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Golf on the Beautiful Bellarine Peninsula

by Selwyn Berg

Little more than an hour’s comfortable drive south west of Melbourne lies a complete golfing and tourist location to satisfy the most demanding enthusiast.

The Bellarine Peninsula features a dozen courses of splendid variety, all easily reached from any of the popular accommodation centres.

Victoria’s second city – Geelong – stands at the gateway to the Bellarine Peninsula, and offers everything from fine hotels, restaurants and department stores to budget motels and fast food. Good quality motels are also to be had at Ocean Grove, Torquay, Portarlington and Point Lonsdale. The region is rich in bed-and-breakfast style accommodation and there are numerous camping grounds and caravan parks.

But it is to Queenscliff that most discerning holiday-makers flock. Grand Victorian hotels with style and elegance from that by-gone era, fine dining rooms and modern-style restaurants with European flavours, coffee houses, antique shops and famous fresh seafood supplier right on the wharf – Queenscliff has it all. There’s even a Sunday market.

And then there’s the golf!

Barwon Heads Golf Club

"For many golfers, the grand prize is a game at Barwon Heads Golf Club. Barwon Heads, is a club that oozes class, where a certain decorum - not unlike Muirfield - must be maintained. I’ll never forget during one ‘chatty’ lunch... a waiter's cough, followed by, "Excuse me young man, you may find your shirt needs tucking in!" In an embarrassed tone I thanked him for his interest and complied.

Barwon Heads is famous in Australian golfing circles and, erroneously, is often referred to as a links. Starved of true links, we tend to lazily assign the tag to anything that remotely looks like one. Any course by the beach, of undulating sandy loam gets praised as such. The 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th are authentically ‘links-like', but afterwards the tight coastal ti-tree changes the feel of the course. Architecturally, the non-links section is highly appealing but totally unconnected to the holes mentioned. Interestingly, the links flavour returns strongly with the long 12th hole and for one of Australia's finest par threes, the glorious 13th hole. Afterwards, the course wends back through wooded terrain. However, the constant undulation, which really is nature's gift to golf, is present throughout the entire layout". (Noted golf writer and "links aficionado" Paul Daley)

The present course was established in 1920, but the opening sea-side holes were not constructed until 1929.

The first, a 305m par four usually plays much longer into the prevailing westerly wind. There’s out of bounds left that is a real worry on the opening drive for any hooker or left handed slicer. Anything on the fairway that misses the pot bunker on the right presents a simple enough pitch shot to the elevated landing area. The third is a wonderful, long par four at 380m, hopefully down wind! A vast area of sandy hollow lies in wait for anything sliced or struck short in an attempt to cut too much off the dogleg. Again, the green is elevated, and the challenge is provided by natural slopes and undulations all around rather than artificial bunkering. There are ocean glimpses to be had from the beautiful two tier green on the par three fourth.

Perhaps the thirteenth is the signature hole, but words can never describe just how inspiring this "simple" short little downhill par three of 133m really is. No bunkers – just wind and wicked undulation all around the target. The vista of tree-less rolling links-land from the tee says it all.

The fourteenth was always a weak par 5 at 457m, but a recent makeover of the green that extends length to 500m, plus additional bunkering beyond the old drive bunker by Thomson Wolveridge & Perrett has taken care of this criticism. Fifteen has also been extended from 340 to 386m from back tees.

When I played the course in May 2003 it was in superb condition. The bountiful new water supply from Barwon Water (in collaboration with Thirteenth Beach Golf Course) has provided outstanding couch cover and the Poa greens are at their usual immaculate best. Long serving course superintendent Peter Frewin can be justifiably proud.

Barwon Heads has just refurbished its in-house accommodation, and for those truly serious about their game it is "the" place to stay. Whilst even the brand new rooms are somewhat "Spartan" in their accoutrements – the grand scale dining room downstairs and the lavish afternoon teas provide the ultimate in apres-golf indulgences.

LONSDALE Golf Club

Lonsdale Golf Club, at Point Lonsdale, just outside Queenscliff is a highly rated "older style" layout with many of the golfing challenges but without the pretentiousness of Barwon Heads. What the course lacks in length, at a mere 5807m, it more than makes up for with its demands on accuracy. The first hole is an absolute classic short par four, downhill to a green unprotected by bunkers. It’s quite reach-able for many golfers, but the skilful player will usually opt to lay up and then get close, rather than roll off the edge of the green and face an impossible chip back. The nature of the course changes from wooded slopes to coastal flats around Lake Victoria. The treacherously fast greens are a feature of this links-like layout with its fast-running fairways and wind-affected situation. The club house which sits above the first tee and eighteenth green welcomes all for an after game drink or meal.

CURLEWIS Golf Club

Possibly the most underrated course in Victoria, Curlewis Golf Club presents a championship challenge to all golfers. At over 6100m the course is not short, and when affected by wind can play very much longer. In contrast with Lonsdale, the lush Santa Ana couch fairways are generous in width. The greens are generally large and well bunkered. The beautifully undulating front nine compares well with many of the acclaimed sand belt courses around Melbourne and on the Mornington Peninsula. There are links-like holes with an absence of trees, just ti-tree scrub, but the ocean is not present, rather a few water hazards of the man-made variety. The entire course is built on excellent sandy soil that provides fro dry year-round playing conditions.

