Hitting one down the middle and landing neck-deep in a hellish bunker is hardly golf, is it? It is on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula.

The Moonah Links course wins golfer polls all the time for its superbly maintained track. The Moonah Links course wins golfer polls all the time for its superbly maintained track. Images: Getty Images

The people from Victorian Tourism reckon in their ad campaigns that “you’ll love every piece of Victoria”. But don’t believe it: quite clearly the genius behind that slogan has never found themselves at the bottom of one of the bomb craters that double as bunkers in the middle of the bloody fairways of the Open Course at Moonah Links, the “home of Australian golf”, south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula.

“Love” isn’t the word that describes that sinking feeling when you find your pill at the bottom of one of these hazards. You might have been feeling pleased with yourself for getting a shot down the centre, but they’re a bit like those sink holes that pop up out of nowhere in the middle of the Nullarbor. When Moonah Links was first unwrapped in 2002, these sand pits were touted as a kind of spiritual connection to the grand, historic links courses of England and Scotland – and their steep-walled sandpits. These days Moonah Links’ signature bunkers are clearly signposted; apparently they were too well disguised and numerous folks were driving their golf carts straight into them. You’d need a small crane to hoist them out.

But, as we all know, golf is a strange game: for some people, the only real feeling of “pleasure” derived comes at the 19th hole, like the feeling of relief you get when you stop hitting yourself on the head with a hammer. For others, though, if your swing (vaguely) holds up, at Moonah Links you can at least get a glimpse of how it must feel for a great golfer to be challenged not so much by reproducing the mechanics of their own swing, but by the actual layout in front of them.

You want a challenging layout? You’ve come to the right place. The Open course at Moonah Links is the design masterpiece of our own Peter Thomson, five-time British Open winner back in the 1950s and ‘60s, and is the jewel in the crown of these parts. Melbourne is justifiably world famous for its sandbelt courses in its south-east – Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Metropolitan et al. But travel an hour further south around the arcing foreshore of Port Phillip Bay and you arrive at this golfing nirvana. There are 16 courses all pretty much within cooee of each other on the Mornington Peninsula, each with their own character, and each punctuated in the coastal landscape by a range of resorts and accommodation options and numerous wineries and eateries that make this stretch a fabulous haven. Apparently the one thing the place is lacking is golfers, which is why the invitation arrived for Inside Sport to join a party of media types for a three-day exploration of the area.

They were coming out all right for a while there at Moonah Links – well enough for me to discover what these notorious pot bunkers were all about. I’ve heard some people curse them: why would a designer punish a good shot up the middle of a fairway by plonking a pit of death there? But I got the picture. Where these bunkers appear, Thomson is calling on a more calculating approach to what the boffins call “golf course management”. They’re usually in the middle of the widest fairways, effectively splitting them in two – so you can theoretically go left or right. Or make sure you leave it short. Whatever you do, don’t hit your best shot of the day up the middle: try and stay out of them. You’ll often find you have to play sideways to have any chance of escape.

If the pros are haunted by Moonah Links’ bunkers, what hope for the hackers? If the pros are haunted by Moonah Links’ bunkers, what hope for the hackers? Images: Getty Images

But the bunkers are just one thing. Moonah Links is an amazing golf course (actually there are two layouts, but the Open course is tougher), long and tricky and subtle and extremely challenging, especially if the wind is blowing in off Bass Strait next-door. And did I mention long? The greens are enormous and impeccable and never straightforward – but you just might find yourself holing a few monsters: they may be fast, but it’s a treat to play on surfaces so true; a putt will certainly go where you hit it.When it was built it was planned to be the permanent home of the Australian Open, but since then they’ve decided to share the love with Sydney. But it’ll be back. I was there just a few weeks before the Nationwide Tour descended on it for the annual Moonah Classic. Despite the dry conditions across that state, the condition of the place was immaculate – but nothing out of the ordinary. This course routinely wins golfer polls for being the best maintained track in the country.

But my favourite course in these parts? It’s actually another track we got to take on. The Old Course at The National Golf Club is probably the hardest course I’ve ever played, and the most picturesque and rewarding. In fact it’s easy to miss the driveway in: this is a private members club, with no need for signposting or flash archways at the entrance. Incredibly, it’s THREE separate courses – but we get to sample the Old Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, a designer of world renown. It’s another classic links-like course, but with a fantastic feature. I believe there’s only one hole from which you can actually see another hole from tee to green. There are vistas and hills and bush aplenty (we were encouraged to walk it to fully appreciate it – I felt leg weary for days), but at any time you get the powerful impression that it’s just you vs the next shot. From any of the tees, that’s a daunting view: it might be a narrowneck carry, wicked dogleg, or dramatic shift in topography … But then a beautiful deception is revealed as you follow your tee shot: turn around and look back where you came from, and you kinda wonder what you were worried about. Expanses of fairway were concealed from you. It’s a fabulous mind game.

Getting to play on this (members) course can be tricky, but if you’re from interstate and planning a jaunt down there, simply phone ahead and let them know your plans and they’ll accommodate you (03 5988 6666).

Accommodation options abound around here.

The pick is probably the Peppers Moonah Links Resort, with its nearby hot springs and amazing rooms (03 5988 2000).The wind might blow, it might get chilly, it might get hot … But the golf to be enjoyed down here is simply breathtaking. Take a trip.


– Graem Sims