‘There are some great localities for golf around the world and the Cups region is one of them.’ Tom Doak
Situated in the heart of Mornington Peninsula’s Cups Country, the Gunnamatta Course at the 36-hole St Andrews Beach Golf Club, is the third Australasian layout in the increasing international portfolio of American architect Tom Doak. Occupying some of the most suitable duneland in Victoria for golf, the course was built with minimal earthmoving and great natural features like deep fairway valleys, large basin target areas and natural sandy blowouts, all incorporated into the design.
Routed across a vast rolling pasture, the layout is dominated by a series of high hills and ridges that run through the site and divide the golf into smaller pockets. These ridges proved a popular place to locate greens and tees, the targets often tucked into one section with the subsequent back tee built high on the opposite side to provide golfers with outlooks across the attractive golfscape.
Gunnamatta starts from atop one of the site’s more prominent hills, the opening hole playing down and toward an obscured green site tucked behind a bunkered ridge. The 2nd, a reachable par four that runs alongside an exposed sand dune, is probably the pick of the holes with its fairway sloping left toward a sandy wasteland and tempting target situated in a shallow clearing. The approach into the 3rd is another standout, the tee shot is a rather dull affair around a hill but those driving bravely are advantaged with a better angle across a bunkered dune into the undulating amphitheatre green. Best of the rest include the short 6th hole, the cruelly domed 9th green, and the strong par four 12th. The last half of the left-bending par five 17th is also excellent while the 18th is one of the finest finishers in Australia, a series of central bunkers splitting its fairway and creating a safer lower platform and a tighter aggressive line that leaves a shorter shot into the large layered green.
The most pleasing aspect of Gunnamatta is its variety and the manner in which the designers created a challenging test that still throws up birdie opportunities to the average player. While the best holes are outstanding, a few, such as the 15th and heavily dropping par three 16th, are less effective, as are some of the more isolated fairway bunker shapes that don’t work as well visually as the rugged traps cut into vegetation. The tee shot on the 13th and approach into the tiny 10th green are also unlovable, and unecessarily so given the difference a little earth moving could have made. Doak himself says the greens are the best set he has ever created, primarily because the existing contours were so simple to shape. Complimenting his natural targets are wonderful collection areas that throw up some fantastic short game situations.
Owing to the suitability of the virgin terrain, this was the easiest course Doak and his team has constructed and, as the designer himself noted, allowed him ‘the highest expression of his minimalist philosophy’. Although less dramatic than both Barnbougle Dunes and Cape Kidnappers, St Andrews Beach is a substantial achievement and an essential inclusion on your increasingly packed Peninsula schedule.