Situated a short two-hour drive northeast of Melbourne, not far from the winding waters of the Goulburn River, the course at Cathedral Lodge was developed by investment banker and former Essendon Football Club President David Evans as a high-end private facility with an exclusive membership of fewer than two hundred golfers.
Greg Norman’s design company laid out the 18-hole course and the architect had this to say about the project: “The Cathedral Lodge property is unique in that it’s a canyon shape with a ridge running through the middle of it, where you go up the ridge on one side of the valley and back down it on the other side of the valley.”
Unlike the Great White Shark’s other ultra-exclusive design at Ellerston, when Kerry Packer asked him to construct a tough track that would challenge elite players, Cathedral Lodge has been built, according to Norman, as “a balanced golf course, catering for someone who only carries it 80 metres and those who bomb it 300 metres.”
The spectacular backdrop of Cathedral Mountain beautifully frames many of the holes, while other parts of the layout are so secluded they allow you to “quiet your mind” as you play. The signature hole that’s emerging is the 250-metre, uphill par four 5th, which astutely links the two sections of the property.
“I saw this beautiful eucalyptus tree in the middle and thought it could be a really great short hole for the big hitters,” says Norman. “Yet from ninety metres in it demands an extremely tough shot. The complexity of the hole is what will be talked about. I had to make a few tweaks but it’s what makes it a fantastic golf hole.”
The golf facility has been designed to imitate the great private clubs around the world, like Augusta National, and its owner has the intention of hosting an iconic professional championship like The Masters, as David Evans indicated when he said: “Ultimately, I’d love to have a tournament played at Cathedral Lodge on an annual basis.”
Paul Rudovsky, one of our most respected contributors (and also the only person to have played every course that has been listed in all published World Top 100 ranking lists down the years) played Cathedral Lodge in April 2018 and he commented as follows:
“First let me say the Cathedral Lodge site is nothing
short of stunning. It is set in a wide canyon (surrounded by mountains) with a
ridge running through the canyons. While the scope of the surrounding sights is
reminiscent of Ellerston, the golf courses are very different… The flow at
Cathedral is much superior to Ellerston’s, but the individual holes are not
quite as good. Overall I liked the course a lot… Right now I would not put Cathedral
Lodge in my own World 100, but I am confident that it will grow into a
solid World 100 course, it simply has too many compelling features to miss that goal.”
I am not a huge fan of Greg Norman designs although perhaps I have not played enough of them. Prior to playing Cathedral Lodge, the only two golf courses I played and liked that Greg Norman designed were The National Moonah and Trump Ireland (formerly Doonbeg). Both are on very good land for golf courses so perhaps that is a requirement for a good Norman design. Other architects have succeeded in designing great golf courses on flat pieces of land (Chicago GC, Kingston Heath, etc.) and I have played courses that Norman designed that are on flatter pieces of land that I thought were average.
I played Cathedral Lodge in February, 2019. My understanding is that there is an option to take a helicopter from the Crowne Casino hotel to land here but we opted for the two hour bus ride each way (haha). I am glad we did because I loved the scenery as we left Melbourne and made our way through wine country and small towns climbing ever slightly uphill through forested, hilly land on a twisting/turning road until arriving at Cathedral Lodge. This is one of the most private golf clubs in Australia. Once arriving on the property and making your way to the terrace at the clubhouse, one sees just how stunning the scenery is. It is a tremendous inland view and the owners of the course picked a near perfect spot for this golf club. Everything is perfect in the clubhouse – perfect size, perfect bar, perfect service, perfect chairs, perfect pro shop, perfect terrace, perfect views.
I know we are to review the golf course and not the clubhouse, but a highlight is the clubhouse and the view from it across the golf course through a valley to the hills beyond. It is beautiful and completely relaxes you. You almost do not want to play golf and it is the rare place that I might demure from playing 36 holes with this view available to you.
If you go onto the Greg Norman design website you can find out some of the design philosophy behind Cathedral Lodge, since many want to compare it to Ellerston. According to Greg Norman, they are very different. I’ll reference a few of his quotes here:
“The Cathedral Lodge property is unique in that it’s a canyon shape with a ridge running through the middle of it, where you go up the ridge on one side of the valley and back down it on the other side of the valley,” says Norman. “Ellerston, meanwhile, was so spread out, so vast, so big and a totally different story.”
Adding to the contrast, Norman says the design blueprint for both projects couldn’t have been further apart.
“Kerry just said, ‘Build me a f---ing great golf course,’” he recalls. “Playability wasn’t an issue for Kerry. He just wanted a tough course, a course that even I would find difficult as the world’s No.1 player at the time. I remember he’d stand there and say, ‘OK, son. How would you play this hole and how would you make it tougher for yourself?’ That was Kerry. I built a course to match his personality of wanting to challenge anything and everything.
“Conversely, David wanted playability with Cathedral Lodge – and he was there every step of the way, walking with me during the entire design process.
“The easiest thing in the world to do is build the hardest course in the world. The hardest thing to do is build a balanced golf course. Catering for someone who only carries it 80 metres and those who bomb it 300 metres – these are the complexities of being a golf course designer in today’s game. But I enjoyed the challenge with Cathedral and I think the end result could be one of my favourite courses.”
In my opinion, the owners and Greg Norman succeeded, with only one significant criticism to follow which I do not know if there was a better alternative based on only one visit.
On my personal rating scale, I give the golf course high marks for playability with the par 5’s being the better holes, particularly since there are five of them. There are also five par 3’s, so only 8 par 4’s. The par 3’s I thought were slightly better than the par 4’s in terms of design and defense as well. Some of the par 4 holes I thought lacked a bit of definition so perhaps would be slightly better with narrower fairways or a few more fairway bunkers.
