Photography by Gary Lisbon
There is something mystical about walking into Huntingdale. It is still indisputably a spiritual home of golf in this country. So much of its rich history is inextricably linked to the halcyon days in golf.
The galleries flocked to Huntingdale for a generation of Australian Masters where childhood memories were etched and lifelong attachments to the game forged. They thronged to the Masters like they do for an AFL grand final or NRL State of Origin clash. Their eyes were ablaze with anticipation and optimism, not unlike expectant racegoers on Melbourne Cup or Cox Plate days. The atmosphere was electric from day one. Every moment was filled with high drama.
If you thought Augusta erupted when Tiger won his fifth Masters in April, it was nothing compared to the hype that surrounded a young, flaxen-haired Greg Norman at Huntingdale at the peak of his powers. The Shark made the event his own, donning six of those garish gold winners’ jackets that only a man of his physique and rugged looks could look good in. Such was his charisma and ball-striking prowess.
This was a happy place for the Shark. He even knocked off Nick Faldo here one year. But we suspect he would gladly have traded at least one, maybe all, of the yellow sports coats for the green one that eluded him at Augusta – most cruelly in 1996, when Faldo put him to the sword.
Memories abound at Huntingdale. Like the time Norman eagled the 14th hole – a 550-metre beast – one of the longest holes in championship golf. The hole doglegs left and right. The Shark hit driver, driver into the teeth of the wind onto the green and holed the putt for eagle. We can almost hear the huge galleries roar their approval. A mere mortal golfer would never dream of getting there. It was a testament to Norman in strokeplay.
We are unashamedly wallowing in nostalgia. We can almost feel and hear the noise reverberating around the course. It always did. That’s the thing with Huntingdale. Its history still evokes so many memories for everyone who comes here. That is because the Masters was played here for more than 30 years and Huntingdale is Australia’s most played tournament course.
Everyone who plays here, even the top Australian professionals, say they got into golf after coming to the Masters or watching it on TV. Every visitor spends 30 minutes, at least, marvelling at the club’s Masters Hall of Fame.
We continue to wallow. In 1999, a young Huntingdale member, Craig Spence, rifled a 6-iron to half a metre from the hole on the 18th to beat Norman by a shot. The massive, three-tiered temporary grandstands around the final green shook to their foundations. And the roar that went up inside the old clubhouse – there’s a new, swish $14 million one there now [left] – almost raised the roof.
So many memories. Craig Parry and Peter Senior won three Masters each. Bradley Hughes won two. Bernhard Langer. Mark O’Meara. Justin Rose. It’s a formidable honour roll.
A litany of Major winners played here, including Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Have a look at the framed plaque on the wall as you pass through the ‘hall’. Not all of them could handle this grand old Sandbelt jewel so lovingly crafted by (Charles) Hugh Alison, a friend and colleague of the great Alister MacKenzie.
Many players’ hopes of victory unravelled at the 12th, Huntingdale’s signature par 3. It’s one of the most photographed holes in the country. Its proximity to the clubhouse meant that everybody knew as soon as disaster struck.
There are some genuinely great holes at Huntingdale, all of them pivotal at some point to the club’s rich tournament history. The eighth, a short par 4, shares a bunker complex with the 10th hole, which some say is one of the most beautiful in the world.
The aerial photographs of this region have been featured around the world – a true Melbourne Sandbelt classic.
The 11th is one of the great shot-making par 4s anywhere. It is slightly uphill off the tee and heavily bunkered on the drive for the low marker. Your second is played from an undulating fairway, threading the eye of a needle to get the ball on the green between two sets of beautiful bunkers. The putting surface is above you and sits at an angle. It requires superlative iron play to make par, let alone birdie.
The golf public would love to have another big tournament here, perhaps a Women’s Australian Open or maybe a Victorian Open-style event with one of its neighbours. Huntingdale last hosted a Masters in 2015 and is regarded as the toughest of the Sandbelt tracks. It is certainly the narrowest. It’s very rare to get a flat lie on your shot into the green; most fairways have bumps and undulations through them, akin to Kingston Heath or Royal Melbourne. Like those courses, it is a stroke-player’s golf course that always finds a true champion.
Huntingdale last hosted a Masters in 2015 and is regarded as the toughest of the Sandbelt tracks. It is certainly the narrowest.
The Sandbelt is famous for its bunkering and Huntingdale is no exception. It has several of them jealously guarding large undulating greens. On most holes, you have to carry your approach over sand onto the green. It is a great challenge, especially for the elite golfer. There’s scope for the higher handicapper to get around. But ultimately it still remains a true championship test – one you simply have to experience.
Huntingdale Golf Club
Where: Windsor Ave, Oakleigh South VIC 3167
Phone: (03) 9579 4622
E-mail: [email protected]
*Huntingdale has equal rights for women and men. This is something of which the club is extremely proud. Membership enquiries can be made through the club.
For more information on a Golfing Great head to Visit Victoria.