The Bellarine, a short drive from melbourne, is crying out for you and a mini-bus-full of mates to test its layouts, consume its wines and feast on its fine food.

Where else would  you rather be than  on the Thirteenth Beach layouts? Where else would you rather be than on the Thirteenth Beach layouts? Images: Getty Images

The email gag has been around for years – a man’s “perfect day” versus a woman’s. She goes shopping, drinks champagne and does a fitness class with a funny, handsome trainer. He eats oysters, drinks Heineken, smokes Cuban cigars and takes a private jet to Augusta, where he shoots six-under. The joke’s been viral since ‘98 and still rings a little true. Especially the golf bit.

Because, speaking for the boys, a golf trip is like shagging. Even if it’s bad, it’s still good. You play golf and laugh with your mates. You drink beer in new parts of the country. You meet local people, and drink beer with them. And you eat and drink and play golf again, and you do it with your pals. How good is that?

Australians, blessed as we are with world-class, accessible golf courses, can be discerning golf tourists. There’s the allure of the Gold Coast. There’s Mornington Peninsula and Melbourne’s Sandbelt, probably the best sliver of golf real estate on Earth. There are bounties to be had in the Hunter Valley, around Adelaide and Perth and all along the Murray. There’s Bonville, Barnbougle Dunes. And there’s the Bellarine.

The Bellarine? Yep, the western peninsula of Port Phillip Bay, south-east of Geelong, where I played three superb courses, partook of succulent local meats, supped of delicious wines and slept in self-contained, four-star accommodation. Gee, it’s good, and we can safely set it in concrete that: a) sometimes my job is a golden kiss upon

the buttocks; and b) the Bellarine is to golfers as Byron Bay is to affluent, discerning ‒ though drug-addled ‒ hippies.

Good? Great, friend; it’s sun and wind and salty rain that wets the lips. It’s trimmed couch amidst gnarly dunes. It’s golf that’s challenging, like a beautiful woman conducting a very hard maths test: you want to impress her; but you’re probably not worthy. Gee, it’s good fun.

After a 40-minute drive from Avalon Airport, I’m through the gates of 36-hole Thirteenth Beach and straight onto the first tee of the Tony Cashmore-designed Beach Course (the Creek Course, co-designed by Cashmore and Nick Faldo, is being played by the members). I join the golf day of the old boys of Melbourne University Blues footy club, and am partnered up with Barry, Mick and Geoff, a GP who happens to be the Geelong Cats’ doctor. The Bellarine is Cats country and if you’re down during footy season, it would be remiss not to catch a game at Kardinia Park.

Beach like stretches. Beach like stretches. Images: Getty Images

Thirteenth Beach? Beautiful. Hairy and frightening, it’s rolling fairways with wide landing zones, sandy waste areas and thick rough you don’t want to go in. Greens of truth and justice. And even though on this day the wind must be 50 knots, there are still plenty of folks out and chopping it about, both courses busy. Such is the game’s power.

Off the tee I impress the Blues boys with a drive down the middle (though from there I make six) and birdie the second after a sandy from a fairway bunker more implausible than Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts. The wind is a freight train. Indeed, Mick – whose sandwich leaps from the cart and scuttles away to Tasmania – has played golf in Geelong for 50 years and has never known such conditions. It’s stiffer than The Shark at Augusta. Gee, it’s fun.

The trees have an African savannah look about them, with bare trunks leading up to canopy-style foliage; you could see a leopard hanging out of one. They call them Moonah trees and they look like giant bonsais (though, when I ask Mick what sort they are, he says “shit trees”). But they don’t come into play because the fairways are wider than the Strait of Hormuz. Miss them and you can’t play. Indeed, you should give up.

On the uphill par-five 11th, I smoke a drive low under the wind. Next shot is a pure three-wood which sails into the ti-tree left and may never be found. But the wind helps as much as hinders. At the 312m par-four fifth, I almost drive the green ... That I then take five to get down isn’t the wind’s fault; it’s just that sort of day. Birdies and triples; sublime and ridiculous.

After 18 raging, salty and enjoyable holes in which I strike the ball well and shoot something like 23-over (a credible effort, though I play off nine), we head to the clubhouse for pots of Carlton. The talk is of the difference between pots and sandy wastelands, and the Uni Blues’ plans to do it all again. They hand out prizes (29 stableford points wins) and banter as boys will, and it’s a fine way to spend an afternoon. Especially as the wind stops almost completely.

