The delightful little Victorian coastal town of Port Fairy is located at the point where the Moyne River flows into the Southern Ocean and its harbour was established in the early 19th century by a variety of fishermen, whalers and sealers.
Originally known as Belfast, but renamed Port Fairy in 1887, the town first saw evidence of organized golf at the end of the 19th century when the golf club was formed and members played on a course at Southcombe Park until 1963, when they moved to their present site.
The initial 9-hole circuit was expanded to 12 holes ten years later and then it was further extended to a full 18-hole layout in 1985. Designer Kevin Hartley modified the routing in the early 1990s, repositioning three holes along the coastline and renowned architect Michael Clayton improved the layout again in recent times.
Port Fairy Golf Links co-hosts (along with nearby Warrnambool Golf Club) a very popular annual 36-hole amateur championship, the Shipwreck Coast Golf Classic but visiting golfers in search of a less competitive visit might time their arrival to coincide with the Port Fairy Folk Festival during the Labor Day long weekend in March.
Architect Michael Clayton kindly provided us with the following comments: This is one of the few true links courses in Australia. Barnbougle Dunes and perhaps Barwon Heads are the others. Port Fairy is a small club with a $400 membership fee and three guys on the grounds crew. The green fee is about $30 and that makes it the best value quality golf in Australia.
The club relocated from the middle of town in the 1960’s and carved out holes in the dunes by the ocean - first nine then eighteen. It was a good routing and the holes from the 12th to the 16th have fantastic views of the ocean.
We built a drive bunker at the 1st to replace a clump of tee-tree and a bunker further along for those who had driven away from the drive bunker. We did the same at the long par five 5th - the best long hole on the course, even though the 12th has spectacular views of the town and the ocean. We added fairway bunkers on the inside corner of the left doglegged 7th hole, rebuilt the par three 8th and added fairway bunkers to the right of the 9th fairway.
At the 14th - the best hole on the course - we convinced the club to remove the line of tee-tree along the right side of the hole to open up the amazing dune land behind and the ocean beyond. The transformation to the look and the feel of the hole was amazing. We built the 15th tee right at the back of the 14th green as previously the members had walked 100 yards to the tee and played from a far less interesting place, both in terms of the shot and the view.
Finally, we took tee-tree from both sides of the 16th hole - again, to open up the dunes and ocean on the right - and built fairway bunkers on the left.
Port Fairy is nestled amongst the natural links type sand dune area that you would find in the UK and Ireland itself. The course has spectacular coastal views, these are present on 5 holes. Port Fairy has a distinctive two 9 hole loop arrangement through and around the undulating and rolling dunes with the weather a major factor in determining the severity of play on each day and each individual hour as I faced last month in earnest. Some truly amazing holes here and I certainly enjoyed holes 12 - 15 in particular! Get there to play as you won't be disappointed.
Although off the beaten track a little, Port Fairy has a sporty links type golf course, which is improving and gaining a reputation as a hidden gem.
There are not many true links courses in Victoria that are sited right on the beach, so Port Fairy is in elite company in that respect. Unfortunately the course also includes a number of holes routed through flat paddock land behind the dunes, and these holes don't have the same interest as the rest of the course. If only the club could access the gorgeous crown owned dunes on its eastern border for a few more holes.
The opening two holes at Port Fairy are nice but unremarkable holes through flat terrain behind the dunes. However it is on the third tee that one gains an appreciation for what is to come! A short par 4, the third has glorious views of the coast, and is exposed to the sea breezes. This is classic links golf!
Holes 4 to 7 are all good holes sited on the back side of the dunes. The club has made a concerted effort to improve the course over time, and in recent years have eliminated a number of trees from the site, giving the course a more links like feel throughout.
Although the par 4 ninth hole is ok, it is a step down in quality sited in flat paddock land. Holes 10 & 13 are in similar dunesland to 6 & 7 running along the back of the main dune, and 11 is a nice links par 3, exposed to the crosswinds on top of the dunes. Most people won't forget the long par 5, twelfth hole as it runs right along the beach. The views are fabulous, and you aren't left guessing what the wind is doing as you are now FULLY exposed. It's a tough hole but a good one!
My favourite stretch at Port Fairy are holes 14, 15, & 16. This folks, is real links golf! Unfortunately holes 17 & 18 are back in the paddocks, and not to the same standard.
There is some very good golf at Port Fairy, and I really enjoy going back there. If only the club could access a little more dunesland!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.