A Golf Club on the Move
The history of golf in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne – including that of Box Hill Golf Club – is traced back to Surrey Hills. The Surrey Hills Golf Club was one of the first three golf clubs formed in Victoria, its origins dating to 1892, with a course established over dairy farms and unfenced areas in land between Mont Albert Station and Whitehorse Road. At that time, the other two clubs were Melbourne (later Royal Melbourne) and Geelong.
Two world wars impacted on the development of the game, clubs and courses, resulting in a lack of continuity. The urban sprawl also contributed to courses appearing and disappearing.
The Riversdale Cup, the second oldest amateur golf tournament in Australia and flagship event of the Riversdale Golf Club, began life as the Surrey Hills Gentlemen’s Championship Gold Medal played at Surrey Hills from 1896 when the course was extended to 18 holes from the original nine. The event was played as the Riversdale Trophy from 1909 to 1926 and has been known as the Riversdale Cup since 1928. The Surrey Hills Golf Club succumbed to the urban sprawl in 1907 when an auction of public land for subdivision usurped some of the course’s holes, making golf impossible.
Members formed the Riversdale Golf Club to take up a lease on land in East Camberwell. They opened their clubhouse in 1908. In 1924 the club bought the St John’s Wood Estate at Burwood and the new course bearing the Riversdale name came into play in 1927. Meanwhile, others from Surrey Hills had banded together, in 1909, to establish a 9-hole course on land between Albion Road and Whitehorse Road, now occupied by the Box Hill Cemetery, and the name Middleborough Golf Club was adopted.
Four years later, a move was again forced on the golfers by subdivision; a group of the golfers formed the Box Hill Golf Club and moved to a site just south of Canterbury Road (then known as Delaney Road) where a 9-hole course was established. The first AGM of the Box Hill Golf Club was held on 25 April 1913.
The club yet again fell victim to subdivision in 1924 and leased property along Doncaster Road where an 18-hole course was laid out among the orchards. A new committee was formed, taking over the assets of Box Hill Golf Club and adopting the name Eastern Golf Club. Box Hill Club as a separate entity remained in recess until the name was resurrected in 1933 when Mr J.P.C Wellard built the “The Box Hill Public Golf Links” on the site of much of today’s front nine. A group of social players formed a new version of Box Hill Golf Club.
Mr Wellard carried out significant work, laying out fairways, tees and greens and developing a reticulated water system. The Depression years in the 1930s saw a slow-down of development. In 1938, some members of the Eastern Golf Club banded together to buy land in the sand belt area from the Melbourne Hunt Club at East Oakleigh and opened a course as Huntingdale Golf Club in 1941.
The war years further slowed development of the Box Hill Links but soon afterwards, a course was in play. In 1952, the social players of the Box Hill Golf Club who had played at the Box Hill Links approached Mr Wellard to sell to them the land of the course he had built. Agreement was reached on a price of $75,000 but the club could not raise all the money. So, it bought only half of the land that would be necessary for an 18-hole course. In 1967, the club leased from the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works enough land to construct an 18-hole course.
In 1956, the club successfully applied for a liquor licence, something of an unusual occurrence in what was essentially a “dry area”. Contrary to local rumour, the club advertised its application in The Argus dated 11 March 1955; some people had complained the application had only been advertised in a remote country newspaper to avoid coming to notice locally where there might be objections. The myth is still being perpetuated today in some publications.
From the 1980s onwards, the club developed considerably. New clubrooms were constructed and the club successfully negotiated the purchase of all land it previously leased from Melbourne Water Corporation (formerly the MMBW), Melbourne Parks and Waterways and Whitehorse City Council. The new land to the north was developed in to two new golf holes (present 15th and 16th) which in turn provided scope for the re-development of holes 13, 14, 17 and 18. The result has been the achievement of a challenging 18-hole golf course that continues to evolve.
A marker near the tees on the 15th and 17th holes of the Box Hill course identifies an area of historical significance in Australian art history. During the summer of 1885/1886, Tom Roberts camped with Frederick McCubbin and Louis Abrahams in the bush along Gardiner’s Creek near where the current tees are located. It was here that they produced some of their celebrated works.