The Royal Adelaide Golf Club was formed in 1892 and has been based at the western suburb of Seaton since 1905, less than 20 minutes from Adelaide’s town centre and less than 2 kilometres from the coast. Although the present day course occupies the same land as the course that was first called Royal Adelaide, only eight of the modern day holes bear close resemblance to that layout.
‘Cargie’ Rymill and Club Secretary C.L. Gardiner laid out the first rudimentary course in 1905. An article on Dan Soutar by John Scarth and Neil Crafter in Golf Architecture takes up the story: “In 1906 the Club went in search of a professional opinion on the layout for the definitive course. They selected newly turned professional Dan Soutar, with Club minutes recording that no member was to give any opinions on the course to Soutar except the Committee."
“Soutar himself wrote later that year in his book The Australian Golfer: “Early in 1906 I was asked by the Club to go over and suggest any necessary alterations or improvements to the new course. I formed a most favourable opinion of it and when the alterations are made in accordance with my suggestions, the Club will have an excellent championship course, equal to any in Australia.”
“The Committee “decided not to adopt Soutar’s new course at present” and work started almost immediately on making bunkers on the Rymill layout. Interestingly, the new course made use of 14 of the greensites that were planned by Soutar."
Alister MacKenzie made a four day visit to South Australia in the middle of his Melbourne based assignments in 1926. The club was keen to canvass his views as to a possible re-routing of the holes as the Grange to Adelaide tram line which bisected the property was due to be electrified. MacKenzie, always quick to ferment his ideas, proposed an immediate crossing of the railway line between locker room and first tee so that the 1st was played west of the railway on a piece of land that was to occupy the first 13 holes. The club demurred on strong protest from the membership so the 1st retained its historical position.
MacKenzie was enthusiastic about the course’s potential, remarking that it offered “real links land, a delightful combination of sand dunes and fir trees, a most unusual combination, even at the best seaside courses” adding that, if his suggestions were acted upon, the resultant course would be “superior to most, if not all, English championship courses.” Rebuffed at the 1st, it is in the run of holes from the 3rd to the 8th that Mackenzie’s legacy is most clearly delineated. Somewhat analogous to the role played by the four hills that define the front nine of the West course at Royal Melbourne, MacKenzie’s plan made the most of the large sand dune positioned around the 3rd green.
Although the sea hasn’t bordered the course at The Royal Adelaide for some 10,000 years, it remains, like Royal Lytham & St Annes, more of a links course than an inland course. Royal Adelaide is a favourite golf course of many Australian golfers and it’s easy to see why.
Part of the above passage is a brief edited extract from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia by James Spence. Reproduced with kind permission.
I had the opportunity to play Royal Adelaide in February, 2019 while on an extended tour of Australia, King Island, Tasmania and New Zealand.
It is a gem and well worth the extra flight or drive to get to Adelaide.
My only regret is that my playing companion had a business meeting that ran 90 minutes more than we expected after I arrived at the club just after 11AM. It did provide me a chance to go through the pro shop, have lunch, spend a fair amount of time on the putting green, and talk to a few members. Once he arrived, we did manage to play 27 holes, but had he arrived earlier we could have played two rounds which I prefer when evaluating a golf course. And in the case of Royal Adelaide I very much regret not being able to play it twice as it is really special.
Due to time limitations as our understanding is that the gates to the club close at 7PM, our second round consisted of holes 1-7 then moving over to 12-13. We likely could have played 14 and 15 but did not want to press our luck with an Uber driver. In sum, I had to settle for 27 holes. The hole I most regret not playing a second time was the ninth.
It is a remarkable golf course laid out by H. L. Rymill/C. L. Gardiner/Alistair MacKenzie and touched up most recently by Tom Doak and his team.
There are good resort courses that one would like to play again such as at Bandon Dunes, Streamsong, Whistling Straits, Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, etc.
There are great golf courses where the members are truly spoiled to play such a terrific golf course such as Royal Dornoch, Royal St. George’s, Muirfield, Kingston Heath, etc. But on certain days, these courses can treat one very harshly.
There are the truly lucky members who reside at clubs with two or more great golf courses such as Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Royal Melbourne, etc
Finally, there is a category for those members who play a golf course that is both terrific, compelling, and overall just plain joyful. Royal Adelaide Golf Club is in this category where I believe a member is always excited to begin their round and that enjoyment continues throughout the round no matter the conditions.
