Proposed changes to some of the region’s most iconic layouts should whet the appetite of Mornington Peninsula golf fans.
MAKING changes to any of the three magnificent courses overlooking Bass Strait at The National Golf Club is like adding a few extra strokes of the paintbrush to the Mona Lisa.
But the club’s membership and corporate manager, Matt Lang, says it’s all part of the board’s mantra to have “the best golf courses and practice facilities in the country”.
With this in mind, and pending a vote by members, the venerable architect Tom Doak will be commissioned to upgrade the Ocean course – currently ranked the 38th best course in the country – 15 years after it was designed by Peter Thomson, Ross Perrett and Mike Wolveridge.
The National’s 3,200-strong membership is the biggest of any golf club in the southern hemisphere. The members collectively own the golf courses and all the associated assets. In a recent survey, members indicated they were not altogether happy with the structure of the numerous potbelly bunkers and the shape of the dome-like greens on the Ocean course.
All three layouts – the Old course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr in 1988 and the Moonah crafted by Greg Norman in 2000 are the other two – have their own charm.
There are huge elevations in the Old course that make it a solid walk. On the first, a short par 4, you can be deceived by the landing area off the tee. The par-3 seventh is a gem over a ravine with Bass Strait in the background, while the par-4 10th on the links-style Moonah layout is unique because there is a windmill smack back in the middle of the fairway. It has been there since the land was used for farming and Norman and his former design cohort, Bob Harrison, left it there. Norman says this course is his favourite among the 100 or so he has built around the world.
The Ocean is regarded at the most difficult course at The National and boasts the toughest hole on the complex, the 18th, a strong par 4 usually back into the wind to the clubhouse. Even those with single-figure handicaps are relieved to ‘get home’ in two.
The National recently merged with Long Island Country Club in Frankston, much closer to Melbourne. That course, too, has come along in leaps and bounds and Long Island members now have playing rights at the three majestic National layouts. No wonder they voted more than 90 percent in favour of the merger.
The National was the brainchild of golf visionary, the late David Inglis, co-founder of the Australian Masters at Huntingdale. Inglis sadly died from Motor Neurone Disease, aged 54, in August 2003.
The Old course alone covers an area twice the size of Huntingdale. It is a pity that Inglis is not alive to see the end result of his magnificent vision.
The only way to get a game at The National is to be invited by a member or if you are visiting from interstate or overseas.
Five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson says the Open course at Moonah Links is his magnum opus. It is high praise indeed given that Thomson has had direct involvement in the design of close to 500 layouts around the world.
‘Thommo’ also has a soft spot for the Open, or Championship, course because it was the first 18 holes built and prepared for a national championship.
And how Thomson delighted in watching the world’s best professionals grapple with the course and the elements in the Australian Opens of 2003, won by Peter Lonard, and 2005, when Robert Allenby lifted the Stonehaven Cup for a second time.
At 6,829 metres from the back tees, the Open course remains long and demanding to this day. Deep and frequent bunkering on fairways or guarding the treacherously sloping greens are a feature.
“It is not every man’s casual stroll in the outdoors,” Thomson says in typical understated fashion.
Yet only on championship occasions is it played from the ‘Tiger’ tees. It is not such a stern examination from the more forward tee boxes. Still, many visitors prefer to play the friendlier Legends course designed by Thomson’s partner, Ross Perrett, and opened in 2004.
Thomson ranks the 185-metre 17th hole on the Open course “one of the greatest par-3 holes in the world”. The tee shot is across a valley to a sharply sloping green with any shot hit too strongly in big trouble. And you are punished more severely for the short shot because the apron to the green slopes even more steeply. Many pros who thought they were in with a shout at the two Australian opens and three Nationwide (now Web.Com Tour) events played here have seen their winning chances go up in smoke at the 17th.
Thomson says the Open layout gives club handicappers “a whiff of what championship play is really like”.
Expect to add eight shots to your regular handicap to avoid disappointment.
The 6,315-metre Legends course is a gentler loop through valleys and woodlands and the putting surfaces are less severe. But it’s still no walk in the park.
“The beauty of Moonah Links,” says resort marketing manager Stephanie Doobson, “is that we have two world-class golf courses, both of them very different. And we are a public-access course. You can play golf here every day of the year except Christmas.”
Eagle Ridge Soaring Under New Owners
The ‘under new management’ sign has been up for 12 months since the sale of Eagle Ridge to a Chinese businessman.
The new owner immediately spent $500,000 on machinery and hired extra staff.
General manager Wayne Lucas says the change of ownership is exciting with “the possibilities now endless”.
