If there is such a thing as a ‘super club’, The National Golf Club can rightly claim to be one. In fact, there are few clubs around the world that can boast as many diverse and interesting holes as can be experienced at The National.
The 359-metre par-4 11th is an example of what the Moonah Course demands at every hole – strategy, courage, and an ounce of good fortune – the quintessence of golf. This is a wonderful natural hole where the tee shot is played to a plateau, leaving a mid-iron into a diagonally positioned green that slopes markedly from back left to front right. The bunkers cut into the edge of the dune beneath the green can prove deceptive when deciding what club to hit into the green.
The challenge to Norman and Harrison was to create a layout that is, of course, testing but fair, given the landscape and opposing weather extremes. They have certainly achieved that end.
“We knew there was a great course buried out there somewhere under the 250 acres of sand dunes,” Harrison said. “I think we found it.”
In 2017, the club decided to enter into discussions with acclaimed American architect Tom Doak to come up with a concept plan for the Ocean Course, which was seen as being a very difficult layout and was the lowest ranked of the Cape Schanck-based courses.
Opening for play last year, Doak’s Gunnamatta Course is far more than a redesign of the Ocean layout. It is very much a new course, with Doak virtually turning the course upside down – replacing the repelling upturned greens of the Ocean Course with majestic greensites, many with receptive punchbowl shaping or slopes continuing onto the putting surfaces from surrounding mounds.
“My first impression was that maybe the property was too hilly to be great for golf, due to the Ocean 2nd hole with its steep approach,” Doak told Golf Australia. “My eye was drawn to the new green site, well short and left, but I thought that was impractical because it was such a long walk up to the next tee in the corner.
“But then I realised I could play into the old 17th hole instead to tack my way uphill, and I realised there was potential for a real transformation, because there were no trees between holes, it was easy to establish new green sites just by sticking a flag in the ground.”
I played Doak’s new creation shortly after it officially opened in October. I was coming off a long period of poor play and wasn’t really fussed about playing the game. I walked off the Gunnamatta Course with my love of the game renewed. I had not had as much fun on a golf course in a very long time.
On reflection, this was no different to all the other Doak designs I have been lucky enough to play – like Barnbougle Dunes, Cape Kidnappers and St Andrews Beach – during the past two decades. They’re all fun to play but with Gunnamatta, Doak has crafted one of his most challenging and enjoyable courses.
“When I started out in design 30-plus years ago, I noticed that fun was a word never used in marketing golf courses – even resort courses were sold as being serious tests of golf,” Doak said.
“I decided right away to concentrate on building courses that were beautiful and fun to play. Of course, for good players, a course must be challenging to be fun, and my courses are challenging, but in an engaging way, not in a relentless way.”
Gunnamatta is certainly no different. As is the case with any redesign of an established course at a member’s club, a designer could easily second guess themselves or worry about how their work will be received. Not Doak.
“I don’t really worry much what golfers will fuss about in my work,” Doak said. “But for The National, I understood that they have three courses and our goal should be to make a course that contrasted with the others.
“It didn’t have to appeal to every member, as long as it claimed its fair share of play, and I’m confident it will. The course is wide enough to be playable for members even on the windiest days, which also means there’s a chance to go low in calm conditions, but you’ll have to hit some great golf shots to do that.
“Like my other courses in Australia, there are some terrific short par-4s and a memorable set of par-3s, but the three par-5 holes are unusually good for my work, too.”
He’ll get no argument from me.
Every shot you face on the Gunnamatta Course presents questions as Doak provides different playing options depending on your ability, while the terrain and the conditions of the day add the variables.
The 355-metre par-4 2nd is a perfect example. This hole was shortened with the green brought forward to lie in a pocket just beyond two left side fairway bunkers and only a few metres inside the boundary fence. The key here is leaving yourself a straightforward second shot. You could take an iron from the tee, leave a 100-metre wedge shot from a flat lie, and have a better chance of making birdie than the player blasting a driver at the green, missing, and having a difficult chip from the wrong side of the putting surface.
The following hole, a 360-metre par-4, is a big departure from the previous design. Doak routed his 3rd hole to head back to the east – playing from the Ocean Course 3rd tee to the old 17th fairway – to a new ‘bowl-like’ green site carved out of the side of a sand dune which is receptive to long shots. It’s a gem.
A visit to The National is like going to a five-star smorgasbord, and never fulfilling your appetite. At Cape Schanck, there are 54 world-class, beautifully presented holes that rarely ever play the same way twice. At Long Island, you get a tasting sample of Melbourne Sandbelt golf. Leave time to play all 72 holes … you won’t be disappointed.
LOCATION: The Cups Drive, Cape Schanck, Victoria, 3939; Long Island: Frankston-Dandenong Rd, Frankston, Victoria, 3199.
CONTACT: (03) 5988 6666 (Cape Schanck); (03) 9786 4122 (Long Island).
DESIGNERS: Old Course – Robert Trent Jones Jnr (1987); Moonah Course – Greg Norman and Bob Harrison (2000); Gunnamatta Course – Tom Doak (2019); Long Island – Gordon Oliver (1938) and Vern Morcom (1945).
SLOPE RATINGS: (Old Course) Men – Green 119, Red 121, Black 138; Women – Gold 120, Green 126, Red 139. (Moonah Course) Men – Black 133, Blue 126, Red 120; Women – Green 124, Red 133. (Gunnamatta Course) Men – Black 125. (Long Island) Men – Black 136, Blue 135, White 131; Women – Red 136.
GREEN FEES: The National Golf Club is a private golf club. Interstate and overseas visitors can request a tee time via the club’s website and will need to provide a letter of introduction from their home club. Victorian residents need to be invited as a guest of a member. Green fees are charged per round and guests may play up to 36 holes in one day. Prices are upon application.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Leigh Yanner.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Craig Funch (Director of Golf, Cape Schanck); Richard Quested (Director of Golf, Long Island). Tim Stone and Andrew Kloprogge (teaching professionals).
MEMBERSHIPS: There are various membership options available at The National to join the club as either a private or a corporate member. This includes both acquiring share equity in the organisation or leasing the membership playing rights of an existing member. The various share classes and membership types can be viewed on the club website. To arrange a personal, no-obligation tour of the club and to obtain further information contact the membership and corporate manager Jeremy Watson on (03) 5988 2744 or email JeremyW@nationalgolf.com.au
Members have playing rights on all four Top-100 ranked courses, access to exceptional clubhouse and practice facilities as well as a large fleet of motorised carts.
PRACTICE FACILITIES: The range at Cape Schanck offers more than 100 square metres of quality rye grass to hit off. The range has seven target greens at varying distances for approach to green practice, and is more than 260 metres in length for long game practice. The short game practice areas are designed with contours and slopes similar in nature to the design features of the courses and provide the ideal short game practice including: bunker practice, pitching practice and putting practice.