Home' Australian Golf Digest : August 2017 Contents 108 australiangolfdigest.com.au | august 2017
engage Doak, they do have a commercial
element to them. Higher rankings lead to
a better business model. “It drives your
membership, it drives your satisfaction levels,
it drives a willingness to bring guests, it
drives international and interstate tourism,
and it restores a strong sense of pride for our
club,” Vlahandreas says.
Amid all the restoration process is a need
to ensure Yarra Yarra remains relevant.
“ We have a great responsibility to the
legacy of Alex Russell and the sandbelt
as custodians of our great game. This is
an important part of the history of golf in
Australia. Yarra Yarra has hosted some of
the world’s best and foremost golfers since
“ We believe the heritage that we hold far
exceeds any other club in Australia. It is
our responsibility and role to restore what
was once a world-renowned golf course and,
more importantly, a world-renowned club.”
REDISCOVERING THE EAST
Since he became general manager at Royal
Melbourne Golf Club early last year, it has
puzzled Warwick Hill-Rennie why the
East course has been saddled with such an
He understands the world-famous West
course has a much higher international
profile because it makes up the majority
of the holes (12) on the revered Composite
layout. Still, the East course, designed by
Alex Russell, does provide the other six – the
first four holes and the final two – yet the
bias towards the West layout by visitors and
members alike remains.
“We believe the East course is a real hidden
gem,” Hill-Rennie says, sitting behind his
Yarra Yarra’ s little fourth
is a gorgeous sleeper hole.
Course designer Alex Russell has left us two relatively
‘unsung heroes’ in Melbourne’s famous sandbelt: Yarra Yarra
and the East course at Royal Melbourne.
Russell enjoyed highly decorated military, sporting
and professional careers. But when it comes to golf-course
design, he seems to have always lived in the shadow of the
legendary Scot, Dr Alister MacKenzie.
Both clubs already have lasting historical tributes to
Russell in their clubhouses but now have bold plans to
further honour his legacy. Yarra Yarra has commissioned
Tom Doak to restore the layout to its original ‘strategic intent’ and Royal Melbourne
is fiercely promoting Russell’s East layout ahead of the far more popular, MacKenzie-
designed West course.
Course architect Neil Crafter, one of the country’s foremost authorities on Russell,
says he was a “complex man”.
“He had many interests and golf course design was one of his major passions in life,”
Russell came from a very privileged background. His father was a grazier and he grew
up on a property, ‘Mawallok’, in Victoria’s Western District, with its own cricket ground,
private zoo and polo field. He was educated at Geelong Grammar, studied civil engineering
at Cambridge and was an officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery during World War I, where
he won the Military Cross. He also served with distinction in World War II.
Russell’s golf course design career was a case of being in the right place at the right
time. He had been asked to have a look at building a course on land Royal Melbourne
had acquired and had come up with a plan before, in 1926, the club decided to
enlist the services of MacKenzie. Although MacKenzie was a good bit older, the two
men immediately became friends because of their shared military and Cambridge
backgrounds. Not long afterwards, Mackenzie appointed Russell his Australian partner.
Unrestricted by the need to make a living out of designing and building golf courses,
Russell did a lot of work for very little payment or, in some cases, no fee at all. He was
paid a ‘very small fee’ to design Yarra Yarra, a bottle of scotch for Perth’s Lake Karrinyup
and his passage to New Zealand and a silver cigarette case for designing Paraparaumu,
just outside Wellington.
“He was an amateur golfer and more often than not he was an amateur golf course
architect,” Crafter says.
Russell was a superb golfer and considered in the best three amateur players in
Australia for many years. He won the 1924 Australian Open as an amateur, shooting 68
in the first round. He also won many state and national titles. Additionally, his wife Jess
was a very accomplished golfer. Russell died in 1961.
Golf course architect Neil Crafter and Royal Melbourne member Dr John Green (with
assistance from Yarra Yarra historian, the late Hedley Ham) have written a book on Russell.
Discovering Alex Russell (Ryan Publishing) is due out this month.
A MAN APART
5/07/2017 1:43 pm
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