The Long Road to Van Diemen’s Land
by Shane Derby
The reference to Tasmania and “Van Diemen’s Land” above relates to my 16-year quest to get to the Doak and Clayton masterpiece that is Barnbougle Dunes. Ever since I saw the launch pictures, sitting in my office in Holywood, County Down in 2004, I was smitten and resolved to one day get to the “back of beyond” to see how the course measured up with the best that Britain and Ireland have to offer.
I can confirm that I was not in the slightest bit disappointed with the links playground that Richard Sattler and his dedicated design team have built. Truly an Open rota course if transplanted to the coastal UK!
A pure golfing destination replete with “Roscoe,” the one of a kind “Golfologist” (just remember...he tells the jokes, and he may also offend...I’m pretty sure it’s for comic effect) and indeed at least one platypus that we encountered in the middle of the private road linking the Dunes clubhouse with the Lost Farm accommodation...but more of Tassie anon!
A WhatsApp message with these now-famous last words — “Can you get to Melbourne for the 12th?” — was all it took to kick-start one of the most epic 20-day golfing adventures yet experienced by this sometimes intrepid “golf tragic” correspondent. In my haste to book things, I didn’t get to King Island this time...however I have included some information below , as much as a reminder to myself of what I missed out on, as well as an introduction to those who have yet to see some truly remarkable golfing terrain.
Looking back on my antipodean experience from the remove of a very wild and windy Irish wintertime, I have been reflecting on how to best mark my Australian golfing adventure. Writing a few simple reviews did not seem to do the experience justice...I suppose I was looking for something more meaningful than just a number of sterile course reviews. In an effort to keep the main article body live on the site, I have included a number of what I hope are “non-sterile” reviews paying homage to, possibly, my all-time favourite golfing destination.
In consultation with “Mr. Top100,” Keith Baxter, a number of broad ideas were discussed. The following article covers a few of the best ideas in attempting to:
- review the courses played on the trip
- explore some of the recent spectacular additions to the Australian Golf smorgasbord
- investigate amendments and redevelopment of some of Australia’s timeless classics
- and compare and contrast New World versus Old World views of reciprocal memberships, which will hopefully illustrate an oft-underappreciated member benefit that many clubs could use as a way to deepen the tangible value of their membership offerings
What a golfing Mecca (even without Royal Melbourne...this time)
The National Golf Club (Moonah) (4.5 Balls)
“You can’t beat a golf trip.”
Having landed in Melbourne, the hired van was quickly under our backsides and Longey was piloting us South, skirting the Sydney Central Business District, bound for Frankston and beyond to one of the best-named golfing locations there is, Cape Schanck, where 54 of The National Golf Club's holes are located. Our mission for the day was the majestic Moonah Links designed by Greg Norman and his former design partner Bob Harrison.
The view from the driveway is striking as the scale of the property unfurls into the distance beyond. The imposingly stark and beautiful clubhouse looms large as you make your approach. The building presents an optical illusion of sorts...huge from outside but cosy and personal inside.
After a quick gourmet sandwich, we were sufficiently fed and watered to commence battle. For Moonah National, think Tralee without the sea views but on a grander and more undulating, resort-like scale. This course was as near as I had yet gotten to a proper Great Britain & Ireland links course in Australia (see below regarding Barnbougle...even more “linksy”). Overseeded fescue fairways predominate, so I felt right at home until the aforementioned jet lag and some hydration issues conspired together...leading to a collapse somewhat akin to a toppling block of Turkish flats.
The course is a delight, as this rollercoaster ride wends its way throughout the property. Special mention must go to the par threes and the green that is shared by the 6th and 14th. Some people say that Greg and Bob didn’t do great redesign work (talk to the members at NSWGC about that), but Moonah National is an original creation representing all that is good in modern golf architecture. As long as you follow the excellent course guide notes, it is possible to shoot some half-decent numbers. When you get your hydration wrong...strange stuff happens! Moonah and Gunnamatta (see below) are not to be missed. However, I hear that unless you like target golf, you might be better off giving the Old course a wide berth.
Kingston Heath Golf Club (5.5 Balls)
“The most fun you can have with your clothes on.”
