How It All Began
Situated at the furthermost point of Western Port, 75 kilometres from Melbourne, Flinders was discovered in 1798 by explorer George Bass, who named Flinders after his friend, Matthew Flinders
By the last decade of the 19th century, Flinders was a busy yet isolated little seaside fishing village, with a few guest houses, a church, a school, a general store and a post office, a hotel, a coach service depot and a cable station which had been built in 1869 to connect Tasmania to the mainland. It also possessed a tract of four rough golf holes which had been carved along the clifftop by the English and Scottish immigrants who’d found work at the cable station.
When one of the locals who’d come to Flinders to manage an onion-growing farm, saw these roughly carved out holes, his imagination was immediately stirred.
The inaugural club champion at the Melbourne Golf Club (soon to be known as The Royal Melbourne Golf Club), Maxwell was more than an enthusiast for the game and he saw great potential for this marvellous tract of land, immediately organising volunteer labour to create another two holes.
Wanting to share his excitement and vision with colleagues from Royal Melbourne, Maxwell invited many of the golfing elite of the day down to stay with him, among them Dr (later Sir) James Barrett, Mr Justice Higgins and Dr (later Sir) John McFarland.
David Myles Maxwell, a Scot who hailed from Montrose, a stones throw from one of the most famous of all golfing spots, St Andrews in Scotland was a champion golfer. In 1902 Maxwell set about forming The Flinders Golf Links on two pieces of land owned privately and by the Union Bank and within twelve months the layout boasted a full eighteen holes. Dr Barrett was made Chairman of the committee, while Maxwell was named Honorary Secretary. An application was made to the Victorian Golf Association for affiliation and in 1903 an ‘Opening day’ was held in to celebrate. The Melbourne Golf Club marked the occasion by presenting a gift of a “hole cutter”. The subscription was two shillings and sixpence per annum; the total club revenue for that first year was three pounds.
Almost immediately, the club was a success. The Melbourne contingent spread the word and the renowned Easter Tournament was first held just over a year later in 1905 – this event has continued annually, almost uninterrupted, to this day. Flinders was a rough and windy course to play featuring spectacular holes along the cliffs even down to the beach and back. The club generated such interest that The Mornington Standard told the story on December 16, 1905 .
“In no part of the state has any golf club made such rapid strides as that at Flinders. Though started only some three years ago by Mr D. M. Maxwell (who is still honorary secretary of the club) with a membership of 22, the financial year which closed on September 30, shows a roll of 155 members.”
Land Acquisition & Bass Park Trust
The next 15 years of the Club’s life was dominated by the gradual acquisition of the freehold land abutting the course. To accomplish this Maxwell and Barrett formed the Flinders Golf Links Land Company, but because the club was playing golf on a course primarily on Crown Land , representations were made to the State government for the formation of a public park. This “temporary reserve” was affected in 1914, and with some certainty now in place, Maxwell felt safe enough to start making improvements to the course.
Land acquisitions continued until the year 1918, by which time the club (The Flinders Golf Lands Co had liquidated its assets and transferred them to The Flinders Golf Club) now owned all the land on the Westernport frontage ensuring the security of the playing area. Then, in 1920, in what was a remarkably generous and far sighted move, the Club decided to offer to the Crown all 18 acres (7.23 hectares) of the now very valuable land along the Westernport Bay side of the links on two main conditions: Bass Park (now comprising 103 acres) be permanently reserved and six trustees be appointed, three to be nominated by The Flinders Golf Club and three by the district.
“Clause 2 was inserted in order to secure to the golf club an equal voice in the management of the Reserve, and more particularly with regard to the club’s playing rights,” Barrett later recalled. “These conditions were accepted by the Government, and were duly embodied in the Crown Grant issued 12/6/23 and now in the possession of the Trustees.”
The Original Links
In the early years the Flinders golf course was very much a traditional links style course, e arly photographs showing few trees along the clifftops, bare country along the fairways. The 1st hole was approximately in the same place as today’s, but the green on the 2nd was close to the cliff edge, as the road took a turn to the right a lot earlier than it does today. The 3rd and 4th holes – Niagara and Spion Kop – were amazing challenges and put the golf course on the map.
Niagara , was a Par 3 of 130 yards played from the top of the cliff down to the green near the beach. Accessed by a steep track, steps led down the cliff face through heavy bracken fern. Spion Kop, the fourth, was played from a tee back almost at high water mark, straight up the face of the cliff to a green on the top located just inside where the Naval Gunnery range fence stands today. A par 4 to a blind green of only 100 yards, it was a big hit up the cliff into the prevailing south westerly wind, and many a ball almost blew back to the tee. As if the shot wasn’t difficult enough, between the tee and the top of the cliff was out-of-bounds!
