A Brief History:
Our Club had its humble beginnings on October 8, 1892 when about a dozen enthusiasts first played golf on an improvised course laid out over grazing land leased near the Mont Albert railway station. A Club was formed – known as the Surrey Hills Golf Club. We can proudly claim to be the second oldest Golf Club in Melbourne.
The Club grew steadily over the next 15 years, however in 1907 it was forced to change location as housing replaced farmland in the vicinity of the course. The Club took out a ten-year lease on a large piece of land in East Camberwell. With the change of location, the Club was re-named “The Riversdale Golf Club”.
The membership of the club continued to grow along with Melbourne’s population. Although the Club’s lease was renewed in 1923 for another seven years, the Committee was still seeking to purchase land to create a permanent home.
In 1924 the Club purchased the St John’s Wood Estate at Burwood. In May 1927 the new course was ready for play. The original course was bisected by a new railway line in 1930, and noted course architect Alex Russell redesigned the course. Since that time, the general layout, although extended at times, has remained virtually unchanged.
The Clubhouse, once the country estate of Sir Redmond Barry, underwent considerable alterations when the Club purchased the land to provide comfortable surroundings for members and further major works were undertaken in 1955. In 2010, the Clubhouse was virtually rebuilt and extended to provide members with superb modern facilities.
The highlight of our golfing calendar is the Riversdale Cup. Its origins date back to 1896 when the first “Surrey Hills Gentlemen’s Championship, Gold Medal” was played. Except for the periods during the first and second World Wars and the two years when new courses were under construction the event has been played annually. This prestigious amateur event is recognised world wide, generating considerable support from top ranked golfers both here and overseas.View Extended History
The Early Days
Our Club had its humble beginnings on October 8, 1892 when about a dozen enthusiasts first played golf on an improvised course laid out over the pleasant slopes of Mont Albert, close to the railway station. It was agreed that those present would form a club – to be known as the Surrey Hills Golf Club.
We can proudly claim to be the second oldest Golf Club in Melbourne – only Royal Melbourne has a slightly longer history.
The course stretched out over numerous dairy farms and other unfenced areas. Many fences, hedges and small creeks bisected it. On some holes, roads were crossed. The Club did not own a lawnmower and the grazing cattle kept the grass down. The actual playing areas fluctuated from year to year, depending on arrangements with the various landowners.
A “green keeper” was employed for a few hours each Saturday morning to select sections with the shortest grass to put in pegs for the teeing grounds and to place tins and flags into position on the greens.
The Club grew slowly, but by 1895 boasted a membership (male and female) in excess of 60. The first clubhouse was a railway gatekeeper house that was placed on land leased from the railways. It was sufficient to serve refreshments and house lockers for members’ use.
In 1896 the Surrey Hills Golf Club held its first Open Meeting. Conditions on the course were still extremely primitive. The Nunawading Shire Council kindly loaned the club a lawnmower and roller to prepare the greens for the event. The competition was widely supported by golfers from other clubs and the event was a great success. It was the forerunner of the annual Riversdale Cup event. Later in 1896 the Club extended its course to 18 holes. Eighteen new greens (fifty by forty feet) were formed and planted out with suitable grasses.
Adjacent land was purchased in 1899 and a new Clubhouse was built. This building is now a private residence situated at 30 Trafalgar Street, Mont Albert. Since its formation the Club lacked security of tenure for the course. It relied upon leases and the goodwill of local landowners. By 1903 it was obvious that the Club’s land situation would become increasingly difficult.
In November 1906, a public auction of “Magnificent Villa Sites” was held in Mont Albert. The land offered consisted of the first hole paddock and the sale realised excellent prices. Other landowners soon began arranging similar sales.
“The Riversdale Golf Club”
In March 1907 the Club, with member approval, took out a 10 year lease on a large piece of land in East Camberwell – known as Bellet and Cooks paddock. They also purchased adjacent land in Stoddart Street on which to build a new clubhouse. As from November 1, 1907, the name of the Club was changed to “The Riversdale Golf Club”.
The new links were serviced by two railway stations – Riversdale and Hartwell, however, some influence was exerted to build a new station very close to the clubhouse. This station was known as Golf Links and later on as Willison.
Constructions of the first nine holes of the new course commenced immediately. The greens – each approximately 50 by 80 feet were cultivated and fenced to keep out grazing cattle. The old clubhouse at Mont Albert was sold. Work on the new course progressed well and on April 4, 1908 it was officially opened. The second nine was constructed soon after and all told the course measured a little over 5000 yards. The clubhouse contained mens’ and ladies’ locker rooms, an excellent dining room and an extensive verandah providing views over surrounding areas. The Club was rated as one of the best in Melbourne.