Plans include hot springs, a new hotel, clubhouse and driving range, interactive facilities and a new course design under the guidance of architect Ross Perrett.
In the meantime, Eagle Ridge has adopted a new ‘fast and fun’ and ‘golf the way you want it’ charter. “We’re wanting to make the golf course perhaps not as challenging as it had become,” Lucas says.
While always regarded as a ‘hidden gem’, Eagle Ridge had become too difficult. With this in mind, a lot of mature vegetation has been removed to make the course more user-friendly. Many of the 100 or so bunkers on the course have either been taken out or had their beds raised.
“People are looking for a challenge but they want to have fun at the same time,” Lucas says.
The course has never been in better condition and a variety of tees cater for golfers of all abilities. “It is also a great course for ladies to play,” Lucas adds.
The four par 3s remain the hallmark of the course. The sixth, with its 155-metre carry from the back tees and bunkering virtually all the way to the green, is considered the layout’s signature hole. The 205m 17th is another great hole, as is the 11th where you tee off from a ‘viewing platform’ overlooking Arthur’s Seat. The 155m, par-3 eighth is the personal favourite of Lucas, mainly because he had an ace there in 2012. A plaque sits in pride of place in his office to prove it.
Portsea Blessed With Good Bones
All the great designers say ‘good bones’ are the essence of any good course: the land must lend itself to golf. In this sense, Portsea Golf Club on the southernmost tip of the Mornington Peninsula has been blessed.
“Through good luck, foresight or both, our course has everything that a links-style golf course should have,” says general manager, Mark Bartrop. “It’s not terribly long (5,747 metres) but if you can play to your handicap at Portsea you can hold your own at any course in Australia,” he adds proudly.
If the rough at Portsea was allowed to grow, it could quite easily be a links course on the coast of Scotland.
Originally a nine-hole layout built by members, it was increased to 18 in the mid-1970s. It was largely designed on the ‘gut feel’ of the course superintendent yet has stood the test of time.
Only now have designers Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead been commissioned to cast their professional eye over the course. It will be a tweak over five years rather than major revamp.
Designer Tony Cashmore’s company carried out a minor renovation when the club sold off some land for housing and built a new, re-positioned clubhouse with 24-room accommodation a few years ago.
The 151m, par-3 13th is generally regarded as the one of the best holes at Portsea. The slightly elevated tee shot is to a green heavily guarded by bunkers. The backdrop to the picturesque hole is stately Delgany, now privately owned but formerly residential care for deaf children.
The 10th is a classic risk-and-reward, short par 4. The big boys might try to drive the green but mere mortals have to make sure their opening strike stays on the top, right-hand side of the severely sloping fairway.
The beauty of Portsea is that you can play it three times in the one week and it will be vastly different on each occasion depending on the wind direction.
The club also prides itself on hard, fast greens, always maintaining their speed at between 10.5 and 11 on the Stimpmeter.
Playing Devilbend’s Advocate
If you want a flora and fauna experience as well as a picturesque game of golf on a fine course, Devilbend at Moorooduc, 10 minutes from Mornington, is a must.
There are huge dams, abundant wildlife, trees and birds – even Cape Barren geese – scattered across the undulating par-71 layout, which has a real country feel to it.
Course builders Eric Horne, Horrie Brown and Len Boorer are hardly household names in the world of golf course design. Even so, by 1975 – two years after a meeting in the local shire hall attended by 80 people resolved to build the course – they had carved out a wonderfully undulating track. The layout is challenging enough for those with handicaps in the mid-range but far from excruciatingly difficult.
The course is in excellent condition with manicured, treelined, couch fairways. There is no rough to speak of and greens are of medium size. Most of the putting surfaces are relatively flat although there are contours in a few of them. The 135-metre, par-3 third is a pretty hole and the course has a number of water carries off the tee if you are game.
Graeme McIntosh, the administration and marketing manager, says Devilbend is unique in that it is run as a not-for-profit organisation.
“The local community benefits out of it, basically,” he says. “We were formed in 1975 on a flora and fauna reserve leased from the Mornington Peninsula Shire. All revenue is ploughed back into improving the golf course.”
Devilbend welcomes new members and the public. With apologies to the Cape Barren geese, social golf clubs are flocking here on Sundays.
Where To Stay
VISITORS to the Mornington Peninsula are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation ranging in standard from two to four stars.
For golfers who like to stay on-site, you can’t go past Peppers at Moonah Links Resort with 35 rooms, one-bedroom suites and open-style quarters in the former golf academy.
