By Evin Priest
Ten years after hosting a memorable Australian Open, we explore why the Mornington Peninsula is still Australia’s most complete golfing destination.
The year 2005 was momentous for Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. In late November, Moonah Links staged its second Australian Open – a tournament Robert Allenby would win before adding the Australian PGA Championship and Masters to complete the historic Triple Crown. Months earlier, the Peninsula Hot Springs were opened to the public and fast became the region’s headline attraction. Tourists flocked to the Japanese-inspired concept of bathing in 54-degree natural mineral water extracted 637 metres from underground. A decade on, the Mornington Peninsula remains our nation’s premier golf holiday haven. Among the cluster of 15 golf clubs boasting 19 enjoyable layouts, there’s world-class food, wine and recreation. We head back to explore some of the highlights – and offer a guide to each.
“Public most welcome … open seven days.”
It’s not often you drive through the gates of an iconic Australian Open venue and see such inviting signage. But the fact is, Moonah Links is one of the most accessible golf facilities to have hosted our national championship – twice. But not just for tourists. Moonah Links has opened its doors to the students of nearby Boneo Primary School, providing weekly clinics for the kids in a concerted effort to grow the game.
After designing the Open Course at Moonah Links, Peter Thomson said, “Visitors will get a whiff of what top championship play is really like.” Indeed, the first golf course designed specifically to stage the Australian Open is one of the few places where one can walk in the shoes of the pros.
This championship layout of 6,783 metres (back tees) will test every facet of your game, from deceptive tee shots, to greens with treacherous runoffs and embankments. The first hole is an embodiment of Thomson’s mantra; a short par 4 that tempts the golfer to take on the corner to set up a short approach to a green perched high among the Moonah trees. When the pin is cut at the front, approach shots not inch-perfect will roll 40m back down the fairway.
Highlights include the par-4 third hole, which requires a long drive to reach a shelf 130m from the green – to avoid a completely blind approach shot.
The closing holes on the Open Course make for a grandstand finish, with the penultimate par-3 17th and the 582m, par-5 18th acting as a final exam on your scorecard.
Moonah Links is a truly memorable test of golf, allowing visitors to experience the skills required of tour players while offering numerous tee options for shorter, easier versions of the layout.
Our tip: With two fantastic courses (Legends Course included), you’re going to need a couple of days at “The Home of Australian Golf.” Social trips or business conferences will enjoy the world-renowned Moonah Links Golf Academy. This includes three separate accommodation houses sleeping up to 40 people, driving range, large putting green, pitching area, bunker and chipping green, gym, four private offices and a lecture theatre. Heading down with a partner or friends? Stay at the delightful Peppers Resort, only a 30-second walk from the pro shop and restaurant.
St Andrews Beach Golf Course
Not only is St Andrews Beach among Australia’s most beautiful links courses, it’s arguably one of the closest experiences to British links golf this side of catching a flight to Scotland. Renowned architect Tom Doak carved St Andrews Beach out of The Cups region of the Mornington, a short iron from Gunnamatta Beach.
This layout is typical of Doak’s style; the natural topography of the land determines the undulations and routing of the course. At St Andrews Beach, it feels as though you’re playing a course designed by nature, but built by man. Maneuvering through valleys that weave between sand dunes covered by native vegetation is surreal. For that reason, the third hole [pictured] stands out. This strategic par 4 demands a semi-blind tee shot where the golfer can take on the dogleg down the right side, or play safe to the left. A bottleneck green tucked in the middle of two dunes requires a shot through a narrow opening, unless you’re confident using the dunes left or right to feed the ball back to the pin.
Our tip: It may sound crazy – given how cold and windy this course can play – but walking St Andrews Beach makes for an incredibly authentic links adventure. There’s something special about rugging up, putting a beanie under your hat and feeling every undulation as you walk through cavernous valleys and test your shots against the wind.
Given The Dunes is credited with inspiring a renaissance of links golf in Australia, this pioneering layout is a must-play while you’re down here. Tony Cashmore crafted this gem on a canvas of 300 acres of gently rolling sand dunes in The Cups region at Rye. And of all the holes on the Mornington that resemble British links courses, the 17th at The Dunes is widely acknowledged to be the best imitation – Tom Watson once described the hole [right] as “an exquisite golf hole.” Cashmore designed this 179m par 3 to be a carbon copy of ‘Redan’ at North Berwick, evident in the long cavernous bunker short left of the elevated putting surface. The impressive testimonials of Australia’s No.16-ranked course includes this from US PGA Tour superstar Jason Day: “I love all the peninsula courses but The Dunes stands out. A funky layout that is so much fun to play.”
Our tip: Cashmore’s love affair with Scotland’s iconic North Berwick Golf Course is evident throughout The Dunes – particularly with the Cups nine-hole course. The 2,316m, par-33 layout has four par 3s and is reminiscent of North Berwick’s children’s course. Allow a couple of extra hours at The Dunes and enjoy this masterpiece.
The National: Old Course
Every golfer remembers the first time they played the Old Course at The National. It’s particularly ironic that as I was teeing off on this breathtaking Robert Trent Jones Jr layout, the world’s best players were up in arms about his maligned coastal Washington project – Chambers Bay. But while Henrik Stenson was “putting on broccoli” at the US Open, this writer was blown away by the course that came in at No.10 on Australian Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses. The aura of The National stems from its picturesque Cape Schanck location, and the Old Course is chiselled out of rolling sand dunes and towering cliffs. Here, some spectacular tee shots make for a golfing roller coaster ride up sand dunes and cliffs, and down valleys and gullies. The signature hole is the 139m seventh [below] and is among the country’s best par 3s. A precise tee shot requires a carry over the ravine, or at worst a tiny bailout area on the right, to a large undulating green. Once on the green, take a minute to look out over Bass Strait and the waves breaking against the peninsula.
