The timing was impeccable.
Sandhurst Club this year reached the end of its transition plan just as Peter Thomson announced in August that he was calling an end to a glittered golf course design career.
With the transition (a handover from the developer to the members), Sandhurst formally received the club it had been promised: a residential estate featuring two courses designed by a five-time British Open champion and his team set in Melbourne’s desirable southeastern suburbs.
The 87-year-old’s exodus from the course design business means his signature on layouts around the country (and the world) will take on new significance – they’ll become monuments of golf architecture.
Understandably, most are relics of Open Championship history – the shared green at the first and 17th at Christchurch Golf Club in New Zealand (modelled off the Old Course at St Andrews) comes to mind.
For Sandhurst – the home of the PGA of Australia – the stone stack wall surrounding the North course’s par-3 third will, in time, develop even more notoriety than it already enjoys. So will the burn guarding the ninth green on the same layout.
And they’re just two of the highlights propelling Sandhurst up the list of Victoria’s must-play courses: 36 holes of fantastic yet contrasting golf, plaques dedicated to past Australian PGA Championship winners on each hole of the Champions course and North’s formidable collection of short and long par 4s are merely scratching the surface.
But Sandhurst Club refuses to rest on its laurels. During the transition plan, a health club and additional sports facilities were added, as well as vastly improved hospitality services and entertainment. Highly regarded Programmed Turnpoint was hired to manage the turf while capital projects were undertaken, including 20 kilometres of additional drainage and the installation of matrix bunker systems in all sand hazards.
In August 2016, the intrinsic value of all Thomson’s design projects skyrocketed with his retirement – if only in golfing sentiment.
And when it’s just one of the jewels in Sandhurst Club’s crown, the ambition to be ‘Victoria’s premier residential golf estate’ is certainly within reach.
History at its Finest
Though both layouts are located within the Melbourne Sandbelt area, the Thomson Perrett firm wanted to distinguish their 36-hole creation from the other courses of this world-famous golfing region. The sand-capped base typical of this area – only 45 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD – provides superior golfing year-round, even during winter.
The Champions course is a tree-lined layout that uses fascinating terrain to create an enjoyable round, despite being set amongst a residential estate. The bunkering blends ideally with its natural environment and bold undulations on the greens heighten the excitement.
There are plenty of highlights on this trip down memory lane, but the 11th is particularly memorable. Named after the legendary Norman von Nida, this uphill par 3’s stunning bunker complex must be carried to land on a fiercely contoured putting surface. Our tip: Be sure to soak up the history from plaques on each hole paying homage to past Australian PGA Championship winners.
The North course is far more in tune with Thomson’s affection for links golf. As such, its retrospective appeal stems from the feeling one is playing a course on the Open rota. There’s no doubt Thomson – a five-time Claret Jug winner – is at ease when crafting wide open links-style layouts, and this allows for significant forgiveness from the tee. Lush fairways and tee boxes, along with recently installed bunker matrices (filled with crisp white sand), contribute to the excellent conditioning of this course.
Hitting towards the stonewall enclosing the par-3 third green is one Aussie golf experience you’ll talk about long after the 18th. The Open nostalgia continues with an extensive burn guarding the entrance to the ninth green. Combined with a delightful variation in the long and short par 4s, North makes for a truly memorable round.
Back to the Future
Sandhurst Club, six years ago, developed its first five-year strategic plan in which the vision was to become the state’s best residential golf estate. How? First, they did what any golf course would do: attract and retain a strong membership base, maintain a sought-after and secure lifestyle for residential members and deliver a superior golf experience for all abilities.
“We identified six key strategic pillars: finance, membership, marketing, assets, governance and people,” chief executive Julian Murray tells Australian Golf Digest. “We needed to conquer those six pillars to achieve our vision – to be a robust business and viable in the future.
“We were fortunate we received substantial member support as a result of the transition process from a developer-controlled board to a member-controlled board.”
The appeal of Sandhurst is undoubtedly its acknowledgment of the past. PGA professionals and amateurs alike appreciate the tasteful nod to those who put Australian golf on the map. But as many established golf courses Down Under are discovering, sentimentality simply isn’t enough any more. Golfers want more value from an annual membership, and those paying green fees want an experience, not just a round of golf.
“Our plan is to create a number of distinct competitive advantages: the integration of residential and golf members, engaging our local community, offering a broader array of services compared with a traditional golf club, which minimises the heavy reliance of golf services,” says Murray.
“This includes our health club, additional sports facilities and improved hospitality services and entertainment products.
“We also want to explore the introduction of an innovative new membership model that addresses the declining value proposition and has the ability to attract more members.”
Three years ago, Sandhurst made a significant change to bring in highly regarded turf management group Programmed Turnpoint. The company was tasked with substantially improving the course conditioning while completing an aggressive greens renovation over three years, predominantly on the North Course, to bring them back to their immaculate state at installation.
“A huge improvement has been attained in both areas,” says Murray. “That was assisted by some additional significant capital projects such as 20 kilometres of additional drainage, matrix bunker installation on all bunkers, and fairway top dressing on all 36 holes. Detailed planning for improvements and performance management against clear standards has been the driving force behind this success.”
Given its constant strive for improvement, there’s a good chance the next time you visit Sandhurst Club, it’ll be even better.
75 Sandhurst Blvd, Sandhurst, VIC 3977
(03) 8787 7011
For more information on a Golfing Great head to Visit Victoria.