It is reliably presumed that the game’s origins in Victoria date back to when a group of enthusiasts played on land on the outskirts of Melbourne in around 1845.
Historically significant, Essendon GC was a founding member of the Victorian Golf Association which had its origins in 1901. The original clubs being; Melbourne, [subsequently Royal] Geelong, Surrey Hills, [subsequently Riversdale] Kew, Essendon [subsequently Northern], Brighton, Colac and Charlton.
There are unconfirmed reports that the game of golf was played at Essendon as early as 1878, 13 years before the Melbourne Club was formed. The Essendon Club did not formally come into being until 1896 and initially occupied land adjacent to the Essendon railway station. The club moved to the present 141-acre site, a few miles north at Glenroy, in 1912 and was renamed, Northern Golf Club.
By early 1913, the routing was completed by Northern’s first professional, Sampson Bennet, formerly of Westward Ho! The course, in excess of 5,000 yards in length, played to a bogey of 82. The greens with an average area of “one and one third square chains” [approx 700 m2] were established and the fairways were delineated with the planting of numerous sugar gum and wattle trees. To this day, many of those magnificent specimens and huge native eucalypts stand sentinel to an errant drive and the wattle is spectacular when in flower.
To the 21st century, Northern, located at Glenroy, an easy 20-minute drive to the north of the city, celebrated its centenary in grand style in 2012. Notwithstanding residing on the ‘other’ side of the Yarra, this ‘elder statesman’ of Melbourne courses is well entrenched among the ‘upper echelon’ in the State.
By 1988, course architects Thomson & Wolveridge had completed a three-year refurbishment program of this championship standard layout. Northern sports great bent grass greens and snata-ana couch fairways. Water comes into play on several holes and the strategic bunkering is a highlight of this picturesque parkland course.
There are many grand holes at Northern; herewith a couple of my favourites: The par four, 7th is a severe dogleg right around a dam. The ‘aqua-pura’ is about 200 metres out and the recipient of any delinquent drive. Your second requires a precise pitch to an elevated green which is literally surrounded by bunkers. A hole doesn’t need to be long to be great. The par four, 15th, at 307 metres, is a short hole which doglegs right, the apex of which is guarded by a huge gum. It is a classic example where bogies or worse abound. However, played strategically, it’s a great birdie chance prior to embarking on the three quite challenging closing holes, rated 10, 3 and 11 respectively.
Feature holes (my preferences): This track sports four quite different par threes, each a tester in its own right. A favourite is one of the club’s signature holes, the 142-metre, 6th. The green is two tiered and hit the incorrect level at your peril. It is superbly bunkered and just to add a little spice, requires a water carry immediately in front. A scenic hole where par is a good score.
The 366-metre 12th is a strong par four. Your drive is to a wide fairway but the second is integral to a good score as the various pin placement options on this massive putting surface, front to back, may require up to a three club variance. Many suburban house allotments are smaller than this green.
At just over 6,000 metres, Northern plays every bit of its par of 72. The scratch rating is 71 and 123 by the Slope method.
NGC located on the “clay belt”, would slot most comfortably among Melbourne’s ‘sand belt’ courses had it been located on the “right” side of the Yarra, which is, in fact “left” and more significantly, ”south”… 19th Century class distinction, North vs South of the Yarra… North, being the preconceived ‘poor cousins’, exists to this day. But that’s another story.
I have been fortunate to have played many of the grand old courses in the UK and Australasia and note that most exude a distinctive aura or ambience. In this context, the clubhouse and course at Northern, effectively purvey this quality.Chris Croker, March 2015