Day 1 of the Sandbelt Invitational
Kingston Heath has a starring role as Blake Collyer conquers a fiery test
By Alan Shipnuck
As the title suggests, venue is everything at the Sandbelt Invitational. “The golf courses are the star,” says tournament patriarch Geoff Ogilvy. No wonder, then, Kingston Heath was chosen as the site for the first round of the inaugural invitational, which commenced on Monday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern Australia Daylight Time. If its neighbor Royal Melbourne is an international blockbuster, Kingston Heath is a kind of cult classic, revered by those in the know for its ingenious routing, Mackenzie bunkering, immaculate conditioning and the testy, beautiful par-3s, of which Ogilvy says, “The Melbourne Sandbelt collectively has maybe the best group of par-3s in the world, and Kingston Heath’s one-shot holes might be the jewel in the crown.” Tiger Woods won the 2009 Australian Masters at Kingston Heath and hasn’t stopped raving about the place ever since. “Unbelievable golf course,” says Woods. “The bunkering is just phenomenal. You don’t get to see bunkering like this in any other place in the world.” The Heath has hosted seven Australian Opens, and among the victors are Gary Player, Greg Norman and Aaron Baddeley, back when he was a teen dream.
So Blake Collyer knew exactly what he was facing when he stepped to one of the game’s great 1st tees, hard against the simple clubhouse and with an endless expanse of closely cropped fairway stretching to the horizon. With a stout breeze, fiery greens and wicked pin positions, Kingston Heath presented a ferocious test; only seven players in the field of 63 broke par, and Ogilvy said, “It was like Sunday at the Australian Open out there.” But Collyer (below) had a couple of secret weapons to buoy his spirits: The first round coincided with his 25th birthday, and for only the second time he had persuaded his fetching girlfriend to serve as his caddie. While so many other players were overmatched by the conditions, Collyer strolled to a bogey-free 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead over Brady Watt, who for one glorious week in June 2013 was the top-ranked player in the World Amateur Rankings but is still looking for his professional breakthrough.
The unique format of the Sandbelt Invitational brings together top male and female amateurs alongside pros of both sexes, and the low am on the leaderboard is Andre Lautee, tied for 10th at 1 over. He enjoyed the distinct advantage of having grown up playing the host course. “This was Kingston Heath at its toughest,” said Ogilvy, who is in 13th place at 2 over. “It was a very Melbourne day, blowing 10 to 25 all day. It’s so obvious how much more exacting you have to be in these crosswinds. Every club feels like the wrong club: This one is short, this one is long—I need a 6-and-a-half iron for this shot! But that’s real golf. You have to move it against the wind and hold it on the greens. It’s amazing how many more dimensions there are to golf on firm greens like this.”
Ogilvy double-bogeyed the 10th hole, which features maybe the most feared green complex in Australia: He, Elvis Smylie and Su Oh (below) took eight chips among them from around the green. Oh, 25, has won on the Ladies European Tour, and at 2 over she tied for the low round among the female pros. Part of the ingenuity of the format is different tees and par values that allow everyone to compete on the same leaderboard; Oh shot 76, two strokes more than Ogilvy, but they’re tied at 2 over because Kingston Heath played as a par-74 for the women. Tournament organizers made a point of mixing fresh faces with grizzled vets, so 13-year-old Amelia Harris played alongside Richard Green, 50.
This low-key battle of the sexes adds further intrigue to a tournament already lousy with plotlines. The second round will bring a rare tournament test to the West Course at Royal Melbourne, where a composite routing is usually employed for big events. Looking ahead, Ogilvy says, “There are so many good stories.”
Collyer among them. He has helped pay the bills throughout the coronavirus pandemic by driving a truck and dropping off organic produce on the doorstep of hungry customers. Collyer delivered again on Day 1 of the Sandbelt Invitational, and so did Kingston Heath.