It’s been a weird old time of late, not least for the travel industry. When restrictions on leaving or entering Victoria were lifted on June 1 this year, a collective sigh of relief could be heard across the Garden State after many weeks of compliance under the iron-fisted rule of Premier Daniel Andrews. Golf courses were given a reprieve too, but not without some heated debate between Andrews and a chorus of grumpy golfers who were told they couldn’t play, a group led by outspoken AFL great Sam Newman, whose public protests on the steps of parliament house went largely unheard. Then, of course, a second lockdown of more than 100 days sent Victoria – and Victorian golf – back into a frustrating hiatus.
But all that’s in the past now, as is the worst of the coronavirus pandemic… we hope.
What’s important right now is golf and regional travel have been given the green light, and those wanting to get out and resume some semblance of life as it formerly was are over the moon at being able to do so, while those offering a place to do it are equally as ecstatic.
As we write, there are no restrictions on how far you can travel within Victoria. You are allowed to stay in a holiday home or private residence, and tourist accommodation, including caravan parks and camping grounds, where there are no shared communal facilities. Which is why we’re bullish on the Bellarine Peninsula as a first-up destination for a golf getaway.
As you’re about to read, there is plenty of great golf to tick off the list, including a new-look course that’s set to have the whole country talking over the coming months upon the completion of its radical makeover.
Of course, the usual social-distancing protocols must be adhered to at all times but, hey, it’s a start, right?
So, as you plan your first escape back post-COVID-19, here are five reasons why Victoria’s beautiful Bellarine Peninsula is the perfect way to resume that wonderful thing we call life. ▶ ▶ ▶
1. Quality and Quantity, Right At Your Fingertips
The Visit Geelong and Bellarine tourism body has a catchy tagline: “This is where the fun stuff happens.” And they’re not wrong. World-class golf, surf, sand, sublime food and wine, breweries and seemingly unlimited activities for the kids and adrenaline junkies, there’s not much not to like about an area that perhaps doesn’t get the plaudits it truly deserves.
Yet what makes this stunning region so complete is not necessarily what it offers, but how close in proximity its vast array of offerings are from one another. In a world of iso-friendly interaction, there’s an element of comfort knowing you don’t have to travel far from point A to point B, and if you can do all that from behind the wheel of your own car, even better.
Rest assured, there’s no better way to see the likes of Geelong, Barwon Heads, Ocean Grove, Drysdale, Portarlington, Point Lonsdale, Queenscliff, Moorabool Valley, You Yangs…. we could go on.
As Heidi Shaw from Geelong-based travel specialists Coastal Golf Victoria says, “We’re only 70 minutes from Melbourne and everything here is so close it’s incredibly easy to organise an itinerary to suit your needs.”
Shaw’s company promotes a range of different courses you can play while in the area, but it’s her personal touch and local knowledge that’s often the trigger for repeat business.
“Customised tours are my point of difference,” she says. “Staying at the best places possible and not having to do all the chasing yourself if your itinerary requires a change, is all part of the service. I think it’s important, even more so given what’s been happening in the world, that you get what you truly want.”
2.What’s Old Will Soon Be New Again
While Barwon Heads and Thirteenth Beach grab much of the spotlight when it comes to the world-class golf on offer in this part of the world, Lonsdale Golf Club is quietly going about a transformation that could put it on equal pegging.
Located beside the dunes of Bass Strait in Point Lonsdale and on similar terrain to the much-hyped National Golf Links of America designed in 1911 by Charles Blair MacDonald, “Lonnie” is following a similar design blueprint to the American’s work of art under the talented design trio of Ogilvy Cocking Mead. At NGL, MacDonald built holes inspired by the great courses of the UK. These became known as template holes. Now Ashley Mead is doing the same, incorporating some of the features of the best-known template holes – think Biarritz, Road Hole, the Redan and Thumbprint green – to create something with real wow-factor.
The multi-million-dollar redevelopment will include a new 18-hole course (nine new holes have already opened with the final nine due at the end of the year), a new clubhouse, a six-hole par-3 course that will double as the practice range and even a playground to entice families to get involved.
The club’s marketing manager Allie Crosgrove says it’s been a project 15 years in the making.
“The club parked the idea all those years ago, but the initial reason was securing a water source for the course as we didn’t have a dam and the price of water was only going up,” she says. “Now it’s turned into a complete redevelopment and I must admit, it feels like a completely new experience.”
And the locals are embracing the change with 60 new playing members signing up since May, all in anticipation for what lies ahead for a club following a similar path to Melbourne’s highly rated Peninsula Kingswood facility. “I think the impact of Covid-19 has allowed people to have more time to jump into golf now,” Crosgrove adds. “A lot of younger people are joining our club, groups of mates with no footy are turning to the fairways for recreation. We can only hope during this time that they fall in love with the game like the rest of us.”