Dinner that evening is at Beach House Barwon Heads, a bubbling bar and restaurant where I chow down upon duck and “famous dim sims”, drink crisp sauv blanc (the things I do for you people) and check out the punters. They’re all ages, the place buzzing away as full restaurants do. Young staff are busy, takin’ orders, bringin’ the food. There are groups of men who have golfed today (you can tell) and are now enjoying further fruits of our great southern land. They order beer and wine and shots of something sticky, for this is how a well-lived life should be in a freedom-loving Lucky Country. So then I have a glass of pinot noir.

14th Hole, Beach-Like Stretches 14th Hole, Beach-Like Stretches Images: Getty Images

Next day I’m onto Stuart Appleby’s Sands at Torquay, a rolling green beast that winds through eclectic, aesthetic housing. Appleby has sculpted (well, I don’t think he actually used a mattock or anything, but he’s come up with the plan) a course with wide landing areas that lead up to huge rolling greens, every landing zone guarded

by the pots of a Sandbelt-bred boy. There are more bunkers than in Saddam City. They haven’t called it The Sands because of the buckets.

After the round I email Appleby (I did a story about him a few years ago) to ask somewhat facetiously: “Couldn’t fit any more bunkers in?” His reply comes almost immediately and is more philosophical than you might give the lug credit for: “Why is man so relaxed when he’s standing on sand in his boardies, yet when he dons golf shorts, it becomes something to fear? When you’re in a bunker, think of it as a short trip to the beach.” Ha. Yeah, sure mate. Next time I’ll take a boogie board.

Aside from the parts bordered by dunes and ti-tree – and the every-variation-of-beige-coloured houses – the land around The Sands is unprepossessing. It’s flat and rural and sort of swampy. This makes the actual golf course,

with its tightly-mown Santa Ana couch fairways and giant white “beaches”, all the more attractive. It’s like a velvet green tongue running through the tundra.

Highlights? On the par-three 17th, with the westerly straight into us (as it is on all four holes home, a fact that stuffed many a pro in the recent surf Coast Shootout), I hit a pure driver from 180m. The ball heads straight into the pot pin-high. I flop out pleasingly to four and a half metres and make the downhill putt for one of the great pars. On the tough 14th with the breeze, I drive the ball 284m; then airmail the green with a wedge. And on the signature par-four 11th I hit a three-wood over the black dead Moonahs, followed by a hard hook which almost kills two members of the group in front, neighbours of my playing partners Graeme and Karin. Sorry, folks. Overall pars are hard-won, but it’s a fine, fun battle in The Sands’ Sunday par comp.

One tip: given the motherlode of bunkers – this after they removed a few last year – it’s imperative to get yourself a course guide with yardage, telling you how far away they are. It’s something all courses should have. It’s one of the differences between amateurs and pros. The play-for-pay boys have a caddy with a laser-scope who goes out on Mondays to measure how far away bad things are. We choppers blithely blast away with whatever stick will send the ball furthest. That’s just silly.

And so I’m off to Leura Park Estate, a vineyard and cellar door across the road from Curlewis GC [see breakout]. Leura Park is something of a Sunday institution on the Bellarine. Each weekend groups come to taste wine, eat well and enjoy the great fortune of living within a hired bus ride of this most-excellent Sunday afternoon frivolity.

Barwon Heads, a rustic seaside venue Barwon Heads, a rustic seaside venue. Images: Getty Images

And so I take in another glass of wine (for the team) under an umbrella amidst tables with blue-and-white bunting, and eat a super-tender steak sandwich with local chutney while looking at attractive local folks getting merry in the marquee. People are Sunday-best-dressed, kids muck about on the grass and a happy dad plays his eight-year-old son like a guitar as a solo guitarist knocks out a version of You Shook Me All Night Long. There’s bocce on the lawn and everyone’s bubbling away in the bubbly, three-or-four-glasses-of-fine-wine way. Sunday arvo gold. So then I have a glass of pinot noir.

Dinner that evening is “At The Heads” at Barwon Heads, a rustic seaside venue where I enjoy a corner table with a view of the bay and the tides and an old boat moored and bobbing about on the briny. Now, I’ve eaten a scallop or two in my time. But the scallops at At The Heads, wrapped in prosciutto and served on a scrape of cauliflower puree with some sweet sticky sauce, are the best ever. Best. Scallops. Ever. Jesus on a rocketship, they’re good. Pop in your mouth succulent, salty, divine. Later I enjoy a lump of eye fillet so good it could be embalmed and put in a steak museum. And I think, “I will be back here and I will bring my mates and we will feast like Vikings.” So then I have a glass of pinot noir.

