The National – Old Course

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I shouldn’t start this way but geez the Old Course is a tough one to walk. Today marked my first round on the Old Course which is now ranked in the Golf Digest Top 100. Very much a polarising course, some love it some hate it but I don’t think anyone can deny the sheer grandeur of the layout. Before playing I heard comments like ‘Its like playing at Disneyland’ – is that a bad thing? Or its too hard for high handicappers. The pro at the National Tim Stone rates the course as his favourite and rightly says its precision golf. In his opinion you should only take driver on 4 of the holes, will let you guess which ones they are. As I’m a high handicapper and very much a golfer in the vain of Roy McAvoy I took a driver on 11 of the holes with varying success. Must comment on the greens quickly as well, multi layered and very tough. Will be interesting playing them during the heart of summer. If it snowed in Cape Schanck then they would make good moguls.

The Old Course was the first at Cape Schanck to be opened back in 1985 originally as the National. Pete Dye was originally approached to do the project but he passed and Robert Trent Jones Jr took over. Unlike the Ocean and Moonah courses significant alterations were made at the Cape Schanck site to accommodate a world class golf course with views of the Bass Strait. He famously remarked on completion – ‘The National will make me famous – either as the designer who has created one of the worlds great golf courses or a designer who stuffed up some of the best golf course real estate imaginable.’ Darius Oliver has written a great piece on the Old Course here if you would like to know more of the history.

So its 7am on Tuesday morning, no-one around and I’m at base camp on the first tee. Here are some of my thoughts.

The old course is tough, no doubt about that. The opening hole is an intimidating shortish par 4 where the smart is to play an iron\5 wood to hit the middle of the fairway. Great way to start but tough. Next few holes are played amongst shrub and stunning real estate, the third a particular monster with the challenge laid out in from of you. The real coup de gras is the short Par 3 seventh with incredible views over the bass strait. The green is very wide but shallow in depth with no margin for error. When the wind is blowing, this one is a monster. The eighth is a tough Par 5 where teeshot is essentially hit into a valley and the second and shot played to an elevated fairway and third to elevated green. Daunting to look and requires good course management (something which I don’t have!)

Second nine starts with a great dogleg Par 5 played to a double green shared with the 14th. Hole 14 is another strong Par 4 which is a sharp dogleg to the left, premium on a good long drive here which produces a sumptuous approach between two Cypress trees. Hole 16 is a good Par 3 which requires a decent carry over bushland sometimes played to a blind flag behind an imposing bucker. Extremely tough when the wind is blowing. The walk to 17 doesn’t prepare you for the vista that follows of the bass strait, Gunnamatta beach and the National complex. Tee shot is played from an exaggerated superior position and is a lot of fun. Course finishes with a shortish Par 4 often played into wind. Accuracy is a premium here with the green guarded by several bunkers. And that’s it the round is complete and Everest summited. I haven’t come across a tougher walk in golf yet but I’m sure there will be contenders as the quest continues.

Overall the National Old certainly has its own character. I discussed earlier that it polarises opinion and its easy to see why. There is a heavy focus on target golf with little margin of error. The greens are multi-layered and offer significant protection, its not unreasonable to four putt on several of the green complexes. While hard some blame must lay with the player here though! It’s a great course and experience but for me the Moonah is the stronger.

Toughest Hole – Hole 3

Favourite Hole – Hole 7

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