The Gunnamatta Course at The National
The story of how we received our invitation to play the Gunnamatta Course at The National is a pretty good one! And we’ve had quite a few unique invites in our travels!
We spent 4 months traveling the incredible island of Tasmania. Much of that time was spent exploring the beautiful Bay of Fires, located on the east coast of the island. We found an amazing camping spot, with direct ocean views, and ended up staying there for a week. One of the greatest things about our slow travel lifestyle is that if we find a spot that we don’t like, we move on. But if we find something that we like, we stay. And the Bay of Fires was exactly one of those places!
Anyway, one morning as we were enjoying our cup of coffee, a friendly Aussie that was parked next to us came over. She had seen our Puttering around the World sticker on the back of our campervan Putu and was curious. We shared our story of how we are traveling the world playing golf with her, and we got to chatting about all the courses in Australia that we had played.
She asked if we had played The National yet. As it’s private, we said that we would love to, but didn’t know if we would have the opportunity. “Well,” she said, “you’re in luck. My friend is a member, and I am sure that he would enjoy hosting you for the day.” It didn’t take us long to exchange numbers, and a promise to give her a call when we got back to mainland Australia as the Tassies like to call it.
The Gunnamatta Course is an Easy Decision
A few months later, we were back in Melbourne and immediately reached out to inquire if the offer to play The National was still a possibility. So, I dropped a note to the kind fellow traveler that we met in Tasmania. Not long after, our mobile rang. “Hello”, I answered, not recognizing the number. “G’day James, this is Laird, I hear you want to play The National! Which course would you like to play?” We couldn’t believe our luck!
The National is a golf club that is made up of 4 fantastic courses; the Old Course designed by Mr. Robert Trent Jones Jr, the Moonah Course, designed by Mr. Greg Norman, the Long Island Course designed by Mr. Gordon Oliver, and the Gunnamatta Course, redesigned by Mr. Tom Doak. In fact, Australian Golf Digest magazine has ranked all 4 within the top 100 of Australia. With options like that, there is no wrong choice. But we’re huge fans of Mr. Doak and have been fortunate to have played some of his best like Pacific Dunes, Cape Kidnappers, and Barnbougle Dunes. So, our decision was easy, “we would love to play the Gunnamatta Course” I enthusiastically replied!
An Extremely Windy Day for Golf
We woke early to a brisk April morning, much cooler than we were hoping for. With cold dark skies above, and with her back still sore from our day at Barnbougle, Menekse didn’t want to risk further injury and decided that she would stay in Melbourne. Sad, but not wanting to miss the opportunity, I headed out alone. Three of the four courses at The National are located at the tip of the Mornington Peninsula, just over an hour from Melbourne’s CBD.
I pulled into the car park at the Gunnamatta Course and was immediately awed by the spectacular clubhouse. As I stepped out of Putu and grabbed my clubs, I quickly changed into a stocking hat so as not to lose my favorite Shek O golf hat.
The Clubhouse faces the golf course and ocean, and as I walked by, I was almost blown over by a strong gust of wind. It was an extremely windy day, and I knew immediately that Menekse had made the right decision.
The Gunnamatta Course measures 7096-yards from the back tees and an eye-popping 6587 yards from the forward tees. Both play to a par of 72.
The front nine at The Gunnamatta Course
A Great Start
The short 388-yard par 4 third hole reverses direction from the opening two holes and plays away from the Southern Ocean. While the violent Bass Strait was no longer visible, its overwhelming presence was still felt. The third bends gently right, and a waste area bunker guards the dogleg. My generous host pointed out a cart path on the left in the distance that acts as the perfect target. However, the crosswind was howling from left to right, so I took aim left of the path and tried to get the ball up into the wind, allowing for the wind to take over.
From the perfect location left of center fairway, I was left with a full wedge into a large green that had plenty of trouble right, and what looked like a swale left. With the flag whipping in the wind, I was able to knock my wedge to the middle of the green, leaving an easy 2-putt for my third par in a row. A pretty good start given the conditions!
Only 10 Clubs Short!