In addition, there is the rare course at a private club that will make one a better player and I think Royal Adelaide is also in this category due to the variety of shots you are asked to hit particularly around the green. That is more the case for someone of my length off the tee. I believe a longer hitter would find Royal Adelaide much less of a challenge.
If I lived in Australia I would want to live in Melbourne for the golf and the city, but I would still want to go to Royal Adelaide, perhaps even join it, given how special I think it is.
The first hole is almost a double dogleg as the fairway goes left but the green almost feels like it sits back a bit to the right given the shape of the fairway. It has a well placed bunker front left as well as a mound right and behind the green. It is not an overly long hole so it eases you into the round.
The second hole hitting over the train tracks running down the left is a slight dogleg left. You can swing away without a lot of fear on the tee shot to this 510 yard par five. The second shot must take into account the large, raised set of four bunkers on the right side of the fairway with a tree overhanging them to really penalize the wayward second. There is another tree closer to the green on the left. It is an excellent green, with a false front, large, two tiered, surrounded by four bunkers on either side. I bogeyed it twice as I got caught up a bit in trying to remember the green complex as I thought it so highly of it.
The third hole is a famous short par three designed by Mackenzie of less than 300 yards, usually around 265 yards. There is a generous fairway should you not get too greedy. For those too greedy there is a ridge line of trees down the right side as well as trees on the left side. Some try to drive this green which has a narrow opening due to the hill to the right of the green and small mounds to the left of the green. The green is tiny and has two sections to it. I missed a birdie on the first round and doubled the second because I went right of the trees on the right and found you really can’t get through them back to the fairway. Trying to loft a recovery shot over the trees with the right length to find the green is a shot that I am not capable of. This is a true risk-reward hole. Loved it.
The fourth hole, a par 4 of 400 yards, after walking up the ladder to ensure the fairway was clear, is different to other holes on the course in that you have a blind tee shot over a depression. It seemed to me the carry was only about 175 yards. There are pine trees on both sides as you hit your tee shot and a large grouping of trees on the right down the hill on the other side of the depression. There is a well placed deep bunker about 260 yards out on the left side to catch the longer hitters with another one about 35 yards after that. This is a well defended green on the center left as the fairway narrows to the flag. However, the green is relatively flat which was a bit disappointing after playing to the green on such a splendid hole.
The fifth hole, a par 4 of about 410 yards has well placed bunkers down the right side and the fairway substantially narrows as there are grass mounds to the left. I was able to thread that opening both times which shortened my approach shots but I did not hit good approach shots into the green as the bunker front right was perfectly placed to throw me off of the pin position that day which was just behind it. It has a green that is slightly raised but primarily flat and not difficult to read.
The sixth hole is perhaps the most challenging on the front nine, a long par 4 of 480-440 that is slightly going to the left. There are grass mounds and trees to navigate on the tee shot. The green is steeply raised with a bunker right and a large set of bunkers on the left. The green is also tilted and has a fall off the back side. This is a marvelous challenging golf hole for someone who is not a long hitter.
The seventh hole is a mid length par 3 that is completely surrounded by bunkers. It is not a difficult shot to get on the green from one of these bunkers, but still tough to save par. It is a classic par 3, not too long at 160 yards but well defended. The first par 3 hints at the marvelous par 3’s to follow which is a real strength of the golf course.
The eighth hole is a short par 4 slightly dogleg right of 360 yards where the tee shot must carry waste land and trees lining both sides. However, it is not a blind tee shot and not as difficult as the one on the fourth hole. There is a fairway bunker on the right to be avoided but one can still make the green if they are in it. Near the green there is good mounding and a bunker on the right side for this green that falls off back and left. It is an above average short par four and one I enjoyed playing if only once.
The ninth hole, a short par 5 of about 500 yards, goes slightly to the right. There is a lot of grass and trees on the right side to catch the poorly hit tee shot. Bunkers line the way in on both sides for those attempting to reach the green in two. The green is raised and one of the more interesting ones to putt on. I took a double due to a bad tee shot and ultimately finding a green side bunker which is one reason I regret not playing this hole a second time. But I walked off of it loving the design of it as well as the green itself.
