COURSE RE­VIEW: CLUB MAN­DALAY

In less than four years since o cially open­ing for play, the Peter Thom­son and Ross Per­rett-de­signed Club Man­dalay has es­tab­lished it­self as one of the ‘must play’ cour­ses to be found on Mel­bourne’s out­skirts.

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS JIMMY EMANUEL PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BREN­DAN JAMES

In less than four years since of­fi­cially open­ing, Club Man­dalay has es­tab­lished it­self as one of the ‘must play’ cour­ses to be found on Mel­bourne’s out­skirts, writes Jimmy Emanuel.

It is hard to imag­ine Peter Thom­son and Ross Per­rett rub­bing their hands with glee at the prospect of cre­at­ing a new course from low-ly­ing farm­land lit­tered with rocks mainly dat­ing back to a vol­canic age.

What the pro­lific de­sign duo man­aged to cre­ate in the unique space, about an hour north of Mel­bourne’s CBD and just o the Hume Free­way, which is now Club Man­dalay is tes­ta­ment to the pair’s abil­ity to see be­yond the ex­ist­ing land­scape.

The par-72, at the heart of an ever-grow­ing hous­ing de­vel­op­ment, opened in 2014 and teethed its way through the ma­jor­ity of its first year with­out a club­house, to now o er a playable and en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence for a wide va­ri­ety of skill lev­els.

Af­ter feed­back from golfers, who strug­gled with the long rough closely sur­round­ing Man­dalay’s ad­mit­tedly wide fairways, the su­per­in­ten­dent and greens sta have widened the mow­ing lines to o er a more gen­er­ous test from the tee that has re­ceived an over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­sponse. And, com­bined with the con­tin­ued bed­ding in and growth of the course, saw Club Man­dalay reach No.93 in Golf Aus­tralia magazine’s Top-100 Pub­lic Ac­cess cour­ses just three years af­ter open­ing for play.

While the long rough no longer dras­ti­cally pun­ishes play­ers who just miss the fair­way, there re­mains na­tive grass fur­ther o the mown por­tion that is in play for the er­rant driver. The long wispy grass does al­low for the ball to be found, how­ever, ad­vanc­ing it any sig­nif­i­cant dis­tance is an­other story, mean­ing that ac­cu­racy and place­ment is still key at Club Man­dalay. Char­ac­ter­is­tics that are en­hanced by the al­most con­stant winds, which typ­i­cally come from the North and whip right across the course de­spite the na­tive gums and eu­ca­lypts sig­nif­i­cantly grow­ing in stature since the course’s open­ing.

The Win­ter­green couch play­ing sur­faces are unique for the area but the grass ap­pears the right one for the job, with good cov­er­age on the tees, fairways and sur­rounds dur­ing my re­cent visit de­spite the com­bi­na­tion of a hot sum­mer and clay base. Sim­i­larly the G2 bent­grass greens have found their feet af­ter four years.

The de­sign bears some sim­i­lar­i­ties to other Thom­son and Per­rett cour­ses but a few unique twists to the Bev­eridge lay­out give it a dis­tinct char­ac­ter, with the two nines set­ting o from the club­house in their own di­rec­tion, com­ing back to greet again for the first time on their fi­nal holes.

The front nine is the more gen­er­ous of the loops, with plenty of birdie chances avail­able,

par­tic­u­larly if you catch the course with its de­fences down on a rare day with­out strong winds. And when start­ing the course from the 1st hole it doesn’t take long to wit­ness some of Thom­son and Per­rett’s best work.

The down­hill par-3 3rd hole is one of four in­ter­est­ing and var­ied one-shot­ters. The 3rd, one of the few holes on the lay­out with­out a raised green, like many of Club Man­dalay’s oth­ers dis­plays ev­ery­thing in front of you from the tee with a green fea­tur­ing a large swale through the mid­dle, which places a premium on dis­tance con­trol and is the hole’s pri­mary de­fence out­side a lone green­side bunker.

Per­haps in­flu­enced by the hous­ing es­tate’s plan­ning, Man­dalay’s par-4s and 5s lack much move­ment in the fairways. In­stead re­ly­ing on strate­gic bunker­ing and mound­ing, which can be used to gain a dis­tance ad­van­tage when the course is run­ning firm and fast, while also giv­ing many of the holes a tougher vis­ual dis­play from the tee.

One ex­cep­tion is the slight dog­leg right par-4 5th hole, which is drive­able de­spite mea­sur­ing 327-me­tres from the back tee and is my favourite on the course.

The two fair­way bunkers on the in­side cor­ner are the line for the longer hit­ter, with a se­vere downs­lope over the traps shoot­ing the ball for­ward to the large open fronted green that is un­sighted from the tee.

