Victoria’s Warrnambool Golf Club is proud of its longstanding association with Marc Leishman. But it doesn’t necessarily depend on it. The golf course continues to climb the national rankings due to its improved playing surfaces and subtle design tweaks.
Yep. The reminders are everywhere. From the memorabilia he’s kindly left in the clubhouse to the name of the driveway … Even his father – Paul (AKA Trooper) – still works in the Pro Shop. The Marc Leishman connection with the Warrnambool Golf Club is ever-present and it is displayed proudly. And so it should be.
The 35-year-old, who crafted his game at windy Warrnambool, makes the journey up ‘Marc Leishman Drive’ every year during his off-season – and he makes sure he spends plenty of time with the members.
He is, of course, revered in this part of the world. But he is also uniquely approachable and there’s something invariably magnetic about him. So says course superintendent David Warnaar.
“It’s great for the club to even be associated with Marc Leishman, let alone to have him as such a loyal ambassador for the club,” explains Warnaar, who is approaching his seventh year at Warrnambool.
“He comes back every year and plays the course, catches up with his mates and says hello to the members … He’s just such a fantastic fella.”
There’s no question Marc Leishman has been great for the Warrnambool Golf Club. But despite everything he does, the course itself would be just as impressive without its association with the four-time PGA Tour winner. Here’s why.
The course is located three hours south-west of Melbourne’s CBD on Victoria’s infamous Shipwreck Coast. Its history – like so many other golf courses, it seems – began over drinks in a pub in 1925.
Scotsman George Lowe Jnr, whose father was responsible for the original layout at Royal Birkdale, got to chatting with some men from Warrnambool. Before too long, they mentioned their club had acquired some land and needed someone to design and construct a new course.
Lowe inspected the linksland, accepted the job and had completed six holes within 12 months. Three more holes had been built by 1928. But, because of the Great Depression and World War II, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the full 18 holes could finally be unveiled.
RIGHT: Clearing scrub has exposed a sandy wasteland on the inside of the dogleg on the par-5 4th hole. PHOTO: Brendan James.
Thomson Perrett has been the course architecture firm overseeing design changes at Warrnambool since 1988. More recently the firm has teamed with Warnaar and McMahons Services to maintain and improve upon the original design.
The clearing of vegetation to expose sandy wasteland midway through the front nine and the removal of trees – like the she-oak that once stood by the 13th green – has improved conditioning and opened up playing lines … It has also helped the course rise to 84th in Australia’s Top-100 Courses. So, too, has the construction of the new green at the par-5 10th, which was completed midway through 2016 and has since been dubbed ‘The Green Monster’.
“The 10th green is completely new and nothing like the old green. The old one was only 300 square metres and it sloped severely from back to front … So there was only a handful of pin positions at the very back of the green that were actually usable,” says Warnaar.
“The new green is 500-600 square metres and it’s got the backing on it, so you can actually hit into it with confidence knowing that you’re not going to go through the green and into the trees. It’s a nice, big undulating green now and we also added in the (peat-riveted) bunker.”
“The wind is, generally on most days, constant and the routing covers dramatic topography at times during the round.”
With respect to the new 10th hole, which is certainly one of the better offerings at Warrnambool, the most memorable aspect of any round here surely lies at ‘Shipwreck Bend’.
“I came up with the idea and the name,” Warnaar says proudly. “I’ve always been a big fan of the American courses that have stretches like the ‘Snake Pit’. I was in a meeting one day and I said, ‘Why don’t we name it?’ We threw a few ideas around and eventually I said, ‘Well Shipwreck Bend sounds good to me.’”
As you move from the 3rd green to the 4th tee, you will be greeted by an anchor (on loan from Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village) and a sign that reads: “Shipwreck Bend is a run of three very testing holes. Holes 4, 5 and 6 have wrecked many a good round of golf over the years.”
Those words rang true immediately, as our entire group found itself marooned on the sand hill guarding the ‘Tiger’ line at the 4th. The 311-metre par-4 did as it should – as a genuine risk/reward hole – and punished us all with bogey.
The downhill, par-4 5th requires precision shot-making for its entire 327-metre journey. Although some vegetation has been cleared, there is still a wall of thick ti-trees guarding the right flank of the fairway. Trust me.