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Golf City Down Under

How Australia’s Melbourne merged its vibrant culture with a brace of internationally acclaimed and vacationer-friendly golf courses to become the world’s foremost urban golf destination
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
The Brains Behind Homeland, May/June 2012

(continued from page 3)

The chief appeal of Moonah Links is that it is home to upscale resort accommodations by Peppers, a popular Australian hotel chain. It is a great base with easy public access. The National, the oldest and most revered club in these parts, on the other hand is a must-play. It is the only serious challenger to the prestige of the Sandbelt courses. Its superb Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course plays right down to and along the sea. It has several very dramatic coastal holes, and a fanciful usage of quirky and impressive trees, sort of a Valderrama meets Pebble Beach aesthetic.

The National even features a coastal par-3 signature hole as its seventh, a la Pebble. The two more recent layouts at the National (by Greg Norman and Thomson) are also very good, and the three are different enough to make visitors and members struggle to decide which to play. Norman’s Moonah course (not to be confused with nearby Moonah Links) is thought by many to be his best design. It has the most dune-filled real estate at the National, but in a more open, valley fairway style akin to Scotland’s magnificent Turnberry. Norman also did a great job of incorporating the unique native trees into the layout. Thomson’s low-lying Ocean Course is the least dramatic of the trio, and seems tame in comparison with the vast elevation changes of the other two courses. Nevertheless, it is a solid, if subtle, test of golf and beauty.

Two other worthy peninsula courses are the Dunes Golf Club and St Andrews Beach. The Dunes is a true public course, and while its clubhouse and range have a decidedly muni, hotdog-stand feel, right down to the bargain bucket of “experienced” balls, the course is borderline spectacular. For many years it was voted the top public course in Australia. A links and dunes course, it would feel right at home dropped next to Portrush or Royal County Down. Nearby St Andrews Beach is a very different take on a very similar setting, but is also routed right through impressive sand dunes, this time by Doak of Pacific Dunes fame. A daily-fee course, St Andrews is perhaps too natural for its own good. It offers demanding blind shots to minuscule targets and odd angles with penal consequences proliferate, in a layout that seems like an effort to avoid earth moving at all costs, for better or worse. This course may be best suited to Doak fanatics.

THE CHARMS OF THE CITY

Melbourne has a number of luxury hotels all located in a concise downtown corridor along the banks of the Yarra river and within an easy stroll of the top shops, bars and nightlife, a wealth of excellent restaurants representing every imaginable cuisine, and Australia’s largest casino, the vast Crown complex, which includes dozen of restaurants and bars under one roof. To double up and take full advantage of the long trip, many international visitors time their golf vacations to coincide with a high-profile sporting event. “Whenever we have a major event, the Australian Open tennis, the F1 race, the Australian Rules Football final or the Melbourne Cup, we get a lot of visitors,” says Paul Rak, general manager of Royal Melbourne. Victoria’s Peter Stackpole puts it more bluntly: “We don’t have an Opera House or a Harbour bridge. What we have is an events calendar.”

Pedrero, who recently made his first trip to Melbourne, couldn’t agree more. “It is a long way to go, and to be honest, I was skeptical. There are a lot of places to play golf. Was it worth skipping Scotland or Ireland or even Hawaii for? The answer is yes. I went during the Spring racing meet, so I was able to attend the Melbourne Cup, the ‘Race That Stops a Nation,’ and it was spectacular—a true bucket-list event. The golf was equally impressive, both the Sandbelt courses and the Mornington Peninsula. My only regret was that I did not have more time.”

Larry Olmsted is a contributing editor of
Cigar Aficionado.


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