South Australia 5032,
- +61 (08) 8352 5444
3 miles W of Adelaide city centre
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Herbert 'Cargie' Rymill
Kooyonga was laid out on scrubland between the city of Adelaide and South Australia’s coastline in the 1920s by W.H. Rymill who acted as proprietor and architect. Rymill has previously been very influential at Royal Adelaide and although Kooyonga was not designed by Alison, Colt or MacKenzie, its style is firmly from that special decade of course design squeezed between the Great War and the Crash of 1929.
Kooyonga was named by Rymill himself after a house he constructed by the beach under his mistaken belief that the word was aboriginal and meant ‘plenty sand, plenty water’. The primary influence here is sand. The club has done a very good job in preserving the look and feel of Rymill’s original bunkers; the more irregular shaped hazards are more recent additions. Characteristic of the 1920s designs are the bunker faces that ‘sit up’ and present themselves to the golfer with a much more pronounced lip than you ever see on modern courses. As a consequence, the hazard is both more visible from the tee or the fairway and some degrees more penal when you find yourself in them. The contents of the bunkers is largely made up of the sandy belt of natural soil a common feature in the Sandbelt.
Kooyonga is one of the most interesting of Australia’s classic golf courses and knocks most modern courses into a cocked hat.
The above passage on Kooyonga Golf Club is an extract from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia by James Spence. Reproduced with kind permission.
First a disclaimer: I am a proud member of this club and while I like to think I can write an objective review, this factor must be taken into account.
First a little history……….
Kooyonga was designed by Rymill on a patch of slightly swampy ground that he located. It is a little north of the present day Glenelg G.C., part of which was the original Kooyonga course. It opened as an 18 hole course in 1924.
Now it should be noted that Rymill escorted MacKenzie around Adelaide in 1926. He was only here for 4 days. MacKenzie’s input into Royal Adelaide G.C. is well known but he almost certainly gave Rymill a few ideas for his Kooyonga design too.
Subsequently Vern Morcom, Graeme Grant [of Ocean Dunes on King Island fame], Jack Newton, Martin Hawtree and Neil Crafter have been involved in course redesign [not always for the better in my opinion].
Kooyonga, like many ‘old-style’ courses, suffers from 2 problems: it is considered too short for the modern power game and although there is probably enough room to extend several holes, it would be far too expensive and achieve very little because there will be no major male events in S.A. in the foreseeable future. In addition, the present routing of the holes is a bit one dimensional in the middle of the round. This could be easily fixed by re-routing but would probably lead to a riot by the older members. Change can be a terrifying experience!
It is very easy on the eye with most fairways rippled like a gentle breeze on a pond, quite a bit of elevation change along the way and, of course, the classic, MacKenzie-style bunkering.
So, to the course itself:
No.1. A long[ish] par 5 gently turning right played to an undulating green above fairway level which has vicious drop-offs left and behind. Protected by bunkers on the right front. When the greens are firm and fast, as is generally the case at Kooyonga, a par is a good start.
No.2. A short par 5 which would play as a long par 4 in any significant competition. Often into the prevailing wind. Should not be a challenge for straight hitters.
No.3. Long par 3, again often into the breeze. Surrounded by sand and rough country: again, strangely enough, a straight tee shot is important.
No.4. A short par 4, a bit controversial: it was redesigned by Hawtree, partly to reduce the club’s insurance premiums as a result of balls being hooked into the houses along the left side of the fairway. Today it plays slightly uphill to a saddle and then downhill and a bit left to a green sloping quite a lot to the left. Almost driveable for the bigger hitters, off the fairway, especially left will murder your score. Not universally liked.
No.5. Another short par 4, easily reachable for the big boys. Again redesigned by Hawtree the new fairway originally looked like a mogul skiing run and had to be flattened out to avoid chopping up the turf and threats of bodily harm to the Grounds Committee.
No.6. A mid length straight away par 4, plays uphill. An OK hole but could be improved by shifting the tee about 20 metres to the right, whereby it would require a drive through a small patch of trees to a gentle dogleg left. Won’t ever happen - too much risk of hitting players coming up the 5th fairway. Pity!
No.7. Short par 3 across a little valley. Often plays across the wind to a 2 level green. On a warm day with the greens fast and the pin on the lower level, putting off the green from behind [i.e. above] the hole is a distinct possibility but keeping the ball below it requires the touch of a pickpocket.
