Distant thunder rumbled in the sky as the rain began to ease. The sudden downpour had been brief, but the storm shelter found beside the 8th fairway of the Open Course at Moonah Links had been an inviting sight all the same.

The Peter Thomson-designed layout on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula was completed in 2001 and now forms one half of an impressive 36-hole complex, which has been dubbed “The Home of Australian Golf”.

The links-inspired Open Course was purpose-built to host the Australian Open, which it did in 2003 and 2005, and remains, in Thomson’s words: “A mighty and ferocious test of golfing ability, the likes of which even the top pros only occasionally experience.”

The five-time British Open champion and his highly-acclaimed design partners, Mike Wolveridge (who sadly passed away at the end of February) and Ross Perrett were handed some of the best available golfing land in the Cups region in the late 1990s.

Two bunkers short of the green on the Open Course’s par-3 7th are best avoided at all costs. PHOTO: Brendan James.

Blessed with the undulating, windswept, sandy terrain, the trio shifted hardly any land and delivered some seriously good holes, which continue to immerse anybody who makes the 75-minute drive from the Melbourne CBD.

Thirty metres from the 1st tee, stands the recently-unveiled bronze sculpture of Thomson, who is perfectly positioned to observe golfers as they begin their rounds.

The par-4 opening hole is relatively short by today’s standards, but it demands precision from the tee. Measuring 339 metres from the tips, players need to skirt the fairway trap on the right to give themselves the best possible line into an elevated green, which is surrounded by ancient Moonah trees and guarded by one of Thomson’s signature pot bunkers.

Three similar sand traps bracket the picturesque 5th green – arguably one of the most challenging par-3s on the entire Peninsula – which sits 174 metres from the championship markers.

Club choice here is pivotal and is made more difficult by prevailing southerly winds blowing diagonally from behind and the left. Any tee shot that lands short of the raised, bentgrass putting surface will trickle back into a valley, while missing the green left or right will leave a testing bunker shot, which is something you will encounter on most holes on the Open Course.

The par-3 5th on the Open Course is a stern test of club selection and shot execution. PHOTO: Brendan James.

The 6th hole is the exception to that rule and is completely bunkerless, yet it remains one of the toughest examinations of the entire design.

Played up and over small hills, often into the teeth of a southerly, the straightaway par-4 becomes an absolute monster at 449 metres from the backmarkers. In the 2005 Australian Open, few players could reach the green in two shots into the wind. Rod Pampling was one exception after launching two drivers up the hole and onto the putting surface. Hitting the false-fronted green in regulation is truly an achievement … So is walking off with less than bogey.

Light rain continued to fall softly on the roof of the timber hut. But it was no longer deterring enough for someone to remain undercover, especially when their drive was waiting to be rescued from one of the 80-plus bunkers scattered across the course. The time for reflection was over. There was plenty of work to be done to try and save par at the 428-metre 8th hole.

The thought-provoking par-4 begins with an elevated tee shot overlooking three, cavernous fairway bunkers that will more than likely force players sideways. The sand can be avoided by taking less than driver, of course, but doing so will leave plenty of work to find the raised putting surface and also brings the traps short of the green into play.

“A mighty and ferocious test of golfing ability, the likes of which even the top pros only occasionally experience.” – Peter Thomson

Another quality, risk-reward offering awaits at the par-5 15th hole. The bunker-riddled, 491-metre journey can be completed from tee to green in two powerful shots, so long as players successfully navigate their way around nine penal bunkers, many of which are located in the middle of the fairway.

The punchbowl green is fairly receptive and allows for creative approach shots. So, too, does the dramatic green site at the 411-metre par-4 16th.

Bumps and hollows border the large, rippled putting surface, which slopes steeply from right to left. Missing the green from the fairway is fairly common – especially if you struggle to fade the ball – whereas getting the ball up and down from the surrounding lies is not.

The Open Course allows the general public to play holes specifically designed to host one of our national championships, so it makes sense that aspects of the 6,829-metre layout may feel brutish, especially when the wind is howling. But when it is played from the appropriate tees, Thomson’s “Leviathan” becomes an enjoyable test, presented on flawless playing surfaces, that asks players to use every club in their bag.

