St Andrews Beach

Ex-cattle country: the 14th hole at St Andrews Beach, Brendan James

When it comes to quality golf courses and how to design them, American Tom Doak is a learned man. His second and most recent Australian creation – St Andrews Beach, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula – surged to a top- 10 ranking among the nation’s best courses within four months of opening in 2005. Not long after, and despite the layout’s undeniable quality, it was forced to close when its owner went into receivership. But the course was maintained, and in October last year it reopened for public play. Three months later it was again rated one of Australia’s best courses.

This par-70 of 6090 metres winds its way around, through and over sand dunes that until recently were home to dairy cattle – the kind of landscape course designers kill for. ‘The land here was so good for designing a golf course,’ says Doak, ‘that it became difficult to decide which holes we couldn’t build. There are natural golf holes laid out here in all shapes and sizes . . . In some cases we simply had to find the right spot to put a green, locate the closest high point near that green to place the next tee, and the following hole would present itself. I can’t help feeling Alister MacKenzie would be mad that he never got the chance to design a course on land this good.’

Doak is from the old school, which says you simply tweak Mother Nature’s design. If the land accommodates a 270-metre par-four, that’s what goes on the scorecard. He won’t bulldoze a sand dune to add another 100 metres. ‘When I was visiting all the courses that ended up in my book, I realised that the great courses – St Andrews, Royal Melbourne West, Kingston Heath, Cypress Point – have at least one good short par-four. This is what separates the cream from the crop, and I try to keep these short holes in my own designs.’

The best short par-four at St Andrews Beach comes early in the round. From its elevated tee, the 279-metre 2nd hole holds no secrets. The potential risks and rewards are high should you take on the bunkers cut into the right side of the fairway as it climbs towards the green from the valley in front of the tee. Clear the traps and your drive could finish on the putting surface, for the land contour beyond the sand feeds balls on to the green. Flanking the fairway’s left edge is a scheme of wasteland bunkers and a high sand dune.

One of the most spectacular holes is the 169-metre, par-three 6th. Depending on the direction of the breeze, you may need either a long or mid-iron to reach the elevated putting surface, which lies in a natural bowl between thickets of titree and is protected by bunkers carved out of the mountainous sand dune short of the green.

Yet the St Andrews Beach layout also highlights Doak’s readiness to leave a small bunker-less green at the end of a fairway, if that’s what the land suggests. ‘The worst thing a designer can do,’ he believes, ‘is over-design. There were natural green sites available on this land so we used them. Sometimes that meant leaving a small green beyond some banks, or in a natural amphitheatre.’

The green at the second of the short par-fours – the 276-metre 14th – is tiny by modern standards. But the putting surface is like a dish, with rough and fringe grass holding the high ground, meaning that any off-centre approach shots can feed on to the green.

St Andrews Beach, formerly a private facility, is more popular than ever since reopening its doors as a public pay-and play course.

Memorable holes

2nd, 3rd, 6th, 10th, 14th and 17th

Where to go

209 Sandy Rd, St Andrews Beach, Victoria 3941

Book a round

(03) 5988 6000


Where to stay

Peppers Moonah Links Resort is the ideal base for playing the golf courses of the Mornington Peninsula.

Before/after your round

Soak in a natural thermal mineral spring at the Peninsula Hot Springs, less than 3 km away. There are public and private indoor and outdoor pools, a sauna, plunge pool and steam room. Therapeutic massage is available to soothe those aching golf muscles.

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