The tenth hole is a short par 4 of about 370 yards requiring a tee shot over a waste area. Another waste area about 65 yards short of the green intersects the entire fairway to prevent longer hitters from trying to drive the green. The green has a large bunker to the right and three smaller bunkers to the left. The green is sloped in the middle and slightly raised. I liked the tenth a lot as it was visually pretty and had adequate challenge to it.
I don’t recall being able to see much of the green from the tee on the 380 yard par 4 eleventh hole. This is another hole designed by Mackenzie and it is visually stunning and a lot of fun to play. The fairway is wide enough but once again is intersected by a waste area about 90 yards back from the green which sits in a bowl-like effect due to the raised land surrounding it. There is a really large bunker to the left front of the green and a large one front right. The green has really good slope to it. Visually this was the best hole on the golf course.
The twelfth hole, a long par 3 of just over 200 yards is played from a raised tee slightly downhill to a raised green. Getting a par here is a good achievement. It is a hard hole, but a fair hole.
The thirteenth is a par 4 sharply doglegged to the left that plays longer than the yardage of 390. A long tee shot has a definite advantage on this hole due to being able to see the green and pin position. There are grass mounds to the left and grass mounds and a line of trees to the left for the tee shot. The green is sharply pitched and is certainly one of the better greens on the golf course. I really liked this hole.
The fourteenth is a long par 4 of 445 yards that doglegs to the left. It is a wide fairway but the second shot must navigate trees on either side opening to the green which is raised and has swales both front and left. The green is also well defended by bunkers. This is another very good hole.
The fifteenth is the weakest hole on the golf course as a par 5 of 480 yards. If it was changed to a par 4 it would be more challenging. However, the green is the flattest and least interesting on the golf course and perhaps should be given more undulation. The green side bunkers are a bit out of character to the rest of the course as they are relatively shallow.
The par 3 short sixteenth of about 160-175 yards has another raised green and is well defended by bunkers on either side. I thought it was a very strong par 3 and completed a terrific set of par 3’s although there are only three of them.
I saw where someone criticized the seventeenth hole but for me that was perhaps my favorite on the back nine as a 425 yard par 3 with a gentle dogleg right with deep bunkers in the middle of the fairway and nine bunkers all around the green. In essence, the approach shot in feels like you are playing to an earlier par 3, hole seven, on the course. I thought it also had a green with some subtle breaks in it as well. I really liked this golf hole.
The eighteenth hole is perhaps a weak hole, but I did like how this par 3 crossed the road and had a nice longer green at the end on this par 4 of around 400 yards. There is a good placement of fairway bunkers on either side as well as good bunkering near the green including a grass bunker on the left side. It is a nice finish to a very enjoyable, very playable, fun, challenging golf course.
The condition of Royal Adelaide is really good and the stretch of golf from 2-13 is excellent with 16 and 17 also as very good holes. If one were to criticize it, perhaps it should change the fifteenth to a par four. Some of the greens could be a bit more interesting.
I so hope I can play it again. So much golf, so little time…..
Today it was a privilege to play Royal Adelaide with a group of 8 which has both low and higher handicap players. The rough provided some challenges for the higher handicap players but was heralded by the lower handicap players. The blind tee shots provided some interesting challenges but overall the fairways were reasonably generous. Missing the fairways however was not good for your score. The bunker and green complexes proved both interesting and challenging. It would be a great privilege to play this course as your weekly round. The clubhouse had a welcoming feel and staff were first rate. A great day was had by all (well most of us anyway!!)
One of the best challenges I've seen and played occurred at Royal Adelaide GC. No wonder the ISPS HANDA Australian Women's Open was played here in Feb '17. Melbourne may have the renowned sandbelt, but Adelaide's "Redbelt" has stood the true test of time also, due to Dr. Alastair McKenzie's early design / philosophy on his trip to Australia in the 1920/30's. Ranked in the Top 10 at many times throughout the rankings history, and more recently the Top 15, Royal Adelaide GC is an excellent course that holds all the UK & IRELAND links course design & beliefs true to this day.
If you require a more detailed description of R. A than above, you will find my words echoed no doubt.
Local Cargie Rymill was the man who initially was responsible for the laying out of the course which became 'Royal' in 1923. In 1926 Dr Alister MacKenzie also contributed some suggestions, some of which were incorporated into the course. The combined efforts of these two gentlemen has produced a golfing gem that has endured through the ages. It is only in recent years that the club employed Michael Clayton to renovate the course, and opinion is divided on the merits of his efforts. Clayton is known for his obsession with the removal of trees, and at Royal Adelaide he has had a marked affect, changing the entire look of the golfing landscape. In my opinion part of the beauty of Royal Adelaide was lost when all the fairways were opened up. One can now look across parallel fairways at one, two, six and eight as one does on a Scottish playing field – and this is quite an adjustment for those who were fond of the tree-lined look of old.
