Moonah Links (Open course)

The 5th hole at Moonah Links, Open course, Brendan James

When Australian golf’s governing body decided in 1998 to shift its operations to a custom-built facility on some Mornington Peninsula farmland, many golfers reckoned it an ambitious move. But the Australian Golf Union, as it was then known, had a masterplan for the 196-hectare site: two championship courses, state-of-the-art teaching and practice facilities, and a resort and residential development. The AGU has since become Golf Australia and Moonah Links is now owned by farmer, developer and millionaire businessman Paddy Handbury. But the vision for a true home of Australian golf was realised before the Handbury Group arrived – and the first piece of the jigsaw was the completion of the Open course. The course had its fair share of critics when it opened for play in 2001. Designed by Peter Thomson, Mike Wolveridge and Ross Perrett, the intention was that it would specifically test the game’s best players competing in the Australian Open. It was soon lambasted by some as too hard for the average golfer. But when played from the correct tees, to suit a player’s ability, it is one of this country’s modern gems, an enjoyable excursion across some of the best golfing land in Australia. The course has been routed through, over and around rolling sand dunes that took Mother Nature hundreds, if not thousands, of years to create. It is home to the Moonah Classic and has hosted two Australian Opens, and on such occasions the dunes offer idyllic views on nearly every hole of the action unfolding on the green or fairway below. For the average golfer, the course provides a stiff but fair challenge and a chance to walk in the footsteps of Australia’s leading players – an opportunity that has historically been difficult to come by, given that the Open is traditionally played on private courses such as Royal Melbourne, Royal Sydney or The Australian. Thomson likes to refer to the course as a ‘leviathan’ – and indeed, at 6783 metres from the championship markers, it can be a monster. The peninsula is prone to being buffeted by strong winds, and on days like this the Open course bares its teeth. The difficulty of the challenge is part of the enjoyment: you know that if you play to your handicap here, you have really played well. More than 80 bunkers are scattered across the landscape. Yet perhaps the toughest hole on the course has no sand at all. The par-four 6th measures 403 metres and follows a valley, between dunes left and right, before rising gradually to the green. It runs in a southwesterly direction, into the prevailing wind, and on a calm day the green is a strong drive followed by a long or midiron away. But when there is any hint of a breeze, the hole turns into a brute. Few players during the final round of the 2005 Australian Open could reach the green in two here. Rod Pampling was one who was successful, slamming a couple of full-blooded drives to the middle of the putting surface.

By contrast the closing hole, a 582-metre par-five, is a minefield of bunkers. Eleven cavernous pits are dotted strategically along the fairway between tee and green. The fairway has been contoured in such a way that rolling balls are fed towards the bunkers, so players must steer well clear if they are to stay out of the sand.

Memorable holes

3rd, 4th, 6th, 11th, 13th and 18th

Where to go

55 Peter Thomson Dr, Fingal, Victoria 3939

Book a round

(03) 5988 2088

www.moonahlinks.com.au

Where to stay

Peppers Moonah Links Resort is an ideal base from which to explore all golf clubs on the Mornington Peninsula. Sixty rooms have views of the course or putting green and 36 luxury suites overlook the Open course.

Before/after your round

Spend a few hours touring the dozens of boutique cellar doors and sampling the region’s famed pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay. Some wineries, such as Red Hill and The Cups Estate, have terrifi c restaurants.

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