You know, I can understand why Lee Westwood was annoyed that he had to abort his trip to the World Cup in Australia because there is no better place in the world to play golf than Melbourne. It’s right up there with St Andrews, Pinehurst, Portstewart/Portrush/Castlerock and, I hear, Bandon Dunes because everywhere you look there are fabulous, playable courses that set you twitching at your swing fixes, polishing your shoes and raving about your experience for ever and ever.
Here’s what Dai, my late husband, wrote about Melbourne’s Sand Belt – “probably the finest collection of courses in any city in the World” – in our book Beyond The Fairways: “As far as golf goes, Australia in general and Melbourne in particular has courses of a quality that cannot be beaten anywhere.
“Royal Melbourne is the jewel among them but it almost beggars belief that there could be so many others, so near, that would themselves be outstanding in another place. Kingston Heath, for example, is superb and so too are Yarra Yarra, Commonwealth and the Metropolitan Club. There is also Victoria…..a course sufficiently challenging to have produced Peter Thomson and Doug Bachli. They have a unique achievement to their credit, for in 1954 Thomson won the Open and Bachli the Amateur championship……
“If Royal Melbourne did not exist, Kingston Heath [where the World Cup is being played] would probably be the celebrated Australian course…..the bunkers at both courses are the work of Alister MacKenzie [sometimes spelled Mackenzie but that’s a debate for another day]. Accuracy is all at the Heath. Miss a green and a fearsome shot is certain to result, either out of sand (preferably) or from scrubby bushes in which the lie varies only from difficult to impossible. Thomson has said that the second shot, the shot to the green, is ‘the art of the game’ and nowhere is it more necessary to be the complete artist than at Kingston Heath.”
A pilgrimage to the Sand Belt should be on any self-respecting golfer’s bucket list. Start plotting, planning and saving now. No moaning and groaning that “It’s soooo far.” It’s soooo good, you’ve got to go. And the most sublime courses are soooo close together when you get there!
Nearly 20 years ago, in 1997, a fresh-faced Westwood had one of his greatest triumphs when he won the Australian Open at Metropolitan. Not only did he defeat Greg Norman, then the world No 1 and vastly more experienced, he held off the great Aussie hero in a sudden death play-off that lasted four holes. Huge crowds lined the fairways, most of them supporting Norman and no one who was there doubted that Westwood would win a major or two. That hasn’t happened yet but he’s had a very successful career, is only 43 now and I suppose there’s still time.
Finally, two of Europe’s best and most enduring golfers won their first professional title down under: Annika Sorenstam started her run to fame with victory in the Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide in 1994 and two years later Catriona Matthew won the title at Yarra Yarra. Magical things happen in Oz.
Oh, and if Westwood has a problem with Chris Wood (who chose Andy Sullivan to make up the England team at the World Cup), surely he’s looking at the wrong person. Wasn’t it Danny Willett who pulled out and left the pal he’d picked in the lurch?