Nevertheless these are quality holes, and turf conditions probably benefit from the current environment. Clayton has 'tidied up' a number of holes, generally to the good, but lost the confidence of the members when completely redesigning the 17th hole (based on an old MacKenzie concept). The look and feel of the new hole was so alien to the rest of the course, and the club eventually sought assistance from Tom Doak to try and modify the look to match the rest of the course.
Royal Adelaide remains a favourite course to play in Australia. It is a lovely place to spend a day absorbing the history and feel of the place – after all RAGC has hosted 9 Australian Opens to date. But the first time visitor would be excused for questioning all of that on initial impressions.
The land is predominantly flat. The entrance road crosses the final hole, a busy railway line runs right through the centre of the property. Then you approach the first hole by walking beside the railway line, and around the 18th green to a flat hole that doglegs around a low mound, and borders the driving range.
Sadly the finish is weak. After a blind tee shot on the par 5 15th hole, all interest dissipates as the rest of the hole is absolutely dead flat . The mid length par 3 16th hole has good 'bones' but lacks 'presence', the aforementioned 17th hole looks and plays like a course from Mars compared to the rest of the course.
The final hole is a flat, straight, mid length par 4 hole that crosses the entrance road to a 'ho hum' green site surrounded by clubhouse, railway line, first tee, and driving range. It is a slightly disappointing way to finish a wonderful old course.
Perhaps my critique is too harsh... the best of Royal Adelaide is uplifting – and I would play there any time I got the opportunity. Whatever you do, make sure you get the opportunity to make up your own mind!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
You know, I’ve always looked at pictures of Australian sand-based inland courses, such as those on Melbourne’s sand belt, and this place, and thought that whilst they look pretty classy, it was missing any sort of wow factor, visually anyway. I was not feeling terribly drawn to them from the photos, but knew that all those enthusiastic advocates couldn’t all be wrong.
Now I’ve played one – I totally get it. It’s all about the gameplay – it’s a completely different playing experience to most parkland courses. You’re just looking at the terrain in front of you and realising you’re going to have to do it differently, and you soon realise that this version of golf is simply more fun. The playing surfaces are so quick and firm - you have to conjure up so much more imagination when selecting your shots, playing the contours, visualising how it rolls out.
The first thing that struck me about Royal Adelaide was the conditioning – it was absolutely immaculate (aside from the purposefully rustic areas away from the playing surfaces, of course). The greens were some of the truest I’d played in years. Not only that, I felt that the set-up was pretty much perfect, e.g. matching green speeds to the degree of contouring on the greens, mowing lines that were acutely attuned to the accentuation of gameplay, and tightly mown fairways around the greens to always give that Texas wedge option. Copious amounts of kudos to the greenkeeper / superintendent / whatever you call them in your country – he’s a master of his craft.
But a few holes in, and you realise that the whole course is a masterful lesson in understatement. Whilst on first glance it all looks a bit pedestrian and conservative, in fact pretty much every single hole has one or two little features that completely set the tone for strategy and game play, and elevates it immensely. The bunkering and green tilt on 2, the movement of the land throughout 4, the fairway bunkering on 5, the green angle on 8 – I could go on. Such variety makes me itch to play it again. And again. And again. And it left me thinking – is this the perfect way to create a course that suits all ability levels? Nothing too heroic for the high handicappers, but never easy for the scratch player to put a low score together. Simply put – IT MAKES YOU THINK.
Favourite holes – everyone says 3, and for good reason. Never seen anything like it. 4, 6, the lone moment of penal heroism at 7 (certainly in the wind we played it in!), 10 and 11 stand out for me. Whilst there is some slight flickering of the flame across the final six holes, it was still great golf, with some of the open spaces reminding me somewhat of Hankley Common.