This is where things get a bit one dimensional. Holes 8 through 13 run back and forth, parallel to each other.
No.8. One of Kooyonga’s iconic holes. Tough! Often into the wind, slightly uphill and then turns left and downhill. The tee shot, not always a driver, will leave you with a hanging lie to a small green that looks like a mushroom. One of the most daunting second shots in S.A. golf. Just holding the ball on the green is a challenge even with a short iron. A par here warrants a significant bottle of wine from your playing partners after the round.
No.9. A shortish par 5 that would, as with the second, be a par 4 for the good golfers. SI 16, it offers plenty of eagles and birdies. Again, Hawtree redesigned the approach area and green and, in my uninformed opinion, improved the hole.
No.10. Par 4 generally into the wind. SI 1 on the card. Quite long for most golfers, the second [or third] plays to a green with some significant borrows. Par is good golf.
No.11. Short straight par 4. A seemingly simple hole that can generate scorecard carnage. Left, right and behind the hole is scrubby, sandy waste where the first challenge will be finding your ball. It often is downwind and the green is hard and fast. The second shot demands a lot of thought.
No.12. Uphill par 4 slight dogleg left. Probably the signature hole and rightly so. Just one bunker, left front and a beautifully undulating green with a big slope back to front in the right half. A cracker!
No.13. Par 4, straightaway generally downwind. A bit uninspiring.
No.14. Short par 3. Looks easy - isn’t, especially with the wind up
No.15. Long par 3 [unusual, 2 par threes in a row [could be fixed by rerouting - don’t start me] with a 2 level green. Left off the tee is very bad news.
No.16. A good but not long par 5. There is a large gum tree on the right that can block out the approach if your drive/second is too far right, even on the fairway. If there is a shortcoming it is the green and the squashed area behind it - a reflection of the space limitations. The unsightly net doesn’t help either.
No.17. Par 4 slightly uphill to a ridge, easily reachable by longer hitters, then downhill to a green sloping a lot left to right into a rather incongruous pond. Quite picturesque and much liked, it is a bit at odds with the rest of the course.
No.18. A lovely way to finish. A short par 4 bending left around a copse of tall pines, it is a definite risk/reward hole in that the green is reachable from the tee [not for mere mortals like me] but if slightly wayward your score could be decimated at the last trumpet.
No19. A charming little par 3, always worth playing.
Now, in closing, a reflection on the apparent pathological search for long golf courses. Kooyonga plays to about 6,000 metres from the tips and like many of the older style designs can be decimated on a calm day BUT if the greens are firm and fast [they often play to about 13 stimp] and the prevailing breeze is up, even just a little, it can tear your throat out.
This was evidenced by the scores in The Australian Senior Amateur in 2016. The previously noted conditions were present, the course was not set up to play to its full length and the winning score was 212.[6 over par] I think there were only 5 or 6 under/on par rounds, in total, recorded from a field of 144 that included, maybe, 20 scratch or better players.
An earlier correspondent noted that, as a par 70, the course is worthy of an Australian Open and I would agree with this but it won’t happen. Finances seem to dictate that the AO will remain in either NSW or Victoria for a long time. Whether Kooyonga has the space for the infra-structure required to stage such an event may also count against it.
Again, with the appropriate introductions and a bit of latitude re tee times, one can play this beautiful and historic course for a reasonable fee.
Go for it!
Would like to say 5 and a ¼ balls but rounded down due to home course bias.
Apologies, my maths is as poor as my putting. The winning score in 2016 was, I believe, 221 which is 5 over par.
Kooyonga’s rolling sandbased site in Lockleys, South Australia was great way to reintroduce myself to the Adelaide golf scene, after a whistletop tour through Victoria, Tasmania and greater Sydney. I had the pleasure of club pro John Corbett as company, which increased my enjoyment of the experience no end.
The rolling and rumbled topography at Kooyonga reminded me of the best in heathland golf. The course routing explores the extent of the property with a deftness that will leave you wanting to return.
Kooyonga needs to be on any Adelaide bucket list, tell Corbett I sent you.
For more information on my Australian golfing adventure, please click the following link: The Long Road to Van Diemen's Land
The first noticeable characteristic of Kooyonga is the distinct peach color and light texture of their bunker sand, which almost seems a little more like dirt than sand. However, I found this unique finely textured sand to play quite nicely.
