‘Moonah was our first experience in true links land and we had to adapt our style to the ground and wind. There were natural golf holes everywhere and it was our responsibility to try to find the best of them. It took months before we were ready to start construction.’ Bob Harrison
Founded in 1987, The National Golf Club was born as an eighteen-hole course in the Cape Schanck hills overlooking Bass Strait but grew into Australia’s largest private golf facility in 2000 with the opening of two spectacular seaside links situated on the Mornington Peninsula’s rolling farming pastures. Built on heaving coastal duneland of Irish proportions, the Greg Norman and Bob Harrison designed Moonah Course is the pick of the club’s three tracks and one of the country's most exciting modern creations.
Boasting stunning rural and ocean panoramas and occupying an attractive series of jumbled dunes and ridges, Moonah’s virgin land presented Norman and Harrison with a number of natural golf holes and the team spent hundreds of hours on site developing alternate layouts and considering various combinations to squeeze as many great holes as possible into their course. The pivotal hole in this process was the 11th, tucked away in the north-west corner of the property it lies on land the designers were so keen to include that they had to trade off routing difficulties to get to it. The hole itself falls beautifully across the undulations with the tee shot played into an elevated saddle surrounded by sand, and the approach over a hollow toward a punchbowl green framed by the distant Bass Strait dunes. To balance the use of this gorgeous land, however, the closing stretch is made up of a series of long holes that head back to the clubhouse and usually into the teeth of the stiff Peninsula winds. Some question whether the routing is compromised as a result. Regardless, to score well at Moonah you need to get through the first eleven holes without too many scars, as the battle to hold onto your score coming home is extremely tough.
Aside from the number of impressive golf holes, the key to Moonah’s success as a big dune links are its bunkers and greens. To remain playable and accommodate the running approach shot, most of the greens were built with open fronts and shaped to follow the general contour of the landscape. Many also come complete with backstops or pronounced side-slopes to allow skilled golfers to work the ball back toward more inaccessible pin positions. The bunkering is Moonah’s most distinguishable feature, the small traps were first excavated quite roughly before the edges, and parts of the faces, were seeded with fescues to provide a wild, jagged and ungroomed appearance, not dissimilar to the fearsome hazards at Royal County Down.
Also distinctive is the fairway shaping, while the landing areas are fairly generous the aggressive player is often able to attack ridges and distant valleys in order to set up shorter and easier approaches. The opening hole sets the tone for the round to follow, chances are you will not miss its expansive landing area with your first tee shot, but hit too far down the left side and your best chance of par is from one of the greenside bunkers. The next is a fine par five along and then into an imposing sand ridge, while the 3rd is a brilliant driving hole with a diagonal fracture cutting across its wide fairway and kicking accurate balls toward the target but pushing weaker drives away and leaving a longer and more difficult approach. The tee shot on the 4th is another beauty, this time played from atop a plateau out over sweeping undulations with the second shot climbing into a green cut into a hillside. Other standout holes include the par four 10th, with its windmill and wild green, the chasing one-shot 17th and the splendid set of par fives, particularly the 7th which drops and then rises through a tumbling valley into a lovely long depression. The four and a half par 16th hole is another excellent adventure, though a little demanding for most of the membership.
There are not many modern courses as dramatic as Moonah and although it will appeal to the masses, for low markers who like their golf raw this is a special treat. The other two National courses are also worth exploring. The adjacent Ocean Course, by Peter Thomson, Mike Wolveridge and Ross Perrett, occupies an even more suitable slice of duneland while the Old Course is a typically extravagant Robert Trent Jones Jr design that features amazing coastal views and one breathtaking work of art, the short 7th, worth traveling from wherever you read this review to experience.