David Evans sits in his elegantly furnished office perched above what was once known as the Paris end of Melbourne’s Collins Street, speaking of what he calls “the dream”.
Up here, where Evans’ firm – Evans and Partners – conducts high finance on behalf of wealthy investors, you can almost detect the scent of money and power and connections.
This week, however, Evans’ thoughts are far away, out where tonsured green fairways snake through rolling remote countryside near Alexandra, two hours’ drive north-east of Melbourne.
His ruminations are a very long way, you might conject, from his tortured last days as president of the Essendon Football Club when, in 2013, allegations of doping tearing the club apart, he suffered a physical breakdown in the clubrooms and resigned.
These years later, he declines to revisit that time and instead, speaks almost poetically of a landscape cut by creeks and gorges, and a natural amphitheatre with a view directly to a high razorback ridge known as the Cathedral Range.
Out there, where the Goulburn River runs beneath the south-western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, Evans has devoted years to creating that dream of his: a golf course so spectacular that its designer, the “Great White Shark”, Greg Norman, has already mused that it may be the finest course in Australia. Evans has called it the Cathedral Lodge Golf Club.
“Cathedral Lodge is very special to me as there is nothing else like it in Australia, or the world for that matter,” Norman has declared, ruffling feathers of aficionados not convinced that a new course in a little-known Australian country district could deserve such lofty praise.
There are those who believe the intense project, which opens on Saturday, has been something of a salvation for Evans’ spirit since his tribulation at Essendon. He won’t countenance the subject, however. The past is closed.
Instead, he speaks of greater ambitions for the future.
He hopes, one day, that Cathedral Lodge Golf Club might become to Australia what the legendary Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia is to the United States and the world.
The idea germinated in 1997, when Evans and his father, the late Ron Evans, long-time chairman of the Australian Football League and president of the Essendon Football Club (a position later occupied at such personal cost by the son), travelled to Augusta for the Masters Tournament.
“I just fell in love with what Augusta is, what it stands for,” says Evans jnr. “That trip triggered the idea of planning for what has become Cathedral Lodge. I asked myself whether it could be done in a way that created a unique recreational place for Australian families with golf at its core.”
Augusta’s great claim to fame is as the home of the Masters, and Evans wants, somehow, to emulate it.
“Absolutely part of the dream is to have a major tournament there – an ongoing legacy as the US Masters is to Augusta,” he says. “I’m not imagining it at the scale of the Masters, but a version that country Victoria can be proud of.”
Evans and his wife Sonya bought a large tract of undulating land near Alexandra, on the Goulburn River, in 2003. Sonya’s own family had farmed the Alexandra area for generations, but Evans initially kept to himself the idea of turning their land into a world-class golf course.
In 2012, he hosted Greg Norman as a guest at the chairman’s lunch at the MCG for the Essendon-Collingwood Anzac Day match. Evans and Norman hit it off straight away, and when Evans mentioned his idea of a golf course on his country property, the Great White Shark offered to take a look.
“He fell in love with the property straight away,” Evans said.
After two more years of planning, getting local government approvals and arranging finance – Evans declines to say how much the project has cost – the first sod was turned on March 1, 2015.
When the club opens on Saturday, Premier Daniel Andrews will do the honours and Norman will be there, the most honoured of around 170 guests.
Cathedral Lodge will have a limited number of well-heeled members.
So far, about 70 families have signed up, each paying $50,000 for the privilege, plus $12,000 a year. This is the base tier, with future memberships costing more.
Evans won’t say how much more, saying only that he wants the place to be a family-based club, where golf is the core pursuit, but where fly-fishing, trekking and horseback riding is also on offer.
A dream. Made real.
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