Standing on the tee of the 443-yard par 4 fourth, your eye is naturally drawn to the cluster of bunkers that dot the left side. But the best play on the hole is down the right side. Playing back parallel to the ocean, the number 3 handicap hole is straightaway, and was directly back into the wind. Even with this much wind, I felt that I could clear the bunker on the right but didn’t think that I could reach the bunkers on the left. And, sure enough, I was correct. Playing in more normal conditions, I am confident that trouble left could easily come into play.
From the middle of the fairway and with 205-yards in, I ripped a great 5-wood and honestly thought that it had a chance to get home. As I made my way to the green, I found my ball was absolutely in line with the pin, and only about 10 clubs short!
Whatever You Do, Do Not Be Short
The 210-yard par 3 fifth plays back towards the ocean, and finally, I had a hole that played directly downwind. I stepped off 188-yards, and with the wind, I grabbed an 8-iron. A pot bunker, or maybe what would be referred to here in Cup Land as a cup bunker, is short of the green, and visually divides the large green into two. So, I knew that short is absolutely where you cannot be. And with a green that slopes off into low collection areas both left and right of the putting surface, the only safe miss is long.
Today’s pin was way over on the far-right side. Aiming to the middle of the green, I hit my 8-iron directly over the bunker and ended up being a club long. I certainly didn’t have a difficult second shot, but I wasn’t able to get it close enough and missed a 4-footer for my first bogey of the day.
There is more room between the bunker short and the green than it looks from the tee. Doak often uses optical illusions in his designs, like the great Alister MacKenzie incorporated in his masterpieces. Just know that when you play the fifth, ensure that you are not more than one club short!
A Great Golf Hole
The 374-yard par 4 eighth is the number 1 handicap hole at the Gunnamatta Course and was one of my favorites. With just a slight bend to the left, the view of the green from the tee is blocked by a tall grassy mound that rests on the left. There is a large fairway bunker that guards the visible approach to the green.
Laird pointed at a house in the background down the right side as the best target off the tee. Eight was also playing downwind, so I grabbed a 5-wood to be short of the bunker compensating for the gusts. Making good contact, it didn’t move left as I was hoping and landed in a direct line with the bunker. But I couldn’t see then if it went in or not. As I made my way down the hole, enchanted by Doak’s impressive work, I didn’t find my ball in the fairway. I surprisingly found it lying in the flat of the fairway bunker, nearly 30-yards further than I would ever have imagined
The green on eight is a somewhat Redan styled jellybean shape that runs front right to back left, bending around a pot bunker. That bunker almost cuts the putting surface into 2 sections, with the front portion being larger than the back. Unlike Redan, however, the putting surface slopes away from you. I picked my long bunker shot extremely clean and watched with anticipation as it landed in the middle of the two sections and rolled out to the back right of the green.
Making the turn at The Gunnamatta Course
All Aboard the Bogey Train
The tenth at the Gunnamatta Course is an extremely long 470-yard par 4. And to make matters much more difficult, we were back into the wind. There is nothing to do on the tenth other than to just hit it straight. Miss it right, and there are some fairway bunkers that look more like cliffs as they fall off the side. Not to plan, I hit my driver way too high, which left me short of the bunker on the left. And still a mile from the green!
With 220-yards remaining, I could see that there wasn’t too much trouble surrounding the green, so I hit 3-wood that came up well short left, but it was safe. With a funnel-shaped green that had a lot of undulations, I walked away with a pretty satisfying bogey.
Starting to Losing the Battle
Continuing to play into the wind, I played 2 balls from the uphill 227-yard monster of a par 3 eleventh tee. With a huge bunker short, I hit a 3-wood that was way short. Like 70 yards short! It only went about 150 yards and dropped deep down in the bunker! Just for fun, I hit driver just to see if I could even get there. I put that also in the bunker, only about 10 yards further!
From the thick sanded bunker, I was faced with an uphill long bunker shot that was into the wind. Rather than a sand wedge, I decided to hit my 54° wedge. It made it out but didn’t make it all the way up the hill. Luckily it cleared the bunker and left me standing on the edge. 3 putts later, I walked off with double!
We’ve played some windy courses in our travels- most notably Nelson Golf Club in New Zealand, as well as Barnbougle in Tasmania, but this was really starting to get frustrating! The wind was so fierce that I couldn’t even talk with Laird because I couldn’t hear him. He had a great golf game, and I would have loved to have been able to chat more with him.
