the finest par 3’s in the world and I would certainly reference it that way.
The sixteenth is a 435 yard par 4 that doglegs to the right. There are four bunkers down the right side to catch the longer hitter. There is a series of bunkers on the right to this narrow green which shares the green with the eighth hole.
The seventeenth is the longest par 4 on the course at 460 yards, a hole bending to the left, tree lined and eight bunkers all down the left to the turn in the hole pinching the fairway much smaller. The amazing part of the hole is that there are no bunkers around the green with trees back right but a wide opening to the left and back left of the green as the hole blends into the forward tees for the final hole. I thought about this hole a lot after the first round but after playing it a second time I really liked it.
The 427 yard par 4 finishing hole is a gem. After hitting over a waste area and with trees lining this fairway, one finds bunkers on the left side that pinch almost halfway across the fairway, narrowing the options for the longer hitter. The green is protected by a large bunker left and two bunkers right and is raised with one of the more undulating greens.
The only criticisms one could say about Kingston Heath is that advances in golf technology has changed how one plays the golf course. There are no truly overly long par 3’s, par 4’s or par 5’s to challenge the top players. The greens while having good variation and slope to them, are well defended by bunkers, but don’t have enough greens with “sections” that other top golf courses have with their greens. Some greens are like this, but not enough.
That is about it from a negative standpoint.
The course is visually spectacular and for an almost flat piece of land it is routed beautifully. It is extremely well defended and has a very good mix of holes that turn one way or the other. The greens are well defended. The par 3’s are outstanding, particularly the magnificent fifteenth hole. But it doesn’t have another hole as good as many of the holes at Royal Melbourne West or East.
Kingston Heath would be the best course to be a member in Australia if it were not for the two courses at The Royal Melbourne Club. I think it is slightly overstated if one says it is the finest course in the Sandbelt, but there is no question it belongs amongst the world's best. I would enjoy playing this golf course every single round and also likely find something new about the course most of those rounds such as a putting line, a bush I did not see, an edge to a bunker that I did not take into account, or even a tree I hadn’t noticed. It is splendid.
Date: October 25, 2019