With the onset of the war in 1914 the Victorian Golf Association cancelled all open meetings and inter-club events, but allowed affiliated clubs to play their own competitions. Riversdale played its part in the war effort. The Club subscribed to war loans and raised money by conducting special golfing events. Servicemen on leave were granted playing rights, and the Club regularly entertained convalescing soldiers. Golf continued to be played throughout the remainder of the war.
After the war golfers were naturally keen to change from khaki into plus fours. Club Championships and Pennant fixtures were resumed. The game boomed, club membership lists were soon filled and waiting lists assumed vast proportions. In 1919 the Club passed motions allowing for the introduction of provisional membership. The number of full members was limited to 200.
Melbourne’s population was growing and suburban areas were expanding. The Club was playing on valuable real estate, and surrounding estates were being prepared for subdivision. Although the Club’s lease was renewed in 1923 for up to another seven years the Committtee was seeking out alternative sites.
St John’s Wood
After looking at the suitability of various sites and prolonged negotiations, it was unanimously resolved at a special General Meeting held on May 30, 1924 to purchase the St Johns Wood Estate at Burwood. The area purchased, totalled 160 acres. Erected on the property was a substantial, commodious and well finished family residence, which, with some modification would make an excellent clubhouse.
This is a property with history – in 1869 it was bought by Sir Redmond Barry. On this site he built his country home and named it after the fashionable London suburb where he once lived – St John’s Wood. Sir Redmond presided over some of the most famous trials ever held in Melbourne – the most notable being that of Ned Kelly. Barry collapsed and died ten days after Kelly’s execution.
Immediately the estate was purchased, work proceeded on constructing the new course to plans drawn up by Jock Young, the green-keeper at Camberwell. The lease on the Camberwell course was terminated in March 1927 and on April 30 the clubhouse was sold. In May 1927 the new course was ready for play but only from temporary tees. During construction some 3500 trees were planted and the beauty of the course today is a tribute to those members with foresight, who spent many hours buying and planting.
The extension of the railway to Glen Waverley opened in May 1930, giving members a convenient form of transport to the club. The new line cut through a swathe of the Club’s land on the south side. The course was redesigned by noted architect Alex Russell, and the improvements were welcomed by the members.
In May 1929 George Naismith was appointed club professional, a position he held for some 34 years. Naismith was Victorian Professional Champion in 1934 and won the Australian Open in 1937. His assistants included Peter Thomson and David Graham.
In 1939 Australia was at war again. By 1940 the Open Meeting and the Club Championship were suspended until further notice. There was a substantial drop in members playing golf. Most clubs were faced with serious financial difficulties. Riversdale arranged a lease with the Tweddle Hospital for Babies and School of Mothercraft in July 1942. They stayed at Riversdale for the duration of the war.
Post War Years
Many improvements on the course were carried out in the immediate post war years. Noted curator and course designer, Alan Morcum provided advice on layout and drew up detailed plans to improve most of the holes.
The land south of the railway line, which had, for years been leased to a riding school, was sold in November 1946, eventually being sub-divided for housing.
Plans were afoot to substantially alter and extend the Clubhouse. Construction was completed in 1955 adding space to the downstairs locker rooms, adding a new upstairs bar lounge to the western aspect of the building and enlarging the lounge and dining areas by removing the verandahs.
The bowling green was constructed and opened for play in 1956.
The Modern Era
Riversdale was chose by the VGA as the venue for the first Victorian Open Championship in 1957, and again in 1964 and 1970. In the late sixties the capacity of the dam adjacent to the third hole was enlarged and boundary fences installed.
In 1973 the Club sold the unused land on its eastern boundary. Under pressure from local residents, the Waverley Council rejected the plans. Subsequently this decision was overturned on appeal. The land was eventually sold to an independent developer in October 1975. A fairway watering system was installed in the spring of 1976, with the costs covered by funds received from the recent sale of land.
Don Edwards made the club aware of a new hybrid couch (Santa Ana) developed in California. In 1982 a small area on the ninth fairway was hand planted. It was so successful that Don, now Captain, was able to finalise a plan to replant all fairways with the new grass. This program was completed in the summer of 1994.
Our fairways have been transformed by the Santa Ana couch which provides a wonderful playing surface all year round.