And so to day three of this ridiculous affront to the gods of labour, and to Barwon Heads, the course a golf magazine mate reckons is “the best on the Bellarine”. It’s another track of good-sized landing areas bordered by ti-tree and dune-side scrub, and more of those Moonah trees from Africa with their high canopy and leopards, though there are no leopards. It’s another one with a beautiful surface of clipped couch with its little white shoots and perfect lies.

Another tip: if you want to score well, particularly on your first go around, and take the money off your friends, leave your ego in the bag. Cop the ribbing. Because, sometimes on a 400m par-four, you’re not going to reach the green in two shots. And nor should you try. Hit fairway with driver. Take a hybrid to 100m. Hit the green and putt for par, and walk away with bogey if you miss. Because, left and right is sand, ti-tree and trouble.

Anyway, I could tell you how nice it is at Barwon Heads GC, but we only have so much space. So get onto Google and check out some pictures. It’s scrumptious. You could eat it. The clubhouse is huge and looks like a ski lodge for happy Austrians. The balcony overlooks the 18th fairway and green and would be a choice spot to have a beer and watch golfers play their way home, sun-dried and happy.

And so with lunchtime to gather my thoughts before a mid-afternoon flight home, I sit in a little diner called Elkhorn Road House. I’ve a latte and some sort of passionfruit cake, after a delicious bacon-and-egg quiche with salad, and chutney, and fabulous vinaigrette, feeling like some sort of French gourmand person, from Provence, perhaps, or Sardinia, who’s into gourmet foods. And I muse: “I’ll be back, with a group of pals, and a mini-bus.”

Barwin Heads Barwin Heads Images: Getty Images

Because, know this: Bellarine Tourism wants you down there ... Which means you, golf tourist, have power. They’re selling the Bellarine and you should buy it on your own terms. Ring the tourist people, tell them you want the itinerary they give the journos. Ask about packages. The more mates you bring down, the better value. Ask for a price – what can they do for $100 per head, per day? Or $200? Whatever. The tourism mob employs people whose job it is to suggest places to play, stay and suck on a truffle.

The accommodation? The two-bedroom, self-contained joint I stayed in at the Barwon Heads Resort at Thirteenth Beach ‒ owned by former Brownlow medal-winning Blues and Swans Genius of Handball Greg “Diesel” Williams ‒ would suit all of your post-round eating requirements. Peppers – who employ a lot of people who know what makes a hotel good – have rooms abutting The Sands at Torquay. There are B ‘n’ Bs, holiday parks and budget options. (Though I’ll be staying at Diesel’s place; Peppers at a pinch.)

The weather? You’ll get everything. Standing on the 15th tee of the Beach Course at Thirteenth Beach, with a gale-force guns-of-Navarone-westerly paring back our lips like we’re astronauts in a G-force testing machine, with the temperature heart-beating between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius, Cats doctor Brett looks into the distance and muses without irony, “Might rain.” (Didn’t, though the other locals murmured agreement.)

A day after, on the second green of The Sands, it does rain; drenchingly so, for three full minutes. Then it stops and the sun comes out and the westerly picks up and blow-dries us warm. It’s enigmatic weather.

Favourite course? Couldn’t separate the three I played. They all have their own character and tests and they’re all choice fun, even when your scorecard is looking ragged. And that’s the definition of a good track: did you have fun and do you yearn to go back? Answer is yes. (Mind you, I’m more addicted to golf than Alice Cooper, and the game saved his life.) It’s the power of top golf courses; they offer situations you didn’t have the ability to combat until you found that you did.

Now, sure – Victoria Tourism ( shouted me the flight, accommodation, delicious food, fine wine, flash hire car, green fees, and Leura Park Estate gave me a bottle of pinot gris they serve in Qantas Business Class. Sure, they did that.

But, honestly, I’d be spruiking the Bellarine anyway. It’s a brilliant place to play golf and trip about. And you should go down there with a dozen mates, hire a mini-bus and each day have a designated driver, and trip around and taste wines and eat delicious meals, and play some of the world’s best golf.

Because, y’know – how good’s that?

– Matt Cleary