Because of the difficulty of the climb, Niagara and Spion Kop were not on the ladies’ course, but naturally many had a go. Ladies officially played two shorter holes instead.
The 5th was played in the area where today’s 3rd hole is whilst the 6th hole, known as The Coffin, was played from a shelter shed over the Coffin ravine to a green midway between that and Purgatory ravine. The 7th hole of 237 yards, had a tee which was back near the edge of the Coffin where the players were protected by a large wire net, played over Purgatory ravine to a green near the present 5th tee.
The 8th & 9 th holes were the forerunners of today’s 5th & 6th as they climbed the hill to the area referred to in those days as ‘The Top Paddock’, where holes 10, 11 and 12 were located. ‘Aunt Sally’ came next and this was followed by ‘The Racecourse’.
The racecourse, which was last used in 1926, ran down the inland side of the 14th fairway (today’s 13th) curved round behind the 7th tee (today’s 6th), then along the old 6th fairway (today’s 5th) past the 5th green (today’ 3rd), around and across the 16th &17th fairways (today’s 15th & 16th) and the practice fairway, across the 18th just above the left hand bunker, through the ti-tree scrub and back down the 14th: the finishing post being opposite the end of Wood Street.
The judge’s box and jockeys’ room were on the north side of the old cutting of the ‘straight’. This area was lined with white rails and players crawled under them to play the hole. (This part of the track is clear for all to see as they reach the beginning of today’s fairway: the land raised and curving towards the 6th tee.) One classic yarn from those days tells about the time a golfer of some note, Percy Danby, put his drive through the window of the jockeys’ room, chipped out through the open door and put the next on the green and sank the putt for a par 4!
Holes 15, 16, & 17 were played where today’s 14th, 15th & 16th are located and then the ‘Home’ hole was positioned similarly to today’s 18th.
Dr Alister Mackenzie Visits Flinders
A critical event in the history of The Flinders Golf Club occurred in 1926 when world renowned course architect Dr Alister Mackenzie visited Flinders during November of that year.
Mackenzie was brought to Australia to design the Royal Melbourne Golf Club’s new Sandringham links at a significant cost. To offset the expense, ten other golf courses were offered his services at £250 each. Probably because of its ties to Royal Melbourne, Flinders Golf Club was charged a lower rate of £100. Members were asked to contribute and £114 was raised.
Mackenzie was impressed with the course – the Peninsula Post ( 12/8/28 ) quoted him as saying it was “equaled by only one other natural course, which is in California “. Apart from recommending the closure of Spion Kop and Niagara (Mackenzie felt that the beach sequence slowed down play too much) he also suggested altering the Coffin, adding two new holes in the ‘top paddock’ and proposed building up greens and improvements to the fairways and bunkers.
Whilst the recommendation to close Niagara and Spion Kop were not accepted by the committee of the day, there was a commitment to implement the plan, subject to financial constraints, and David Maxwell and his green keepers spent many years trying to put these recommendations in place.
“A feature of the year was the visit last November under the auspices of the RMGC of the Golf Architect, Dr Alister Mackenzie,” David Maxwell wrote in the minutes of October 3, 1927 . “Your committee desiring to take advantage of Dr Mackenzie’s presence in Australia arranged with him for a fee of £100, to visit Flinders and draw up a report and plan of the course. The amount of the fee was promptly oversubscribed by members and friends of the club. Litho (lithograph) copies of the plan (provided by Mr Yencken) together with Dr Mackenzie’s Report are now before the meeting. To carry out the scheme as a whole, even if thought advisable, would entail the expenditure of a considerable amount of money which being beyond the resources of the club is not at present contemplated. Apart from the proposed elimination of Niagara and Spion Kop which does not meet with general approval, Dr Mackenzie’s scheme will be a valuable guide to the committee, who propose to carry out a gradual reconstruction of the course somewhat on the lines laid down’
It is difficult to identify exactly when Mackenzie’s recommendation was implemented but of all the suggestions, his plan to alter the 6th hole (now 4th) is by far the most significant. As recorded earlier, at the time of Mackenzie’s visit, The Coffin was played as a Par 3, the green being situated between the two ravines. Mackenzie’s plan was to construct a new green just beyond ‘purgatory’ ravine, move the tee back and play the hole as a ‘2-shot hole.’ By bringing both ravines into play, The Coffin now rivalled Spion Kop and Niagara as the most memorable and challenging holes on the links.
Today it remains as the club’s signature hole and is the one best known by all who have had the pleasure of standing on the tee with the wind in their face, contemplating the challenge ahead to “carry the coffin”.
The Next 80 Years
Alterations to the golf links have continued from this time right up to the present as committees of the day have strived to improve on the marvelous foundation laid down by David Maxwell and his colleagues.