The Open Course’s neighbour lies on the eastern side of the property and is quickly reached in carts, conveniently fitted with “Yamatrack” GPS systems.

Named after Bruce Crampton, the par-3 10th at 177 metres from the tips is a brute in the wind. PHOTO: Brendan James.

Designed by Ross Perrett, the Legends Course opened in 2004 to compliment the monstrous championship venue. The links-style creation weaves its way along low-lying ground between Moonah trees and tall sand dunes, which are gradually being covered by an increasing number of houses.

The Legend couch fairways are terrific to play off on both courses, but the intimidating minefield of pot bunkers found on the Open Course are certainly not as prolific during an expedition around the Legends Course.

Each of Perrett’s holes have been named in honour of past Australian Open champions, including: Tom Watson (3rd), Greg Norman (4th), Arnold Palmer (6th), Jack Nicklaus (7th) and seven-time champion Gary Player (9th).

The opening hole of the Legends Couse – labelled “Aaron Baddeley” – provides an early scoring chance.

Measuring 487 metres from the tips, longer hitters will be able to reach the elevated green of the par-5 with two decent strikes. There is plenty of room off the tee, however, aggressive players could easily be lured into taking on the fairway bunker to the right in a bid to shorten the hole.

For mine, the best hole of the layout comes on the back nine at the 272-metre 11th, named after the great South African Bobby Locke.

“The intimidating minefield of pot bunkers found on the Open Course are certainly not as prolific during an expedition around the Legends Course.”

The fairway sits in a valley created by two high sand dunes and Moonah trees on either side, leaving multiple ways to approach the task at hand. Longer hitters will be tempted to try and drive the green – but six rugged bunkers lie waiting at the neck of the green. The percentage play calls for long irons or hybrids to set up favourable wedge distances.

The par-3 16th is another fun hole and has been named after 1936 Australian Open champion and seven-time major winner, Gene Sarazen. The hole plays 185 metres downhill to the largest green in the southern hemisphere, which makes club selection all the more difficult when the prevailing south-westerly is up and kicking. The gigantic, undulating putting surface has been left bunkerless, so the challenge here is determined by the wind and/or pin position.

Currently ranked 45th in Australia’s Top-100 Courses, Perrett’s Legends Course is truly entertaining and combines with Thomson’s formidable Open Course (ranked 65th) to create one of the most enjoyable and challenging 36-hole complexes in the country.

Return trips will be in order.

The Legends’ 11th is one of the best short fours on the Peninsula. PHOTO: Brendan James.

THE COURSE

LOCATION: Peter Thomson Drive, Fingal, Victoria.

CONTACT: (03) 5988 2047 (Pro Shop); (03) 5988 2000 (Resort).

WEBSITE: www.moonahlinks.com.au

DESIGNERS: Peter Thomson, Mike Wolveridge and Ross Perrett (Open Course 2001); Ross Perrett (Legends Course 2004).

COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Kyle Wilson.

PGA PROFESSIONALS: There is a group of resident teaching professionals available upon booking for on-site lessons.

PLAYING SURFACES: Bentgrass (greens); Legend couch (fairways, tees).

GREEN FEES: June to September, $85 (18 holes), $160 (all-day play); October to May, $100 (18 holes), $190 (all-day play).

RANKINGS: Golf Australia magazine Top-100 Courses (2020) – Open Course (No.65); Legends Course (No.45).

Sand lines the approach to the 17th green on the Legends Course. PHOTO: Brendan James.

THE CLUB

MEMBERSHIPS: Memberships at Moonah Links are currently under review.

STAY & PLAY PACKAGES: Peppers Moonah Links Resort Mornington Peninsula offers 70 deluxe rooms and suites, all with balconies or terraces overlooking the stunning golf courses or central putting green.

Stay & Play packages start from $475 per person, twin share and include: overnight accommodation, 18 holes of golf for two people, cart hire and full breakfast in Pebbles Restaurant each morning. Further details are available on the club’s website.