The Bellarine Peninsula has four high-quality golf courses; two on the southside, and two on the north. I recently decided to dust off the stick and play all four with the idea of comparing the differences. I wish it never had to end.
The thing that strikes you as soon as you drive into Barwon Heads Golf Club, and see that magnificent Heritage-listed clubhouse on the horizon, is an almost disorientating sense that you have strayed far further from the township than just a few hundred metres off the main strip.
It’s as if you’ve somehow teleported yourself to the most tranquil part of Scotland, and the ambience as you make your way around the course is almost therapeutic.
The course was shorter than I expected (which suited me perfectly), with lots of short par 4s that are difficult to score on even though you can’t work out why.
They are not overloaded with bunkers or water hazards, so how do they do it? Deception is the key word: I found just picking the right club each time was a game within itself as the backdrop to each hole plays tricks on you. You should come here just to play the first 6 holes alone. It might be the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course, and the collection of par 3s is ridiculously good.
The two courses just a decent tee shot away at Thirteenth Beach are similar, given they are carved out of the same terrain, but everything seems to have a slightly modernized feel in comparison. The condition of the course is close to the impeccable surfaces at Barwon Heads, so whether the whole experience is the equal or surpasses what is offered just down the road is probably a matter of taste more than anything else. But the fact that 13th Beach offers two courses of this quality on the same complex certainly adds to its allure.
It’s more demanding in terms of length and harnesses the same winds that make playing at Barwon Heads such a worthy challenge. You’ll need to pack plenty of balls for The Beach course as it gobbles up anything wayward, but it’s still no less enjoyable to play.
The Creek course, on the other hand, has more of a sand-belt feel, and probably had more of my favourite holes on the complex. It is a bit more forgiving when you stray from the tee, which made looking at the scorecard more palatable.
These two courses might be a rung below their southside counterparts in terms of ranking, but they are still a very high standard and, importantly, great value for the green fees.
Both tread a pleasing balance between providing a course in superb condition, while also creating a more relaxed atmosphere than the southside courses.
Both Curlewis and Portarlington are chock full of interesting holes, and they play perfectly for a hacker like me. That is, one really good shot each hole - either a big drive or a tight approach - can give you an excellent chance at par or birdie.
You can recover sprayed tee shots and still advance the ball, and the greens are receptive enough to ensure you get full value for money every time you hit an iron that feels good.
I’ve always considered the best measure of a course is how good the beer tastes afterwards, and on that score, both of these clubs are well under par. They both have top facilities to settle into after 18 holes, with Portarlington offering a bistro-style set up, and the sun-catching outdoor area at Curlewis serving up a beer garden-like atmosphere.
That is on top of the new driving range facility at Curlewis which, simply put, is off the charts – offering everything from brewery-like dining, a two-tiered mini golf course, an X-Golf simulator and much more.
Speaking of breweries, both courses have prime placing near the local beer houses and wineries the Peninsula is known for, and allows you to make a whole day of it. Flying Brick cider house is a beauty just a five-minute drive away from Curlewis, while Portarlington is close to so many top-shelf wineries, it’s really just a matter of take your pick, kick back and enjoy.