I probably didn’t experience the course as it should be played to be honest, as the wind was rarely below a five club wind, and if we measure how many clubs the wind is by how many multiples of 10 metres / yards it takes off your shot, it got up to a ten club wind on occasion, and balls were moving on greens. They have suspended play at major championships for less. Still loved it though. Not only do I want to play it again, the urge to get to Melbourne has ratcheted up a number of levels. Now when I look at those photos of the sandbelt, I’m starting to understand what I’m looking at.
After a week of island hopping including Tasmania and King Island I was back on the mainland and off to see the recently restored Royal Adelaide. Royal Adelaide had fallen from the glory of the World Top 100 according to Golf Magazine, however this was pre restoration and with Doak and his Renaissance Golf crew thoughtfully bringing back all the wonderful nuances of Alister MacKenzie my anticipation of this first visit was very high.
Fortunately, I was treated to a perfect day and the course was in impeccable shape given the next week the LPGA event was to be hosted there.
I can’t say much more than the fact that I simply loved the course. It deserves far more than a single play and far more is necessary to understand and utilize all the strategy necessary to play ones hcp on this great course.
My favorite holes were; the short par 4, 4th hole, with the semi-blind tee shot up over a hill to a great little green ticked into the corner of some dunes, the bunker surrounded par 3 7th hole and the short par 4 13th hole which plays to a slight dogleg left up over a waste area to a tricky green.
Our day was rather windy which certainly increased the challenge there. Not surprisingly for a MacKenzie design there is definitely not a weak hole on the course.
If Royal Adelaide wasn’t on the other side of the world I’d be a regular and if it was my local course it would certainly be the one I would have my heart set on joining.
It’s more than worth a special trip to Adelaide if you ever have any invite to play.
Royal Adelaide Golf Club was founded in 1892 and is one of the oldest golf clubs in Australia. One of the things you notice immediately at Royal Adelaide is the Grange-to-Adelaide train line. It runs through the middle of the course including right by the clubhouse and first hole. Although not originally designed by Alister MacKenzie, he was brought into make changes. MacKenzie’s major contribution was to re-route the course through the dunes on the central part of the property. MacKenzie's re-routing eliminated the back and forth across railroad tracks. Aside from the back tee on the fourteenth, all holes now play on either one side or the other. MacKenzie said, "If the suggestions put forward for the reconstruction of the Royal Adelaide course are acted upon, it will be superior to most, if not all, English championship courses." He wasn't far off.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
When you arrive at the club, you quickly feel like you belong there. It’s palpable how the members are proud of their club and its history. With such a low-key nature to the club, I quickly felt at home and all visitors are made extraordinarily welcome. With a rich history of hosting the Australian amateur championship and Australian open championships, this Alister MacKenzie layout has a lot going for it. The novelty of having an active train line running through the course didn’t disappoint as the train shuffled its way through the course on a number of occasions during our round. If only the passengers on that train were aware of how historic that stretch of railroad ties were that meandered through the golf course.
When Dr. MacKenzie visited the club during the Golden Age, he re-routed many of the holes to take advantage of the natural sand dunes, much to the delight of the golfing population. The short 3rd hole, barely 300 yards from the tips, is arguably amongst the short-list of greatest par 4s in the world without a bunker and is your first experience of playing through the dunes. The wise man will leave the driver in the bag. During the Open, the club grew the rough up along the dunes surrounding the green, which wreaks havoc with even the slightest of wayward tee shots.
An honourable mention goes for the tee shot on number 4, the tee box was lowered and you play back through the dunes over a hill through a corridor of tall trees, with the landing area nowhere to be seen. It is quite a striking visual compared to the openness of so many other tee shots. On the front side, the 4th through the 6th are a very tough stretch of long par fours, especially the 6th hole, tipping out at 440 yards.
With a wind in our faces, and a back pin, even the best of players would be proud to hit this green in regulation. Tom Doak has been working on a number of holes at Royal Adelaide over the past year. On the 6th hole, which mostly runs parallel to number 4, he joined a portion of the two fairways together so it’s one larger apron. Furthermore, there used to be a large bunker on the right side of number 6, which has now been filled in per consultation with Tom and his team. It was interesting to see old photographs of the 6th hole in the clubhouse to witness how it has evolved over time. In addition to number 3, the other signature hole on the front side is the spectacular par three 7th hole. The front of the green is surrounded by a ring of pot bunkers which is an impressive sight. The new blue tee is lower and back to the left of the old tee box, offering a new view of the hole over the sandy wasteland.
Click the link to read Fergal’s full report on Royal Adelaide