“We can cater for everyone here,” says marketing manager, Stephanie Doobson. “We are also only a stone’s throw from 14 other golf courses, which makes Moonah Links a perfect hub for golfers to base themselves.” Moonah Links is also proving popular as a conference centre.
Portsea Golf Club has 24 high-quality hotel rooms incorporated into its relatively new clubhouse. Like Moonah, Portsea is popular with conference and golf groups because of its proximity to so many other courses.
The on-course accommodation for golfers on the Mornington Peninsula will be bolstered considerably with RACV Golf building a 204-room, four-storey hotel and conference centre at its Cape Schanck Resort (pictured). The $152 million development, with sweeping views over Bass Strait, is due to open next April. “We are pretty excited about it,” says resort manager, Conleth Roche. “It will certainly be a big boost to accommodation and the economy in the region.”
The Mornington Peninsula also has numerous bed and breakfast accommodation options; farm and vineyard homestays; motels, hotels and guest houses. Many spectacular private homes are also available for golfers to rent. Often they can accommodate up to 25 people. Some of these properties even have panoramic views of golf courses, Bass Strait and Port Phillip Bay.
Weddings have become a huge business on the Mornington Peninsula with Portsea, Eagle Ridge and Moonah Links all very competitive in the wedding market.
“What we offer is everything for a wedding at the one destination,” says Portsea general manager Mark Bartrop. “For smaller weddings, most guests can stay here as well.”
Mornington Peninsula Golf Tourism’s Pamela McDermott said an increasing number of couples are finding they can have their weddings more affordably on the Mornington Peninsula in a beautiful setting and with exceptional food.
Many of the wineries have on-site accommodation and superb spaces for both the wedding ceremony and the reception afterwards.
The Best Holiday Destination In Australia?
THE Mornington Peninsula used to be little more than a cluster of sleepy seaside towns and farms. There were a few good golf courses – Sorrento, Portsea and Flinders come to mind – but nowhere near the close to 30 there are now.
In those days, the rich and famous had their clifftop holiday houses in Portsea and Sorrento. It was similar to the Hamptons, on Long Island, the holiday destination of affluent New York residents.
Now the Mornington Peninsula – a superb tract of land stretching along the Port Phillip Bay and Bass Strait coastlines from Mornington in the north, to its southern tip at Portsea – is perhaps the best holiday destination in Australia. And it more than holds its own with anything similar in the world.
There is something for everyone; you don’t have to be a golfer. Apart from the wonderful safe bay beaches dotted along the coastline and the more rugged ‘back’ beaches on Bass Strait, there is a huge sailing fraternity with most clubs offering lessons for all age groups. The peninsula hosts world-class sailing events during the year. There are also fishing charters from most of the piers, organised swims with dolphins and seals, sail and paddle boarding, art galleries and farmers’ markets. The list is endless.
Walking – through the historical site of Victoria’s first white settlement at Sullivan Bay or along the Artists’ Trail – and cycling the many tracks are hugely popular.
Away from the sun and sand, the Enchanted Maze and Adventure Park and the Arthur’s Seat Eagle Chairlift are premium family attractions. Peninsula Hot Springs [pictured] is a fabulous place to be pampered and welcomed 500,000 visitors last year.
A car and passenger ferry service operates between Queenscliff and Sorrento linking the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas on opposite sides of Port Phillip Bay. Every day scores of passengers meander up the hill to vibrant Sorrento’s main street, to the many eateries, designer-stores, galleries and the wonderful Antipodes Book Shop.
Wineries abound on the Mornington Peninsula, including the top-end establishments like Ten Minutes by Tractor, Montalto and Port Phillip Estate. But there are many other wonderful, relatively inexpensive wineries in the area. Quealy Estate is always popular and so is the recently opened Jackalope boutique hotel at Willow Creek Estate.
Pamela McDermott from Mornington Peninsula Golf Tourism (MPGT) says: “It is always a pleasure to talk about golf on the peninsula plus all our other attractions. I live down here and have been coming here for a long time. I love the Mornington Peninsula.”
MPGT is a not-for-profit organisation formed by the 15 local golf clubs within the Mornington Peninsula Shire boundary to promote golf in the region. There are 19 courses under the MPGT umbrella.
A golf highlight of any trip should be to play the MPGT Golf Trail. Play seven courses and you receive a free cap and polo shirt. Play all of them to receive a free framed print. No other ‘golf trail’ in the world offers so many courses within a few minutes of each other. – M.D.
For more information on a Golfing Great head to Visit Victoria.