Short is king at the 2023 Sandbelt Invitational.

Words: Paul Prendergast

Photo: Golfplus Media.

The third staging of the Sandbelt Invitational provides so many avenues for discussion beyond just the scores being logged over four of the best golf courses in the world. ‘Who’s playing’ this week is an exercise unlike tournament coverage at other times, when you have such refreshing diversity in a field that comprises local teenage up-and-comers right through to major champions and Ryder Cup heroes.

The recent announcement of the roll back of the golf ball by the USGA and R&A is another topical background to the distance issue that has, arguably, impacted classic golf courses such as those on the Sandbelt more than most. Certainly, the length on display from most in the field here in Melbourne this week would have Dr Alister MacKenzie turning in his grave, often rendering many iconic par-fives and once venerable par-fours to mere pitch and putts in the right conditions.

For the purist, the enjoyment in watching a field plot their way around golf courses such as these is not in how they’re able to bring the longer holes to their knees. It’s how the firm and fast conditions and 100-year old plus architecture – and more recent work predicated on these original design principles – holds up when options other than brute strength are a required part of the equation.

We saw how the weather and a firm Royal Melbourne provided such a unique test of golf for the field at the recent Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship where Victorian Jasper Stubbs (pictured) – who is playing the Sandbelt Invitational this week – prevailed in an exciting playoff, earning start at The Open and Masters Tournament in 2024.

Many of the short holes gave players fits that week and the number of world-class short holes at Royal Melbourne, Peninsula Kingswood, Yarra Yarra and Victoria this week will ensure a similar test awaits, albeit today’s storms have softened the greens and surrounds to some extent.    

To provide a popular analogy, playing these holes can be akin to contesting Bread Week on the Great British Bake-Off. The task ahead certainly appears straightforward enough for the contestants but the prospect of under-proving the dough, having the bread split or finding after the event that you’ve over-salted it, soon become frustratingly real issues.

In a similar vein, approaching holes like the 15th at Victoria require a similar nuanced approach and attention to detail to achieve the desired results. Working backwards from where the pin is located ought to provide an insight to the best position on the fairway for the approach, which is especially important when the fairway is wide, providing the appearance that anywhere off the tee will suffice.

In today’s first round, there were multiple approaches taken off the 15th tee – from irons to drivers – and outcomes that ranged from eagles to double bogies. Stubbs’ tee shot was deserving of a wider audience after nearly holing out before rolling in his three-metre eagle putt.   

In terms of par-threes, the 17th at Peninsula Kingswood (South) is a wonderful modern architectural example that celebrates all that is great in a short hole. A par or bogey can be a simple enough outcome for just about any golfer with plenty of room to play to the fat of the green for a two-putt opportunity.

However, just about every golfer standing on the tee with a wedge in hand will subconsciously think they ‘should’ be taking advantage of the opportunity; and that the ruination of a decent card could not possibly occur at such an innocuous looking hole.

Anyone who has ever stood over a two-foot putt will understand how complacency can set in but as we all know, they too are miss able and count the same when the numbers are calculated at the end. As a result, a pin tucked to the left over the gaping bunker is often considered fair game, inviting all kinds of interesting numbers if the execution is awry.

This wonderful field will get their chance to take on that challenge when Round 2 begins at Peninsula Kingswood tomorrow.

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