‘Peninsula North was a wonderful piece of land for golf but it was hampered by some very poor holes that were fortunately very easily reorganized into a significantly better course that took advantage of the potential of the site. The course is not long, nor particularly difficult but it's full of holes that are really fun to play.’ Michael Clayton
Located in the bayside city of Frankston, the Peninsula Country Golf Club has two excellent courses beautifully positioned geographically within the Melbourne Sandbelt yet only minutes from the thriving Mornington Peninsula. The club was originally founded in 1924 but only became a significant member of the Victorian Sandbelt in the 1960’s when it moved to an adjacent property and local golf identity Sloan Morpeth built its North and South courses.
While Morpeth incorporated twelve holes from the original layout into the South Course, the North Course, which was built on the undulating sandy high ground, was totally new. For more than thirty years the South Course, with its championship length and difficulty, was considered the club’s premier layout, the shorter and quirky North Course built on the more dramatic land yet less regarded because of its unconventional design. At the turn of the 20th century the club employed local golf designer Michael Clayton to oversee major revisions to all 36 holes. The result of work done to the North Course in 2002 was nothing short of remarkable and transformed the little course with infinite potential into the new darling of the Melbourne Sandbelt.
Although the routing was not significantly altered, Clayton’s changes were considerable and included a number of superb ‘new’ golf holes built along existing lines. He also incorporated classic Sandbelt style bunkering and added areas of native vegetation to create a number of spectacular vistas, especially on the short 2nd and 14th holes, which received the most substantial facelifts. The wild and unkempt appearance of the heathland grasses that line fairways and greens stir memories of its more famous cousins, indeed there is now as much of Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in this layout as original Peninsula North.
Testing players with strategy and subtlety rather than length, the variety of shotmaking challenges is the track’s greatest asset, the par threes running to all points of the compass and the short to medium length par fours bending both ways and sloping up, down and across the tumbling hills. The front nine is built on the more dramatic land but the best stretch of golf starts with the 12th, an uphill par four with a hogs backed fairway lined by a sandy hazard that runs the length of the hole. The next is a short four with a nasty hourglass green that is tiny, tiered and almost impossible to hold, while the once drab par three 14th now plays into a wide, sloping green built into a sizeable sand dune and framed by sublime bunkers.
Aside from Royal Melbourne and parts of Victoria, Peninsula’s North Course is as good a golf site as any in Melbourne, and Morpeth’s original design had always used the natural movement to great effect. Thanks to Clayton, however, the course feels born again, with his commonsense tweaking a welcome relief for golfers constantly battered by classic courses striving to be longer and tougher. For so long tarred with a ‘potentially good’ epithet, the modern Peninsula North is tremendous fun and now a true Sandbelt highlight.
The redesign of the North Course has been a tremendous success, but there is still more to do here. The 9th hole still doesn’t work, but it’s a potential classic with some tree clearing, perhaps a sandy expanse down the right side and a revised greenside bunkering scheme. With this done and the 6th green rebuilt to better suit its wonderfully bunkered fairway, the North Course becomes a 2-Flag course and eases into the Planet Golf World 100. The last half of the 8th could also be reworked, if the club was game enough, into one of the most exciting mid-length holes in Australia.