2019 Presidents Cup goes Down Under

BY T.J. OLWIG — Fall 2019

y playing partner and 35-year member of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Tony Rule, offers this advice as I step to the No. 7 tee box on the club’s West Course, a 147-yard par 3: “Jack Nicklaus would hit a safe 7-iron to the left side of the green.” Though I respect Rule’s course knowledge and the Golden Bear’s trophy case, I can’t get on board with the target or the club selection. Backing off my ball, I reach for
a new stick.

Sure, it’s an uphill shot into an elevated green. Sure, Tiger Woods once called my vantage point “the scariest 150 yards you will ever see.” And, sure, bushy Australian flora litters the hole — not to mention deep bunkers, its main defense. If I take on the flagstick and miss, well, given the state of my sand game, or lack thereof, I’m a shoo-in for double bogey. But the pin is on the right; for any reasonable chance at birdie, my lone goal for the day, I’ll need a short putt on these slippery-as-glass greens, even if my landing spot happens to be the size of a pingpong table. When you’ve taken 20 hours’ worth of flights to play Golf Digest’s third-ranked golf course in the world, and host club of the 2019 Presidents Cup, flag-hunting isn’t just an option — it’s the only option.

Suffice to say, after clubbing down, I carried the bunker by a foot, 2 at most, and knocked in the subsequent 18-footer, a right-to-left swinger that, given the dry conditions, might have rolled to New Zealand had it not hit the cup. The birdie was my first and last of the day. Mission accomplished. Over a beer in the clubhouse after our round, Rule tells some fellow members about my birdie and repeats how Jack would have played the hole. “Now, tell them what club you hit,” he says to me.

“Um, a 9-iron.”

Fast-forward to December, and the stakes will be much higher around here when the U.S. and International teams arrive Down Under for the Presidents Cup, which Australian golf’s crown jewel — Royal Melbourne Golf Club — will host for the third time.

But this year, both teams have added incentive to come out swinging and proudly take home the win, sparking added interest among golf fans around the globe. Historically, the biennial match-play event between the best U.S. golfers and the world’s best players from non-European countries has produced lopsided results, with the Internationals winning just once in 12 meetings, at Royal Melbourne in 1998. When the teams returned to the club for Round 2 in 2011, the U.S. avenged its only blemish, setting up this year’s must-watch tie-breaker, Dec. 12-15. To help you prepare, we serve up this 2019 Presidents Cup primer — along with some fun facts.

THE CAPTAINS: It’s the “Big Cat” in Tiger Woods vs. the “Big Easy” in Ernie Els, former world No. 1s, who, between them, account for 19 major championships and 16 Presidents Cup appearances, including their legendary sudden-death showdown at the 2003 South Africa event that ended in a tie due to darkness. But the biggest question going in? Will Tiger bring his clubs and perform double duty as the rare playing captain?

Fun fact: Els has won three individual events at Royal Melbourne and shot a Composite Course record of 60 in 2004. Tiger, meanwhile, clinched the 2011 Presidents Cup for the U.S. team at Royal Melbourne with his Sunday single’s win over Aaron Baddeley. At 43, he’s the youngest captain in the event’s history.

THE COURSE: For tournaments, Royal Melbourne uses a composite routing: 12 holes from the West Course, widely viewed as an Alister MacKenzie masterpiece, and six holes from the East Course, designed by Alex Russell. Fairways are wide, but — at 7,034 yards — the Composite Course isn’t long. Set on beautiful, undulating land, Royal Melbourne is a strategic golf course that demands both positioning and patience; “target” golf, it’s not. False fronts, large bunkers, and steep slopes await the imprecise shot.

Fun fact: The No. 11 — Eden hole — at St. Andrews in Scotland reminded MacKenzie of the par-3 fifth hole on Royal Melbourne’s West Course (played as the third hole for the Presidents Cup). It’s the only hole MacKenzie saw completed at the Melbourne club. After his 1926 visit to Australia, he never returned.

THE CONDITIONS: The city of Melbourne is known for having four seasons in a single day. If the weather cooperates, the pros will make birdies. But if the wind picks up and the course dries out, as it did on Day 2 in 2011, the already-firm greens are like putting on the lane of a bowling alley, making the best of players look foolish.

Fun fact: In 2011, two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson watched a decent birdie putt go past the hole, nearly stop, and then roll off the green before settling some
20 yards away.

THE TEAMS: At press time in late August, we didn’t know the complete rosters, but Els has made it clear he wants “hungry” players and won’t hesitate to “blood new talent.” He has even revamped the International team logo in an effort to shake up the one-sided rivalry. Aussies Jason Day, Marc Leishman, and Adam Scott hope to spark the home crowd. For the Americans, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka front-load a roster sure to be dripping with talent. But the U.S. team’s shellacking at last year’s Ryder Cup in Guyancourt, France, should serve as a wake-up call, right?

Fun fact: Phil Mickelson, fan favorite and winningest Presidents Cup player of all time, looks to make the U.S. squad at age 49. He has played in every Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup since 1994.

Hole No. 10 on the West Course. PHOTO BY GARY LISBON.

Hole to Watch/Tune in For: No. 6 (Composite Course), 312 yards

One of the world’s best short par 4s, the 10th hole at Royal Melbourne West — played as the 6th hole for the Presidents Cup — ranks as the ultimate risk-reward shot. Its most notable hazard, a massive bunker entrenched in the bend of the left hillside, requires a mere 250-yard carry. The smart play is a smooth iron to the top of the hill, eliminating both it and a swath of native heathland. But conservatism can be punished, too. Swales, deep bunkers, and shaved banks protect the small green. Greg Norman put it best, saying: “You know you can knock it on the green, but you can make eight as quickly as you can blink.” Fireworks will be on full display for the Presidents Cup, especially during four-ball.

How to Play Royal Melbourne

The club does set tee times aside for international visitors. Contact the club ( with a letter of introduction from your home course to begin the process. Royal Melbourne will be closed for play Dec. 2-16 for the Presidents Cup.

Experience Presidents Cup week in Melbourne escorted by Australia native Corinne Goodman, owner and founder of Down Under Endeavours. The U.S.-based travel outfitter is offering three- or five-night journeys hosted by Goodman that include general admission passes to the tournament, a PGA-hosted dinner gala, and — at an additional cost — options such as wine tastings, wildlife encounters, and golf at Melbourne’s Sandbelt golf courses, such as Kingston Heath Golf Club. 888-229-0082;



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