By Evin Priest

HIGH visibility work clothing has become the symbol of the working-class Australian.

But around Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, those fluorescent yellow or orange vests take on a new meaning. They represent the health and status of golf across this proud coastal holiday destination.

For where else in Australia can you watch eight tradies tee off at a nine-hole golf course on a Friday afternoon in their hi-vis jumpers? This writer witnessed two groups of tradesmen pay just $17 to play Geelong Golf Club – one of the best nine-holers you’ll see, anywhere. Yet Geelong isn’t any different from the other golf courses of the Bellarine. Take Thirteenth Beach Golf Links at Barwon Heads, for example. This stunning seaside club has staged the men’s and women’s Victorian Open, concurrently, across its two courses for the past three years. The tourism masterstroke garnered further headlines in 2015 when newly-engaged pro golfing couple Richard Green and Marianne Skarpnord won their respective events.

Though the Beach and Creek courses here rank No.28 and No.74 on the Australian Golf Digest Top 100 Courses, anyone can play these stunning layouts for just $69. At nearby Portarlington Golf Club, 18 holes will only set you back $38. Combine this fantastic golf offering with the fine food and great wine of the Bellarine Taste Trail, historic seaside villages and famous surf beaches and the ‘Gateway to the Great Ocean Road’ makes for one of the best value golf holidays in Australia.

In the following pages, we’ll take you on a journey from Geelong around to Torquay, highlighting the gems of the Bellarine. The best part? Your journey starts at Avalon – arguably Australia’s most hassle-free airport.

Geelong Golf Club's nine-hole course features couch fairways, boldly-contoured green complexes, pure putting surfaces, cavernous bunkers and strategic tee shots in a tranquil forest setting.
Geelong Golf Club’s nine-hole course features couch fairways, boldly-contoured green complexes, pure putting surfaces, cavernous bunkers and strategic tee shots in a tranquil forest setting.

Geelong Golf Club

Spirits are high at Geelong Golf Club two years after re-opening, with membership numbers growing and a new beer garden open for post-round beverages.

The original Geelong Golf Club was founded in 1892 – a year after Royal Melbourne – but when the latter was moved from Caulfield to its Sandringham location, Geelong officially became the oldest golf club in Australia on an original site.

However, the then 112-year-old club and its 18-hole course closed in 2004 in acrimonious circumstances. It re-opened in 2014 as a boutique, nine-hole layout designed by Graham Papworth.

Quite simply, Geelong is one of the best nine-hole layouts this writer has seen. Perfectly conditioned santa ana couch fairways, boldly-contoured green complexes, pure bent grass putting surfaces, deep, cavernous bunkers
and strategic tee shots – all in a tranquil forest setting. 

“The new course features a stunning nine-hole format that suits all level of golfers, all just three kilometres from
the waterfront,” says general manager Paul Christie.

The course is open seven days a week for social and competitive golf, as well as corporate groups. Practice facilities are superb at Geelong, with a 1400sqm tee and 700sqm putting green replicating the more subtle greens on the course proper.

“The recent appointment of Darrell Brown as Director of Coaching strengthens strengthens our experience even further,” says Christie. Bookings can be made online at

Curlewis Golf Club

Golfers often walk off the 18th green at Curlewis wondering how they’d never heard of it. Thirteenth Beach or The Sands Torquay are the region’s better-known courses, but this Vern Morcom design is fast developing a reputation as one of the most underrated golf courses in Victoria.

Designed by the architect of The National, Long Island and Royal Hobart, Curlewis shares many similarities to courses on the renowned Melbourne Sandbelt region: gently undulating holes lined by native trees and sand waste; subtle changes in elevation; sharp doglegs; and imaginative greens.

“The charm of Curlewis is that it’s an old-fashioned course,” says club professional and director of golf operations, Steve Brodie. “You can tell it’s an older design by the bunkering and some of the locations of the greens; they’re very unique.”

Like Long Island and Royal Hobart, Morcom has made obstacles visible for the low marker, yet leaves higher handicappers blissfully unaware of the aggressive lines. “Which means that a scratch-marker like me can play with a 27-handicapper and we’ll both walk off the 18th happy,” says Brodie. “It’s just a really fun golf course to play.”

The driveable par-4 third embodies Morcom’s mantra: the better player attempts to drive the left side of the fairway and feed the ball back towards the green, while the social golfer sees it as a good chance to make par on a short hole with a wide fairway.

The par 3s here are mostly short or mid-range, yet bunkering and blind run-off areas allow plenty of risk/reward scenarios for skilled golfers.

With improvements to turf conditioning and some minor architectural question marks, Curlewis has potential to be one of Melbourne’s best public courses.

Owners David and Lyndsay Sharp, who purchased the golf course in 2015, have already made some improvements to the irrigation system and have commissioned some architectural changes to the layout.