To put ques­tions in the mind of the ag­gres­sive player, trees and wood chip sit right of the bunkers and pos­sess a ca­pa­bil­ity to make the eas­i­est hole on the course very di†ffcult. While mound­ing left of the tar­get line will leave an awk­ward pitch over one of Man­dalay’s trade­mark con­toured bunkers to the sig­nif­i­cantly back-to-front slop­ing green.

Con­ser­va­tively lay­ing up is the other op­tion but a third fair­way bunker on the out­side cor­ner of the dog­leg and the green’s slightly hor­i­zon­tal an­gle to the layup por­tion of the fair­way, a com­mon theme at Man­dalay, make this the road less trav­elled.

Upon reach­ing Club Man­dalay’s back nine, play­ers with a few birdies on their card will want to con­sol­i­date and make as many pars as pos­si­ble be­fore a unique fi­nal stretch that makes or breaks the round.

The par-4 12th stands out from the other two-shot­ters on the course, with three pines on the left-hand side oŠffer­ing a diŠffer­ent look from the tee that forces more con­cen­tra­tion and ide­ally a right-to-left shot turned around them.

While out­side of the 5th and 12th holes the par-4s are pri­mar­ily straight, Thom­son and Per­rett’s creative un­du­lat­ing green shapes and sur­rounds offŠer vari­a­tion and oŠffer noth­ing good from a scor­ing per­spec­tive long. This means it is short game ex­e­cu­tion where a score is earned at Club Man­dalay. But as is al­ways the case on any Thom­son-de­signed course, driv­ing is also in­flu­en­tial with a pre­ferred side of each fair­way giv­ing the best an­gle to the green.

Hav­ing putted out at the long par-3 16th,

which at 202-me­tres with wa­ter left, sur­round­ing bunkers and dra­matic slopes sur­round­ing and on the green will test any­one’s long and short game nerves, you ar­rive at the reach­able par-5 16th. The 16th is fol­lowed by an­other par-5, which when com­bined best dis­play Thom­son’s pref­er­ence for place­ment over power from the tee.

Again, pine trees make the drive at 16 some­thing of an out­lier with a straight line of tim­ber bro­ken only by one of the nar­row­est fairways on the course. Left or right from the tee will see the trees in­flu­ence your next shot but any drive over 250-me­tres gets you be­yond the lone fair­way bunker and equal with the pines ready to at­tack an­other raised and well-bunkered green.

Wider from the tee, it’s the sec­ond shot that is all-im­por­tant at the penul­ti­mate hole, which at 489-me­tres is a three-shot­ter for most. A col­lec­tion of three bunkers short and right of the green hide it from view and make the hole feel shorter from the fair­way. The safe play is to layup short of the bunkers, although a blind third shot is the re­sult to the long green which can harm the chances of set­ting up a birdie. Take on the lone fair­way bunker po­si­tioned left in the lay-up zone, how­ever, and you will be re­warded with a wedge straight up the green with an un­hin­dered view.

The fi­nal hole is played up­hill and mea­sures 391-me­tres, mak­ing it the course’s sec­ond long­est par-4. Again, a straight-for­ward tee shot is made to look more chal­leng­ing with mounds and folds in the fair­way be­fore your fi­nal ap­proach of the day is played to a bowl green that feeds to­wards the mid­dle from all sides and again makes chip­ping an ex­act sci­ence.

With its creative course de­sign and stun­ning vis­tas of the sur­round­ing moun­tains, Club Man­dalay ap­pears well pre­pared for a long fu­ture as a des­ti­na­tion for trav­el­ling golfers and lo­cals, who upon each re­turn will wit­ness an im­prov­ing course as the grasses ma­ture fur­ther.

The club’s will­ing­ness to adapt and learn as it did with the rough sur­round­ing the fairways holds it in good stead as it de­vel­ops a rep­u­ta­tion as an en­joy­able lay­out with an abil­ity to chal­lenge every level of player – some­thing that would have seemed unimag­in­able when dig­ging thou­sands of rocks from the ground be­fore con­struc­tion.

The spine run­ning through the mid­dle of the 10th green places a premium on ac­cu­racy for your sec­ond shot.

Deep bunkers need to be avoided by the tee shot and ap­proach on the par-4 9th.

Storm clouds gather to the south west be­yond Club Man­dalay’s test­ing par-4 18th hole.

There are two dis­tinct lev­els on the green at the short par-4 5th, so your wedge game bet­ter be good.

The 18th green fea­tures plenty of twists and turns, mak­ing even three-foot­ers for par tough.

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