Barwon Heads Golf Club
Our good friend Mr. Greg Ramsay from Ratho Farms knew that a visit to Barwon Heads Golf Club was high on our bucket list, so he thankfully put us in touch with a mate of his. We quickly received a note from his mate Hamish inviting us to join him! The only problem was actually getting out to play!
Seven days prior to our initial tee time, the state of Victoria had announced a 5-day covid lockdown for the entire state. The only reason people were allowed to leave their homes was for essential reasons. And tragically, golf was not considered essential. Then on the fifth day, the lockdown was extended by another 7 days. So, all we could do was wait.
Walking was still, thankfully, considered essential. And Menekse and I made the most of our allowed one-hour time out of the house. We were staying in a housesit in the Bellarine Peninsula, located about an hour and a half from Melbourne. The Peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the Bass Strait, which meant that we were never too far from one of the many beaches.
True Links Golf Course in Australia
Located at the tip of the peninsula is the lovely beach town of Barwon Heads. It was often that we sought refuge on the beach in this picturesque seaside town.
According to Mr. George Peper and Mr. Malcolm Campbell, authors of one of our favorite golf books True Links, there are only 246 authentic links golf courses in the world. A mere seven of those true links courses are found in Australia, and Barwon Heads Golf Club is one of those sacred grounds!
In their view, they determined that the essential requirements to qualify as a “True Links” golf course center on terrain and location. Among many criteria, they defined that a course must have sea views, sandy, dune-like terrain with fast-running fairways, and be at the mercy of the ever-changing seaside winds. During our long walks on the beach, we could see that this area was perfect for links golf. Sea views, wind, and some of the largest dunes we have ever seen! In fact, the dunes that separate the Southern Ocean from Barwon Heads Golf Club are a towering 87 steps high! We know because we counted them!
With cases of covid starting to level off, we got a call from Hamish. “Let’s play golf next Tuesday before they change their minds”, he advised. We couldn’t wait!
It was a very early morning in early August, which is the dead of winter in Australia. The sun was just peeking over the Southern Ocean to our right as we teed off. It was very cold, but overhead the sky was clear. And most importantly, there was no wind!
Barwon Heads measures 6437-yards from the back Black tees with a par of 70. It plays 5744-yards and a par of 73 from the forward Red tees.
The Front Nine at Barwon Heads Golf Club
One Giant Leap
Hamish, our wonderful host, pointed at a fairway bunker down the left side as the ideal target from the tee on the 427-yard par 4 third. Not so much because it sets you up for an easier approach. But because it is well safe from the chaos that runs the length of the fairway on the right.
Slightly uphill, the area on the right side of the fairway can best be described as something that would be seen on the moon! The area is full of sand, some wispy tussock grasses, and what we read is limestone. But it has a beauty all its own. This Sea of Tranquility protects the dogleg right, and it looks like something that Neil Armstrong would have encountered as he hit his 6-iron on the moon!
Menekse was able to follow Hamish’s directions and hit it down the left side, which left her playing on the tightly manicured fairway.
But you guessed it, I blocked my tee shot. Peering down into the crater, we found my ball and I was relieved to see that it had a clean lie given the circumstances. I still had 185-yards in, and as I jumped down onto the moon, I thought to myself that if a 6-iron was the right club for Neil, it was certainly the right club for me. Making sure that I wouldn’t damage my club, I picked the shot clean and watched with satisfaction as it descended with a splash on the front of the green.
That’s one small step for James. One giant leap for Puttering around the World!
On Top of the Towering Dunes
After climbing the steep staircase, take time to enjoy the view on the 180-yard par 3 fourth. With the ocean on your left and the impressive Barwon Heads Clubhouse on your right, there aren’t many better views in all of golf. Once you are finally able to peel yourself from the view and concentrate on the task at hand, you will quickly note the danger residing between the views.
The long and terribly two-tiered skinny green looks like a tiny target from the tee. The back half of the putting surface looks like it is a good yard higher than the front half. And pinching the green from both sides are deep sandless grass bunkers that will easily capture anything but your best effort. Add the gorse between the tee and the green and this makes the hole even more difficult!