The green complexes are fair and not overly done.
The conditioning of the golf course is superb.
The hole I did not care for is the fifth hole, a transition hole and is designed to get you to the other side of the spine running through the two valleys. Playing from an elevated tee over a big valley in front of the green up on a shelf, this short par 4 of 275-310 yards was played differently by the four of us as we are players of various length. Whether someone hit a 5 metal, 5 iron, driver (they didn’t make it) or 4 hybird, every ball ended up at the bottom of the hill well below the green roughly within a 10 yard zone of each other. One is left with a blind shot of nothing more than a 9 iron or wedge back up the steep hill. If you are short, you will be lucky to catch a bunker or you will be hitting the same shot again. If you are long or left, you are in taller grass. You can play to the center or center right of the green and you should be fine. My issue with the hole is that for someone of average length like me, there is no decision to make on this risk-reward hole. Even a poorly (topped/fat) tee shot will likely find the same landing spot at the bottom of the valley.
As I said, I would have had to study the property more to see if there was another way to design holes 2-4 so that the fifth could have been routed differently. However, I liked each of those holes so perhaps Greg Norman was left with an almost impossible decision.
I liked the long downhill par five fourteenth hole snaking around a hill on the left side and a gully on the right.
I thought the best hole on the golf course is the short 150 yard par 3 fifteenth which sits in a punchbowl from an elevated tee. But the second hole, another downhill long par 3 of 215 yards was also good and well defended.
There is a lot of controversy with the finishing hole with two trees somewhat in play and a fairly wide gully separating the fairways for one’s second shot unless you can hit in far. Then the same gully works it’s way to the left side of the green making for a courageous approach. I took a bogey hitting the first tree off the tee which limited my distance and I missed the green on my third shot. Two others parred it and one had a birdie. I liked the hole as I thought it was strategic and compelling but I can understand the controversy.
The other holes are all fun to play, they just were not as special as those four, but they are playable for all players of unequal skill. A best ball “net” match or a stableford event would be equally contested by players of all ability at Cathedral Lodge. This is a golf course, if given the opportunity, one should play. It is enjoyable, fun, has challenging shots sprinkled throughout, is in great condition, and has marvelous views.
Cathedral has some similarities to the Norman-designed Ellerston GC owned by the Packer family, as both are routed through typical Australian terrain. However whilst Ellerston was designed specifically for the better player, and is deliberately very demanding, Cathedral has a more rounded approach and is quite playable off different tees for all level of golfer.
The golfing experience at Cathedral starts at the clubhouse – perhaps the most appropriate of its kind in Australia. Sitting on the hill behind the 18th green looking back down the valley it is beautifully positioned, and a simple, yet practical structure just oozing class.
The course is just a pleasure to play. The greens are pure – and a joy to putt on. Overall the playing surfaces are in great shape. The routing works well in that makes good use of the natural terrain, although the short steeply uphill 5th hole is the key as it enables a transition from one valley over the hill to another. It wasn't my favourite hole on first playing – I felt it might be compromised by the need to connect from A to B – but I reserve the right to change my mind on future plays!
In my view the most memorable hole at Cathedral is the eighteenth hole. With the creek always in play laterally and crossing the fairway as well, decisions need to be made. It is rare to come across a hole that confounds people quite like this hole does. In the end it is all about the second shot. It's a great way to finish, and unique to Cathedral.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Cathedral Lodge is a secluded private golf course two hours NE of Melbourne CBD. It is owned by David Evans, a merchant banker who lived every golfers dream by establishing a golf course on his own property.
I am led to believe membership at Cathedral Lodge will be capped at around 150-200 people. David engaged the services of Greg Norman to design him a course that he hopes might host a pro tournament one day.
Cathedral lodge is probably the most “restrained” Norman design I have seen. Unlike the layout Norman (& Harrison) built for the Packer family at Ellerston where close to 100 bunkers were created and dominate the layout, Cathedral lodge has one third that and most of those are on the B9.
Comparisons with Ellerston will undoubtedly occur though they are two completely different designs. Whereas Ellerston was built to be a strong and demanding test of golf Cathedral Lodge is built with the member golfer in mind with around four sets of tees on each hole. Ellerston’s holes snake across a mix of flat and undulating land throughout its property. Cathedral Lodge on the other hand moves into a large canyon with a ridge running through it. Cathedral Lodge’s fairways are very large and many of them are shaped to funnel the ball to specific areas. Like Ellerston, the designers have used natural creeks to flank and cross in front or behind many of the holes.
Cathedral Lodge has an interesting layout with five P3’s and five P5’s and some short P4’s with very testing greens.
The P3 15th is Cathedral Lodge’s best hole in my opinion. A short P3 measuring 138m from the “Shark” tees the green is set in a low lying area of the course with the ever-present creek providing an ominous threat left (see pic)
I also liked the P5 11th. (see pic) The driving zone is quite narrow with a rock face right and a creek left really testing your driving accuracy. The hole then bends slightly downhill to the left and one is faced with an unbunkered green with the creek following the tee all the way to and around the back of the hole.
The course officially opened only two months ago and was in good condition. The region where Cathedral Lodge is located had over 300mm of rain the week before I played it and you wouldn’t have known as there were only a few wet patches on the fairways.
Cathedral Lodge will be a very sort after location and many guests are helicoptered in. I thoroughly recommend a game if you are lucky enough to score an invite.