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The Changing Face of the Mornington Peninsula

by Paul Daley

I would never lay claim to being Nostradamas … but some years ago during an idle moment I envisaged flying over and surveying the Mornington Peninsula. It was a clear day as I craned my neck to take in all the sites. What could I see? Not much, except the occasional winery and golf course, plenty of open countryside and some established population areas. Given the natural advantage of free draining soil, undulating terrain and climate, it struck me as the ideal area to optimise two of our favourite pastimes - namely golfing and producing fine wine. Well, judging by recent unfolding events, I wasn't alone with these thoughts. Today, this region is literally teeming with golf courses either at the planning stage, under construction, or recently completed. More will surely follow, given sound presentations of arguments to authorities that demonstrate how golf and the environment can work in harmony. Increasingly, golf architects must provide this information before any project reaches first base.

As a coastal golfing destination, California's Monterey Peninsula has long accepted the limelight as "the place to golf" in an awe-inspiring setting. But this accolade is under attack from our own little piece of heaven. What makes the subject of this article a more exciting proposition, is that in addition to all the new courses, traditional favourites such as Portsea, Sorrento, Flinders, Rosebud and Eagle Ridge remain as eager as ever to accept your custom and enhance the overall golfing experience. Put a stop to all your indecision now! Why not take up that house and land package you have long fantasised about? Indeed, many wise members at The National Golf Club, Cape Schanck, have done just that to press home the advantage that belonging to a three-course club affords. More on this fledging development later.

An exciting initiative of the Australian Golf Union is Moonah Links(above), set amid arresting countryside known locally as 'Cups Country'. The 1500-acre site will include a demanding championship course, plus excellent second course, a four-star hotel, conference centre, restaurant and golf course residential opportunities. Wow! It also will become the headquarters for the Australian Golf Academy and AIS Golf Program. The architectural firm of Thomson Wolveridge & Perrett has been assigned responsibility for laying out the first of the two courses, and pleasingly, each will differ significantly. The West Course will be more of the barren type - virtually treeless, where the master plan is to remove all non-indigenous vegetation. By contrast, the East Course will present a more rugged proposition being much tighter off the tee due to the prevalence of Moonah trees. The real news, though, is that both courses are earmarked as 'public access' and so what a boon for Peninsula golfers they will be. In addition, the AGU has earmarked Moonah Links as a future Australian Open venue. Click here for more on Moonah Links

Only ten minutes away lies the National Golf Course. Readers may be familiar with the current Robert Trent-Jones course, complete with its multi-tiered teeing grounds, heroic carries to distant island fairways, and tremendous vistas - the view down the throat of the peninsula from the 2nd generates nothing but rave reviews.

The greens at The National have sent many a golfer twitchy, and a common occurrence during the club championship is betting upon the likelihood of a three/four/five putt on the final green. This speculation takes place from the relative safety of the clubhouse lounge, perched on high ground. An enormous ridge dissects the green, and commonly this causes many golfers' putts to return to their feet. On several occasions, unsympathetic partners have informed me … "You're still away Paul!"

Things are vastly different on The National's two new courses - the Ocean Course laid out by TWP and Greg Norman's Moonah Course, which is not to be confused with the Moonah Links project by the AGU. At both courses, the golfer will gain respite from the harshness of the greens that remain a trademark and talking point of the original architect. While certainly not snooker table flat, their appearance will be considerably gentler and more in keeping with nature's handiwork. Michael Wolveridge is an acknowledged supporter of the early links style of golf, and maintains of the Ocean Course.
The Norman designed Moonah course at The National
The Moonah course at The National - pic by David Scaletti

Our putting greens are not especially contoured, but rather identify with the plateaus and rises which occur on early links golf and which are the preferred sites for the greens. It is not our understanding of the nature of traditional links golf to have severely undulating greens.

The fairway width on the Ocean Course is more generous than Norman's Moonah Course, the latter being laid out among comparatively higher ground which makes for dramatic driving out to distant sweeping valleys. By contrast, the Ocean Course is more low-lying with startling and sharper fairway undulation.

Great praise must go to the The National Golf Club Board of Directors for their bold move of laying out two new courses - commonplace overseas but breaking new ground in Australia. Of note, the project has materialised without making a financial call on existing members. Instead, the club has relied on releasing new shares for purchase where members were encouraged to introduce friends to the possibility of becoming a shareholder. It was a pleasure, hardly a chore, to introduce four friends myself, and collectively over ten million dollars was raised in this fashion.

Now that both courses have been completed, The National Golf Club is a golfing showpiece, and the club will shortly complete construction of a new clubhouse that includes an underground car park. A nice problem for the Board is how to best utilise the existing clubhouse.
Meanwhile at The Dunes Golf Links, Rye, golfers continue to marvel at the ongoing maturity of the course; right from the outset it was in excellent nick, but ground staff have somehow managed to raise the course conditioning to yet another level. If you haven't played The Dunes for some time, the ultra-relaxing, spacious, new clubhouse will impress you. Open planned, it perfectly provides the atmosphere to ponder over your round, having no doubt been buffeted all over the place by the Peninsula's ever-present wind.

The next upgrade at The Dunes will see the inclusion of accommodation to encourage weekend packages. International Management Group are the present managers of the facility.

The Dunes is not alone by paying strict attention to their clubhouse. Realising the importance of keeping up with current Peninsula trends and standards, Eagle Ridge Golf Course has poured over five million dollars into building a new clubhouse. Let us assume they did their homework as they join the competitive race to woo and retain player loyalty. As far as golfing 'public access' goes, Eagle Ridge is solid evidence that Melbourne's Peninsula region offers great variety and quality to the public course player - the standard already reached can only be dreamed of by overseas golfing nations.

One golf course development that to date has been kept reasonably under wraps, is Ian Baker-Finch's proposed course at St Andrews Beach. Baker-Finch and co-designers Michael Coate and Roger Mackay excelled with their first effort of laying out a links style course at Kennedy Bay, Western Australia. It has been reported that Tom Doak (The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses) will collaborate on this project. Details are yet to be released, which is indicative of 'red tape', but we look forward to the result with great expectation. One of the driving forces behind the project is entrepreneur David Inglis, who was the early brains trust behind the Australian Masters tournament played at Huntingdale.

You may have noticed a common theme running throughout all the courses mentioned. Today, many golfers are awakening to the knowledge that the seaside game, be it links golf or 'links-like' golf, represents a welcome return to the glory days of golf where naturalness reigned supreme and artificiality was considered repugnant. Precisely the reverse happened during the excesses of the 1970’s and 80’s. Courses became overly long, boring and artificial. Earthmoving equipment became standard issue and shotmaking that failed to bomb the ball skyward was severely punished. The aerial route became mandatory, and yet as professional Tom Lehman, has asked "why punish a ball that goes straight - even if it is along the ground?" All this is about to change. Collectively, the new Peninsula courses are being designed by architects who harbour a deep respect for the game's origins. There is comfort in the knowledge that we are surrounded by minimalists, not the "justify my fee" brigade who spend more time conjuring up tricks that would do David Copperfield proud.

*Paul Daley is a Melbourne golf addict, golf historian, collector of golf literature and writer.

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