On November 26, 1987 the Club agreed to lease 15000 square metres of land (known as the horse paddock) on the northern boundary of the course to the Glen Iris Tennis Club for a period of 25 years – the rent fully paid in advance. The lease, signed in May 1988, was the culmination of three years of often difficult negotiations. The tennis club would construct a clubhouse, twelve tennis courts and a car park on the property. Riversdale members took considerable interest in the development and were appreciative of the offer from Glen Iris in June 1990 permitting them to join the tennis club without paying the usual entrance fee. The new tennis courts were ready for play in September 1991.
In 1988 members approved extensive alterations and renovations to the clubhouse. A new bar was installed, locker rooms extended, office space was increased and a new boardroom built by extending the clubhouse towards the south east. Upstairs toilets were installed and the kitchen refurbished. The upstairs area was repainted throughout with all work completed by the following summer.
The first one hundred years was celebrated with a series of golfing and social events. Membership had grown to in excess of 1300 over all categories.
As we moved into the nineties successive Committees were concerned with the quality of our greens. Various programs were implemented but with little success.
In 1996 the Committee approved a program to progressively replace all greens to agreed specifications. The practice putting green was reconstructed from the base up and was to be used as a testing ground prior to embarking on the rest of the program. The greens replacement program was completed in 2004.
The Riversdale Cup
One of the highlights of our golfing calendar is the Riversdale Cup. Its origins go back to 1896 when the first “Surrey Hills Gentlemen’s Championship, Gold Medal” was played. In 1909 the name of the event was changed to the “Riversdale Trophy” and in 1927 to the “Riversdale Cup”. Since 1957, it has been a 72-hole stroke event played over the March Labour Day weekend. It is widely recognised as one of the best conducted and most prestigious amateur tournaments in Australia.
The Riversdale Cup Honor Board records the names of many fine golfers. The most successful was Kevin Hartley who won on ten occasions between 1958 and 1978. A number of past winners have moved on to very successful professional careers. They include Robert Allenby 1990 and 1991, Aaron Baddeley 1999 and Michael Sim 2004.
Our ladies have conducted the preceding Women’s Riversdale Cup event since 1959. Both these events require considerable time and effort on the part of the many members who get involved to ensure the tournament is run in a professional manner. This team effort results in great fellowship.
The New Millennium and Beyond
In 2001 a new maintenance facility and members car park replaced the extremely old and untidy group of sheds that had served for this purpose in decades past. The final result was increased efficiency for our course staff and extra parking for the members.
Melbourne had been suffering from years of drought and in 2002 the VGA received notice from the water authorities advising them of the pending plans for the introduction of severe water restrictions. The authorities recommended that golf clubs should take measures to become self sufficient in regard to their irrigation needs.
The Club called in consultants and with the relevant authorities a series of lakes and dams were constructed within the area of Damper Creek. These storage areas took advantage of the excessive flows through the creek after rain. On a number of holes, tees and greens were redesigned to bring the challenge of water into play.
The project was completed in 2005, adding beauty to the course while ensuring that the club had adequate water reserves for irrigation throughout the summer months.
In December 2006, the President Jim Gleeson, wrote to members advising them of the development of a concept “Master Plan” for extensions and renovations to the clubhouse. The concept plans were displayed within the clubhouse for members to review. Considerable interest was engendered. After seeking input from members a revised plan was adopted in principle by the Board. Costing estimates were established. Architects were appointed, tenders were called for and the builder selected.
Members were invited to attend an information meeting on March 10, 2009. About 200 members attended The redevelopment plans were presented in considerable details. The President, Gary Black, summarised the history of the various developments undertaken over the past eighty years. Finance issues were discussed at some length. Members were advised that most of the finance required would be obtained through the issue of unsecured notes to members, the acceptance of various forms of bank finance and cash flow generated by the Club through its normal day-to-day operations
The meeting closed with an element of excitement and anticipation. The redevelopment and extensions resulted in what is virtually a new clubhouse. It was officially opened with member functions over the weekend of July 24 and 25, 2010. To commemorate the occasion, a painting of the new clubhouse was commissioned by the Board. It was unveiled at the members’ celebratory dinner on the Saturday evening, by President Mike Wilton.
The new clubhouse provides members with exceptional views of the course and facilities in all areas, including two separate function rooms to cater for club needs, member’s private functions, and special events.
Words and photos compiled by John Boundy and produced by Loris Wilton October 2010