I’ve not yet visited Augusta, however the spiritual experience that I recently encountered at Kingston Heath gave me the sort of feeling that I would expect if Magnolia Lane is ever negotiated in a playing capacity. For the record, I didn’t play very well (the worst effort in 20 days to be precise), however, this did not detract from the enjoyment and the feeling that I was walking in the footsteps of greatness in a very special place.
The property is small, but beautifully proportioned. It feels much larger than it actually is, likely due to the many open vistas that allow you to see other fairways (and indeed visit them occasionally). Be warned: Gum trees, Ti trees and waste areas await those who stray too far from the intended or optimal lines.
The challenge of Kingston Heath is laid out in front of you, insofar as you can see what you must do. Equally, you can also see what you must not do. This juxtaposition between right and wrong constantly plays on your mind, which is a delight and curse in equal measure. The consequences of the unintended!
The course and its ranking speak for themselves...Kingston Heath is a “pure” golfing experience that will live long in my memory. It is one of the very best courses I have had the pleasure of playing and I look forward, with anticipation, to visiting again in the near future.
International guests receive a copy of the following drone footage, which captures the essence of the course perfectly.
The Metropolitan Golf Club (5.0 Balls)
“I managed to keep it together until the ninth...then I missed that short putt and thought I was going to collapse.”
The Metropolitan Golf Club is often spoken in hushed tones as “the best-conditioned” golf course in Australia. I can only concur with those who have passed through this little corner of Oakleigh South before me. The course conditioning was truly exceptional on my recent visit. I have a vivid memory of one of the greens staff using his blowers to judiciously remove stray gum tree leaves from a fairway bunker expanse. Enough said.
The bunkering is mind blowing...all that you would expect of a Sandbelt classic and more. The best line off the tee will often require the golfer to skirt a cavernous expanse that has been lovingly crafted into the fairway. Only then will you be presented with the optimal line to well-protected greens.
However, it is around the green that the bunkering is taken to the “nth” degree. Sharply-defined edges must surely be cut with scissors, such is the definition on show. A succession of “ball gobblers” are cut into the greens themselves, presenting the real possibility of putt-bunker shot-putt as a hole closer. The greens do not feature surrounds on the bunker sides and are hand mown right to the edge. It must really require a deft hand by the skilled maintenance team to ensure both the mower and its attendant do not fall precipitously into the surrounding sand.
From the remove of my couch, some weeks after my return (Barossa Shiraz literally in hand), the par threes at Metro are still etched in my memory as abiding memories. They all appear quite receptive to a well hit shot...and are. However, stray marginally off-line and the sand is going to get you.
The course has hosted many a major tournament with golfing luminaries such as Sarazen, Thomson, Nagle, Faxon, Westwood, Davies and Stricker etched into the club’s rich tournament history. In 2018, the club hosted the World Cup of Golf, where Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry of Belgium prevailed.
The club is in the midst of a course enhancement plan, which began in 2017 and is currently around 40% complete. This development is guided by the retained course architects Paul Mogford and Neil Crafter. Their main goal is, and will be, the further enhancement of the golf course and matching up both nines, which were completed some 50-plus years apart.
Plans are also afoot to relay the existing 25-year-old bent greens. Metropolitan are leaving no stone unturned in relation to the selection of the optimal bent recipe for their greens. The club are currently involved in a sports turf trial that has seen eight different bent grass types sown on three different sand base depths in the club’s turf nursery. In coming months, the club is upgrading its practice range, which will include a new practice green and two chipping greens. The preferred bent grass type with sand sub-base will be laid on the practice and chipping greens to test in play before a final decision is made in relation to the best choice for the site. If that wasn’t enough, the membership will also get a new state-of-the-art teaching pavilion to further augment the available facilities.
At this juncture, special mention must go out to my mate “AT” (the source of the previously-mentioned Whatsapp message). He had some Summer break in a golfing context, improving his playing handicap from 7.1 to 2.9. We take his story up at Metro, towards the end of that “streak.” Minus-1 gross through 9 (starting on the 10th). The atmospheric smoke got him (this will be the only reference to that stuff). He was ‘hors de combat’ for three or four holes until the worst of it passed. Fast-forward to Hole 9 (our 18th) at this iconic venue, a world-class hole undoubtedly, for a truly “Seve”-like moment and one that will last forever in my memory (and stick in my craw, just a little bit, as I will be reminded about it for years to come). AT misses the fairway well left on this left-to-right dogleg (admittedly, not optimal). His ball is lying on the sandy wasteland that is so synonymous with the Melbourne Sandbelt (by the way, he’s also surrounded by gum trees).
