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.
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 diffcult. 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 offering a different 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 offer variation and offer 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.