The rest of the golfing world is starting to discover what we have known for a long time – Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula is among the best golf holiday destinations this country has to offer.
Swinging to the north of the peninsula, you will find St Leonards Golf Club, a charming 18-hole layout with most fairways lined by native gums and coastal scrub. The par-67 offers a short journey, with the occasional glimpse of Port Phillip Bay, but the small greens and narrow fairways demand accuracy with every shot.
The coastal drive north from St Leonards, via Indented Head, offers wonderful views of Port Phillip Bay en route to Portarlington Golf Club, just 10 minutes away.
This easy-walking par-72 layout offers narrow driving lines between tall stands of trees on most holes. In fact, the only real respite from the woodlands comes late in the back nine at the 15th and 16th holes.
Acclaimed designer Tony Cashmore oversaw the redesign of much of the Portarlington course during the early 2000s and this included the removal of many trees on the two par-4s, which now share a massive scheme of bunkers between the two fairways. Portarlington, one of the oldest clubs on the Bellarine Peninsula having been established in 1909, is one of the best presented layouts in the region with superb Santa Ana couch fairways and pure greens.
A further 15-minute drive west will have you in the car park of another ‘hidden gem’ of the Bellarine – Clifton Springs Golf Club.
Clifton Springs, like nearby Portarlington, was formed in 1909 and boasts some awesome views off the northern edge of the peninsula, particularly from the closing holes. From the tees of the par-5 16th and par-4 18th it’s possible to see the bluffs along Corio Bay and even to Melbourne on a clear day.
The views aside, Clifton Springs boasts beautifully manicured Legends couch fairways and smooth, subtle-breaking bentgrass greens.
Arguably the most improved course on the Bellarine Peninsula in recent years can be found at nearby Curlewis Golf Club.
Back in 1947, Vern Morcom – the long-time Kingston Heath course superintendent and acclaimed designer – was commissioned by the then East Geelong Golf Club to create an 18-hole layout on the club’s current site. He crafted an open layout with wide fairways, big undulating greens to take into account the wind that is such a strong influence on the courses of the Bellarine.
But the decades that followed were difficult without a reliable water supply and the course, despite its superb design, was never able to reach its full potential. That is until it was purchased in July 2015 by local winery owners, Lyndsay and David Sharp, who injected $1 million into upgrading the layout. This included retaining the design services of Mike Clayton, who had been consulting to the club for more than a decade. His advice over the years has been minimalist rather than massive overhaul. Bunkers have been added, some greens remodelled, trees removed and some subtle tweaks including the realignment of some tees made.
The result has seen Curlewis climb in every national ranking published in recent years. In January, Curlewis was ranked at No.37 in Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses for 2019.
At Curlewis, players get the chance to start their round in the best possible way – with a birdie – at the short par-5 1st hole. The rolling fairway of the 448-metre hole is laid out before you like a set of waves heading for the beach. The fairway then doglegs right before rising again on its climb to the slightly elevated green. Four bunkers – all short of the green but with two left and another two right – provide a narrow gateway to the putting surface.
The 308-metre 3rd hole is the best of Curlewis’ short par-4s. From the tee perched above the fairway, you can see the green as well as all the trouble that can be found en route. Big hitters will also note that they can carry a massive fairway bunker on the right side of the fairway by taking an ‘as the crow flies’ route to the green. But any aggressive play from the tee is fraught with danger as an out-of-bounds fence is just metres from the left edge of the fairway.
Curlewis is also home to The Range, which offers 18 indoor/outdoor hitting bays with hitting monitors to help you analyse your swing stats, an X-Golf simulator and mini golf as well as all-day dining.
Geelong is the gateway into the Bellarine and is home to four publicly accessible courses of varying lengths. The best of them is the nine-hole Geelong Golf Club, located about 10 minutes’ drive north from the city centre. In 2017, Golf Australia ranked Geelong among the best nine-holers in the country.
It wasn’t always a nine-hole course. Its history stretches back to 1892 but after more than a century as an 18-hole layout, the club was forced to close in 2004. In the decade that followed, land was sold off for development and the course reopened as nine holes in 2014.
Course architect Graham Papworth created the design which lies across quality golfing terrain and features beautifully presented Santa Ana couch fairways and tees as well as some of the best bentgrass putting surfaces you will find in regional Victoria.
This is not an overly long course but it definitely tests as an approach shot course as Papworth’s green complexes don’t lack for contours and are often surrounded by cavernous bunkers, mounds and swales.
With three teeing options on each hole, the course is enjoyable for players of all standards. Even low single figure players will discover there is a real challenge to find the best spots to attack the flags. Leave yourself on the wrong side of the cup, or even on the wrong tier, a three-putt can often be the result.
Geelong features some terrific short par-4s but, for mine, the best of them is the tree-lined 282-metre 3rd. The first of five bunkers – that lie diagonally from left to right across the fairway – is easily reached with a shot of about 215 metres. The closer you get to the green, the easier the second shot becomes but the slightly uphill drive must be straight to avoid the sand left and rough to the right.
The seaside resort town of Torquay, about 21km from Geelong, is probably best known for its surfing roots. Here you will find the world-famous Bells Beach and the birthplace of iconic surf brands, Rip Curl and Quiksilver.
But the town’s ties to golf are strong. The original course at Torquay was designed by the father and son team, Mick and Vern Morcom, who gained fame for their long greenkeeping careers at Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath respectively.
In the mid-2000s, the RACV purchased the course and commissioned OCCM to rebuild the layout over a three-year period while an adjoining 100-room resort and day spa was constructed. The new links-style RACV Torquay course opened for play in 2012 and features generally firm conditions and the ever-present wind, which goes hand-in-hand with its coastal location. This encourages the links-style ground game and OCCM’s creation takes this into account. For example, the simple bunkering is relatively small but in many cases the surrounds are contoured to feed balls into the sand. The greens feature subtle slopes and are receptive to running shots, especially those played from the correct side of the fairway.
By comparison, RACV Torquay’s nearest golfing neighbour The Sands Torquay, less than 10 minutes’ drive away, features far more expansive bunkering.