Mike Cocking, OCCM lead architect for the Peninsula Kingswood redevelopment, looks at some of the key design elements that have transformed the North and South courses and pu them in the conversation as among some of the best on the Melbourne Sandbelt.
Few cities in the world can boast a greater concentration of world-class golf than Melbourne. More specifically, the little pocket of land in the southeast we know as the Sandbelt. This gently undulating sandy strip of ground is the perfect environment for great golf and at the southern tip of this region lies Peninsula Kingswood. Peninsula Kingswood is the first of its kind in Australia – the merger of two proud, established golf clubs, Peninsula Country Golf Club and Kingswood Golf Club, each a century old.
The two clubs started discussions around a possible merger a few years prior to formally announcing it in September 2013. Cleverly, both clubs were able to recognise the pattern moving forward – slowly dwindling memberships, increasing maintenance costs and, in the case of Kingswood, several boundary problems. All of this in a highly competitive environment where other Sandbelt clubs had significantly higher operational costs which allowed for better course conditions. As difficult as the decision was, the two clubs felt a secure future lay in a merger.
My first meeting with the club and talks around a possible redevelopment started back in 2013 with a coffee and Peter Sweeney, Kingswood’s then president. At that point the works were really only focusing on a new irrigation system and possibly a handful of tees, but the more often we met and talked, the more we realised this wasn’t really going to get the job done.
My own history with Peninsula started back in 1992 when I joined as a 15-year-old. Coming from a simple clay-based country course where water was in short supply, fairways were a mixed bag of grasses and there were only a scattering of bunkers, Peninsula felt like Augusta National at the time.
While both North and South courses were very good, neither had quite lived up to their potential. The land the courses are laid out over rivals the best on the Sandbelt so why couldn’t the courses be in same conversation too? Fundamentally there was also an issue in that the course at Kingswood was consistently in better condition than either course at Peninsula, so when the concept of all golfers from both clubs coming to the Frankston was mooted it meant the course conditioning needed to improve.
The primary aim was to create a true Sandbelt experience. Tight firm fairway turf and, most importantly, firm and fast greens and this became the main focus of the early phase of the redevelopment. Of course, as we worked through the process it became clear there were other areas requiring improvement and by this stage the merger had been approved and a good budget was available for the development. From there the scope continued to morph and rather than just focusing on improving conditioning, as we moved into construction the club had less attachment to what had previously existed and instead started to ponder what was possible.
I clearly remember a Board inspection we had about six months into the project to look at progress on holes 11 to 17 on the South, which were tackled first. To that point we’d been pretty faithful to the original masterplan. But the second the group saw the new greens and bunkers, the more open landscape and, in particular, the putting surfaces, the gloves came off. Their comment was, “Just make it as good as it can be… we’re not coming back for a second go!” So from that point onwards each hole was looked at with fresh eyes and the question asked if there was anything we could do to improve it? In most cases there was.
This wasn’t to say we were trying to change the style of the course. Instead, it was about making the very best version of Peninsula Kingswood. We wanted the courses to be in the same conversation as Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Victoria and Metropolitan. Not unique, so much as taking the best parts of all those courses and adapting them to the Frankston site.
Sandbelt golf is known the world over for its fabulous bunkering, the quality of the green complexes and the timeless strategy of the holes. Fairways are wide and easy to hit, but greens are well bunkered and angled to favour play from a specific part of the fairway. Usually right where you need to play from there is a bunker, so to gain the best angle you need to play close to trouble. Play away from the hazard and the shot to the green becomes more difficult.
When the greens are firm and fast, the rewards for being in the right position (and the penalty for being in the wrong position) are amplified. This simple strategy is at the heart of most of our best holes around Melbourne and is clearly evident on the new North and South courses.
Words: Brett Robinson
Photos: PKCGC/Gary Lisbon
Originally published in Volume 21.5 (Sept-Oct 2019) Australian Turfgrass Management Journal.