Established in 1910, Leongatha Golf Club’s original course lies 17 kilometres northeast of its current location, within the small town of Leongatha, where nine holes are still operated by Woorayl Golf Club.
Leongatha relocated in the mid-1950s when it proved impossible to expand the course to an 18-hole layout, purchasing an out of town 134-acre property that was covered mainly in messmate and peppermint gum trees.
Vern Morcom was called in to design the new course – he was a busy man in 1956, designing five new courses and remodelling another seven – and it’s said he drew up the layout in one day at Bair’s Hotel in Leongatha, taking advice from local man, Ken McDonald.
Toby Cumming takes up the story in his book The Golf Courses of Vern Morcom:
“The herculean task of carving a golf course out of the bush began in early 1956. Curator Chris Christofferson’s tractor was said to be more often at the golf course than at his farm. Between 1957 and 1960, Vern returned several times to oversee progress in course construction.
By 1959, nine holes were in play, and serious progress had been made on the remaining holes. At the annual meeting of 24 November 1959, President Ken McDonald made the long-awaited announcement: “We’ll play on the new course at Leongatha South in 1961.” The first official game was on 14th March 1961.
The Leongatha layout is self-assured, though nor without flaw. Outstanding green complexes feature firm surfaces with a diverse range of internal contours. One-third of the greens are unbunkered, yet Vern’s assessment of the suitability for bunkering seems overly pessimistic in light of the stunning traps that dot the layout.
There is a full variety of distances among the one and two-shot holes. Vern’s habit of building sharp doglegs with insufficiently long tee shots is clearly displayed at 2, 5, 15 and 17. Meek lay-up is the only sensible option, given the prodigious height of the surrounding forest.
Compounding the issue is that a number of holes – 6, 12, 17 – feature greenside bunkering that encourages a conservative bunt to the outside of the hole rather than a more attacking line. Unusually for Vern, there is a preponderance of right-turning par fours; the stretch of holes from 11-17 has only the one-shotters at 14 and 16 to break their run.
These negative points, though, are only pertinent because the course sets itself to be judged at such a high level. Leongatha is a wonderful place to play golf, and for anyone with an interest in Vern Morcom’s design ideas, it is an absolute must. He drew it up as a 6,318-yard (5,777m) par 70 – today’s layout is within a few paces at 5,785m.”