QUEENSCLIFF Golf Club Inc

Queenscliff Golf Club is a "must play" course on the Bellarine Peninsula. Located adjacent to an "off-limits" military area on Swan Island, you are required to signal your golfing intentions to an armed guard at the boom gate before crossing the narrow land link that separates the island from Queenscliff mainland. Swan Island is pure sand, and when even the famed Melbourne sand belt courses become rather dank under cold, wet winter skies Queenscliff’s fairways will be a perfectly dry reward to those stalwarts who take the trip down there. Of course, the reverse can be true, and in drought-stricken summer conditions the grass does suffer. The greens, however, will be hand watered if required and the fast running fairways will provide a real "links" experience. The course abuts magnificent wetlands, home to protected birdlife, and there is plenty of local flora.

The first hole is a classic "short" par four of only 281m, but the green is well protected by encroachment of ti-tree across the driving zone, particularly from the left. In common with most of the course, bunkering around greens does not impede a low, running approach – so necessary if the wind is up.

The thirteenth is my favourite hole – another short par four of 330 metres – it plays from an elevated tee, surrounded by scrub. The drive is blind, the landing area slopes downhill and doglegs right, with menacing bunkers guarding the corner, and unplayable ti-tree beyond. The green, tucked away at the bottom of the slope is surrounded by the dense wilderness of Swan Island, as it’s the furthest point on the course from the clubhouse. The following hole, a 176m par three is also quite superb for its rugged, isolated feel. There is no better feeling than playing this part of the course in total quiet and seclusion.

The clubhouse is renowned for its friendly cheer. Visitors will be welcomed both in the club competitions and afterwards for a quiet drink.

CLIFTON SPRINGS Golf Club

CLIFTON SPRINGS GOLF CLUB

Clifton Springs is another example of the great club atmosphere and hospitality that keeps bringing visiting golfers back to the Bellarine Peninsula.
The course has been progressively upgraded over the last few years – the advent of gaming machines providing welcome revenue and ensuring steady patronage in the clubhouse. Most notably, the extent of couch in the fairways has been improved. The greens have always been good, and can be treacherously fast in summer. The course is set on gentle hills that ensure perfect drainage and afford wondrous bay views extending to the You Yangs beyond Geelong.

The layout demands accurate driving and precise iron play, with almost all fairways flanked by mature gums.

The holes present wonderful diversity, most notably amongst the par threes that range in length from the 142m 11th to the 208m 14th. The former is played across a deep ravine to an elevated green protected both by bunkers and by severely steep banks in front and on the right. Thick scrub to the left is not a good option either.

The course holds a very popular Pro-Am event each year, and it is testimony to golf challenge presented here that very few scores below par are returned.

PORTARLINGTON Golf Club Inc

Portarlington is another well-presented layout with excellent, fast greens. Similar in some respects to Clifton Springs, its near neighbour, the course is set on well-drained slopes amidst solid established gums. The setting is decidedly tranquil.

Visitors will be welcomed to join in the many club competitions and the large modern club house provides great hospitality including new gaming facilities.

Torquay Golf Club

Torquay Golf Club features the most spectacular views on the Peninsula. The panorama of ti-tree and ocean that greets you from the elevated clubhouse is breathtaking. The course is usually green with an automatic watering system in place, and it’s certainly well drained. The golf is casual, but challenging, and it’s usually easy to get a game away from holiday season. Water is in play on several holes, and the slope of the fairway adds its own challenge in many cases. Torquay holds a hugely popular Pro-Am event in late December every year.

The St Leonards course is not long, at 4411m, but accuracy is the key on this tight, heavily treed layout. There are a couple of long par 3’s and the ninth hole is a par 4 of 419m. However there are no par 5’s on this par 64 layout. The peaceful setting is sheltered from some of the worst winds, being a little away from the water.

Bellarine Lakes Golf Park is a public 18 hole facility that provides a fun golfing challenge to all. The fairways are flat, the greens are large and the layout is well watered. Water hazards and 42 bunkers provide plenty of challenge, and the area is a bird and wildlife haven. There’s also a fully licensed clubhouse with snacks and barbecue facilities available.

Closer to Geelong the East Geelong Golf Club is a delightful nine hole layout with excellent greens and well watered fairways. The fairways are gently undulating to flat, with the fourth hole adjacent to the bay.

Queens Park is a public 18 hole course in Geelong that likes to describe itself as the Yarra Bend of the Barwon River – a reference to one of Melbourne’s best known public courses. It’s a well watered, generally flat layout, hugely popular in summer and school holidays.

Just out of town on the Torquay Road lies the Barwon Valley Golf Club. This friendly club welcomes all, and bookings are not usually required. The course, beside the Barwon River is gently flat and easy walking. There are few bunkers and only young trees, but the greens have subtle slopes.

Barunah Plains is a short drive inland, via Inverleigh. The 10 holes are laid out on an old sheep station - the original splendid homestead now serves as clubhouse and accommodation.

There are 12 holes at the seaside township of Ocean Grove, just right for a casual game with the kids.

If the dozen local courses are insufficient to satisfy all golfing cravings on an extended holiday, there’s even the opportunity to cross the bay via car ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento, and indulge in the great Mornington Peninsula courses!

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