Barwon Heads is an old style links course situated about 20 minutes from Geelong where we are currently staying with our mate jirv (we have previously caught up with Jirv a few weeks back whilst on the Mornington Peninsula).
Barwon Heads is a pure links course. No trees, a few scrubs and a hell of a lot of sand. The course is is laid out in a C shape around the ocean which means that the wind continually comes at you front a slightly different direction. Today the wind did not blow for most of the round, and thus the main defense of the course was missing in action. The conditions were primed for scoring. And boy did we disappoint (again!).
Admittedly it was a significant adjustment moving from the sandbelt greens to the darker green, furrier and slightly slower poa greens at Barwon Heads. Both Jamie and I struggled with the speed of them all day and couldn't buy a putt. Adapting to the speed of the greens is definitely one of the more difficult aspects of playing a different course every day and it can at times be rather frustrating.
I love links courses, but to me, today Barwon Heads lacked some teeth in the benign conditions. We played off the black tees, but it seemed like all the fairway bunkers were in the wrong spots and were more in play for 5 iron than they were for driver, even on the holes which would ordinarily play down-wind. Don't get me wrong, the bunkering that existed was superb with gnarly faces and definite no-go zones on the short side of the greens. But there probably weren't enough pots to make you think off the tee. The greens and surrounds were excellent. There were swales that would bounce your ball onto the green, for example the 207m par three second hole where with some local knowledge now, I would know to hit the ball to the left and bounce it off the hill (and Jamie did with aplomb today to make a par).
I can't go on without mentioning the 4th hole. The elevated fourth tee block has a most spectacular view across the ocean, the beach and towards the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. The hole itself is a beauty. An exposed par three which measures 160m off the blacks and could require anything from a 9 iron to a driver depending on the wind. The green has two distinct tiers, and all around the green are steep drop offs. Both Jamie and I missed the green and it takes an excellent short game to make three. Neither of us were up to the task today, but we both made 4 after each requiring two pitches to get onto the green.
The course has some beautiful features typical of a traditional scottish links course. There are blind tee shots, exposed and elevated greens, and there is a simplicity to the course which makes it sit there and seem benign today but yet will snarl tomorrow and be a real beast.
The real teeth to the course today were felt on the back nine when the wind got up and holes 14 and 15 were particularly tough. 14 is a great par 5. It has excellent bunkering off the tee on both sides with ti-tree as well for the particularly stray shot. An iron is the play. And then a long lay-up is required to a fairway that appears narrower than it is. There is a hazard to the right and OOB to the left. To finish it off, the green slopes off to all sides, has a bunker on the right and is horribly exposed to any wind that may be blowing. Into the breeze today the 14th was a real test and I would suggest any mid handicapper would be thrilled to walk away with a 6! The next hole is mean off the tips at 420m straight into the wind. The tee shot requires a carry of about 160m over wasteland and bunkers on the left of the fairway at about 180m out from the green would generally make you hit three wood off the tee (but not today into the wind). Then the second is played between pots on both sides with, again, ti-tree for the really stray shot.
Barwon Heads is a par 70 and features 5 short holes and only 3 par fives. The short holes are a highlight and include holes with a vast range in length from 130m to 207m with varying distances in-between. The same diversity is a feature of the par 4's with no two holes being of similar length and a range in 10m increments from 300m to 420. This design variety is definitely a highlight of the course. Also, the mere nature of links golf requires a variety of different shots to be hit into the green as you make your way around the course- - again a feature of a quality track.
The course could be improved by narrowing the fairways a bit, and making the whole thing play a bit firmer with less water applied, in particular around the greens and fairways. Part of the beauty of links golf is the art form of bouncing the ball around underneath the wind, but it was almost as if Barwon Heads was a bit spongy today.
But I am spiitting hairs here, and in totality Barwon Heads is a quality track that today we should have carved up. The scores ended 75/85 with F/P to M and the greens halved with a mere 6 a piece. I had a solid yet entirely unspectacular round with 13 pars and 5 bogeys.
I could dedicate an entire blog to the clubhouse at Barwon Heads which sits a top a crest overlooking the course. This place oozes with old world charm and the palatial interior could keep you occupied for hours on end. The club is steeped in history after being founded in 1907 and the clubhouse also appears to be from this era. The changing facilities have been modernized and were not only pristine but also well stocked with Jamie's new favorite product - bryl cream. We met a few local gentlemen in the bar and began chatting with them about our journey and their clubrooms. One chap was the club captain, Robin, who was rightfully very proud of the club and we discussed the upcoming slope rating process that Barwon Heads will be going through in August. But back to the clubhouse, this was one of the most impressive of the year. Wooden paneling, an exquisite bar and history falling off the walls of past presidents, club captains and club champions. The views out the window and from the balcony across the 18th hole aren't to shabby either. Until recently, we were told by the local gents, the dress code for the bar was a jacket and tie, and whilst sitting there sharing stories with these blokes in the opulent surrounds we could have been in a by-gone era. When, we were told, things were simpler, water was scarcer, the fairways were narrower and the golf course tougher.
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