Portsea’s big decision to sell land and build a new clubhouse dates back more than a decade. From now on, the club seeks to strengthen its primary asset: golf.

Victoria’s magnificent Mornington Peninsula offers a renowned stretch of world-class golf and one of its most alluring lies just at the end of the scenic slice of land. Portsea Golf Club started life as a nine-hole course in 1924 and over time has evolved into an 18-hole course with a legion of devotees who love the old-school charm it exudes.

The golf course is a classic case of good things coming in small packages. Set amidst the region’s most brawny developments, the 5,747-metre gem is a test that even modern technology cannot dilute. Firm and bouncy with rugged, natural bunkering, Portsea is as fun as it is fickle. It is also a golf course that offers endless challenges. With Bass Strait on one side and Port Phillip Bay on the other, the wayward links-style layout rarely plays the same way twice.

Golfing in Portsea is an 18-hole duel with the elements, coastal breezes and stunning natural landforms all coming together to give golfers all they can handle. One minute is a downwind avenue that invites a daring shot and a scoring opportunity; the next sees a bullet flying through a gnarled moonah tree or being swallowed by a steep bunker or hungry sand dune.

“It’s one of the most natural golf courses ever created,” enthused Portsea Vice-Chairman David Bristow. “The course winds through, over and around rolling sand dunes with lush Santa Ana fairways bordered by native vegetation of old moonah trees and coastal grasses. Together with coastal sea breezes, this creates a place where golfers are thrown against Mother Nature, with every hole, every hazard and every shot defined by nature’s infinite presence. This is a strategic golf course where a balance between length and precision iron play is required
to take up the challenge it offers.

With such an alluring course, it’s no wonder golfers keep coming back. Sixteen years ago, however, Portsea felt the pinch. In a bold move, the club has chosen to sell a plot of its land to fund a new clubhouse which also includes a boutique hotel [see bottom of this article]. The plan has paid off, with the result not only improving its offerings and ensuring a sustainable financial future, but also securing Portsea’s place in the excellent but competitive golfing scene of the peninsula.

The golf course – now ranked 49th in Australia – required only two minor alterations as a direct result of the sale of the land and the construction of the current clubhouse. What was previously the first tee (and today is the ninth) had to be realigned to the left of its previous position and now requires a drive formed from right to left to utilize the camber of the angled fairway. The other alteration was a shortening of the old sixth hole (now the first) from a short par 5 to a 308 yard par 4 to make way for the new clubhouse and car park. At the same time Portsea’s holes began to be played in a different order, although this was arguably better routing, placing the most strategic holes at more appropriate points on the round.

Today, the club is hanging on to the popular design trend of adding a spare hole. However, in this case, it’s the return of a hole rather than a brand new one. What was once the old 15th hole, which under current routing falls after the par 5 11th, will soon be revived by course architects Ogilvy Cocking Mead (OCM) to become the club’s 19th to be used when needed . The old hole was taken out of rotation when a new one-shotter was added in the northeast corner of the property in 2013 and now remains the 13th hole. Restoring the old par 3 will give the club flexibility in terms of maintenance and will have a direct and positive impact on playing conditions.

Additionally, all bunkers are set to undergo renovations over the next six months, which will improve playability and access to each one in a long overdue project.

“It’s been around 65 years since any physical work has been done to renovate the bunkers,” says Adam Hosie, managing director of Portsea. “We are really excited to have OCM guiding us through this project.”

Less glamorous but equally important is the club’s course maintenance equipment replacement program, which has seen the board commit to spending $800,000 to upgrade the maintenance fleet. Portsea have several other course improvement projects in mind for the next two to three years, all of which will enhance what is already a dynamic and enjoyable playing experience.

