The concept for Royal Melbourne’s East Course was born shortly after Alister MacKenzie had left Australia and while his famous West Course was still under construction. The club’s plan to build a new clubhouse on the current 7th West was well advanced when two parcels of land east of the main Black Rock site became available in 1929. The prospect of 36 holes appealed greatly to the membership who decided to proceed with the second course and shelve plans to relocate its clubhouse. With MacKenzie back in the United States his new partner, Alex Russell, was put in charge of the design with Mick Morcom again responsible for course shaping.
Given the very nature and distribution of the available land, the East Course differs considerably from the West Course. Holes are played in a single loop away from the clubhouse, across several roads and covering three separate allotments. Despite the obstacles and inferior terrain of the eastern property, Russell’s routing works surprisingly well with balanced nines, a great variety of holes and the same beautifully constructed bunker and green sites as the West. Sensibly, the long holes tackle the wind from each direction, while the only minor criticism of his arrangement is that all four wonderful par threes play to the north.
The course starts and finishes on the main site, alongside its more famous sibling, with these seven ‘home paddock’ holes incorporating the most dramatic undulation on the course. The closing stretch is exceptional while the short four, long four, mid four start presents clear risk-reward options from the tee and birdie to double bogey possibilities. Aside from the excellent and heavily bunkered par three 16th, these are the holes that combine with the best from the West to form Royal Melbourne’s world-renowned Composite Course. First conceived in 1959, the traditional Composite Course routing is astonishing with Russell’s six all-star holes standing comfortably alongside MacKenzie’s and blending into one outstanding layout.
Royal Melbourne’s East Course is often unfairly rated because of the esteemed company it keeps, yet any track with holes the quality of the first and final four is very special. There are many other highlights as well, including the cross-bunkering on the 10th and the approach through the saddle of sand at the difficult 12th. Although variances in terrain and the disparity between its best and worst holes prevents East from outranking West, there are only a handful of Australian courses that boast anywhere near its number of genuine world-class moments.
After the good doctor departed Australian shores Alex Russell was a man in demand, kept busy overseeing the MacKenzie projects and completing work of his own. Despite a flurry of design activity, the East Course remains his masterpiece, fitting therefore that it should stand alongside the greatest accomplishment of his illustrious mentor.
The oldest continuous golf club in Australia, the Melbourne Golf Club was awarded the Royal prefix by Queen Victoria in 1895. The club is most significant, however, as owners of Australia’s best layout – the West Course which was designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie during his 1926 trip down under. In 1959 the club was asked to hold the Canada Cup (now the World Cup) and it was decided for the event to use a combination of holes from the East and West Courses during the event to prevent road crossings. This new Composite Course would go on to host countless major tournaments, including the 1988 Bicentennial Classic and several Australian Opens, and along the way has gathered considerable acclaim internationally. Today it is regarded as among the world’s premier few layouts.