Blog 360, 11/22/16 - Kingston Heath Primer

Australia's Jason Day and Adam Scott won the team event in 2013.
Kingston Heath GC in Melbourne hosts the 58th edition of the World Cup of Golf this week.
The significance of the tournament, created by Canadian industrialist John Hopkins, has ebbed and flowed since its inauguration in 1953 when it was called the Canada Cup.
Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Peter Thomson, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington, and Ernie Els have all played in the event, and been part of the wining team, so it has definitely enjoyed good times. But changing formats, ever-weakening fields, five name changes, and four years when the event wasn't played, suggest golf's world cup has never really been regarded as an elite tournament - indeed the last time it was played was three years ago when Australia, represented by Jason Day and Adam Scott, beat runner-up USA by ten shots at Royal Melbourne, a couple of miles west of Kingston Heath.
These days, the field is populated somewhat dubiously - the 28 exempt players (top player in the World Rankings from 28 countries) can each pick their teammate. It's a system that almost inevitably leads to problems. England were to be represented by Masters champion Danny Willett and his friend Lee Westwood whom Willett picked as his partner in August and who was ranked 43rd in the world at the time - 17 spots below Chris Wood, 14 behind Paul Casey, and four below Andy Sullivan. Willett withdrew in early November with back issues, however, and Wood replaced him. But rather than take Westwood who said he was greatly looking forward to playing in the event, Wood chose Sullivan for his partner. Westwood was understandably upset even though Willett had bypassed three players in the rankings when choosing him. 
The US will be represented by Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker - 12th and 20th in the world rankings respectively. It's not a bad team certainly, but they aren't the two highest-ranked Americans. That would be Dustin Johnson who is currently third in the world, and Patrick Reed who is eighth. And Bubba Watson is tenth.
The home nation, meanwhile, will call on Adam Scott again though this time he will be partnered by Marc Leishman after Day, like Willett, pulled out with back issues.
The competition will, no doubt, be greatly entertaining. But for golf architecture fans, the leaderboard will be something of an afterthought compared with the course on which the event is being played.

History of Kingston Heath Golf Club
In the early 1920s, a group of Elsternwick GC members, led by prominent lawyer Stanley Dutton Green, decided to break away and build a course capable of hosting big professional tournaments. Kingston Heath GC, a 30-minute drive south of downtown Melbourne in the suburb of Cheltenham, opened in 1925 and was designed by Sydney professional Dan Soutar. Born in Carnoustie, Scotland, Soutar emigrated down under in 1902 at the age of 20, and turned professional in 1905 - the same year he won both the Australian Open and Australian PGA Championship. He never won another Australian Open, but did finish runner-up seven times, and in 1911 he became the first President of the PGA of Australia.
Dan Soutar
After being commissioned to design Kingston Heath, Soutar spent two days quietly walking the 125 acres, emerging with a superb routing that emanated from the par 3 10th hole in the center of the property. Royal Melbourne GC superintendent Mick Morcom built the course.
Soutar and Morcom were instructed to route the holes and construct the green complexes, but not build any bunkers. That was a job for Alister Mackenzie who was due in Australia in October 1926 (see the Mackenzie Chronology Project) to advise several clubs including Royal Melbourne, Metropolitan, Victoria, Royal Adelaide, and Royal Sydney.
Kingston Heath likewise wanted to benefit from the doctor's expertise, so paid him ten times what it had paid Soutar to take a look and propose a bunkering plan. Mackenzie visited on October 29th and was "most favourably impressed", describing the course as "an excellent piece of golfing country".
On November 19th, Mackenzie wrote to the club, submitting his bunker plan and including a proposal for a new 15th hole - the only change Mackenzie suggested to Soutar's layout was that the original blind par 4 become an uphill par 3.

