Roadtrippin' Down Under: Part 3: Heaven on Earth
VICTORIA, Australia -- Our previous episodes saw us travel south from Sydney, following the Pacific Ocean along the New South Wales South Coast and the Eurobodalla coast.
Today, we set out for a drive that will take us through the Sapphire Coast of southern New South Wales and into the Gippsland district of Victoria. We will then make our way towards our ultimate destination; the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.
We travel through Bermagui and on to Merimbula, where lagoon, lakes and ocean are separated by white sand, and fringed by unspoilt bushland stretching up into the mountains.
The road takes us to Eden, which is the southern gateway to the Sapphire Coast. Eden is set in rugged beauty with golden sandy beaches and crystal waters to the east and forests and parklands to the west. This area features a grand tradition of the sea; the past days of whaling, and what has now developed into endless fishing opportunities and fascinating dive wrecks. We cross the border from New South Wales into Victoria, and explore the Gippsland District.
After a day of driving through some of the most stunning countryside Australia has to offer, we get back to the serious business of golf. Our first port of call is the Warragul Country Club, which is regarded by many people as West Gippsland's finest course.
Founded in 1907, Warragul is an interesting course, with its two vastly contrasting nines. The front nine is tight and hilly. Holes 1 and 2, redesigned in 1981, are regarded as the real tests on the course, and you can make or break your round at the start. At least there is the consolation of knowing that it only gets easier from here.
A spring-fed pond between the third and fourth holes has swallowed many balls, but we were assured that it takes a rather poor tee shot to get your ball wet. These words kept ringing in your writer's ears, as he spent the next two hours drying out his shoes and socks!
The back nine is completely different, and is relatively flat and open. Beginning with the easier 10th hole, the course opens out, allowing players to pin the ears back and have a go.
But a word of warning; several greens on the back are deceiving, as the slopes can be greater than expected when approaching the pin.
Our camp for the night is the Freeway Motor Inn in Warragul.
Day 9 sees us taking the short drive to the Mornington Peninsula, which is fast becoming Australia's home of golf, with a spate of new golf courses planned including the Moonah Links, which will not only house the Australian Golf Union headquarters and Australian Golf Museum, but also the Australian Open every three years from 2003. The ambitious project will create an official headquarters for Australian golf, similar to the Royal and Ancient at St. Andrews.
Situated just an hour outside of Melbourne, the golf here is simply awesome. There is a tremendous variety of golf courses available including links and resort style courses, which are in excellent condition year round and extremely affordable. Travelers can enjoy stunning coastal views from every corner of the Mornington Peninsula.
The Moonah Links project will feature 36 holes built on a region known as The Cups, 1500 hectares of ancient rolling sand dunes along the southern edge of the Peninsula. The land is, as such, ideally suited to links golf. The area is well drained with a climate ideal for growing turf and a quality underground water supply.
The National Featuring the Robert Trent Jones Jr designed Old National course, the Ocean course (designed by Thomson Wolveridge and Perrett) which opened in December 2000, and the new Moonah Course, designed by Greg Norman, the Moonah Links project is part of the National Golf Course, which offers players a 54-hole extravaganza of golf. Keep an eye out for an up-coming feature on the National.
Portsea The course is set among sand dunes and consistently rates as one of Australia's finest. Recent design improvements in bunkering, teeing grounds and greens have further enhanced the course. The natural drainage qualities of soils found in the Portsea area also ensures that golfers enjoy a firm footing all year round.
Widely regarded as the most well-manicured course in the area, Portsea is a short course by today's standards, but beware! Tight fairways and thick trees require pin-point placement and if the wind is up it can certainly be a tough day.
Portsea is known as one of the best wet weather courses in Australia because of the huge amount of sand base, and in January 2002, the course was rated in Golf Australia as No. 25 in the country.
Cape Schanck Cape Schanck truly is a unique course, requiring great accuracy in variable winds. Like other courses of the Peninsula, it is situated along the ocean and is therefore open to the elements, and with such dense growth lining the fairways, the wayward golfer needs a handy supply of spare balls. The course is suited to using a golf cart, and more amateur-friendly than its neighboring course, The National.
The Dunes The Dunes is a classic British links courses with undulating fairways and greens. The location and lack of trees mean that the wind plays a big part in your score. In fact, you will find that there is only one tree on the entire course!
The par-4 14th is probably the defining hole on the course. You are confronted by a tee shot which needs to be directed between two enormous dunes towards a dogleg. Due to the lack of trees, judging distances can be an onerous task, so allow to play this course more than once.
And five-time British Open winner Tom Watson described the 17th as "an exquisite golf hole."
And, so, the journey ends.
And what a way for it to end! Here on the Mornington Peninsula, we have found what is quite possibly heaven on Earth for us golfers. In fact, there is a story in the making which will concentrate on this area alone, as there is so much that we could not cover here.
June 30, 2003