The drive south, down the Mornington Peninsula, to St. Andrews Beach was a nervous one. ¬†Storm clouds were a‚?? gathering. ¬†Heavy rain had been forecast, so there was an air of anticipation in the car. ¬†Tension built as drops started falling more rapidly when we unloaded our gear in the carpark. ¬†What promised to be one of the more memorable golfing experiences of the year to date = playing St. Andrews, which was recently ranked by an Australian golf magazine as the 10th best in this great country ‚?? could have been tarnished. ¬†But it wasn‚??t. ¬†The torrential downpour that smashed us en route from the clubhouse to the 1st tee subsided by the time we played our second shots, and didn‚??t bother us again. ¬†Hooray.
So what about the golf course then? ¬†Quality. ¬†For me it was the links-iest course we‚??ve played in ‚??Straya. ¬†And I lovvveeee links golf. ¬†The design was done by no less than Tom Doak, one of the top designers in the game right now (so I understand). ¬†He‚??s responsible for Cape Kidnappers, NZ‚??s top ranked course (ranked #34 in the world, last time I heard). ¬†Anyway sometimes too much is made, for my mind, of who designed a course (‚??it‚??s a Norman course‚?Ě; ‚??I think you‚??ll find it‚??s a Dr. Alistair MacKenzie course, actually‚?Ě...blah blah blah). ¬†For sure some designers are brilliant, and have crafted beautifully laid out tracks around God‚??s good earth. ¬†Tom Doak is probably one such man. ¬†But being the bullish 25-year-old that I am, I prefer to make up my own mind about a course, rather than nodding obligingly upon notice that, ‚??gosh, you chaps are playing on an Old Tom Morris course, you know.‚?Ě ¬†Rant over. ¬†
Tom Doak has done a fine job with St. Andrews Beach. ¬†It had an authentic feel that belied its relative youth (the course has only been around for 6 years ‚?? 2 of which, incidentally, saw it out of play for the public; a failed attempt to cultivate an exclusive private club in what must be one of the most competitive golf membership markets on the planet). ¬†Many of the fairways were wide open, but quite a few of them were split by pretty nasty bunkers. ¬†Having a tipsheet ‚?? which the proshop courteously gave us before we teed off ‚?? was key, particularly because the absence of trees made depth perception tricky (a challenge compounded by relatively flat light). ¬†Sage advice like ‚??approach shot will tend to kick hard left if you land short of the putting surface‚?Ě are invaluable the first time you play a course. ¬†Read: invaluable for us, because we only ever play a course once. ¬†
Today I think we played a couple of the best par 4s we‚??ve played all year. ¬†The 3rd (pictured below) sticks in my mind: a dogleg right that allows you to bite off as much as you can chew off the tee. ¬†The second shot is played through a chute to a slightly raised green surrounded by a funnel-like apron. ¬†After hitting a very poor tee shot I had 200 metres in, into a slight breeze, but to my delight I hit a high drawing 3 wood to the centre of the green. ¬†Relief. ¬†My rose tinted glasses aside, I thought it was one of the best holes of 2010. ¬†Another very strong par 4 confronted us on the back 9 (the 13th, from memory - also pictured below) - 426 metres to be precise, uphill into the wind (457 off the very back tees, which weren‚??t out). ¬†I smashed driver and smashed 3 wood and still came up 2 inches short (of the green, not the hole, I hasten to add). ¬†The tee shot is blind and the landing zone severely undulating. ¬†The green is guarded by a mound short right, into which a great big bunker is cut. ¬†4 is a good score here. ¬†
There weren‚??t just long par 4s either. ¬†2 and 14 were both driveable in the right conditions ‚?? although neither of us were tempted. ¬†Both you could say were ‚??risk/reward‚?? (a phrase that‚??s probably thrown around too much, if you ask me) in the true sense of the phrase. ¬†If you knocked a driver on the perfect line you could find yourself with a very makeable eagle; but if you got it even slightly wrong then there‚??s plenty trouble to make you at least think about cursing (needless to say gentlemen like us never curse aloud). ¬†Mike knocked it stiff from the scrub on 2 (after taking an unplayable) to make par; and sunk a downhill 25 footer on 14 (after cruelly trickling 25 metres off the right edge of the green when his approach from the fairway bunker strayed a foot or two offline). ¬†I played 2 in regulation and made birdie on 14 (my only one of the day, I‚??m sad to say). ¬†
The variation in length mirrored variation the course exhibited in other respects: some tee shots begged driver to be hit; others commanded a precisely placed 5 iron; others still had us confused, prompting a fair bit of guesswork. ¬†It was a pleasure to play a thinking man‚??s course. ¬†One or two tracks we‚??ve played recently haven‚??t required much thought ‚?? what you see is what you get, just hit it ‚?? and haven‚??t therefore been as enjoyable. ¬†We both loved our experience (a couple of very indifferent 82s aside).
One notable feature of St Andrews that we both noticed ‚?? which I must mention before wrapping up ‚?? was that there were only two par 5s, something that seems relatively rare in our experience. ¬†The second of the two was pretty short (I hit driver, 7 iron), ¬†but its defences were set around the green, in the form of sharp slopes and more sand. ¬†Lots of sand. ¬†The bunkering was probably the most memorable aspect of St Andrews Beach, for mine. ¬†Each time you stood on the tee the strategy you formulate (if any) is shaped by a determination to avoid getting in the dam things. ¬†(A strategy that needless to say was about as successful as Hitler‚??s Russian invasion yesterday). ¬†Incidentally, having got himself in a bunker on the 18th and failed to get up and down (it took him a bunker shot and 3 putts, I regret to say), Michael is The Crab at this point in time.
Apres golf we had a beer with a couple of gentlemen from Royal Melbourne, who had come down for the weekend with a group. ¬†Chris and David were interesting chaps, obviously quite into their golf. ¬†Chris, to my astonishment, is friends with a chap by the name of Harry Cormie who hails from Kirkcaldy, Scotland (my birthplace and home for the first 15 years of my life). ¬†The real coincidence, however, comes from the fact that Harry‚??s partner‚??s daughter was a good friend of mine (and even a girflriend of mine, for a short few days in high school!). ¬†Hopefully we‚??ll see Chris and/or David again up in Melbourne in a couple of weeks‚?? time.
The latter half of the evening was spent with Colin and Anne Douglas, at their home in Frankston. ¬†Colin was a friend of my mother‚??s, growing up in the borders of Scotland. ¬†He and Anne have been very good to us over the past couple of days, and have kindly had us to stay again tonight. ¬†Sharing stories about Scotland over a wee whisky is almost enough to make one nostalgic about the homeland. ¬†Almost.
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