The Course
kingston heath15th
The glorious uphill par 3 15th.
Mackenzie's 15th has become one of the most celebrated par 3s in the world, but it is just one of numerous holes at Kingston Heath that deserve, and get, universal acclaim.
The longest course in Australia when it opened - well over 6,800 yards and a par 82! - Kingston Heath now plays to roughly 7,100 yards, the main threat to scoring coming from the incredible sharp-edged bunkers that eat into the fairways and greens without any long grass surrounding them, and firm, contoured greens. The wind can also be a factor.
As with every other course on Melbourne's Sandbelt, the ground is ideal for golf - as well-suited to the game as Britain's links courses. The sandy soil and close-cropped turf ensure good drainage and firm conditions that create intrigue when the ball lands.
I played the course in 1997 as the guest of a member. I don't recall what I shot, but I do remember coming off every green thinking 'what an amazing hole'.

What Others Say
I asked a few architects (and Mike Keiser) for their thoughts...
Bill Coore -
I first visited Kingston Heath in the late 1980s when I went to Melbourne with Ben (Crenshaw) for the Australian Open. It is an amazing course that left an indelible mark on me. The bunkering gets all the attention, but it's not just that. The greens are incredible too - their design, appearance and conditioning, the contours, the putts you hit, and the shots you play from the edges. I went back with Mike Keiser when I was designing Lost Farm in Tasmania.

Tom Doak - Kingston Heath is on a fairly small property, and essentially flat except for a hill in one corner. Its reputation derives almost entirely from the brilliant bunkering found both in the driving zones and eating right to the edges of the greens, without so much as a collar to keep a trickling ball from being swallowed up.
Really, Kingston Heath is a great example of why golf in Australia is so much more affordable than golf in America. They've managed to build a championship course on 125 acres in a dense metropolitan area, where there are tons of potential members living close by (indeed, up until Barnbougle Dunes, all of the best Australian courses were right in the city.) There is not an acre of wasted space, and the sandy nature of the bunkering and native roughs limits water use, which is especially important in a region that gets only ten inches of rain per year. When you combine that with the variety of the bunkering and the excellent mix of holes - some of the best holes on the course are the short par 3s and short par 4s - you get a wonderful golf course in spite of its flat site.

Robert Trent Jones Jr.
It's a wonderful Sandbelt course - 'soft' heathland as the local indigenous grasses play slightly less firm than the fescues on England's heathland courses. The large, somewhat elaborate fairway bunkering is artfully crafted and maintained. The layout has variety, and a few surprises like the uphill, somewhat blind par 3 15th. The sweeping, contoured greens have distinct pin positions often set in tongue-shapes surrounded by pretty smalll bunkers, typical of MacKenzie green concepts. Although the location of the fairway bunkers may be a little outdated, they are set on diagonal angles which affords an equitable punishment for a slightly misplayed, or badly offline, tee shot. Interesting strategic concepts of shotmaking from tee to the green to the hole itself. The wind and seasons vary the playing conditions. Kingston Heath is never boring.

Brandon Johnson (Arnold Palmer Design Company)
It's hard to distill all one should appreciate about Kingston Heath into a short paragraph. It has everything, from a well-preserved history to an authentic and natural feel to the site. There is a slight quirky or unconventional use of the site's gentle contours that makes the course distinct from its neighbors. The combination of those contours, and the demand for exacting position amongst meaningful width makes for a strategic and tough test of a player's skills.

Steve Smyers
Though it has been some time since I last visited Kingston Heath, I remember it well having played several rounds there. Kingston Heath is one of the most charming golf courses in the world. It is an excellent example of seamlessly interacting or connecting with the landscape. The patterns of the features i.e. bunkers, putting surfaces, grass lines etc. are ideally-positioned, and shaped to accentuate the movement of the land.

Mike Keiser - Kingston Heath and Chicago Golf Club are the two best "bad site" golf courses in the world. That means the architecture at both is genius. Kingston Heath's green complexes and terrifying bunkers are just brilliant. It proves that even a plain site can be beautiful.

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Here's a wonderful hole-by-hole guide of the course on
Coverage begins at 8pm (ET) on Golf Channel.

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