DAY 7 - MORNINGTON PENINSULA
Melbourne has many great golf courses and we only scratched the surface on our trip. However, we decided to take the trip south to the Mornington Peninsula to see two of Australia’s best courses and see a little of life outside the Sandbelt.
ROUND 9 - ST ANDREW’S BEACH
We left central Melbourne at 7am and before 8:30 we were at St Andrew’s Beach. Watch out for the speed cameras which are subtle - and prolific - all the way down.
St Andrew’s Beach is a Tom Doak course (there is a LOT of love for Doak in these parts) and he says that, of his creations, this is the one he would like to play every day. Originally it was going to be the centrepiece of a high-end private club, but the money didn’t work out. Rather than being left to go to rack and ruin, the course is now managed as a wonderfully good value pay and play course.
The skies were grey when we arrived and we sheltered in the slightly makeshift-looking cabin/cafe/shop as the wind rattled around us. The guy at the desk was really pleasant and happily heated up a few sausage rolls. It turns out this is not something to be taken for granted in Australia. In the UK you will always get a bacon roll or the like before you head out in the morning. In Melbourne, we discovered, this wasn’t a racing certainty. Metropolitan - I’m looking at you!
I should mention here that this was a ridiculously good value tee time. We paid a mere $59 (just over £30) for our midweek, morning round. People, quite rightly, rave about the good value at Barnbougle but I think St Andrew’s Beach beats it. When I emailed, a couple of months out, to inquire about a tee time the answer was immediate and they were really friendly and welcoming.
Doak says that there was virtually no earth-moving required here and the course was just waiting to be laid out. Others say there was more earth moving than he might lead you to believe, but it is definitely wonderful land for building a golf course on. You really feel that greens were just mown a bit shorter than the fairways and the bunkers were simply made by scooping them out with a digger. This is one of the most natural-feeling ‘new’ courses I have seen.
If you want to read a little more about the course then this article from Golf Club Atlas does a great job
The course has delicious variety in hole length, with many ‘½’ holes to enjoy, like the short 2nd and 14th. While the overall yardage is only 6,200 yards from the white tees, it is a par 70 so definitely provides a good test and it didn’t feel like a short course.
Like most of Doak’s other work, this isn’t a course where you have to be too fearful from the tee. You’ll be able to find the short stuff relatively easily but the second shots will often require imagination into well protected, and often small, greens.
I found this a really accessible course. You didn’t have to be a low handicap to get a few birdie opportunities and, while you never see the sea, the views of the golf course are wonderful at times.
The weather did clear up a little, but we were playing in far from perfect conditions and it says a lot that we were still raving about the course long after we came off, despite the weather.
I’m glad to say I managed to get another point on the board at St Andrew’s Beach and so, with a spring in my step at least, we jumped in the car for the 10 minute drive to the nearby National Golf Club.
ROUND 10 - THE NATIONAL GOLF CLUB (MOONAH)
The National Golf Club is quite a place. On the property you’ll three find golf courses and one of the most impressive modern clubhouses I’ve seen. Given our extensive warm-up at St Andrew’s Beach we didn’t use the practice facilities but they looked fantastic, including a putting green on the roof!
We received a great welcome in the clubhouse - the staff were attentive, full of information and keen to ensure we had a good experience.
I have talked a lot about the warmth of the locals we met on this trip. We had another great example of this at The National. A member, Brian, had seen my tweet about our trip and sent me a note asking if he could join us at The National. Brian knows the course intimately, having been a member since it opened, and wanted to make sure we had a great experience there. I was just blown away by his thoughtfulness. Golf is a great game for meet like-minded people and making new friends, but I experienced that in unusual abundance in Australia.
Had we been there a few weeks later, we would probably have tried to get on to the newly renovated Ocean Course as well. As the name implies, the course lies closer to the Ocean and has been completely redone by Doak and his team in the last year. Previously, the course was a Peter Thomson design and it would be fair to say that some felt more could have been done with the property. We got to see a few of the new holes on our way round, and a breathtaking view of the opening and closing holes from the clubhouse. The work Doak has done will surely elevate it to one of the top courses in the country. The course is being renamed the Gunnamatta - not to be confused with the other Tom Doak Gunnamatta course a 10 minute drive away! Some things in this world make little sense!
It was a windy day when we arrived and our host assured us that we would find the Moonah a little more forgiving than the Old Course - and he was right. The course names Norman and Harrison as the designers but, from what we have heard, Bob Harrison should take most of the credit. He apparently spent an inordinate amount of time on the premises trying to determine the best routing. When you see the property you will understand why. You could comfortably build another 3 courses in the land adjacent to the course and the choices he had were pretty much endless.
So, what to expect?
Firstly, I had read some comments on the top100golfcourse.com site saying that this course was just too difficult for the average golfer in the wind, from even the forward tees. Given that we were in a crazy run of 36 hole days (the arms were getting heavy) and the wind was up, I was a little nervous. But there was no need for fear. Yes, it was a test, but it isn’t a course that will destroy you.
Secondly, you get plenty of width from the fairways so you don’t need to be too intimidated. However, there are spines galore which will take your ball to the ‘good’ side or the ‘bad side’ which may then prevent you shooting the lights out. But it won’t impede your fun. The grass plays with some pace but it will never get as fiery as a Scottish links course.
Next, conventional wisdom says you should make your score on the first 11 holes as the final stretch, into the wind, will definitely have you reaching for a few long clubs. Conventional wisdom is correct!
The course has been very cleverly designed, with subtlety and nuance that will force you to think. The bunkering is superb and scoring around the greens will require a great deal of imagination. If you can score well over the traditional links of Scotland and Ireland then I suspect you will do well here.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to The National and the Moonah course. The whole set-up in the clubhouse was great. Sure, it’s a far cry from the tradition and history of Royal Melbourne or Kingston Heath, but you get the impression that this is a place for people who want golf, golf and more golf. They have a love and passion for the game and, by the looks of what Doak is creating, a desire to make things even better.
We could have stayed and talked to Brian all evening but we had to head back to Melbourne for our last meal and to get packed up. The drive back was easy and by 8:30 we were out in the fantastic Movida restaurant for some incredibly high quality, tasty tapas and Spanish fare. We ate very well in Melbourne and we felt very comfortable walking around the city.
This trip was always going to be purely about the golf, but Melbourne felt like it would be a great city to live in. Friendly people, lovely restaurants and plenty of things to do to keep you occupied.
Alas though, our week was almost up. We were able to squeeze in rounds at two of the most famous Melbourne course en route to the airport. Would be do justice to the bunkers at Metropolitan? Would we still be able to walk at Victoria? All will be revealed!!
Part 1 - From Edinburgh to King Island, and something very special
Part 2 - Barnbougle - Two Modern Classics
Part 3 - Sandbelt Golf and a podcast debut