Scotland has a longer history, and the Monterey Peninsula gets more TV time, but no other destination has a higher concentration of must-play courses within a short strike of downtown than Melbourne, Australia, which hosts the Presidents Cup this month. In the mid-1920s, the master architect Alister MacKenzie left his vivid imprint on the Melbourne Sandbelt region. His handiwork, paired with that of other pedigreed designers, brightens a constellation of layouts that belong on every golfer's bucket list.
Not a single water hazard. No ocean views. The drama of the West Course, Golf Magazine's top-ranked track in the Southern Hemisphere, relies instead on subtler MacKenzie hallmarks, from its clover-leaf bunkers to the broad sweep of its fairways, which present you with a war room of strategic options.
The far-from-shabby East Course, designed by MacKenzie acolyte Alex Russell, plays many of the same notes, only in a minor key. Six of its holes contribute to the Composite Course, a kind of greatest hits of East and West, where the 2011 Presidents Cup matches will unfold.
Deep, white paw-print bunkers, designed by the good doctor, lend a MacKenzian look to this compelling layout, which, in the eyes of many Sandbelt cognoscenti, rivals Royal Melbourne as the country's best. Although the course never dwarfs you in its dimensions, its demands are large, with tight, intriguing sight lines that encourage tunnel vision off the tee.
To walk the narrow fairways of Kingston Heath, so unforgiving of wayward drivers, is to be reminded of how much the world has changed since 2009, when Tiger won the Australian Masters here.
Victoria Golf Club
The grooming ground for a line of Australian greats from Peter Thomson to Geoff Ogilvy, this Sandbelt classic opened in 1927, drawing on input from MacKenzie, who shortened what was once the par-4 fourth into one of the world's great short par 3s. Two suggestions: steer clear of the thorn trees and the steep-faced bunkers, and grab a post-round beer on the clubhouse veranda, a kickback Aussie setting even if it looks like it's been prepped for a proper British tea.
Metropolitan Golf Club
Much is often made of the impeccable conditions — the turf is so beautifully trimmed you feel a pang of guilt when you take a divot. But pristine groundskeeping is just one of the pluses at this prestigious club, which MacKenzie modified in 1926. Another is the flora, including looming eucalyptus and flowering Australian gum trees, which lend the course the feel of an exotic parkland layout. And don't forget the bunkers, cut so roughly around the greens that they look like they were clawed by an artistic raptor that spent a decade training at MacKenzie's side.
Where to Stay
Centrally located in the heart of Melbourne, with 481 oversize luxury guestrooms, a casino, restaurants and a luxury spa. Rooms from $396 (USD). crowntowers.com.au
For more information on travel to Melbourne:
In the U.S.: GoWay Travel, goway.com
In Australia: Gary Lisbon/Golf Travel, golftravel.com.au
Qantas Airlines offers daily nonstop service from Los Angeles to Melbourne. 800-227-4500, qantas.com
(Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images)