He is now faced with a 220-yard shot, which needs to go through a dinner plate-sized hole in the gum tree canopy, and he also needs to hook the shot some 55 yards in an effort to challenge a green with a substantial false front. The tariff involved here was extraordinary! Bucko pulls out his gap driving iron. Gauging trajectory and flight, he rips it through the hole, hooks it left up onto the green and holes the putt for a tweeter. Miraculous, worldly stuff. Take a bow, son!
The Metropolitan Golf Club is an absolute must for the hospitality, the course and the miraculous bunkers. The following video illustrates a few of the reasons for my superlatives above .
Victoria Golf Club (5.0 Balls)
“Would you like to play as a five ball?”
Victoria GC would be the last stop on this Sandbelt trip. The home to two colossuses of Australian golf, namely Doug Bachli and Peter Thomson. Paul Wright, the golf manager, was the consummate host on the morning in question, welcoming us and even apologising to me for that fact that my national flag was not flying (a member had died the previous day and the flag was at half mast). He didn’t want me to hear that someone else had received the honour of their national flag and I hadn’t. Fair play, Paul!
It was a bit concerning when we were greeted on the first and 10th tee by the sign below:
Apparently the pro shop came extremely close to pressing the hooter during the morning’s play. To be fair, given what came later in the day, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
From 1995, Mike Clayton was involved in expertly tweaking Victoria to recapture the spirit of the original masterpiece. Using aerial photographs as his guide, the vast majority of bunkers were rebuilt to reflect the essence of the initial design. Kudos to you Mr. Clayton. A very fine job indeed!
In 2018, the club once again decided to push the boundaries in collaboration with the design firm OCCM. Over the course of a seven month period, with the course closing completely for two months and subsequently on temporary greens for a further five, the original push-up greens were replaced with a new type of creeping bent grass called Pure Distinction. I am absolutely sure that this was an inconvenience for the membership, however, I am pleased to report that the new greens have now grown in, the course is back open for play meaning that the Victoria membership now has access to the best greens that I have ever played anywhere, period. I cannot offer a bigger or better compliment.
Victoria presents more elevation change than at any of the other Sandbelt courses that I have encountered so far, and the central dune structure allows a number of holes to cascade around it. Watch out for the precipitous drop at the back of the par-three 16th!
The course will host the 2022 Men’s Australian Open (subject to covid-19), and it will be interesting to see how some of the best golfers in the world manage with the blemish-free surfaces and the renewed challenge that Victoria presents.
Victoria Golf Club is an absolute must-play. Take a look at this video for something that will undoubtedly whet your appetite.
Barnbougle Lost Farm (5.5 Balls)
“What’s this?...You stupid Irish...”
Note to all visiting golfers: You don’t need a letter of introduction here. Making the pilgrimage is sufficient proof that you are a golfer...in Roscoe’s eyes, anyway! My companion on this leg of the journey had not set foot in Tassie for 43 years, and he enjoyed himself so much (seeing the light undoubtedly because he beat me twice) that he will be making the trip “to get his links fix” on a more regular basis.
The clubhouse and well-appointed golfers’ accommodation sits on the spine of a prominent dune, which offers majestic 360-degree views of the property from all the available windows on the upper levels.
Lost Farm is a great introduction to the Barnbougle property. The course extends over 20 holes. There is always a preferred side of the fairway to play from, however Bill Coore allows you a good deal of leeway off the tee due to the fact that there is fairway where perhaps you might expect there to be rough.
Having delved deeper into golf course architecture since playing Lost Farm, I now have a greater appreciation, and hopefully understanding, for the minimalist design principles that have inspired the routing and challenge that is presented. The par 3’s are the abiding memory and the exquisite bunkering that ties the course to its rugged and wild surroundings.
