"So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Sandringham."
Situated in the heart of Melbourne’s famous sand belt, over the road from Royal Melbourne and Victoria, is Sandringham Golf Course. Even during Melbourne’s wettest Winters, Sandy remains playable due to the unique terrain its built on. A nine-hole layout opened in the early 30’s, grew to 12 during the 40’s and the 18 hole course we know today was opened in 1956. There has been a couple of minor changes since and rumour has it, the back 9 has 2 or 3 holes from the old Royal Melbourne course – though I’ve never met anyone who can definitively tell me which ones they are!
Sandringham largely remains a public access course, though memberships are available and competitions are run six days a week. The course experiences a lot of traffic and weekends are busy so make sure you book and allow about 4.5 hrs for your round.
The crew were joined by Stu (who has become a bit of a regular) and Fairway Boy, not overly long but straight - and a pretty fair putter too. Balls tossed in the air and it was me and FB against the bad guys, match play. The 1st is a short, straightforward par 4 where long hitters can go over the right corner and cut off a lot of distance. Missing left can make for a difficult approach over or through trees. The green is large and protected by sand left and right. All square.
Two is another short par 4 requiring only a fairway wood or hybrid off the tee. I put my approach on the left side of the green and had a long downhill putt breaking left, Carl left his 8 feet under the hole and calmly brushed it in, one down. The 3rd is an innocuous looking par three at only 154m off the back but into a stiff breeze to a narrow green protected right by sand and a raised putting surface sloping right to left, it’s not hard to chalk up a bogey or worse. We slipped two down.
Number 4 is a short, straight par 4 but avoid the thick tea tree down the right or it’s a reload. The green is large a fairly flat. FB played the hole beautifully, a straight drive and a pin point approach to 6 feet and we got one back. The 5th is a strong par 4, rated number 2 and 385m off the tips. Carl showed the way down the left side and long like the Lama! I on the other hand, missed right and made the hole much longer. A large, deep bunker will catch anything missing the green right, but you can run a shot in. Halved in fours.
Hole 6 is a 343m par 4 where anything on the fairway will give you a crack at the green. Hole halved. The 7th is a 149m par three to a large green that slopes back to front. Missing long presents a difficult, downhill chip and long putts across the green are hard to judge. All four shots on the dancefloor, and all walked off with 3 – easy game! The easiest hole on the course is next and downwind the long hitters can have a crack. At 280m off the back, it’s the second shot that needs to be good if you’ve got a three in mind. It falls away sharply behind the green so don’t be long and the narrow green slopes back to front so anything above the hole can get away from you. Rated 18, this hole was halved in 5’s! That’s right 5 – on the easiest hole on the course. That’s golf!
The 9th is a good par 5 and at 467m its reachable in two. A drive centre right is the go, too far left off the tee and a very large tree blocks your view of the green making it nearly impossible to get home in two. Unless you’re in A1 position, your second should be aimed a little left so your third isn’t over right side sand and you can fire straight up the narrow green. A half saw the good guys 1 down after nine but we had momentum.
The back nine opens with a short par three of 130m and rated number 15, but don’t let this fool you. Missing the green will make a 3 well earnt. It is large and undulating and putts from distance can be very tricky. Funny how momentum swings, 2 down. The 11th is the first hole where there is any significant elevation change, it’s not long at 326m and the fairway is wide but miss right and it’s a reload. This is one of the more difficult greens on the course and putts right to left can be treacherous as it falls away sharply. Hole was halved after we all found trouble off the tee.
The 12th through to the 16th are the best stretch of holes at Sandy and probably contains the rumoured Royal Melbourne holes. Think about your tee shot on 12, accuracy is a premium. Driver straight will put most in tea tree and hitting a pro ball so a fairway wood/hybrid to the left centre is the choice leaving a mid-iron to a large, uncomplicated green. We all ran out of fairway and hole became a battle from about 150m after chipping out. 3 down and the game was slipping away from us. 13 is a long par 3 to a green angled left to right protected right by deep bunkers and rough. At 194m you need a long accurate ball for a good chance at a 3. A par from the Sand for Carl and the good guys were four down.
Off the back tees, the 14th is a very different hole. A par 5 at nearly 450m you’re thinking birdie but courage and accuracy off the tee are required. Water, sand and rough on the right and thick rough left will take birdie out of the equation if found, so fairway wood will remove some danger. Sand and rough line the left side of the fairway and more water stretches up the right but that is the side to be. Par can feel like a bogey but take your five and smile because only the very good don’t get this hole. FB was both courageous and accurate with his driver and made an easy par for a half.
The 15th is a great par three where club choice is paramount especially if the pin is cut left. Sand and mounding make for a difficult up and down, go long and the touch of a surgeon is required to get close. The large green slopes left to right so putts across the green, uphill and down are difficult to judge. It was on this hole a duck cost us the match. 4 down with four to play I missed the green left pin high in the sand and had a difficult shot downhill to the pin. My shot popped out beautifully but on its second bounced a duck flapped its wings and knocked the ball down – would have holed it I reckon. That’s golf!
One of the more recent changes was to hole 16 a 380m par 4. During the 90’s the green was moved to the right of its original location, due to too many balls landing on the adjacent road I imagine. Get your ball as far as you can down the wide fairway - that’s the “easy” part - as the second shot to the green is about the hardest shot you’ll play at Sandy. Uphill to a narrow, difficult green that slopes severely from front to back and is protected by deep swales and sand, a 4 here is a good score.
Daddyshack devotees will have read Carl’s review of his new Callaway Epic and as the match was decided he offered me a hit with the obligatory, “sky it you buy it”! so after he had split the middle, I nervously teed it up, nervously as I’m no Al when it comes to cash, and knocked it past him…. Wowee! The Lama would have carried the glacier with this thing.
I find 17 a difficult driving hole as you don’t need to be long run out of fairway left and there’s a pine tree on the corner that’s right in my line. If you’ve got a reliable cut (for right handers) this hole suits and you can set yourself up to get home in two on this short par 5 of 470m. Your second is downhill to a green protected right by sand, if you lay up try to say left side to get the best angle at the pin.
The 18th at Sandringham is a very strong par 4 at nearly 400m off the back, especially into the wind. A solid blow off the tee centre right will give you the best opportunity to have a birdie putt. The second is uphill all the way so make sure you have enough club and get it there, but if you can’t reach the green with your second, short and right gives you the best chance of an up and down par to finish.
Sandringham is a pretty good test, especially in the wind. There is plenty of tea tree to swallow your ball and trees that will obscure views of greens. The front 9 is flat with elevation changes really only encountered on the back, which is a more difficult and interesting 9.
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1. Tees 6/15
2. Fairways 10/15
3. Bunkers 10/15
4. Greens 9/15
5. Design 8/15
6. The 19th 8/15
7. Price 8/10
The course was in fair condition considering the heavy traffic it gets; the fairways were patchy and could use some water. The greens were fairly true though a little slow but the biggest gripe were the amount of pitch marks in the green. Here’s a thought, fix two while you are waiting to putt. Due to its fortunate location, Sandy is playable all year round and on the weekend 18 holes will cost you $39. Don't expect to get around in 3-4 hours and don't expect a warm welcome at the 19th either. We finished just after 4pm and it was already closed. Disappointing. Go play it!