The Sorrento Golf Club was formed as Sorrento and Portsea Golf Club in 1907 but, within two years, “Portsea” had been dropped from the name. Why? Who knows? Whatever the reason, it would take until 1924 before Portsea golfers set up their own golf course to the west of the Sorrento property.
The original 9-hole course at Sorrento was extended to an 18-hole layout by the club’s part-time professional, James Douglas Ardeley Scott, who joined the club in December 1925, having arrived in Melbourne from England earlier that year. Scott only stayed for a couple of years before moving on to design courses in Brisbane, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand.
Course superintendent James Scott built the course to J.D.A. Scott’s plans but the two men may have had a falling out which lead to J.D.A. Scott’s early departure, before the full eighteen holes were ready for play in 1929. Part of the delay in opening the layout may also have been due to the “toning down of the severity of the bunkers” as mentioned in a Greens Committee report.
Laid out near the tip of the Mornington Peninsula, the Sorrento course is one of the oldest in the area and its hilly, sand-based fairways are set within densely forested terrain, ideally suited to all year round play. Accuracy is all-important here so golfers who can plot their way round the layout will have the opportunity to score well.
The outward half is regarded as easier than the back nine though the left doglegged, short par four 4th is a hole where a big number can easily be carded if played carelessly. The par fours at 8 and 12 are two of the hardest holes on the course and must be tackled with caution whilst the par threes at 2 and 13 are the best of the five short holes at Sorrento.
The course has been altered down the years, of course, including changes made by former club member Peter Thomson and his associate Michael Wolveridge.
Sorrento is a course that splits opinion. In Tom Doak’s Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, his fellow raters scored the course 6, 3 and 5 out of 10. “The undulating fairways are the star and typically brown out in the summer months and impart a genuine links feel. Those fairways are also spacious, with the ti-trees being well back from play so the golfer is encouraged to hit out and not steer the ball… This is the exact sort of fun golf to which course rankings do an enormous disservice...”
Neil Crafter and Paul Mogford of Golf Strategies were appointed in 2012 to remodel the 9th hole bunkering in three stages, enhancing the strategic and aesthetic values of the hole. The green for the 10th was also repositioned in 2013, adding some 30 metres to the length of the hole.
A Concept Master Plan was drawn up for the course in 2015, with the primary objective being the unification of course bunkering, starting at the 4th, 6th, 9th and 10th holes. A new 19th hole was then created on the site behind the 11th green in a turf nursery area.
The Sorrento Golf Club was formed on March 30 in 1907 and was originally known as ‘The Sorrento and Portsea Golf Club’. In 1909, the Club decided to drop the ‘Portsea’ part and adopted the name ‘Sorrento Golf Club’. (In 2021 Sorrento and Portsea Golf Clubs are considering a merger!)
The original nine hole course was designed by Royal Park club professional Wally Spicer, and modified by Royal Melbourne professional Jack McLaren.Although the first competitions were held in 1909, the official opening was not until January 1912. The club purchased adjacent land in 1919 and again in 1924 with a view to extending the course to 18 holes. In 1925 the club appointed J.D.A. Scott as the club professional and he subsequently went on to design the new 18 holes which were completed in 1929.
In the early 1970’s Sorrento was one of the first Australian projects for the fledgling firm of Harris, Thomson & Wolveridge. Peter Thomson and Michael Wolveridge prepared a new master plan for the course which saw large scale changes to several holes, addressing a number of difficult ‘walks’. This comprehensive overhaul set the course up well for many years..
More recently the Club engaged Crafter and Mogford Golf Strategies in 2012 to develop a ‘Bunker Master Plan’, and this evolved into a Course Concept Master Plan by 2015. The first project undertaken was the remodelling of the 9th hole bunkering followed by lengthening and a new green site for the 10th hole. A new 19th hole was added in March 2019. The 1st hole is due to be revised this year (2021)
The Club is firm in its view that Sorrento is a Members course, and all improvements made are with the members in mind, rather than having any desire to create a ’championship’ style golf course.
Sorrento is a beautifully conditioned course in undulating sandy terrain just a few hundred metres from Port Philip Bay. The course has 6 par 3’s including the 'spare' 19th hole. Each of those par 3’s is a challenge with raised greens and small targets being the order of the day. As a general rule anything short is punished retreating back toward the tee.
The greens are also amply bunkered and feature slick contoured greens that take some getting used to It is quite a simple thing to putt right off the green in some cases!
The course starts quietly with some shorter par 4’s and 5’s and a devilish par 3 at the 2nd. But then late in the front nine the course bares it’s teeth with consecutive long par 4’s at holes 8 & 9 that sort the shorter hitters out properly.. Only better players, or long hitters on a streak will find these greens in regulation
Sorrento is not a long course, but with constant and significant elevation change throughout it certainly plays longer than it’s yardage Players with length and carry have a distinct advantage.
Notable holes include:
- the short downhill dogleg par 4 first hole
- the devilish short uphill par 3 second hole is a well earned par- it is a tough target to hit and the contoured green will test your putting (see pic mid page)
- the short dogleg par 4 fourth hole is a birdie hole if you play to position
- the long dogleg par 4 eighth hole is the hardest hole on the course and takes two long shots to get home
- the beautifully bunkered par 5 eleventh hole (see pic top of page)
- the par 3 thirteenth hole is all carry and long is usually a good option
- the pretty par 3 fifteenth hole is surrounded by trees. You have to be up!
- the dramatic final hole features diagonal fairway bunkering and a high green- all overseen by the majestic clubhouse
Sorrento does not aspire to be a championship course, but rather a quality members course. And although the course is not overly long it is a challenge for even the best of club golfers It is a beautful spot for a golf course and the rolling links links terrain is perfect for golf.
The clubhouse and facilities rival that of the best private clubs in the land, and the course is immaculately presented. No wonder the membership is full with a long wait list!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
There is plenty of quality golf to be found in the Mornington Peninsula. Whilst the small Sandbelt area with courses such as Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and Victoria GC receive the global plaudits (and rightly so) they are the expensive, private and gentrified clubs. An hour south on the Mornington, there are the wonderful modern courses at The National, Moonah Links, The Dunes, St. Andrews Beach, Portsea and to a lesser extent, here at Sorrento.
This semi-private club has a parkland style course that retains some elements of coastal linksland, most obvious in the rise and fall of the land over the ancient coastal dunes. I found the first few holes to be the weaker offerings, perhaps compromised by the dams securing the clubs vital access to water, but the course improves from there, especially on the back nine. The course isn't particularly long, but the green complexes provide the defence of par; many well bunkered and relatively small. Greens and fairways were in excellent condition.