I lasered a long 201-yards all the way to the back pin. Playing into the wind, I hit a rocket of a 4-iron which landed in the front half of the skinny green. It rolled almost to the top of the slope coming to a near stop before running out of steam and heading back down the hill. Luckily it stopped on the green but left me will a demanding putt to the back pin.
Before you leave, make sure to play another shot from the “high tees”. And take a selfie!
A Perfect True Links Golf Hole
Lying in the middle of the course on the side nearest to the Barwon Heads, the 501-yard par 5 fifth is another perfect true links golf hole. Playing downwind, the fairway looks like a chute, channeling its way toward the green in the far distance. The two fairway pot bunkers on the left off the tee are definitely in play, especially playing with the wind. Resting beyond those bunkers is another, but it isn’t as close as it appears from the tee. Trying to take advantage of the wind, Menekse teed her ball high. Starting left of the bunkers, her ball began to bend right, landing short of the bunkers and rolling out perfectly to the middle of the fairway.
From the fairway, you are going to have to decide how you want to play your next shot. This par 5 could be reachable in two, especially if it is with the wind. There is a deep pot bunker about 100 yards short of the green on the right. Beyond that, there are two more bunkers short of the green on the left.
The green on five was one of the most difficult on the course. Having laid up, I hit a 54° wedge from the fairway to the middle of the green and watched it roll off the side. This was in the middle of winter when you would think that the greens would be soft. But the greens were absolutely perfect! In the summer when the greens are at their peak, the green on 5 would be near impossible to hold. Which actually might make going for it in two the better play!
Stay Left on Six
Even with a fairway bunker on the left, Hamish said that it is better to aim down that side of the 381-yard par 4 sixth. If not, you will have a blind approach he added. Menekse aimed at the bunker trusting that her ball flight would keep her safe. Playing uphill and back into the wind, she was still able to fly the bunker and had 170-yards remaining to the green.
From the left side of the fairway, she had an uphill approach to a green that was beautifully framed by cypress trees long and the magnificent Clubhouse to the right. But first, she had to contend with a bunker that was well short of the green on the left, and another bunker short and right of the green.
The greens at Barwon Heads are big, but they’re not huge. They moved more than we allowed for, and we never read them quite right. Even in the dead of winter, and recently plugged, or cored as the Aussies say, they were in excellent condition. Hit past the pin with just a touch too much pace, and you will have a 5-footer coming back. They were much faster than we would have guessed!
Our Host’s Favorite Hole
The 437-yard par 4 number 1 handicap ninth was our host Hamish’s favorite hole, and we can see why! The hole doglegs sharp left, and the dunes just beyond the middle of the fairway act as the perfect target from the tee. Preferably you aim down the left side of the dune or aim at the middle and draw one around. Ideally, this puts you on the left side of the fairway and also cuts off some distance.
Due to my draw, Hamish gave me a target just left of the middle, and I was able to turn it over. Because of the dogleg, you can’t see much of the hole, but it’s not a blind tee shot, and I let go of one of my best tee shots of the day.
Once you get beyond the dogleg, the hole opens and really shows off its beauty. The fantastic dune is on the right, and there were some beautiful cypress trees on the left of the fairway. Between your ball and the green is a waste area that breaks the fairway into two. Depending on your tee shot, the waste area shouldn’t come into play. But you do have another decision to make.
The ninth green is well protected by four good-sized bunkers. A pair of dangerous bunkers short of the green really makes the approach narrow. And if you clear them, there is another pair that are greenside and deep. Really deep. Rather than challenge the green, I decided to lay up to 85-yards, one of my preferred distances and managed to make par.
Nine is another great-looking golf hole, but we gotta ask- would you go for it?
The Back Nine at Barwon Heads Golf Club
Playing the Ball on the Ground
There is a small cluster of cypress trees in the background beyond the green of the 410-yard straightaway par 4 eleventh, so anywhere left of those is a great target off the tee. There is a fairway bunker on the right that you can see, and a grass bunker just beyond it that is hidden. Additionally, there is a lone fairway bunker on the left, but it didn’t come into play for any of us.