Unable to Convert
Finally playing back with the wind, the 428-yard par 4 fourteenth has one of the narrower fairways that I have seen from Doak. Once past the fairway bunkers on the left, the fairway begins to funnel. And with today’s wind, clearing the bunkers wasn’t a problem.
Resting short and right of the fourteenth green is a large blowout-looking bunker. From the narrow fairway, I had 91-yards to the pin that was in the middle back of the green. I was able to pinch a 56° wedge from the tight fairway that landed short and ran out pin high. This left me with a decent birdie opportunity, which I again couldn’t convert. By this time the wind was blowing so hard that I could see my ball wiggle as I looked down over it!
From the tee, the green on the 205-yard par 3 sixteenth looks like one of those infinity pools at a hotel on your favorite tropical island. But the weather didn’t feel the same. Plus the ominous-looking Southern Ocean in the background and the dark clouds above reminded me that this wasn’t time to place an umbrella in my mai tai!
Playing 191-yards today, and with the wind gusting from right to left, my eye focused less on the view behind the green, and more on the greenside left bunker. Afraid of where the wind could take my ball, I aimed well right of the green. Often, when I am afraid of a shot, my tendency to hook the ball creeps in. And this swing was no exception. Before I even made contact with the ball, I could feel a hook coming on. So, as we golfers tend to do, I attempted to correct my mistake in mid-swing. But the correction was too late. The second the ball left the clubface, I knew that it was going to go left.
My 6-iron had a low piercing trajectory, but it started to turn too early. It crossed the pin and landed on the left side of the green. But a combination of wind and poor execution couldn’t hold it on the green, and it leaped into the punishing bunker left.
Frustrated that I’m unable to prevent bad swing thoughts from entering my mind, I walked to my ball with my head hung low, rather than taking in the specular scenery. Still sulking, I hit a decent bunker shot, but continued my sour mood to the putting surface and never gave par a chance. Even more tragically, I didn’t take a picture of the infinity pool!
Follow the Sun
The original goal of our golfing adventure was to follow the sun. Which was going fairly well until covid came along. Like the rest of the world, covid forced us to change our plans. Simply following the sun was currently not possible, and I suffered the consequences of the wind at The National. When we left New Zealand, we gave our winter stuff to some fellow travelers, and today I was wishing that I had some warmer layers!
Maybe due to the conditions, I literally hit every club in the bag at the Gunnamatta Course. I don’t remember the last time that I hit 3-woods and/or 5-woods into par 5’s! Or especially on second shots into par 4’s! Not because I am long off the tee, but because I am perhaps too conservative in my game. In fact, I hit driver, 3-wood, 5-wood on the longest par 5 on the golf course, the uphill par 5 sixth. And I was still short!
I Love This Style of Golf
In common with many of the Tom Doak designs we’ve played, the Gunnamatta Course has large open fairways. Similarly, however, you need to be able to put the ball in the correct position off the tee in order to have the best opportunity for an easier approach. The fairways were sand-based which made them play firm. Offering crisp clean tight lies, they felt and played very links in style. Many of the fairways were lined with tussock-styled grass which was eager to grab any of my wayward shots.
The large, undulated greens ran pure, offered a multitude of pin positions, and simply were magnificent. Like true links golf, I was able to play the ball on the ground, letting the contours of the course help guide me. A couple of greens had false fronts, which provided optical illusions when attempting to determine distances, while others had some helpful backstops, allowing for more creativity around the greens.
The greens were strategically protected by bunkers, but the course wasn’t overly bunkered. The course was natural-looking and looks and plays like it has been there forever.
The course played extremely difficult in the wind. I made the turn at one-over but struggled coming in. But I thought it was a very respectable 78 given the tough conditions. Even in these conditions, I love this style of golf and know that the Gunnamatta Course was the absolute right choice for me. I just wish Menekse was with me to experience it.
The Luckiest Golfers in the World
We often say that we are the luckiest people in the world. After all, traveling the world, and playing incredible golf, has been an extremely incredible experience. But it has been all the wonderful people that we have met along the way that has the most rewarding. It has been the kindness and generosity of strangers who we now count as friends that have made our journey unforgettable. You never know who can open a door.