Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands

The unusual challenges of playing Royal Melbourne

December 16, 2019

Cameron Smith says he has played at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, site of the 2019 Presidents Cup (Dec. 12-15), at least 10 times. But when he’s asked to describe how its two courses play (they’ll be using 12 holes from the West Course and six from the East for the Cup), he goes silent for a bit. “That’s hard to say. Every time I’ve been down there, it wants something different from your game,” he says. “One thing is for sure about Royal Melbourne: You have to make adjustments to how you play.”

Smith, a rookie on the International team and native of Brisbane about 1,000 miles to the north, says most of the courses in the Melbourne area have similar features including fairways that are firm and fast, which might be unsettling to golfers who aren’t used to playing from hardpan lies.

“You’ve got to pretend it’s not a tight lie and make your normal swing,” he jokes. “But around the greens, those lies are about good club selections. I often use a wedge with zero bounce so I can avoid catching one thin.” Smith’s coach, Grant Field, another Aussie who knows the course well, says a shallow swing path into the ball is a must, but so is shot selection.

“We’ve got a short-game shot down here called a scrape that plays along the ground,” Field says. “Cam will use a 4-iron, but you can use a rescue club, too. Play it back in your stance with the golf shaft taller, and make a short swing with very little body pivot.” Another Royal Melbourne adjustment is that you’ll likely be in the sand a lot, Smith says.

“Bunkers are everywhere and in places where you first wonder why. Then the wind changes and suddenly they’re in play,” Smith says. “And the ones by the greens are easy to get into because there’s no fringe. It goes from putting green to bunker lip. If you’re short-sided in one of them, there’s no chance of getting it close to the hole, even from a perfect lie.” Although the sand is consistent, it’s firm, Smith says, and sometimes requires a steeper downswing. “But not always. Like everything else about the course, you have to adapt from shot to shot.”