18 Oct 2021 | Clubs & Facilities |

Clayton: Golf and unintended consequences

by Mike Clayton

Kingswood GC image
Kingwood Golf Club was sold off for housing and now is the subject of a dispute. Photo: PKCGC

This is a story of the law of unintended consequences as it relates to golf courses.

I first played at Kingswood in an early 1970s schoolboy’s tournament. The only hole I really remember was the short par-three 13th playing along one of the many boundaries bordering the course. It was a short iron but a terrific hole, one typical of the many world-class short par threes in Melbourne.

Either way, the neighbour tired of the odd crooked short iron landing in the garden and forced the club to build a new hole. Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge designed a longer and more difficult hole and it was a good one.

The compromise was the 14th, originally a dogleg left and one of the best holes on the course, becoming a dull par four along another boundary.

Eventually the club was forced to change the 14th as well and the domino effect necessitated a change to the short par-four 15th. It became a par three, a decent hole but nothing more. To retrieve some lost length the difficult long par-four 12th was lengthened to make a par five.

It was a hole less worthy than the original.

Years later the third and the relationship with its northern boundary was deemed an issue and solving the one problem turned the front nine almost on its head. Five holes – the original first, second, sixth, seventh and eighth - remained the same but altering the third somehow led to the club to make four entirely new holes.

It was crushing a nut with a sledgehammer.

The course by now was far from what had been in 1970s despite the condition always being both excellent and a distraction from the architectural disappointment the course had become.

Indeed, late 1970s Kingswood was in such good condition Kingston Heath poached its young greenkeeper, Graeme Grant, who moved down the road and began the transformation of one of Australia’s great courses.

From the original Kingswood layout only the seventh, eighth, 10th and 17th holes remained largely as they were, and such is the quality of Melbourne golf, it wasn’t amongst the best dozen courses within half an hour’s drive of Cheltenham station.

At a time when fewer golfers were joining clubs it was a precarious position to be in and if you were one of a diminishing group of golfers joining a club, why join the 12th or 15th best course in the area?

The committee determined to negotiate a land sale and merge with Peninsula when it would have been easier to stay put and try and avoid the iceberg those with any foresight saw coming.

Peninsula could easily accommodate an extra 600 members on its already good courses but neither reached their potential, a dream they were destined never to reach without a significant investment.

The politics, internal and external, were eventually navigated (inside and outside a courtroom) and in 2019 the 36 redesigned holes at Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club opened to some acclaim.

Selling a golf course and moving to something new is complex and committees must make a number of important decisions, and to get even one wrong is to potentially sentence the project to failure.

Choose the wrong architect or a poor site, built too many holes, mistake difficult golf for good golf, spend too much money on the clubhouse and there is a good chance they burn through enough money to put the members right back in the same mess they were at the beginning.

Which brings us back to the unintended consequences of Kingswood and their neighbours.

Neighbours drove all the changes ultimately leading to the demise of the architectural merits of the course and, arguably, the demise of the club. It started with the house by the 13th green and over the years those who lived alongside the club’s fairways forced alterations to the 14th, 15th, 16th, holes as well as the front nine misfortunes.

The club sold the land to a developer proposing to build a significant housing estate.

Understandably the neighbours are upset at the prospect of losing their golf course views and the ambience coming with living on a course as opposed to in the middle of suburbia. Perhaps they should have thought about it when they started complaining about the odd golf ball landing in their properties.

Of course, they have a right to complain and the law is always going to be on their side. It is reasonable to expect golfers to keep their golf balls inside the boundary of the golf course. But the history of forced changes to golf holes by having to solve a boundary problem is the course is rarely improved and is often poorer. Not even Royal Melbourne has been exempt.

The neighbours couldn’t reasonably be expected to see 40 years into the future but the unintended consequence of the change to the 13th hole and the domino effect it had was ultimately the death knell for golf at Kingswood.

It was a great result for golf. Peninsula came out with two much improved golf courses, a measure of financial security and with Royal Melbourne and The National, Victoria now has three of the finest multi-course clubs in the world. The Kingswood members get to play much better golf, albeit 20 minutes away from their original home.

And lest we forget, Royal Melbourne used to be in Malvern, Commonwealth in Murrumbeena, Kingston Heath in Elsternwick and Victoria on the banks of the Yarra River under what is now the Bolte Bridge.

It was perhaps a bad result for Kingswood’s Dingley neighbours but arguably they were as much to blame as anyone.

They just don’t know it because no one has pointed it out.

FOOTNOTE: Dingley residents have appealed to the Victorian Government over the rezoning of the Kingswood land by the new owner, AustralianSuper, who want to build 800 new houses in the area. Hearings begin next month.

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