Warrnambool is a sleepy coastal Victoria town with a seaside links that produced a five-time PGA Tour winner.
I fell in love with the game of golf during my very first round at Warrnambool Golf Club. My Dad, Paul, was my hero. He still is. Any chance to hang out with him was one I’d always take, so one day, when I was probably 8 years old, he asked me, “Do you want to go camping for the weekend? Or do you want to go play 18 holes of golf?” And I said, “I’ll play 18 holes.”
At the time I liked camping, but I knew he loved the game so I chose golf. We went out and played 18, it was just him and me. I probably shot about 200 but I’ll never forget that first round, getting to play this game that seemed to make Dad happy.
I got right into the game because I loved it and because there was a great group of juniors. The friendships I made were life-long. That’s where I met Matty (Kelly, Leishman’s caddie) and we’ve been best mates ever since. I’d go after school and would hang with my mates but doing something I loved, playing three, or six or 12 holes – whatever the daylight allowed. The challenge of golf really hooked me, and the creativity you had to harness at Warrnambool kept me coming back. Some days you think you got the secret and saw improvements, and other days you found it challenging physically and mentally. You have got to get through all that and doing so makes you a stronger person, I think.
I owe my life and my career to my origins at Warrnambool Golf Club. It’s just a working-class club with a great membership, a fun course and a relaxed vibe. I live in the US now but Warrnambool is still home for me. So let me take you on a tour…
There are many things I love about Warrnambool Golf Club and the town, but obviously, the course is the centrepiece. There are so many great holes that make you think, play smart, get creative and most of all have fun.
Take the par-5 10th. Some days you can get there in two – it’s 532 metres. Some days you can’t get there in three because it’s just so windy and it plays so differently. The easy stretches of the golf course change all the time, depending on the wind. I think that’s what so good about it, you can play the same course every day and have a different experience. There are certain holes you can’t be above the pin, otherwise you’ll putt it off the front of the green.
Warrnambool teaches you how to play in the wind and create shots. I think 90 per cent of my ability to play those wind shots now on the PGA Tour comes from where I grew up, because I feel comfortable hitting those shots in the elements. It was always a heavy wind in Warrnambool. It was different from other winds. Like the wind in America compared to the British Open, it’s very different. It’s almost like a 10-mile-an-hour wind at Warrnambool is equivalent to 20 in Melbourne. It’s just a heavier wind coming off the ocean and it’s cold air. The ball doesn’t go as far and that’s a challenge. So, I think understanding that has had a big impact on playing in the wind in British Opens and probably my success over there, for sure.
The fourth, fifth and sixth are three great holes and probably my favourite stretch on the course. Three par fours in the sand dunes, with ti-tree everywhere. They’ve all got hilly greens so you can birdie all three of them, but you could also lose balls on all three holes.
The 10th, it’s surrounded by ti-tree the entire way. It’s narrow, it’s uphill, it’s towards the ocean. Some days it plays like it’s 700 metres long. And you play it into that cold southerly and your ball just goes nowhere.
And 13 as well. It’s a 120-metre par 3 up a hill with a tricky green. Again, you can make birdie or triple-bogey there easily.
There are a lot of holes like that and that variety is what I enjoy. The courses I normally enjoy on the PGA Tour are ones where you can shoot 63 or you can shoot 80, and Warrnambool is definitely one of those courses. I’ve shot 60 at Warrnambool, but I can remember shooting 75 there once or twice since I turned pro in 2005. It’s quite short at 5,796 metres, compared to what we play over on the PGA Tour. It’s like the links courses in Scotland – they’re not long but if the wind’s blowing that is its defence.
There’s Leishman Lager on tap…
Two really special moments have happened at Warrnambool since I became a tour pro. The first was the committee renaming the entry into the club ‘Marc Leishman Drive’. That was just a really nice gesture. It meant a lot to me. The second was when Leishman Lager, the beer I helped design and brew, was put on tap in the clubhouse.
Which was cooler? I would say it’s a tie. When the club put Leishman Lager on tap for the first time – it was the week after last year’s Presidents Cup – that was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been. Tasting that first pint was nerve-wracking but it tasted great. I mean, who wants to have a beer named after them and have it not taste good? It was very satisfying, much like holing a 20-footer to win a tournament on the last hole! To have it in the clubhouse and see everyone drinking it and enjoying it, was a great feeling for me. Warrnambool also has some cool relics of mine. I think the trophy from my first pro win is there and the clubs I used. They’ve got some pictures on the wall of me taken during tournaments I’ve won. Every tournament I win, they put a picture of me with the trophy. There’s a little shrine of my accomplishments on the wall next to the bar, which is pretty cool.
A day out in town
For me, the total Warrnambool experience obviously involves 18 holes at the club. If it’s a winter day, you would go whale watching in the morning or, if you’re willing to get up really early, you could watch the racing trainers run the racehorses along the beach. Then you’d play golf in the afternoon. After that it’d be dinnertime and there are plenty of good restaurants in town. You could go to Logan’s – the calamari there is the best I’ve ever tasted – or you could try Kermond’s for a hamburger; that’s a pretty famous hamburger in Warrnambool. Grab a burger and go and eat it by the ocean, down at the breakwater watching the waves. Seals will come in occasionally, too. After all that, head up the Great Ocean Road on your way back to Melbourne and make sure to check out the Twelve Apostles on your drive.
Warrnambool Golf Club
Where: Younger St, Warrnambool VIC 3280
Phone: (03) 5562 2108
Marc Leishman spoke with Evin Priest