One thing is for certain, when you experience the new-look Lonsdale Golf Club at year’s end, you’ll more than likely fall in love with it, too.
3. A course with million-dollar views… that you can actually play!
Look, nobody’s really complaining about this newfound demand for golf. In fact, it’s great that our sport is enjoying its time in the sun again while other recreational pursuits bide their time. But if you’re going to invest in a golf trip, you don’t want to be entering a ballot for a tee-time. That just won’t cut it.
The Bellarine is littered with public-access courses that uphold that very definition, even in times of high demand. This is due largely to having lower membership bases they need to cater for, in comparison to larger suburban courses where the population is tenfold. So why not take advantage of geography in times of need?
Clifton Springs Golf Club is one such course where you can avoid the disappointment. Situated near Drysdale, a mere one hour’s drive from Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge, its picturesque 180-degree views across Corio Bay, lush couch fairways and slick, sloping greens are ready to test your mettle at the almost absurd cost of just $35 for 18 holes. It’s little wonder the club is experiencing an increase in visitors. It might also have something to do with the club’s “Beer, Bash ’n Burger” promotion, where you can purchase multiple green fees and receive 18 holes in a cart, a beer and a burger in the bistro for your troubles.
Heck, with annual membership packages available for less than $1,000, you may end up relocating to this little piece of paradise.
4. Play Marc Leishman’s home course: Warrnambool
Is there a better ambassador for a quintessentially Australian golf club?
Warrnambool’s own, the man who loves mowing lawns, playing golf and sinking lager, Marc Leishman needs no convincing to come back and play his home course.
“Everyone knows when he’s in town,” says club manager Ashlee Scott. “Our tee-times are booked out, he’s always giving up his time for junior clinics and the clubhouse is at maximum capacity. Our members love him because he’s so humble and down to earth.”
Not surprisingly, you can even raise a schooner of Leishman Lager after your round since the club struck a deal to get their man’s beer on tap in the clubhouse.
The course itself, and indeed the town, is the perfect base for a Bellarine getaway, according to Scott, who’s still wrapping her head around the club churning through a thousand rounds a week post-Covid.
“If you base yourself in Warrnambool, within 45 minutes you can experience all the local produce and tick off places like Lake Pertobe and Tower Hill,” Scott says.
“If you come for a weekend, you can play two great courses in what is a traditionally quiet time of the year right now and if you don’t spot Marc out on our course you’ll more than likely catch up with his father Paul in the pro shop.”
And at just $45 for 18 holes, it’s a punt worth taking.
5. Accommodation with a Difference
One of the unsung heroes of playing and staying on the Bellarine Peninsula is the unique assortment of accommodation on offer. Kathy Anderson from Queenscliff & Coastal Holiday Bookings, one of the
many companies managing holiday rentals in the region, says the Bellarine has an impressive assortment of beach houses which are ready to be occupied all year, something perhaps not previously considered by golf-specific travellers.
“Renting a beach house gives guests privacy, a true local experience, and they may range from smaller apartments and economical family homes to larger luxury homes with fabulous ocean views,” Anderson said in a recent interview with Escape magazine.
“A holiday rental is a home away from home that can be very economical and the Bellarine Peninsula is a great place to stay as it has a vast array of activities that include surfing, golf, wineries, steam trains and a fabulous selection of restaurants, cafés, shops and galleries.”
There’s also an eclectic array of spas and resorts if some pampering is more to your liking, like the conveniently placed Lon Retreat and Spa, which neighbours the soon-to-be-completed, new-look Lonsdale Golf Club at Point Lonsdale.
Opened in 2018 as a home-hotel and a 20-year dream fulfilled for owners Claire and Rob Gemes on their family farm, Lon is a place where you can truly escape the health and economic crisis that has taken its toll in 2020. The pair has created a place where guests can disconnect from their daily stresses and enjoy the many wonders of a traditional sandstone family home that has been converted into the perfect blend of house and hotel. Bliss.
While you’re there…
Don’t forget to call in to Curlewis Golf Club and enjoy one of the more underrated courses going around. A fun layout, backed up with mouth-watering food and state-of-the-art Top Tracer technology in its driving range facility, you’ll be coming back for more, just like Golf Australia media manager and Curlewis member Mark Hayes did… permanently!
“On the edge of one of the world’s most remarkable coastlines, to have the opportunity to walk around such immaculately presented land in the name of golf, you sometimes have to pinch yourself to think we’re lucky enough to call this home,” Hayes says.