75th Anniversary: Birth of the Spring Valley Golf Club

Published on 21st September 2023 in 75th Anniversary, Latest News, Public Latest News

Many of the great clubs whose home is on Melbourne’s famed stretch of golfing land known as the Sandbelt began their existences in another place.  Spring Valley Golf Club was born from similar origins.  When the Kingswood Golf Club moved from its home in Dandenong to Dingley in 1937, the course at Dandenong remained open to golf and became known as the Forest Hills Golf Course.  It was open to the public but keener golfers could become members of the Forest Hills Golf Club for a reasonable annual membership subscription. However, following World War II the course was in poor condition and many members of Forest Hills wanted a better alternative to their course which played over flat ground.

Faced with waiting lists at other private clubs and costly entrance fees, and with a desire to continue friendships with their fellow golfers, a dedicated group of members set out to find suitable land and build a course of their own. 

In early 1947, the Committee of the Club asked its President, Philip Courtney, to look for suitable land to purchase.  Courtney began asking around the local market gardens.  Club Captain, Jack Leech, also made enquiries.  Leech was a well known hairdresser and tobacconist in Springvale.  Many local identities and businessmen came into his shop and Leech made the Forest Hills club’s need for land for a golf course well known to all of them.  One of those local identities was local councillor, William Dunlop.  Dunlop was an orchardist who owned 70 acres of land on Heatherton Road.  He expressed some interest in selling or leasing the land.  Negotiations commenced and Courtney was given authority by the Committee in August 1947 to continue negotiations.

Local course architect and Kingston Heath superintendent, Vernon Morcom, was retained to advise on the suitability of Dunlop’s land for a golf course.  Morcom reported that Dunlop’s land was indeed suitable but that at least 125 acres was required to make a good golf course.  Discussions commenced with surrounding landowners and eventually Courtney secured agreement from four landowners to the north east of Dunlop’s land to sell their properties to the new club.  The four parcels to the east of Dunlop land totalling 66 acres were owned by Messrs Cochrane, Ball, Locandro and Dear.   The club negotiated to purchase each of the parcels at £100 per acre.  Mr Ball would only sell his land if another parcel of land could be found for him in the area.  The Club was able to purchase 7.5 acres of land, to the west of Dunlop’s land, which it sold to Mr Ball for a small profit.

An extraordinary general meeting of the Forest Hills Golf Club was held on 18 February 1948 at which a motion was carried (by 32 of the 44 members in attendance) that included:

a) approval for expenditure of £40,000 to purchase land, construct a golf course and erect a clubhouse;

b) raise eight hundred £50 debentures – all members of the new club would be required to take up at least one debenture;

c) approval for joining fees for new members set at £21 for an ordinary member (existing members with debentures were excluded from the requirement to pay a joining fee); and

d) to acquire (by lease or purchase) the land for a golf course, to construct the course and erect a clubhouse.

Additionally, a joining fee for the new club was set at £3/3/- for existing members of the Forest Hills Golf Club on top of the yearly £1 ongoing club subscription.  46 members paid up.

In June 1948 upon the signing of contracts to purchase the land, the Committee sought from all members of the new venture club an advance of £12/10/- to cover the expenses of the deposits.  By August 1948, a number of members of the new club venture did not pay the first instalment on their debentures and their memberships of the new club venture were terminated and their joining fees refunded.   Despite this, the deposits were paid for the purchases of land east of Dunlop’s land.

On 21 September 1948, the First General Meeting of Members of the Spring Valley Golf Club was held in the Caulfield Recreation Club Hall.  The name, Spring Valley Golf Club, was formally adopted by members.  The name was derived from the name of Dunlop’s land, the Spring Valley Estate, so called because of the natural springs on the property.  According to Dunlop’s sister some years later, the springs served as a source of water to many people in the local community, even in the driest of years.

The Club’s first Committee of 8 members was elected.  Immediately after the general meeting, the Committee elected Phillip Courtney as the Club’s first president and Jack Leech as the Club’s first Captain. Phillip Courtney’s son, Doug, was elected as first Treasurer.

By the end of 1948, the Club had accepted 48 new members. In December 1948, the Club engaged Vern Morcom as its architect for a fee of 150 guineas and appointed Ern Tilley as head greenkeeper for £9 a week.  Clearing of the land commenced soon afterwards.  Doug Courtney recalled, “The first, second and seventh holes were heavily timbered.”  The area was covered with stands of “spindly tea tree”. “The land on which the original clubhouse stood was owned by a dentist who liked the country life. He had not done much with it… Morcom came and pegged the course out. He walked it and put his measurements on the original plan. He marked tees and greens with stakes and also put up markers to show the shot positions.”  Accordingly to Courtney’s account in the 1994 Club History, “Morcom had to push his way through the thick foliage and fix into the ground tall saplings, topped with white rags, to mark out the fairways, greens, tees and shot positions.

In February 1948, Morcom presented his plan for the course to the Committee.

The first inspection by members of the Club’s land occurred on 20 February 1949. The Committee approved the purchase of 27 gallons of beer (102 litres), a tin of biscuits and half a wheel of cheese for the event.

Over the next two and a half years Tilley and his small crew worked tirelessly to construct the course.  A group of dedicated members assisted Tilley every Friday and on weekends felling trees, digging out stumps, laying drainage and planting couchgrass.  It would have been prohibitively expensive to purchase couchgrass stolons to grass the whole course, so members would scour the sides of roads and local market gardens on weekends, collecting the stolons and bringing them back for planting on the course.

In December 1950, the Club purchased an additional property south of the 11th hole.  It was known as Dellwood Park, on which there was a weatherboard farmhouse that was converted into the first clubhouse. 

By mid 1951, 9 holes were complete and Phil Courtney opened the course by striking the first drive on 30 June 1951.  The remaining holes were completed by 1953. 

And. So, the journey had begun.

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