Moonah Links, Open
Peter Thomson has referred to his design here as "the leviathan," and the course is certainly gargantuan. Once a month, the public is permitted to play from the same 7,468-yard back tees used in the 2003 and 2005 Australian Opens, but almost anyone who does so is summarily pummeled. It’s like you’re a Lilliputian on Gulliver’s private golf course. Unfortunately, from the middle tees the course sometimes feels out of proportion, with fairway bunkers that can be carried with relative ease. That said, the three closing holes are as tough as they come: a long par four with a narrow opening at the green, an uphill par three played over a valley to a steeply pitched putting surface, and the three-shot eighteenth, featuring a minefield of eleven pot bunkers.
Peter Thomson Drive, Fingal. Architect: Peter Thomson, 2001. Yardage: 7,468. Par: 72. Greens Fees: $55–$75. Contact: 011-61/359-882-000, moonahlinks.com.au.
National Golf Club, Old
This course marks the first significant work on the peninsula by an overseas architect. It ascends more than four hundred feet from the clubhouse level, demanding drives from elevated tees to winding valley fairways bordered by tea trees. The greens are enormous—the tenth and fourteenth share a putting surface that’s a three-quarter wedge shot in width—with curvy ridges and racing speeds. Sixteen holes survey the ocean, including the par-three seventh, which, depending on the wind, can require the spectrum of the irons in your bag. "The National will make me famous," Robert Trent Jones Jr. once said, "either as the designer who has created one of the world’s great golf courses or who has stuffed up some of the best golf course real estate imaginable." By all accounts, he needn’t worry.
The Cups Drive, Cape Schanck. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1987. Yardage: 6,903. Par: 72. Greens Fee: $200. Contact: 011-61/359-886-666, nationalgolf.com.au.
Peninsula Golf & Country Club, North
Geoff Ogilvy tells T+L GOLF that he considers this unassuming thirty-six-hole club to be the finest in Australia after Royal Melbourne. For three decades, Peninsula’s South course was regarded as superior to the funkier North, although the latter occupies higher, more dramatic ground. A master plan to rejuvenate both eighteens was submitted five years ago, with the first stage concentrating on the North. Architect Michael Clayton added clumps of Sandbelt bunkering, altered lines of play and leveled trees that blocked out sweeping bay views. The North became the young dandy, although a recent renovation to the South should hoist it into the top twenty in the nation. Each of the layouts resonates with Sandbelt flavor. Several holes on the North could slot into Royal Melbourne without detection, including the 380-yard twelfth, where a slippery hogback fairway bends left around a sandy wasteland to a well-guarded, elevated green.
Skye Road, Frankston. Architects: Sloan Morpeth, 1969; Michael Clayton, 2004. Yardage: 6,620. Par: 72. Greens Fee: $90 ($45 for resort guests). Contact: 011-61/397-892-222, peninsulagolf.com.au.
Best of the Rest
Unlike its sterner sibling, the Moonah Links Legends course (moonahlinks.com.au) can be enjoyed thoroughly by golfers of all abilities. Generous width allows you to spray the ball off the tee, although doing so yields poor angles of attack. The greens sit comfortably on the land, and they invite not only bump-and-runs but also putted approaches from long range. The Dunes Golf Links (thedunes.com.au) became the region’s first purely public course when it opened in 1997. Now the fourth-ranked public course in Australia, it costs less than fifty dollars to play, and some of the game’s greats have heaped praise on it. The third eighteen at National Golf Club, the Peter Thomson–designed Ocean, is a fine test of links golf, thanks to its large and raised St. Andrews–style greens. Sorrento Golf Club (sorrento golf.com.au) and Rosebud Country Club (rosebudcountryclub.com.au) are members’ courses that are more parkland than linksland in feel, featuring trees as opposed to low scrub. Sorrento has wide fairways and strategic subtlety, and a creek adds definition to Rosebud’s thirty-six holes.