St Andrews Beach Golf Club is one of the most forward thinking facilities in Australia and many other golf clubs from around the world could do themselves a real favour and take a close look at what’s happening at St Andrews Beach.
First of all, the club has both eyes on the environment with their re-vegetation plan and general ecological awareness. Secondly, they commissioned the artistic architect Tom Doak and former European Tour player turned golf course designer Mike Clayton to fashion the St Andrews Beach course in harmony with kindly Nature and to route it across 175-hectares of former grazing land of the Mornington Peninsula. Thirdly they ran an innovative monthly trial membership scheme where prospective members could enjoy unlimited access for a reasonable sum before committing too many well-earned dollars. Fourthly, they have created one of the most enjoyable but eminently playable courses in Australia.
There was a plan to build another course, called Fingal, which was due to open in 2008, but this did not happen. There is nothing unusual about a second course but they asked Tom Doak to create a coherent and stronger composite course, made up from nine holes from the existing course known as Gunnamatta and nine holes from the new Fingal layout. It was a great idea but it hasn't yet happened.
St Andrews Beach was Tom Doak’s first Australian mainland ensemble and it opened for play in 2004 to a considerably loud fanfare of trumpets. Most golf course aficionados will know that Doak’s amazing Barnbougle Dunes was his first Aussie essay but St Andrews Beach is every bit as good. It’s a course that has a bit of everything, a veritable potpourri of captivating holes, some framed by swathes of Mornington Tea-Tree and Moonah and others pitching and rolling across classic links-like land.
Writing in Tom Doak's Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture, Tom commented as follows: "My goal is to have as many holes as possible where we don't change the contouring of the fairway and rough. On most of our courses that is between 12 and 15 holes out of 18. St Andrews Beach was 16 or 17 out of 18; only the 15th fairway and a small portion of the 13th were altered."
Measuring a little more than 6,000 metres, St Andrews Beach is not the longest course in Australia, but with a lowly par of 70 and with some of the trickiest greens in the land, shooting a great score is easier said than done. Big hitters can open their shoulders and find the wide St Andrews Beach fairways more often than not. Thankfully, the rough is kept in check, so losing too many balls should not be on the agenda. This course will keep both the scratch golfer and the high handicapper happy.
With a number of teasing short par fours, the brutal 13th – Australia’s longest par four – and the impossible 16th – the longest par three in the land, there’s no chance of becoming bored. Throw in some wonderfully varied, compact green sites, proclaimed by Tom Doak as his best ever and you have a golfing cocktail of sheer fun.
A lovely sunny morning in Fingal and I was the first to arrive on the parking place. Even my girlfriend hadn't noticed me sneaking away for a nice 18. The course starts off with some really solid golf holes. The first eases you in to the round with a scenic downhill drive into the valley. The approach is tough: it's a blind shot due to an 'alp' left in front of the green. A blind approach from the right part of the fairway gives a better look at the flag.
The second hole has a broad fairway guarded by central bunkers and slopes steeply uphill. You probably don’t want to hit driver. The fairway raises all the way up to the narrow green that is guarded by greenside bunkers left and right. The green slopes from back tot front which can be awkward with a front pin location. The approach should not be longer than a short iron or wedge, unless the wind is giving you a hard time.
The third is also a nice hole. Not much trouble with the drive that favours a slight fade, but the approach is challenging. Negotiating he gap between a hill covered in bushes (And tiger snakes probably) on the left and more trouble to the right is the first challenge, than distance control is tough on this hole considering the green is not that receptive for incoming balls. The approach has to carry the false front, but given the slopes from front to back, you should not land much further on the green either. Chipping from the valley at the back is not that bad though.
Then follows a good long par 3, then the wide open dogleg left par 4 5th with its tiny green and a beautiful 180 yard par 3 6th that is basically bush all the way to the green. The back of the green has a steep wall that protects the ball from travelling too far. The green slopes pretty severely.
