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.
Despite another bogey on the card, ‘Sea View’ (as it is appropriately called) impressed with its meandering fairway and long, bunkerless green – and it should, in my opinion, be considered one of the best holes in this part of Victoria.
The final challenge of Shipwreck Bend, named ‘Lummies’, plays 345 metres uphill and doglegs to the right. There is ti-tree bracketing the fairway for most of the journey, but Thomson Perrett, together with Warnaar and his team, have cleared a significant amount of vegetation short and right of the green to reveal the sand.
“If we’re going to remove any trees or vegetation, obviously we go through Thomson & Perrett first and make sure they think it’s going to link in well with the rest of the course,” says Warnaar.
“We would like to do a lot more – but it’s difficult to get stuff through the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.”
In addition to Shipwreck Bend – which is genuinely worth the green fee alone – and the par-5 10th, there are three other holes at Warrnambool that deserve to be praised.
The short, 230-metre, downhill par-4 8th does everything it should in terms of asking questions from the tee. Its green is protected by bunkers – and you will struggle to find your ball if you end up in the trees left or right. The fairway tightens the closer you are to the putting surface, so laying up is order of the day.
This is one of those great, strategic holes that could yield anything from an eagle to an unmentionable.
Onto the back nine and you will find the aforementioned 13th hole, which is the shortest offering on the course at 117 metres.
Labelled ‘The Plateau’, its green slopes heavily from back to front and sits more than 20 metres above the tee box. There are bunkers short and right, while anything long or left leaves an extremely difficult putt or chip. But there are plans to improve that.
RIGHT: Clearing scrub from inside the dogleg on the par-4 14th hole has created a more interesting test of golf.
“I would think the next project that Thomson Perrett has here would be to redo the 13th green,” says Warnaar. “We’ve already got the plans for it, we’re just waiting for the right timing and to make sure it fits into our budget.
“Overall, the hole won’t change a lot. But the bunkers will probably be removed and the green will be reconfigured and enlarged to allow for more pin positions.”
The par-4 16th (‘Newmans’) lies ahead – and it presents another good scoring chance for the longer hitters, measuring 283 metres and playing with the prevailing wind. But, once again, hungry ti-trees are ready and willing to snatch anything that’s slightly wayward.
The green, meanwhile, is defended by bunkers left and right and the sloping banks can often make chipping tough.
Indeed, many aspects of this golf course could be regarded as tough. The wind is, generally on most days, constant and the routing covers dramatic topography at times during the round. But it reflects the terrain that it’s laid upon, it is natural in its design and it provides one of the most enjoyable tests on the Shipwreck Coast.
LOCATION: Younger Street, Warrnambool, Victoria, 3280.
CONTACT: (03) 5562 2108 (Clubhouse); (03) 5562 8528 (Pro Shop).
DESIGNERS: George Lowe Jnr (1928); Thomson Perrett (ongoing).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: David Warnaar.
PGA PROFESSIONAL: Craig Bonney.
SLOPE RATINGS: Men – Blue 120; Red: 111. Women – Red 126.
PLAYING SURFACES: Kikuyu, couch, fescue and ryegrass (fairways and tees); Bentgrass/Poa annua (greens).
GREEN FEES: $45 (18 holes); $30 (9 holes).
MEMBERSHIPS: Full Ordinary memberships cost $997 and provide playing rights seven days per week. Intermediate memberships are $811 and entitle holders Sunday to Friday rights (Saturdays are excluded). Student, Introductory, Progressive and Country memberships are also available. For full membership categories, and their prices, visit the club’s website.
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: Warrnambool Golf Club currently enjoys partnerships with 27 golf clubs Australia wide. For the full list of reciprocal clubs, visit the club’s website and click “club info”.
WEDDINGS & CORPORATE GOLF: The Warrnambool Golf Club function room is available for hire for a variety of activities at competitive rates. The helpful staff will give assistance in planning social and corporate events such as: weddings; small group meetings; seminars; trade exhibitions and corporate golf functions. To discuss your requirements, contact (03) 5562 2108 or firstname.lastname@example.org