Monday signals the start of a brand new event in Australian golf. The Sandbelt Invitational, brainchild of Golf Australia magazine columnists Geoff Ogilvy and Mike Clayton, a hugely anticipated concept the world over.
Former course design associates Ogilvy and Clayton have enacted a long held dream to showcase some of the best courses on the world famous Sandbelt of Melbourne, with four courses welcoming a field of men and women from the pro and amateur ranks.
Clayton will take the reigns as tournament director, while 2006 U.S. Open champion will peg it up in the limited invitational field that includes a recent PGA Tour winner, LPGA Tour star and a significant number of tournament winners from around the globe.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Inaugural event.
COURSE: This is arguably the best collection of courses to act as combined hosts of an event in the one week. And that is saying a lot given Pebble Beach and The Old Course share hosting duties of annual tournaments on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour respectively.
RIGHT: PGA and European Tour winner Lucas Herbert is one of the headline acts at the Sandbelt Invitational. PHOTO: Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images.
All four Sandbelt Invitational venues are ranked inside the top-20 of Australia’s Top-100 Courses for 2022 announced by this publication in the January issue published this week.
Day one heads to Kingston Heath Golf Club ranked fifth in the nation and host to numerous PGA Tour of Australasia events in the past.
Originally designed by Dan Soutar and opened in 1925, ‘The Heath’ has been touched by Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Graeme Grant over the journey, with tournaments host both also lending their expertise under the previous Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Mead (OCCM) group. Ogilvy, Cocking, Mead (OCM) the ongoing course consultants.
Kingston Heath’s bunkering has won world acclaim, and its green complexes are magnificent.
The second day’s play on Tuesday sees the No.1 course in the country, Royal Melbourne West take centre stage.
MacKenzie’s masterpiece in Black Rock has benefitted in recent years from Tom Doak’s influence, having already been rated one of the best courses on the planet for many years.
Unlike the recent Presidents Cup, the West Course alone is the venue rather than the Composite Course, with the classic Sandbelt bunkering, magnificent and interesting greens and strategic design sure to equally excite and frustrate the field.
Ranked at 17th in the latest Top-100, Yarra Yarra Golf Club has surged back up the rankings following extensive work by Doak and Brian Slawnik of Renaissance Golf starting in 2020.
For those familiar with the layout from tournaments past, the routing of the opening holes has changed and a vegetation management program has opened up the course and restored the original intent of Alex Russell’s 1928 design.
Owning two courses inside the top-20 of the current rankings, Peninsula Kingswood Country Club welcomes the Invitational on its fourth and final day. The 16th ranked South Course (pictured top) the chosen venue for the deciding day.
Originally designed by the prolific Sloan Morpeth, Clayton renovated the layout in 2007 before OCCM completed a complete redesign in 2019 to high acclaim alongside the sixth ranked North Course.
Friendlier than the North, the South Course will likely offer plenty of scoring opportunities and forgiveness off the tee, while the closing stretch will allow for plenty of excitement.
“The back nine on the South Course may be the best nine on the entire Peninsula Kingswood property … you will be hard pressed to find a better finishing stretch than 16, 17 and 18,” Top-100 panellist and Sandbelt Invitational competitor DJ Loypur said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Despite a small field size, there is plenty of intriguing elements to the collection of players taking on the might of the Sandbelt.
Chief among the men is Lucas Herbert as a player to watch and one of the biggest chances to take the inaugural title.
The Victorian doesn’t come from the Sandbelt region, a Bendigo product instead, but he is very familiar having spent plenty of time in the area and playing out of nearby Commonwealth Golf Club for a number of years. So course knowledge won’t be an issue here.
Herbert is one of the elite few to win on the PGA and European Tours in 2021, with his recent win at the Bermuda Championship following him earning a PGA Tour card via the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. Herbert is long off the tee, an excellent iron player and makes plenty of birdies, while his confidence will be sky high for this event he made a determined effort to play.
Tournament host Geoff Ogilvy makes for an interesting prospect this week as well, having played very little tournament golf during the pandemic. At one time ranked as one of the best players in the world, the Victorian is of course a major champion and having grown up on the Sandbelt and lived in the area since a semi-retirement from the Tour will be a likely force over the week.
A member at Peninsula Kingswood, Bryden Macpherson was the form player last Aussie summer and is another who will be right up for this.
Macpherson won multiple titles earlier this year on the local circuit and although his European Tour season wasn’t quite what he would have hoped for, the Victorian has a game made for Sandbelt golf.
A close friend of Clayton, Su Oh is another with immense Sandbelt experience and some recent form that suggests she is a big chance to claim the spoils this week.
Oh had a couple of top-10s on the LPGA Tour this year and recorded some low rounds late in the season that she didn’t really go on with, but she is a proven winner in Australia and would dearly love to remember that winning feeling.
Less experienced than many of her fellow pros, Grace Kim has only just joined the play-for-pay ranks but made an immediate impression at the Western Open teeing it up against the men.
Kim was a star amateur and the early signs in her professional career are very promising and this could be another chance to show her wares on a big stage before heading overseas in the new year and trying to secure status on the LPGA Tour.
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