First impressions of Curlewis Golf Club have visitors believing they are strolling around a Scottish Links, with the obvious exception being its proximity to Melbourne and adjacency to Geelong on the road to Portarlington.
Blessed with a brilliant sand base and a sparsity of trees, this is a somewhat unknown links that continues to grow in reputation with its subtly rolling couch fairways. Easily one of the premier courses on the delightful Bellarine Peninsula, it first opened in 1970. Vern Morcom was the original designer, however in 1976 a master plan was undertaken by Kevin Hartley that tweaked the original layout in a positive fashion.
Fast forward to 2001 and Mike Clayton is engaged for the first time by the Club to develop and oversee a second master plan. This positive step continues Curlewis in an upward trajectory with substantial gains achieved. The often-breezy layout is complimented by fast solid greens and creative bunkering.
By 2015, the club had fallen on hard times financially and thankfully was purchased by local winery owners David and Lyndsay Sharp, whose injection of capital and wisdom resulted in a second engagement with Mike Clayton (his team now known as Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Mead). This collaboration resulted in a further enhanced and revised layout that measures 6,150 metres from the tips, is a par 71 and a comprehensive test to players of any ability. Thankfully, across the influence of different designers, the course has maintained a links-type character with a minimum of trees, undulating fairways, challenging bunkers and large contoured greens. To play Curlewis is to fall in love with a truly fabulous golf course.
In terms of feature holes, it is hard to ignore the challenge and beauty of the 174-metre 3rd hole. Often played into prevailing winds, it can require a piercing blow with as much as a No 3 wood. Clearly deserving of its No 2 index on the card, the green is complex in its slopes that project the slightly mishit shot a good 10 to 15 metres off the green if you collect the front right quadrant. Should you find the left-hand bunkers, the explosion to the green will need to be laced with backspin as the green is sliding away from you.
With the Clubhouse in sight, No 18 is a formidable test, usually it plays longer than the 354 metres due to prevailing wind and the tee shot must be confidently struck to avoid water on the left and penal bunkering to the right. The green is again protected to the left by water coupled with bunkering left and right. If you need par to secure a decent card it will be well earnt here!
The second course at 13th Beach Golf Links, the Creek Course, was designed by Tony Cashmore in conjunction with 6-time major championship winner Sir Nick Faldo and is a worthy and wonderful compliment to the Beach Course. It was opened for play in 2004.
The Creek Course has languidly rolling couch fairways and substantial vertically faced bunkers that rarely let you escape without appropriate penalty. Thankfully is has medium sized, firm putting surfaces that add intrigue with hollows, chasms and bumps that stimulate your creativity with short game. There are plenty of examples of greenside bunkering that cuts into, and helps mould, the slopes of the putting surfaces. This mirrors the best traditions of Melbourne’s Sandbelt – much admired by Faldo and a cornerstone of his design philosophy.
The native couch fairways are over sewn with fescue grass. This provides both an excellent, green playing surface year-round, and a quick transition back to couch dominance once the warmth of spring is apparent. Beyond the fairways there is generally a wide zone of maintained short rough prior to either long pasture grasses or the residential areas which thankfully do not encroach adversely. There are some quirky elements too, like the ‘square cut’ tees, the creek itself and the creative use of a few remaining pines in hole strategy.
Despite this course not being as blessed genetically as its colossal coastal dune sibling and therefore being consigned to live in the shadow of The Beach Course, The Creek Course is still a fabulous track. Its main points of difference are established lakes, complemented by strategic ponds and creeks nipping at the heels of the landing areas. The long holes and the average length Par 4s are the standout features of the course. Coupled with nicely contoured greens, this provides enough variation from its more recognizable sibling, but both should be played to savour the full 13th Beach experience.
13th Beach is a 36-hole development that stretches for two miles along Barwon Heads’ famous surfing beach. Designed by Tony Cashmore, and opened in 2001, it is built on a former asparagus farm and features two diverse and spectacular courses.
The older of the two, the Beach Course, starts by taking golfers in a loop away from the shore and through low-lying farming pastures, before turning seaward at the 5th and heading deep into the rugged sandhills for most of the remaining holes. The 5th tee is the beginning of what 13th Beach has become famous for – glorious links terrain. Rolling through a series of dramatic and natural golf holes that look and feel like they were there long before a golf development was planned, it is here that ongoing business is procured, seen to by the dunes, and a convincing series of holes within the substantial valley terrain thick of coastal vegetation.
These sublime short holes are simply magnificent, all are encased by jumbled sand areas and provide a thorough examination of your iron play. The 16th can prove to be the most problematic, despite measuring a mere 90 metres. So exposed is the minute target to gusty breezes, that as you are buffeted on the tee, your mind can convince you how futile it can be to try to strike the green in regulation. With continued variation in length and direction, the long 7th and the medium length 12th that features a green squashed into an amphitheatre sand dune hollow, are certainly memorable. The Par 5 11th plays along a precarious ridge, soon after a classic short 4 awaits at No 13 and the angled 17th is unforgiving if wayward.
Some courses that are links in nature and exposed to frequently harsh coastal winds are designed without sufficient width in the landing areas and feature greens far too small and undulating. Tony Cashmore succeeded in avoiding these penal pitfalls and created a highly regarded and fair test at 13th Beach.
Perhaps these features were the catalyst for a collaboration between several major golfing bodies. 13th Beach has played host to The Victorian Open since 2013, which in more recent years has become a revolutionary tournament that combines European Tour Men and LPGA women on the same course, at the same time, for the same prize money.