One of the most popular Melbourne Sandbelt courses and the long-time home of the Australian Masters is on the rise in our biennial ranking. Here's why.
Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath aside, Huntingdale is arguably the most famous of Melbourne’s Sandbelt courses, having been the home of the Australian Masters from 1979 to 2008, and again in 2015.
For nearly three decades, we were treated to seeing some of the best players in the game – including Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros and many more – striding Huntingdale’s fairways in pursuit of the Masters’ gold jacket.
And, like the US Masters has done for Augusta National, it brought Huntingdale into our living rooms and we became so familiar with its lightning fast greens, tight fairways and ominous bunkers.
As a result of its Australian Masters history, there is more to a round at Huntingdale than simply pitting your skill against the course. As you make your way around the layout, memories of great Masters moments can be relived and, perhaps, emulated.
The design team of Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and John Spencer extensively remodelled Huntingdale over several years starting in the late 1990s. Some of the changes polarised opinion, despite improving the year-round playability of the course, which always suffered from poor drainage during the wetter winter months.
In recent times, British architect Martin Hawtree has advised the club on some changes. Among them has been the clearing of introduced tree and scrubs species, replaced by more than 4,000 natives that has certainly opened up what was, at times, a claustrophobic round of golf.
That said, Huntingdale remains one of the finest tests of accurate ball-striking to be found in this country, which was the hallmark of all the great golfers who won the gold jacket.
The round opens with two very good par-4s that both challenge you to find the ‘correct’ position off the tee to leave a straight-forward approach into heavily bunkered greens.
Huntingdale’s bunkers are plentiful in numbers. There are more than 80 of them strategically positioned across the layout and, while this is perhaps comparable with other Sandbelt courses, the larger size of Huntingdale’s sandy hazards makes them more visually intimidating to players of all standards.
The first par-3 on the back nine, the 161-metre 12th, is a bit of a sleeper hole but if there are any question marks over your ability from the sand, it can be frightening if you are nursing a good score. Played through a chute created by trees left and right, it can be difficult getting a read on the breeze, making club selection very important. The subtle undulations of the putting surface are an oasis compared with what awaits when missing the green, as there are seven bunkers surrounding the putting surface. The only ‘miss’ that will not result in a bunker shot is through a narrow gap at the back of the green, but an up-and-down from the bottom of the slope here is, perhaps, even more difficult than blasting from one of the bunkers.
The 410-metre par-4 18th is one of the best, and most famous, closing holes in Australian golf. It was here in the 1999 Masters that a young Craig Spence, tied for the lead with Norman, rifled a 6-iron to within a metre of the hole. The resulting birdie could not be matched by Norman and Spence collected his first winner’s cheque. Today, most pros only require a short iron to reach the green and are certainly not troubled by the fairway bunkers left or the cross bunker short of the huge putting surface. But for the rest of us, it is a treacherous driving hole followed by a demanding second shot to a green that doesn’t cough up too many birdies, especially when you are putting from above the hole.
ADDRESS: Windsor Ave, Oakleigh South, Victoria.
CONTACT: (03) 9579 4622, (03) 9570 4133 (pro shop); www.huntingdalegolf.com.au
DESIGNERS: Charles H. Alison and Sam Berriman (1941); Jack Newton, Graeme Grant & John Spencer (1998-2010); Martin Hawtree (ongoing).
GREEN FEES: Huntingdale is a private course but limited tee-times are available for interstate and overseas visitors, who are members of a registered golf club.
GOLF AUSTRALIA MAGAZINE TOP-100 COURSES HISTORY:
No.40 (2012); No.51 (2014); No.46 (2016).
RANKING JUDGE’S COMMENTS:
“The strength of Huntingdale lies in its green complexes. Recent bunkering has made the driving areas tighter and harder to choose a brave line from the tee, but once safely in the fairway the approach shots are very interesting. The green sites on 1, 2, 8, 11, 12 and 13 are some of the most interesting on the Sandbelt. They often require a shaped shot to get to a pin, but give a safe option to play to the middle of the green if you are just looking to make par. Short-siding yourself on the Huntingdale greens can be costly, so there is always a decision to be made before hitting your approach shots. This decision becomes even more engaging when the greens are playing firm and fast.” – Richard Macafee (2016).
“For me, the appeal of visiting Huntingdale is in walking down memory lane; of playing the holes that were the scene of so many famous moments in the history of the Australian Masters. The fairways and greens always seem in great nick. I always enjoy getting a good tee shot away on the testing 1st hole, or hitting an approach shot close on the short 2nd hole. Other holes on the back, like 10, 11, 14 and 18, are fun to play too.” – Matthew Mollica (2016).