Sandy Golf Links is the new home of Australian golf, and there’s an open-door policy at this public Sandbelt facility.
Driving down Cheltenham Rd in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs usually means only one thing for a golfer: you’re about to play Royal Melbourne.
The drive never gets any less exciting, regardless of how many times you’ve played the 36-hole masterpiece.
Usually, golfers turn right off Cheltenham Rd into Royal Melbourne, which is home to the famed East and West courses. The West course is ranked No.5 in the world and No.1 in Australia.
But now, turning left into the newly minted Sandy Golf Links feels like you’re entering perhaps the most important golf facility in Australia.
Within 15 minutes of being at Sandy Golf Links, it’s clear this golf facility has the tools to lead the way in retaining the casual golfers who picked up a club during various stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s relaxed, fun and not intimidating to those who have never played, or who play only a handful of times a year.
And that’s exactly what the forward-thinking mob behind Sandy Golf Links set out to achieve when undertaking the mission to revamp and rebrand Sandringham golf course in order
to offer quality Sandbelt golf to the
Sandy Links reopened for play in late 2020 with its centrepiece being an 18-hole golf course designed by acclaimed Australian architect Mike Cocking, of the Ogilvy Cocking Mead firm. The course is maintained by Royal Melbourne’s greens staff who have a team to carry out the work across the road. Sandy’s greens also use the same Sutton’s Mix bentgrass as Royal.
Complementing Sandy’s refreshing mantra, “We’re a golf facility, not a golf club,” are the recently completed putting course, 30-bay driving range and a cool café that sits deliberately in lieu of a clubhouse.
To the hardcore golfer, Sandy Golf Links feels like you’re at a Sandbelt course. But to the general public, it doesn’t look like a private golf club. There are men and women, boys and girls teeing off in T-shirts and sneakers, but there are also serious players dressed head-to-toe in the latest golf brands who are here to try this new public course they’d heard was designed by OCM.
Everyone’s here – even LPGA Tour players like Su Oh, who on the day of Australian Golf Digest’s visit walked out of the Golf Australia/PGA of Australia’s high-performance facility, which is housed on site.
It certainly doesn’t feel like your typical golf club when the general manager personally makes the coffee he has just offered this writer upon entering the café.
Philip Drew finishes steaming the milk on my flat white when he talks passionately about wanting a facility that asks golfers what they want to do when visiting, not telling them what they must do.
“I think clubs are changing slightly now,” Drew says. “I think they’re becoming a lot more understanding of the fact that they need to be more welcoming, more engaging and encouraging the family unit to come down and hang out and not just the golfer. There’s a long way to go but you have to start somewhere.”
After the coffee, I head down to the state-of-the-art driving range to warm up. There are 30 bays all fitted out with Toptracer technology, with golfers hitting balls onto a properly maintained practice fairway with target greens
The golf course itself certainly lives up to the hype of being a rustic, fun and much shorter tribute to Royal Melbourne. Cocking and his team have done a wonderful job of creating a thoughtful collection of seven par 3s and 11 par 4s that utilise the natural topography and terrain, which are similar to its world-class neighbour. The rugged bunkering is the feature of Sandy that best resembles a Sandbelt layout.
The fourth hole is a spectacular, dogleg par 4 that features a sprawling sandy waste area around the tee and a generous fairway that bends to the right. The approach shot is a product of well-executed Sandbelt philosophy; one side of the fairway (the left side in this case) is easier than the right to hit from the tee but presents a tougher second shot over the lone greenside bunker to the left.
Sandy measures just 4,875 metres from the purple tees but offers a good challenge around the greens. Shaved areas around the green complexes allow golfers to play a variety of shots. The longest hole at Sandy, the eighth, measures just 390 metres. The finishing hole is hilariously named ‘Avago’ because, at 280 metres, it politely nudges golfers to go for the green.
“The idea for a short course came from the fact the client wanted to retain 18 holes (from the old Sandringham site),” Cocking tells Australian Golf Digest.
“The more we thought about it, one of the great features of Sandbelt golf are the par 3s and short par 4s. So it wouldn’t be a terrible thing to have a golf course that’s almost made up entirely of sub-340-metre par 4s and par 3s because they appeal to everyone.
“You wouldn’t be upset playing the third hole at Kingston Heath or 10 West at Royal Melbourne every day of the week, because they’re engaging and interesting and always pose lots of different decisions for the golfer to make.
“We thought if we can have good variety with the par 3s, have some good variety with the short par 4s and build greens consistent with its Sandbelt neighbours, we could create scenarios that allowed public golfers to experience the beauty of Sandbelt golf, which is not always easy for them to do. For $50, you can go to Sandy and get an authentic experience.”
But the appeal of Sandy doesn’t just rest on the quality of the design and the land, it’s the atmosphere created by a series of guidelines printed on the back of the scorecard that encourage beginners to just have fun. Four of
It’s OK to not keep score.
It’s OK to play from the shortest tees.
It’s OK to give yourself a better lie by rolling the ball around a little.
It’s OK to tee the ball up anywhere when you are first learning.
The attitude is refreshing and inclusive. It’s why the facility has been wildly popular since reopening as Sandy Golf Links. But the project isn’t finished just yet.
“Once we get our food and beverage offering more established over the next 12 months, we’ll be encouraging families just to come down on a Friday night and have a pizza out of the woodfire oven, or a glass of wine while the kids can play on the putting course,” Drew says.
“The reason we call this a ‘golf facility’ and not a ‘golf club’ is because we want everyone to feel they are a golfer when they come here, whether they’re playing 18 holes, hitting balls on the range or just putting.”
Did you know?
Sandy Golf Links is the new home of Australian golf, with the Australian Golf Centre acting as the headquarters for Golf Australia, the PGA of Australia, Golf Victoria and Sandringham Golf Links Management. The $19 million project was primarily funded by the Victorian Government’s $15 million investment and features the National High Performance Centre for elite golfers.
Sandy Golf Links
Where: Cheltenham Rd, Cheltenham VIC 3192
Phone: 0477 774 633