Honesty Box Golf Courses of Western Victoria: Peterborough Golf Club

There are very few courses in Australia where you play as close to the ocean as you do at Peterborough Golf Club.

“You stand up on the first tee and if you closed your eyes and opened them again, you could be standing looking over a course in Scotland,” says Club secretary Bob Hesketh.

“The views are outstanding. You can stand on basically every tee on this course and see water. You can pretty much see water [on] every green.”

Remarkably, Peterborough’s course occupies only about 25 acres of land between the ocean and the town which remains a sleepy hollow despite its close proximity to the Great Ocean Road.

The second and sixth holes sit right beside the coastline while elevated tees on the first, third and fifth holes provide sensational vantage points.

An unusual feature of the course is its shared fairways: the first and second fairways are merged, so to the fourth and ninth and fifth and eighth.

The hole with the greatest number has right of way.

“If you’re on the second, you’ve got preference to the ones hitting down the first, if you’re on the ninth, you’ve got preference to people hitting up the fourth,” says Club captain Don Bradshaw who has also served as greenkeeper, secretary and president.

The course has no fences and is bisected by a public road - Schomberg Road - which golfers play across on the par-three seventh.

Close to 20 properties abut a straight section of Schomberg Road beside the ninth and first holes.

Most of the houses are owned by Peterborough members and many windows have been shattered by misdirected golf balls.

“He’s had his window broken by a golf club member,” Hesketh says referring to long-time member John Brown. “Coincidentally, the people that live at the house next door to him broke his window. Coincidentally, John broke their window.”

Pictured (from left): Club captain Don Bradshaw, Robert Case and secretary Bob Hesketh.

Bradshaw says the Club’s most famous window-related incident belongs to Bill Couch, the brother of late AFL icon and Brownlow Medallist Paul Couch.

“Billy got up on the first and hit his first tee shot through the window of about the third house back from the corner.

“He hit his third and popped it in for a neat birdie, then tried to claim a hole-in-one of course,” Bradshaw adds with a chuckle.

It’s a wonder more visitors don’t travel long distances just to play Peterborough which has been home to golf since the early 1900s but only became a Golf Club in 1958.

The private home of the Club’s first president served as the ‘clubhouse’ until 1972 when the Club bought the piece of the land where the clubhouse stands today.

The 1970s was a pivotal decade. It’s when the Club hired its first full-time greenkeeper - Ned Ryan - who joined forces with retired ex-engineer - Frank Hughes - to plant the seed for what is now a magnificently presented layout.

“The course was a shocker until the late 1960s, almost unplayable, but fun,” Bradshaw says.

Today, Ned Ryan’s son, Hugh, lives locally and looks after the greens at Peterborough and several other courses throughout Western Victoria and South Australia.

“You wouldn’t see him on the course, he starts at 4 o’clock in the morning and he’s gone by daylight, he does everything in the dark,” says Club stalwart Robert Case.

Comps are played on Sundays at Peterborough and Case says, before COVID, the clubhouse atmosphere on a Friday or Saturday night in summer was electric.

“There’d be probably five cars out the front and probably 50 people in here.”

“You had a Friday nine-hole competition starting from three o’clock, a few beers, a meal, seven o’clock the winner was announced and maybe a raffle or two. You couldn’t move in here, it was terrific.”

Peterborough has about 400 members and, according to Hesketh, close to 150 are holiday-makers from Melbourne including a couple dozen or so Royal Melbourne Golf Club members.

Among them are Michael and Viv Beer.

Hesketh once played nine holes at Peterborough with late five-time Open Champion Peter Thomson who, along with Royal Melbourne’s long-time head professional Bruce Green, was staying with the Beers.

Hesketh joined them for dinner.

“I had Bruce Green on one side of me and Peter Thomson on the other side of me. We’d had a few beers and they were into the reds and between them they were trying to get me to hold a fork in such a way that if I held a golf club that way, it would overcome my slice. I attempted it the next day and I couldn’t either remember what they told me or it never worked so I’m back to my old stance and grip.”

Hesketh says Thomson told him he wouldn’t change anything about Peterborough’s layout except perhaps to move the first tee further back into the sandhill to lengthen the short par-four.

Thomson’s lone suggestion - albeit difficult for environmental reasons - speaks to the golf legend’s reverence for Peterborough which leases its land from the State Government.

In 2014, a local government draft master plan proposed expanding the golf course to 18 holes by building nine more holes further inland.

“What you’d end up doing is you would change or wreck the character that is the Peterborough Golf Club,” Hesketh says.

“Everyone that’s got a holiday house in Peterborough can walk to the golf club, they can have a couple of beers and walk home.”

Let’s hope it stays that way for many decades to come.