21 Dec 2022 | Industry news |

Clayton: MacKenzie's enduring masterpiece

by Mike Clayton

Momoka Kobori image
Momoka Kobori set a new RM West course record. Photo: Geoff Ogilvy Foundation

Years ago, Fred Couples nominated St Andrews, Augusta, and Royal Melbourne as his three favourite courses in the world.

“Like St Andrews and Augusta,” the 1992 Masters champion said, “you can almost slam it anywhere off the tee at Royal Melbourne and you can still get to the greens, but the putting is going to be crazy if you play it that way.”

Couples is clearly a good judge of a golf course but, that aside, his assessment of how the golf course is best played is exactly right.

Craig Parry, coincidentally Couples’ playing partner on that the last day at Augusta in 1992, was asked during the last Presidents Cup about the key to putting well on Royal Melbourne’s fearsome greens.

“Good iron play,” was his reply.

Watching the field play Alister MacKenzie’s masterpiece West course during the second round of the Sandbelt Invitational was a lesson in the importance of accurate driving to particular parts of the wide fairways, and good irons.

The less-than-ideal shots into the greens invariably finish further from the hole that just about any other course in the world – except Augusta and St Andrews, where a similar level of precision is the demand of the course.

Cameron Davis played cautiously off most of the tees with irons and his 66, four under the men’s par of 70, was made by a hot beginning where he birdied the opening two holes – the latter after a brilliant long bunker shot to a few feet – and an eagle at the fourth when he stuck a perfect middle iron close enough to the hole that he could have kicked it in.

A seemingly good pitch came off the front of the sixth green and ran far down the bank from where he pitched long, trickled eight-footer six feet past and holed for a bogey.

If an architect built the sixth green now the members would be in uproar at the unfairness of it all but a century on it is accepted as one of the great greens in golf, crazy though it may be.

Crazy too was Davis’ finish. No one was hitting the par-3 16th green because it’s the hardest par-3 green to hit in the country and the leader duly hooked into the left bunker. From there he did as well as he could and holed from 20 feet for a three.

The 17th, a hole equally as good as the great sixth, he ironed off the tee, hit another fine iron twenty-five feet left of the hole and downed another unlikely putt, this time for a birdie.

The marvel was completed when, after leaving himself on the far-left edge of the green at the 18th, he holed from 45 feet for another birdie.

66 to follow 65 at Kingston Heath leaves him three shots ahead of the New Zealander Momoka Kobori who broke the women’s West course record with a 67.

She birdied the short holes on the front nine then followed with three more birdies, at the short 10th where she pitched stiff to the hole, the par-5 12th and the 14th.

In the fashion of so many of the best women in the world she is relentlessly straight off the tee, a testament to her beautifully orthodox technique.

She and Davis clearly enjoyed each other’s company and despite wildly different ways of playing the game it was both fun and an education in seeing both go about managing the golf course.

There are multiple ways of playing Couples’ favourite courses and therein lies their greatness. That Davis and Kobori at the top of their games could find a way to play Royal Melbourne so brilliantly would have delighted Alister MacKenzie.

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