Amstel Golf Club (Ranfurlie course)

Amstel, 2nd green – ‘a two-tiered monster’, Brendan James

Like a good single-malt Scotch whisky, some golf courses are appreciated more once they have aged. When Amstel Golf Club was looking to expand beyond its 18-hole Park course, it commissioned Mike Clayton to design a sandbelt-style layout on a parcel of land little more than a kilometre away. The land was gently undulating, with a few parts offering significant elevation change, and apart from some run-down pines it was basically treeless. Ranfurlie was Clayton’s first 18-hole design and its critics were many, with some players labelling the course bland and unimaginative.

‘The brief was to do a sandbelt-style course,’ says Clayton, ‘and the land was exactly as it is now in terms of earth moved. We found the holes and built the greens and bunkers. There were some old pines and cypress pines that we removed, and some sandy ground. We never thought of it as a poor site, but it had little of the physical beauty that sways people into thinking a course is good.’ Ranfurlie opened for play in 2002, and many of those early critics have since come to admire the intricacies of Clayton’s work. It was said that poor hitting was not penalised and that the fairways were too wide, which may be so, but Clayton was influenced by the course’s exposed location. ‘It had to have wide fairways because it can be so windy here,’ he says. ‘We set the greens up so you have to play to a certain side of the fairway in order to get close to the pin. Sure you can hit the fairway – you can probably hit all of them – but if you don’t hit the correct side in relation to the pin position then you won’t score very well.’

Ranfurlie’s ranking among Australia’s top 50 courses is due not only to a rising appreciation of Clayton’s design but to a general improvement in the condition of its playing surfaces. ‘It’s not in the same category as Barnbougle Dunes or St Andrews Beach,’ says leading American designer Tom Doak, who visited the layout a few years ago, ‘because Mike did not have the same sort of terrain to work with. The site is very open and windswept, and the contours are broad. I would venture to say it is not the sort of property any young designer would want to stake his reputation on. Considering all that, it really is a remarkably good course. The greens and bunker construction is very well done, in many cases insisting that you play the approach from one side of the fairway over the other. I really like how they ramped the greens up from the front to allow a running approach.’

The earliest example of this comes at the downhill 2nd hole, a 485-metre parfive. A lone bunker on the left edge of the fairway catches longer hitters searching for the most direct route to the flag. Such a mistake is unforgivable, for the fairway is incredibly wide and provides several playing-line alternatives. Any approach – be it your second, third or fourth shot – must find the same level as the flag on the two-tiered monster of a putting surface. Ranfurlie is a private members’ course but tee times are set aside for visiting golfers five days a week.

Memorable holes

1st, 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 14th and 16th

Where to go

825 Frankston–Cranbourne Rd, Cranbourne, Victoria 3977

Book a round

(03) 9788 8222

Where to stay

Motel-style accommodation can be found in the centre of Cranbourne, a few kilometres away. Comfort Inn Mahogany Park is the closest motel to the course and offers guestrooms and self-contained suites.

Before/after your round

Two of Cranbourne’s biggest attractions are the award-winning Royal Botanic Gardens and the Cranbourne Cup, a horse race run each October as part of Victoria’s famous spring carnival.

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