The first-time visitor to Curlewis Golf Club could not be blamed for thinking he had chanced upon a Scottish links course. The only difference is that it is just an hour’s drive from Melbourne and 15 minutes from Geelong, on the road to Portarlington.
It comes as no surprise that locals long ago dubbed this wonderful par-72 6,150-metre layout the ‘emerald’ of the Bellarine Peninsula. And since being purchased in July 2015 by local cider brewery and winery owners, Lyndsay and David Sharp, it has become even better.
With sweeping views of Corio Bay, superb undulating fairways and fast, contoured, manicured greens, Curlewis is an absolute gem. The bunker sand is so good you want to go in the traps (well, almost) to experience the joy of successfully negotiating your way out of them.
Jamie Brigden considers himself blessed to be the golf operations manager at Curlewis. He has been in the job just a few months after spending 12 years at The Dunes on the Mornington Peninsula.
“I always knew how good Curlewis was. You don’t leave a place like The Dunes unless you’re coming to something this good,” he says. “The course is vastly different from The Dunes. You need to shape the ball both ways here and there’s lots of variety. It’s not demanding as far as length [but] you need to think about every shot. It’s not like The Dunes where you stand on the tee and just rip it. You need to plot your way around this course.”
While the back nine is a stern test, perhaps the real charm of Curlewis lies in its front half. It is not drawing too long a bow to say the sixth, seventh and eight holes are reminiscent of Royal Melbourne and certainly would not look out of place on the country’s top-ranked course.
Steve Brodie, a professional at Curlewis, likens the 129-metre, par-3 eighth hole to the fabled seventh on Royal Melbourne’s West Course.
“The eighth would not look out of place on any of the top Sandbelt courses in Melbourne. That’s the case with many of the holes here,” Brodie says with a genuine sense of pride.
The eighth is slightly uphill and requires a 7 or 8-iron off the tee. The putting surface has plenty of slopes and undulations. If you get in the wrong spot on the green you are in trouble. It is also surrounded by very penal bunkering. The green sits tantalisingly on top of a little knoll.
“It is a wonderful looking hole. You just stand on the tee and can’t wait to play it,” Brodie says.
But there are quite a number of ‘really good’ holes at Curlewis. They include the third, a short risk-and-reward par 4. The low marker can drive the green but there’s out-of-bounds left, four or five steps from the green, and trouble right with bunkers and rough. Depending on the wind, the club you hit can vary greatly. “I reckon I have hit six different clubs off the tee at that hole over the years,” Brodie says.
There are no free putts at Curlewis. You have to think about what you are doing. The recently remodelled par-4 11th hole has been made a lot more strategic with penal bunkers added. You have to hit two very good shots. The view from the green is superb with 180-degree vistas of the bay and surrounding areas.
The 18-hole course was originally designed by Vern Morcom on land purchased by East Geelong Golf Club in 1947. But 12 months later the development ceased after the bore water failed. The club leased the land for grazing until 1969 when mains water became available and 12 months later the course opened to the public.
It has been a good golf course ever since, although there were problems with its condition due to drought in 2006-’07. Five years later the club installed its own water reclamation plant.
But by 2015 Curlewis was struggling to survive financially and the 60-hectare site was in danger of falling into the hands of developers before the Sharps bought it. They engaged, on a long-term basis, renowned course architect Mike Clayton, who along with his colleagues has made a number of improvements to the layout.
Off the course, the clubhouse has undergone extensive refurbishment including the opening of a new spike bar. And in a bid to make golf more ‘hip’ for young people, Curlewis introduced ‘foot golf’ (which combines two of the world’s most popular sports – soccer and golf) and Golf Boards (a fusion between golf carts and snowboards).
Both innovations were added to the club’s ongoing kids clinic, a dynamic youth development squad, and the popular beginners ladies clinics.
But perhaps the biggest continuing story at Curlewis is the opening in late January of the $8 million The [email protected] – just a kilometre up the road from the golf course. Among other things, The Range boasts state-of-the art driving bays and practice facilities, two-tiered mini-golf, a conference centre for 200, pilates classes, virtual golf, superb bistro and bar and a wonderful outdoor deck.
The Range is already proving very popular from the time it opens at 7am until late every day and appeals to a wide demographic. At any given time you might find anything from a gaggle of children in school uniform hitting buckets of balls, to middle-aged women sipping gin and tonics on the deck overlooking native bushland. Each space at The Range has its own separate ambience.
“We want this to become a community hub as well as a place to practise golf,” Lyndsay Sharp says.
The Range took two years to plan and a further eight months to build.
“We hope we have contributed to the innovation of the concept of golf in Victoria,” she adds. “We are always looking at how we can make golf more inclusive and engaging to all ages. Golf is never boring at Curlewis. And you don’t have to be a member to come and enjoy all Curlewis has to offer.”
Being in the hospitality industry, the owners have placed a big emphasis on the food and wine at both The Range and the Curlewis clubhouse. But both venues provide very different dining experiences thanks to the talents of head chef Tara Thyer (clubhouse) and executive chef David Warmisham at The Range.
Indeed, the whole Curlewis experience is something to savour.
Curlewis Golf Club
Where: 1345 Portarlington Rd, Curlewis VIC 3222
Phone: + 61 3 5251 1111
For more information on a Golfing Great head to Visit Victoria.