One of the oldest golf clubs on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula is basking in its rising popularity as a result of recent changes to its golf course.
I have a confession to make. The first six or seven times I ventured to Victoria’s golf-rich Mornington Peninsula to play I didn’t even consider adding Mornington Golf Club to my itinerary.
That would not be the case today.
Of course, my failings back then could perhaps be forgiven when you consider there is a plethora of great golf to be experienced on the peninsula with nearly 20 courses to choose from – a dozen of which have attained a ranking among the best courses in the country.
Mornington Golf Club is, today, one of those courses having joined the ranks of the peninsula’s elite in 2019 when it debuted at No.84 on Golf Australia magazine’s list of Top-100 Public Access Courses. When the 2021 ranking was published earlier this year, Mornington had risen to No.64 making it one of the most improved layouts in the country.
“Having debuted in this ranking in 2019, Mornington continues to impress. The closing holes of both nines have been improved with the construction of new greens, while the 19th hole addition is one of the most visually spectacular holes on the Mornington Peninsula,” noted Top-100 judge, James Walsh.
Fellow judge Alex Georgiou added: “Mornington is a course of great potential, always has been. The terrain combined with the ever-present breeze ensures no two rounds are ever the same and you had better be on your game when the breeze turns to a gusty wind.”
Mornington Golf Club ebbs and flows across dramatic terrain, with its western boundary hugging cliffs beside Port Phillip Bay about 70 minutes’ drive south of Melbourne’s CBD. On a clear day the skyscrapers of the city centre can be seen from the course.
The club is one of the oldest on the peninsula having been established in 1904 on land – alongside the nearby Nepean Highway – now home to car yards, a pub and hospital. There were two more moves before the club settled into its current home in 1946 after signing a lease with theatrical entrepreneur Sir George Tallis to use 120 acres of his estate to create a golf course. After Tallis died two years later, the club purchased the land and sort advice from course designers Vern Morcom and Sloan Morpeth, who described the site as “a little too steep”. In the end, the club entrusted the job of laying out the course to former top amateur golfer, Gus Jackson, and the first nine holes officially opened in April 1950.
Morcom was back on the scene in 1954, altering some holes and building five new ones, and 18 holes were in play by the end of 1955.
Major changes were made in the late 1960s when the club purchased a further 17 acres and architect Jack Watson laid out new holes (where the 11th and 12 holes lay today) and allowed the redesign of some established holes that had been squeezed into the property.
But the Mornington layout has never played or looked as good as it does today, courtesy of better irrigation (the course is now connected to an endless supply of recycled water) and hole redesigns as part of a masterplan put into action by the club in 2016.
The report – from Contour Golf Design architect Ben Davey in collaboration with golf writer and Cape Wickham Links co-designer Darius Oliver – agreed with Morpeth’s view and tabled some solutions to fix the steep sidehill lies encountered on several holes. Better turf quality across the course may, in time, minimise the impact of the steep slopes until further remodelling work is carried out.
Several holes have new tees, while new greens can be found on the 9th and 18th holes. The closing hole green – with bunkers short left, back right and another 15 metres short of the putting surface – has added to the strategic challenge required on the reachable par-5.
The next stage is likely to see changes to the dramatically undulating 6th hole and new tees on the stunning downhill par-3 7th hole.
The first major work of the masterplan was the building of a 19th hole, which not only added another spectacular par-3 to the already world-class Melbourne golfing landscape, but it shone a spotlight on the work being carried out on the Mornington course. The 145-metre one-shotter is built directly above the waters of Port Phillip Bay, exposing it to unpredictable winds. It’s a magnificent backdrop to a straightforward hole that is fun and challenging to play for golfers of all abilities. Five years ago, this hole was buried under thick bush.
“We found this parcel of land covered in bush and the immediate thought was it might be the perfect spot for a par-3.” – Mornington GC GM, Craig Murdoch
“We found this parcel of land covered in bush and the immediate thought was it might be the perfect spot for a par-3,” Mornington Golf Club General Manager, Craig Murdoch, said.
“Some of our members helped out and, as they cleared the land, we realised we had this ideal golfing land with a beautiful view down to the bay and across to the city. It is spectacular and nothing on the bay like it.”
The 19th, opened for play in 2017, slips into the routing between the par-5 14th and the bayside par-4 15th hole and adds to the high quality of the holes the members refer to as ‘Baymen Corner’.
The 14th is the longest hole on the course and demands a semi-blind drive over scrub to find the fairway that snakes to the right and back to the left – following the natural sloping terrain beside an adjoining creek – and up to a small green. Here, you will be greeted by stunning bay views, which stay with you for the next few holes.
The aforementioned 19th follows and then it is on to the dogleg right 342-metre 15th, which climbs from the tee to the top of a ridge, and then turns toward the bay leaving a spectacular approach shot to an angled green squeezed between expansive bunkers short right and long left.
Sand also plays a major role in the defence of par on the diminutive 16th hole. Played from alongside the bay, your tee shot must carry a gully and a scheme of pot bunkers to find the exposed elevated green. Hitting your tee shot up into the wind here is a risky exercise.
RIGHT: The 145-metre 19th hole at Mornington Golf Club. PHOTO: Brendan James.
Yes … Mornington has its flaws and, over time, are going to be addressed with some smart remodelling. What can’t be faulted is the fun you will have playing a round here.
There is nothing repetitious about a round at Mornington. You will have to hit a range of shots with different clubs from a myriad of diverse sloping lies. And that’s before you even consider the effect of the wind. It’s all great fun and it’s going to be interesting to follow the progress of the proposed course changes over the next few years.
LOCATION: Tallis Drive, Mornington, Victoria.
CONTACT: (03) 5975 2784; (03) 5975 4171 (pro shop).
DESIGNERS: Vern Morcom, Sloan Morpeth and Gus Jackson (1950); Jack Watson (1967); Ben Davey and Darius OIiver (ongoing).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Kevin Toebelman.
PLAYING SURFACES: Santa Ana couch (fairways); Bentgrass (greens).
PGA PROFESSIONAL: Michael Faraone.
GREEN FEES: $55 (18 holes, weekdays); $75 (18 holes, weekends and public holidays).
MEMBERSHIPS: Mornington has a wide range of membership categories. There is currently a waiting list for seven-day full memberships, but five- and six-day memberships are available. To download a membership brochure, visit the club’s website: www.morningtongolf.com.au
ACCOLADES: Ranked No.64 in Golf Australia magazine’s Top-100 Public Access Courses, 2021.