Our tip: The National offers three world-class golf courses on its Cape Schanck site. Where else in the world can you play courses designed by Trent Jones Jr, Greg Norman (Moonah Course) and Peter Thomson (Thomson, Wolveridge & Perrett’s Ocean Course) in walking distance of each other? Set aside at least two days, so you can play all three gems while you’re here.
Peninsula Hot Springs
The Peninsula Hot Springs celebrated its 10-year anniversary in June, and with 400,000 visitors annually, has remained the jewel in the Mornington crown. Since opening the Spa Dreaming Centre (stage one) in 2005, the Bath House (second stage) was added in 2009. The Bath House’s appeal is relaxing in 36 to 42-degree water (depending on the pool) in 20 different bathing experiences. Fresh water constantly pumps into the pools and bathing for at least 15 minutes will get blood circulating to revitalise muscles and joints. Co-founder Charles Davidson conceptualised this Victorian facility after studying the hot springs in Japan. With landscaped garden pathways, pools and wooden bathtubs, the Peninsula Hot Springs captures the Japanese inspiration but with an Australian hinterland feel.
The Bath House includes a cave pool, reflexology walk, Turkish steam bath (Hamam), sauna, cold plunge pools, family bathing area and massaging thermal mineral showers. But the highlight of the Bath House is the 360-degree view Hilltop pool. The steep climb is rewarded with incredible views across Moonah Links and the rolling hills of the Peninsula.
The Spa is more secluded than the Bath house and tailored to pampering, with private pools for guests 16 years and older, as well as spa treatments, Aboriginal-inspired Kodo full body massages, facials, mud and salt wraps and ancient healing stone experiences. It’s worth setting aside an afternoon to indulge in a massage and coffee, tea, lunch (daily) or dinner (Thursday through Saturday nights) in the comfort of a robe. The Hot Springs is set to cement its star status in this region with plans for more bathing experiences, accommodation and a restaurant.
Our tip: For the Bath House, the best time to go is early morning, just after 8am. The springs are cleaned and refreshed overnight, with the hottest water pumped back in the morning. Wearing older swimsuits is ideal as the hot water may fade some of the colours in newer garments, while thongs are also essential.
At the very tip of the Mornington Peninsula sits a truly enjoyable and beautiful golf course away from the championship toughness of the region’s other layouts. The short par 4s at Portsea are easily the highlight. These strategic holes will provoke the golfer to weigh up risk and reward, particularly on the first (308m), fifth (314m), sixth (330m), ninth (338m) 10th (256m) and 15th (267m). Portsea has undergone a number of design upgrades, including moves to make bunkering more strategic. Enjoy the views across Port Phillip Bay from elevated tee boxes, as well as the well-conditioned Santa Ana couch fairways and quick greens.
Our tip: Play Portsea at the end of your trip. After navigating the golf ball around some of Victoria’s toughest layouts, the shorter layout (5,747m) of Portsea is a welcome change with less penal rough and more generous green complexes. Staying at the attached Mercure is also ideal for golfers seeking the convenience of staying beneath the clubhouse, and waking up to breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the course and the ocean.
Food and Wine
The rich red soil of this region produces world-renowned pinot noir and shiraz, as well as mouth-watering seasonal produce. The Mornington is famous for wineries such as Red Hill, Main Ridge, Merricks, Balnarring, Moorooduc and Dromana. But it also boasts a delectable network of restaurants offering fusions of North African, French and local cuisine to classic European and modern Australian.
Our tip: Indulge in the fine dining of Terminus at the Flinders Hotel – Chef ’s Hat recipients again this year. You won’t be disappointed.
MORNINGTON PENINSULA GOLF COURSE GUIDE
Devilbend Golf Club
Loders Road Moorooduc VIC 3933
(03) 5978 8405
The Dunes Golf Links
335 Browns Rd, Rye VIC 3941
(03 ) 5985 1334
Eagle Ridge Golf Club
Browns Road, The Cups, VIC 3939
(03) 5988 6341
Flinders Golf Club
Bass Street. Flinders VIC 3929
(03) 5989 0583
Peter Thomson Drive, Fingal, VIC 3939
(03) 5988 2047
Mornington Golf Club
Tallis Drive, Mornington VIC 3931
(03) 5975 2784
Mt Martha Golf Club
Forest Drive, Mt Martha VIC 3934
(03) 5974 2266
The Cups Dri, Cape Schanck VIC 3939
(03) 5988 6666
Portsea Golf Club
46 London Bridge Road Portsea VIC 3944
(03) 5981 6155
RACV Cape Schanck Resort
Trent Jones Drive
Cape Schanck vic 3939
(03) 5950 8100
Rosebud Country Club
207 Boneo Road Rosebud VIC 3939
(03) 5950 0800
Rosebud Park Golf Club
1 Elizabeth Drive Rosebud VIC 3939
Safety Beach Country Club
10 Country Club Drive Safety Beach VIC 3936
(03) 5981 0100
Sorrento Golf Club
Langford Rd Sorrento VIC 3943
(03) 5984 2626
St Andrews Beach
209 Sandy Rd, St Andrews Beach VIC 3941
(03) 5988 6000