Looking Sharp

Regarded as the patron saints of Bellarine Peninsula tourism, Curlewis Golf Club’s new owners David and Lyndsay Sharp have facilitated the region’s renaissance as a food and wine haven during the past decade. In 2007, the couple acquired Leura Park Estate winery in Curlewis before adding to the Bellarine’s wine offering with the creation of Jack Rabbit Vineyard nearby. Its award-winning sparkling and riesling has been a huge hit with locals, especially when enjoyed at Jack Rabbit’s restaurant cafe overlooking picturesque Port Phillip Bay. The Sharps have also recently added the popular Flying Brick Cider house at Wallington.

“Many people don’t know the Bellarine Peninsula wine industry started in the late 1800s,” says Lyndsay. “There’s no shortage of wineries rated 5-star by James Halliday. There are some truly amazing wines down here.”

Curlewis Golf Club has plans for a 20-room boutique hotel adjacent to the golf  course.

An aerial shot of the oceanside Portarlington Golf Club.
An aerial shot of the oceanside Portarlington Golf Club.

Portarlington Golf Club

Only 900 metres from the waterfront, Portarlington is an quality 18-hole layout. This tree-lined course presents a wonderful challenge with variety of golf holes and excellent year-round conditioning. Portarlington is one of the healthiest golf clubs on the Bellarine Peninsula, with the entire facility in the middle of an $8 million redevelopment. The masterplan includes a recently refurbished clubhouse offering outstanding entertainment facilities and a daily bistro, as well as plans for several bowling greens to be constructed.

At Thirteenth Beach, gorgeous bunkering is one of the Beach course's standout features.
At Thirteenth Beach, gorgeous bunkering is one of the Beach course’s standout features.

Thirteenth Beach

Thirteenth Beach Golf Links might be known as the home of the men’s and women’s Victorian Open until 2018, but the real celebrity here is the Beach course’s other-worldly collection of par 3s. The third is tough at 180m and the 16th will test your short-irons, while the seventh and 12th are absolutely gorgeous (and addictive to play).

Designed by Tony Cashmore, the Beach course uses the coastal dunes to create a rugged appeal similar to coastal links courses in Ireland – manicured fairways surrounded by unkempt natural rough, as well as tee boxes and green complexes carved out of sand dunes.

The first four holes take the golfer through low-lying farming pastures, before turning seaward at the fifth and heading deep into the rugged sandhills for the remainder of the round.

It is certainly no mystery why the Beach course hosts Victoria’s state championship, or why it has been a mainstay in the top 30 of our Top 100 Courses ranking (No.28 in 2016).

For Thirteenth Beach’s Creek course, Cashmore teamed up with former world No.1 golfer-turned course architect Nick Faldo to deliver the club’s second layout in 2004. It first appeared in the Top 100 list in 2012.

While the Beach course is a higher standard of course design, Creek is far more open and forgiving – courtesy of less demanding tee shots, softer fairways and fewer drastic changes in elevation.

With constantly improving turf conditioning and course maturing, the Creek course has climbed up three places to No.74 in this year’s Top 100 and is a highly enjoyable round of golf.

Barwon Heads, No.27

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 2.10.18 pm

To provide a stern test of golf at less than 6,000 metres in 2016 is a something of an achievement.

Welcome to Barwon Heads Golf Club, the highest-ranked course on the Bellarine Peninsula. No amount of technological advancement in golf equipment can replace a timeless, 5,826m layout built on dramatically undulating coastal duneland – or the wild winds whipping in off nearby Bass Strait.

With cleverly positioned hazards, subtle slopes and greens, along with challenging tee positions, Barwon Heads is a pure links course, reminiscent of Scotland’s famed seaside layouts.

Another aspect of this heritage-listed golf club which has stood the test of time is Barwon Heads’ old-world charm.

Staying in the rooms at the clubhouse – a gabled timber building in an inter-war California Bungalow style – adds a vintage element to your overall golfing experience.

The Sands Torquay was crafted out of land between sand dunes and the beach, meaning the putting surfaces and greenside bunkers boast plenty of character.
The Sands Torquay was crafted out of land between sand dunes and the beach, meaning the putting surfaces and greenside bunkers boast plenty of character.

The Sands Torquay

For a golf course so exposed to the elements, conditioning is outstanding at The Sands Torquay. Perched on the northern headland of Torquay and at the start of the famed Great Ocean Road, this Stuart Appleby design is an exciting round of golf with plenty of changes in elevation.

The layout was crafted out of land between sand dunes and the beach, meaning the putting surfaces and greenside bunkers boast plenty of contouring and character. The Sands Torquay retains the surrounding environment’s unique natural vegetation, as well as the feel of the iconic Victorian surf coast. With plenty of bunkers and uphill approaches, as well as some intimidating tee shots and tricky par 3s, The Sands Torquay is a fair test of golf.

The Sands is also incredibly convenient for travelling golfers, with an attached Peppers Resort offering two interconnecting, three-level buildings.

Rooms here have breathtaking views over the golf course, coastal dunes and Surf Coast, forming the perfect setting for a short golfing getaway. The Sands is an ideal starting point for golfers wanting to traverse the spectacular 200-kilometre journey along The Great Ocean Road – especially if you want to get a glimpse of the world-renowned Bells Beach, home of the Rip Curl Pro.