The couple of bunker shots I had came out quite well, just like the fine beach sand one might find on a seaside course. I also noted that the sand was maintained at a depth that helped avoid plugged lies and the bunker faces were kept firm and packed, in order to allow the ball to roll down. The landing areas I found to be fairly generous. However, beyond the maintained turf awaits some long native grasses, nasty scrub and in some cases that fine dirt similar to that in the bunkers. Nowhere is this truer than on the 451 yard par 4 eighth. Standing on the tee, it looks inviting to take the drive down the left side in order to shorten the hole. However, that turned out to be a big mistake. The fairway slopes that direction on this dogleg left and I fell for it - hitting a beautiful high draw that seemed quite nice until I saw it bound across the fairway into this unforgiving expanse of unmaintained dirt that runs nearly the entire length of the hole on the left side. After two attempts to extricate myself from this quicksand, I was back where I should have drove the ball in the first place - down the right side where there was an infinite amount of grass available due a very generous landing area and an adjacent hole.
Other than my adventure on #8, I found #17 to be the most memorable hole. A shortish dogleg left par 4 with the front right of the green guarded by the only water hazard on the course. Having only played a couple of courses in Southern Australia, I do not have enough knowledge or experience to personally rank Koonyonga. However, what I can say for certain is Koonyonga is a real treat to play. It is well maintained, has loads of character and presents a variety of design characteristics that will test even the best player’s skills. With this, it is most certainly deserving of its high ranking in Southern Australia.
I love Kooyonga. It's a treat to see and a treat to play. Beautiful fairways, arresting bunkers, and superbly undulating greens - all in proportion. It's a perfect size for the land as well as being entirely individual with so many different holes with their own personality. Take me back anytime.
Today I had the pleasure of playing the outstanding course in Adelaide. It is a short course at only 5900m but it bears its teeth around the greens with lots of bunkers and large undulating greens. Well worth a visit to this Herbert Rymill layout along with the other great courses in Adelaide.
I was fortunate enough to play the marvellous Kooyonga GC on the "Redbelt" here in Adelaide, South Australia. Before playing there, many golfing tragic's mentioned I should play it last out of the big four because it was the best in S.A. I can see now upon reflection what they mean as it is the best, but is very closely followed by Royal Adelaide in my humble opinion. It's a wonderful example of a championship course in a rich sandy area only 15 from the Adelaide CBD. Undulating fairways, some terrific blind driving holes, well protected greens make for accurate drives required for best entry, and skilled wedge shots to well contoured greens that were a smig slow at the moment in my opinion. Big thanks must go out to Will Toleman also from the Pro Shop who really looked after me before, and helped afterwards! Great restaurant and bar for all your 19th hole needs!
H.L. 'Cargie' Rymill was a keen golfer and student of the game. He had a huge impact on the game he loved and left a lasting legacy seen to this day in the iconic courses he touched in Adelaide.
Rymill had a significant role in developing Royal Adelaide, Glenelg, The Grange, and Kooyonga as well as other courses in Sth Australia. Although he was a long-term member at Royal Adelaide it is Kooyonga that will be remembered as his crowning achievement because he found the land, conceived the project, gather the backers, designed the course, and continued overseeing the development of the course and club for many years.
Kooyonga GC was founded by Rymill when he spotted the land from a tram in 1922, and recognised the potential immediately. By 1924 he had 18 holes in play over land that included some delightful dunesland and some flatter marsh type terrain.
Kooyonga is surrounded by residences on all boundaries, and cannot easily extend its course to meet the length expectations for courses hosting national events. But such is the quality of the course that conversion of some of the shorter par 5's to par 4's to create a par 70 course would make this a fine test worthy of an another Australian Open.
Kooyonga is an intriguing course. Most of the course is set in a rolling dunescape, now framed by gum trees and other natives planted by Rymill and his team.
The routing is unusual in that the course opens with consecutive par 5's, and has two par 3's one after the other at holes 14 & 15. To me that speaks of a designer who works with the land, does not impose his will upon it.
Overall I rate Kooyonga as one of the classier courses in Australia. It would be a wonderful members course. It is not overly long, but has plenty of variety, constantly asks the golfer to make decisions, is beautifully maintained, and great fun to play.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.