The Shipwreck Coast
Seaside golfing delights of Warrnambool and Port Fairy
30 January 2015
The Shipwreck Coast, located in the south west of Victoria, Australia, stretches from Cape Otway to Port Fairy, a distance of some 130 kilometres. Over time, in excess of 600 vessels have perished in this coastal labyrinth, giving rise to the comment by explorer, Mathew Flinders, “I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline”. Golf abounds in the district and two courses Warrnambool Golf Club and Port Fairy Golf Links, are the most prominent and worthy of portrayal.
The club first entered the Australian Golf Digest Top 100 rankings at 76 in the March 2000 edition, after having received ‘honourable mentions’ for the preceding several biennial ratings. Due primarily to natural attrition with the emergence of numerous new courses at the ‘pointy end’ of the list, Warrnambool dropped from the 2008 Top 100 at 96. The course however, retains the credentials to offer an excellent venue for a testing and enjoyable round on one of southern Australia’s foremost country clubs.
This well planned course was laid out behind a tertiary dune system, in 1926, to a classic design by George Lowe. Not overly long at 5,750 metres, 35 out and 37 home, for a par of 72. The layout features several spectacular elevated tee blocks and reasonably generous, well grassed, ti-tree lined fairways. The trio of holes, 4,5, and 6, are as good as golf gets in this part of the world. Constructed on a coastal sandy base, the course remains readily playable throughout the winter months. The greens are fast and true and the bunkering a genuine test of your prowess with the sand wedge. The influence of the ever present fluky coastal sea-breeze cannot be understated and really adds to the challenge of a course which may play variously from one nine to the next and one round to another. Testing and yet enjoyable for players of all skill levels and invariably, all that play up to the 18th green at Warrnambool, are saddened that the round is at a close.
The Warrnambool course may best be described as ‘undulating’ and a ‘reasonable walk’. For some, possibly, to best enjoy this great golfing destination, an alternative to ‘shank’s pony’ may be the preferred option. Carts are readily available through the pro shop.
Port Fairy Golf Links
Visitors are made more than welcome 7 days per week. Booking is recommended and may be made through the Pro Shop.
Golf at Port Fairy had its beginnings around the turn of the previous century,  at a course laid out in the township. In 1956, a coastal tract of land was leased to the club some three miles east of the town, adjacent to the Southern Ocean. The new course, designed by Kevin Hartley was opened in 1963. In 1985 the course was finally extended to 18 holes and with the minor architectural improvements, provided by Mike Clayton in recent times, this great links layout offers superb test of our great game.
After receiving ‘honourable mentions’ in the preceding two biennial lists, Port Fairy Golf Links first made an appearance at number 95 in the March 2002 edition of the Australian Golf Digest Top 100. Port Fairy currently resides very comfortably in the hundred.
At 5,887 metres with a par of 72, the layout is not overly long, but don’t be deceived into supposing that it is a snap – when the predominant/prevailing south westerlies get up, it plays every centimetre of it, plus some. From the back blocks, performing to your handicap around this magnificent stretch of coastal links is a creditable feat. This said, there are a variety of tees and players of all standards are well catered for.
The layout is reasonably undulating and a ‘good’ walk’. For those not so disposed, carts are available at a reasonable rate from the pro shop.
The well-grassed fairways are generally tight and the ever-present ubiquitous wispy coastal grasses prove a tester for any errant fairway play.
The bunkering, craftily carved from the resident dunes, is a definite test of one’s prowess in the ‘pots’ and the undulating greens proffer subtle breaks and borrows, ensuring all will be kept honest with the ‘flat-stick’.
Port Fairy’s holes wend their way through some magnificent, rolling, sand dune country and from several vantage points, a variety of spectacular coastal vistas of the Southern Ocean are to be had. Fourteen is generally considered the club’s signature hole. The tee block is the high point on the course, from which the 360-degree panorama is breathtaking.
Situated among elevated sand dunes, this classic links-land course is just grand in every respect. First and foremost, it’s a joy to play, fun, and a bona fide challenge to golfers of all skill levels. This undulating terrain remains largely untouched by man, with fairways simply mown for definition and therefore giving rise to a spectacular natural links feel.
I have been fortunate to play the revered Scottish courses of St Andrews, Royal Troon, Carnoustie and Rye in England, and to my mind, Port Fairy Golf Links is representative of Australia’s equivalent of these classic links.Article by Chris Croker and course photograph courtesy of Gary Lisbon
30 January 2015 Respond to this article