The second shot plays a little uphill to another extremely difficult green. First, the green is huge and is higher than the surrounding area, so it would be wise to take an extra club. A pair of bunkers short right make the target feel smaller than it really is. Plus, there is another one that slopes off sharply left. The first quarter of the saucer-shaped green falls sharply back down the hill. Menekse’s approach didn’t make it up the hill, and it rolled a good 10 yards back down the hill. Rather than chip it, the conditions were perfect for a Texas Wedge style, and she putt it back up the hill. Playing the ball on the ground is another hallmark of true links golf!
The Beautiful Thirteenth at Barwon Heads
The 142-yard downhill par 3 thirteenth is at the furthest edge of the property. An elevated tee gives you an incredible view of the hole and the Clubhouse of the neighboring 13th Beach Golf Links in the distance. There are no bunkers on thirteen, but that doesn’t make the green any easier. With slopes on both the left and right, there isn’t really any good place to miss. Miss it on either side, and you will have a good 6-foot hill to navigate to get onto the green. Then you need to hope that you don’t have too much speed so that it stops before reaching the other side! A patch of long grass plays defense long of the thimble-sized green! Surrounded by the deep dry ditch, the green looked like a waterless moat!
With a little breeze into me, I hit an 8-iron that started right of the green before drawing back to the pin. It looked great coming down right on the stick, landing long of the pin, but thankfully still on the green. Frustratingly I proceeded to 3-putt!
We’re probably not alone when saying the 142-yard par 3 thirteenth was our favorite hole on the course.
An Incredible Up and Down
A long carry is required off the tee on the 422-yard par 4 fifteenth. Tall tussock grass guards the left side of the fairway, but the small pot bunker on the right side of the green is the best target from the tee. We all easily hit over it, as it was more of a visual hazard than an actual hazard, but I guess that could depend on the wind! Past the junk, there are a few bunkers on the left side of the fairway. However, our tee shots found the right side of the fairway, so lucky for us they didn’t come into play.
The fifteenth green is protected by a bunker that is well short right, as well as a pair of greenside bunkers left. The entire right side of the longish green falls into a grassy collection area. Perhaps overcompensating for the bunkers on the left, Menekse aimed to the middle of the green on her approach from 115-yards. Her 8-iron slid off the right side and she watched her ball as it rolled down into the grassy collection area that safeguards the right side of the green. Undeterred, however, she got up and down for an incredible five!
Another Marvelous Par 3
The 179-yard par 3 seventeenth is another of Barwon’s marvelous par 3’s. Surrounding the decent-sized target are two high-lipped greenside bunkers short right, another one short left, and beautiful dunes that frame the right and back. Slightly uphill and into the breeze, I hit another 4-iron to the amphitheater green. The swing and the contact felt good. But perhaps I hit it a little too high because my ball dove into the front right bunker.
With a decent lie on the level flat of the bunker, my sand shot made a good splash but was a little heavy. It flew out slowly, landing a good 10 feet short of the pin. I know that I should have taken a little more time over the putt and missed it well right.
The Impressive Clubhouse at Barwon Heads
After our round, we were invited to tour and have lunch in the Clubhouse. Traditional in taste, and full of rich history, the Clubhouse at Barwon Heads is one of the most impressive clubhouses that we have seen throughout our golfing journey. We took our time admiring the historic photos and hickories lining the hallways. Mr. Alex Russell, the talented prodigy of Mackenzie, and architect of the East Course at Royal Melbourne as well as Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, was a member here, and we were dazzled with each step.
There are no hidden hazards and no hidden bunkers at Barwon Heads. Hamish, who was a marvelous player with a game I envied, said that what you see is what you get at Barwon. With the challenge presenting itself fully exposed in front of you, the golf course was a great test of golf!
The par 3’s at Barwon Heads were spectacular! Ranging in a variety of distances, I hit everything from 8 irons to 4 irons. Positioned in every direction, the wind was always of consideration.
With undulating slopes, and consistently offering wonderful tight lies, the fairways were great! Today’s rough wasn’t penal, but that might be different in the summer with a longer cut.
We both scored much better on the front than we did on the back. Menekse hit the ball very well all day, especially on the front. I pulled a few shots, but also surprisingly hit the ball well. We both struggled around the greens, which was no fault of the course, but more likely from a lack of recent play.
They say that good things come to those who wait. It might have taken us a while to play Barwon Heads, but it was definitely worth the wait!