Then we are off to another valley which hosts the next couple of holes. The 8th has another semi-blind approach, depending on the line of approach (in other words just how wayward your drive was). The 9th and 10th are great holes that both feature raised greens and play in opposite directions. The ninth is typically a wedge approach into a half punchbowl green, while the tenth left me a long iron into the prevailing wind playing to a table-top green. Beautiful hole and approach, but a vicious one…
Next favourites were the twelfth hole, one of the longer par 4s that can reward an aggressive line into the doglegged fairway, and then another green with a raised entrance, sloping towards the back.
The 14th has a blind tee shot but the brave will be rewarded with a chance to attack the green on this par 5. The green is a punchbowl but devilishly small.
The fifteenth is a really interesting reachable par 4.
The 18th is a nice par 4 worthy of concluding the round. St Andrews beach is just a really solid minimalistic design that is a fair test and really pleases the eye as well. It blends in with the surroundings very well and that is one of the strong backbones of the design, as it really makes the most of the land strategically, aesthetically and routing wise.
At St Andrews beach the challenge seems to be in the positioning and in the greens, that often have hidden parts or at least can give a deceiving look at the pin location and the best place to miss. Some local knowledge won't hurt! The greens are not that undulated by itself, but the favourable approach really differs every hole depending on the form of the greensite, angle, the wind and the distance of the approach. The greens are all set in fitting, natural and fun locations. The course is definitely diverse in its demands and testing the golfers shotmaking abilities. MO
You know you hit a bad drive when you thought the 15th was a par 5 instead of 'the longest par 4 in australia'... I am embarassed.
St Andrews Beach is located in 'the cups region' of The Mornington Peninsula, just an hour south of Melbourne's CBD. This area is perfect for golf with miles of undulating sandy terrain reaching out as far as the eye can see. No wonder then that the peninsula is famous for its golf, with The National Golf Club, Moonah Links, The Dunes, Portsea etc. – all impressive courses. The Mornington Peninsula is a seriously good golfing destination!
Doak originally designed 36 holes at St Andrews Beach – the existing Gunnamatta course and a second course to be named the Fingal (which was never completed). The icing on the cake was a composite course which included 9 holes from each course. Sadly a change of ownership lead to accommodation being built in a location which effectively ended any chance of the Fingal and composite courses happening as per Doak's plan. Look around when playing the Gunnamatta course – the playing corridors of the Fingal course are not difficult to spot – the land was made for golf holes.
Doak has always rated St Andrews Beach as one of his favourite efforts as the minimalist shaping of the fairways was right down his alley – very little earth was moved in the process. Brian Slawnik and Eric Iverson did most of the shaping, with some help from Brian Schneider after he had completed Barnbougle Dunes. While located near the beach in dunes, the playing corridors do not offer any sea views at all.
It is a relatively protected site with big dunes framing parts of the course. The feel changes as the routing takes you through valleys in the dunes, then opens up to wider spaces and over ridges, and then back into the dunes. It is not unlike walking through different rooms in a house!
St Andrews Beach is regarded as one of Australia's best courses (often ranked in Australia's top 10), and there is no doubt it is a quality design in wonderful golfing terrain. It is not one of my favourite Doak courses, but then again that competition is about as tough as it gets.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
A very fine course and now the third of Doak's courses that I have played. As with the other courses on the Mornington Peninsula it is was built on land was made for golf, though this may be one of the more undulating pieces of property and is certainly a stern walk. There are many fine holes here though I'll admit i would rank it a distant third behind Barnbougle and Cape Kidnappers, Some the greens were surprisingly small and flat which I didn't really think was in keeping with the land or the rest of the course. I also expected more strategy to some of the par 4s and the first hole didn't suit my eye at all. In saying that we are still dealing with a probable 7 on the architects own scale so I am maybe being a bit harsh based on how impressed I was over his other work.
I'd agree with this review. It's a good Doak minimalist course but not his best. I played here last April and the condition left a lot to be desired for a course so high in the national rankings. The bunkers were in a terrible state and the green surrounds had not recovered after recent coring which left the ground game a lottery. That said I liked the course but it's a tough walk despite relatively short distances between green and tee. Wasn't overly impressed with the 7th and 8th which shared the same fairway with an obscured bunker/waste area in the middle.