The National Golf Club (Old course)

The National, 4th hole, Old course – ‘like riding a rollercoaster’, Brendan James

Australia’s largest golf club, The National boasts three 18-hole courses – the Old, Ocean and Moonah layouts – all spread across exceptional ocean-side terrain on the Mornington Peninsula, at Cape Schanck. Entrepreneur David Inglis launched The National to the public inside a tent at the 1985 Australian Masters. Memberships were sold as equity shareholdings in the club, a model that has since been copied by several other clubs over the past 25 years, as The National evolved into one of Australian golf’s greatest success stories.

Robert Trent Jones Jnr, as a direct result of his creative design work at Perth’s Joondalup course, was commissioned to craft the initial layout. He couldn’t believe his luck, telling the club’s founding members: ‘Any golf course architect would kill for a piece of land like this. It is one of the most unique areas of links country left anywhere in the world.’

The Old course, as it is now known, traverses high, rolling land covered with dense ti-tree and ancient moonah trees, some of them 1000 years old. Bass Strait provides a stunning backdrop to most of the layout as it rises and falls from one ridge to another. So great is the elevation change on some holes that heading from tee to green is like riding a rollercoaster in slow motion. The 18 tees, in fact, are the flattest lie you will encounter all round.

A simple tee shot opens proceedings on the 1st, a 342-metre par-four. The fairway is wide, with a lone bunker to the left and a moonah tree growing out of a knob in the right half. The best playing line into the green is from the right, so any drive skirting past or flying over the tree is a good one. The green – protected by cavernous bunkers, left and right – has three clearly defined sections created by ridges running through the putting surface. This, though, compared with some of the wildly undulating greens that come later, is a rather tame example of Jones Jnr’s work.

You don’t have to go too far before the challenge is ramped up. The 390-metre, par-four 3rd calls for a drive over a deep valley and on to a rippling fairway that climbs gradually to the green, which is partially obscured for your second shot. No bunker guards the two-terraced green, but that does not lessen the difficulty. Your second shot is uphill, and usually into the wind, and club selection is crucial if your ball is to finish on the same terrace as the flag.

The Old course’s signature hole is the 139-metre 7th, a gem, and one of the finest par-threes in the country, with its Bass Strait views and stunning topography. Choice of club, again, is vital, even though the green is huge. If the wind is strong, you must be prepared to attempt a punching shot with a long iron that covers the same distance a short iron would normally handle. Any tee shot hit short, long or left of the green can be kissed goodbye as it sails into the ti-tree. A spine running through the middle of the putting surface complicates any putt rolling from one section to another – an imaginative addition to the unforgettable experience this hole offers.

Some golfers over the years have unfairly criticised the Old course for being too tough, especially in windy conditions. The truth is that any round here, when you can go close to playing to your handicap, whether in calm or gale-force conditions, is simply exhilarating.

Memorable holes

1st, 3rd, 7th, 8th, 16th and 17th

Where to go

The Cups Dr, Cape Schanck, Victoria 3939

Book a round

(03) 5988 6777

www.nationalgolf.com.au

Where to stay

Peppers Moonah Links Resort is ideally located if you wish to sample the Mornington Peninsula’s many fine golf courses.

Before/after your round

Ever wanted to ride a horse along a deserted beach? Gunnamatta Trail Rides offer a one-hour beach-and bush ride for beginners and experienced riders.

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