The layout as it stands has a wonderful mix of short and long. There are brilliant short par 4s, especially on the always strategic 10th and 15th holes, mixed with several powerful two shots. The 395-yard fourth hole deservedly takes the No. 1 stroke rating, but just as strong are the long par 4s on the 14th, 17th and 18th. The first of the trio tumbles to a fantastic complex green tucked into a hill below the eighth and 10th tees, while the two closest to and fro on a strip of the course that has yielded a pair of the best and toughest holes.

The three par 5s feature much of what the Portsea course is all about. None reach the 500 meter mark (the third is only 436 meters), but the winding fairways require precision and the small greens require perfection to approach and hold.

One should not underestimate the quartet of short holes, which possess diverse characteristics. The second hole occupies a secluded shelf in the grounds and plays to a green set in a small valley; the seventh moves downhill but the green offers little bailout. Going home, 13th needs a precise form and flight iron shot to find a flag on the right side in particular, while 16th sees a green bench in a bank that can save any shot that leaks to right or punish those who stray too far to the left.

The 24 hotel rooms that occupy one floor of the clubhouse, combined with the food and beverage offerings and the first-class golf course, provide great reasons to stay on the property during a stay. The club are set to release attractive stay and play packages, but while staying put is an attractive proposition, it pays little dividends with so much else on your doorstep – and the club knows it.

“We get a lot of people who come here who might play golf for a day,” Hosie says. “They can take a second day off and then they will have a second round on the third day. And that second day is all about exploring the headland and Portsea National Park, having lunch at the Portsea pub – all those iconic places, that there’s plenty to see and do there to keep someone entertained from a point of view other than golf. People who have visited on three and four day breaks have often commented on how much there is beyond the golf experience, to see and do in the local Portsea and Sorrento area.

Portsea Golf Club
Or: London Bridge Road, Portsea VIC 3944
Call: (03) 5981 6155
The Web: portseagolf.com.au

The debate will rage in many golf clubs for generations to come, and each club finds itself in unique circumstances at the time, but if the question were asked how many clubs actually benefited from the sale of a portion of land, that would be a short list. Portsea Golf Club would take a place, however, thanks to shrewd forethought 16 years ago.

In 2006, the prestigious Portsea found themselves with a decision which confronts many clubs in a difficult golf economy. The magnificent golf course was a great natural asset, but it was not enough on its own to ensure the financial sustainability of the club. So, with space to spare, the club sold 21 lots to fund a new $12 million clubhouse, restaurant and modern accommodation as a fully integrated entity. This isn’t your average clubhouse, though, as this grand structure (which opened in 2013) features 24 rooms impressive enough to attract Accor’s attention and become the Mercure brand.

The land sold covered the area behind what was the ninth green (it is now the fourth) and extended to include the space occupied by the original clubhouse. The sale of this land funded the construction of the new clubhouse, which – an important element in Portsea’s business model – included an additional source of income in the form of 4.5 star accommodation.

The position of the building takes full advantage of its elevated location. Panoramic views make 13 of the 18 holes visible from within the clubhouse or surrounding terrace, as well as across Port Phillip Bay – all views never before seen as this part of the site was once covered with brush. The clubhouse layout is fully functional and separates the members’ lounge from the large but partitioned reception rooms. The hotel reception forms one end of the ground floor with the pro shop, bar and lounge at the other. On the ground floor, the king rooms and suites have a king-size bed, a large LCD TV with pay-per-view movies, Wi-Fi access, a desk and a balcony overlooking the golf course. The twin king rooms are identical except for two single beds.

An important aspect of the new iteration is its enviable location. The old clubhouse was accessible from the north side of the course, from the main road which leads into Portsea town. The site chosen for the new pavilion was at the top of the highest point of the land, which was near the middle of the course. The club is now accessible from the south side via an entrance road which crosses the course between the old second green and the third tee (now the 15th and 16th holes).

No other member-based golf club in Australia has bet on a hotel like Portsea, but the club trusted its plan and won with a bold but considered decision over a decade ago that resulted in a high-quality multi-dimensional installation. Today, it’s not just club members, but golfers across the country who are reaping the rewards.