In hindsight, the one regret that I have is that I only played the course once.... I can imagine it is a real grower and I look forward to the opportunity of returning to explore its challenges in years to come.
Small tip: Buy some bushman’s fly spray (40% deet). You’ll thank me later!
Barnbougle Dunes (5.5 Balls)
How good is this?”
Sixteen years in getting there, the Dunes — the Tom Doak and Mike Clayton masterpiece — is sublime and did not disappoint in any way. The clubhouse proved a wonderful resting spot post the first round at Lost Farm where the Yalumba Signature went down a treat alongside advice from staff members Adam, Phil and Joel on how to approach the next day’s challenge at the main event. The Dunes clubhouse is a little less formal than Lost Farm, with a great selection of beverages and a cracking restaurant.
We were joined on our adventure by Bill the caddy. I’m still trying to work out why I had to pay for half of his fee while he carried my opponent’s bag...the aforementioned AT vanquished me again.
After a gentle-enough start, you are flung headlong into the dunes from the fourth onwards. The stretch of holes from 4 through 8 are exceptional and include the walk past Reg’s hut on the way to the 5th tee, giving you access to an unbelievable vista back along both Barnbougle and Waterhouse Beaches to the Northeast.
The 7th is known as “Tom’s Little Devil,” often referred to as “the only par three in Australia that doesn’t have a green.” The landing area on the green is coffee table-sized; go at it at your peril as long is completely dead. It’s easy: Hit it short and then chip it in.
The 8th is a muscular par four with a split-level fairway. Your par here will be very hard earned as only a perfectly-placed drive will give you the opportunity to have a shy at the green. Keep the drive left...but not too far left.
Respite arrives as you head inland on the stretch of 9 through 12. This relative calm is shaken to its core from the 13th on, where Tom Doak recreated a green last seen at the MacKenzie designed Sitwell Park Golf Club in the UK many years ago...think three buried elephants under the green and you’ll only start to imagine the picture that presents itself here.
The final five holes run along the Great Forester river and Barnbougle Beach, raising the blood pressure to a crescendo as you close out one of the most memorable links experiences available. Check out the following Jacob Sjoman video for a quick taster of the two links courses at Bridport.
Royal Sydney Golf Club (4 Balls)
“I thought I was going to collapse walking back up that hill”
As always, the location of Royal Sydney Golf Club at Rose Bay never fails to delight...the grandeur and scale of the clubhouse, the proximity to the Sydney Central Business District and the attention to detail in the presentation of the golf course. I have visited here a number of times and have always felt the experience somewhat austere and aloof. The previous comment must be contextualised in that previously I did not have the opportunity to interact with any of the members directly. I can confirm that when you do, the experience changes dramatically.
I was in attendance twice during my sojourn Sydneyside: Firstly to figure out how to correctly chip and pitch off the blasted Santa Anna Couch, which confounded me so on the Melbourne Sandbelt. The second time, to get a final look at the existing layout prior to the bulldozers getting stuck into the site as the precursor for the emergence of the new Gill Hanse-designed layout that will reappear from its chrysalis in 2022.
A note with regard to the imminent redevelopment at Royal Sydney GC: The club is planning to close the championship course for a period of 12 months from April 2021 while the shapers go about their business.
The club is currently (September 2020) waiting on a verdict from the local council with regard to permission to remove a significant number of non-indigenous gum trees. This plan has met with significant resistance from both local residents and environmentalists. This is despite plans to re-plant more than 700 indigenous specimens along with implementing Harley Kruse’s extensive re-vegetation plan, which would return native areas to the condition that the first fleet would have encountered when they first arrived in New South Wales. The conversation continues...
Please see the image below for routing of the proposed new and improved RSGC. This will ensure that this grand old lady of Australian golf can reaffirm itself as one of the standout golf clubs in the greater Sydney area and beyond and rediscover some of the MacKenzie influence that once existed at Rose Bay.
St. Michael’s Golf Club (4 Balls)
“What are you doing wearing the Queen Crest in the Catholic Club in Sydney?”
This was not my first visit to Little Bay, having graced its fairways on many an occasion while resident in Sydney some years ago. It was great to see the course conditioning much improved from what I remember. However, greenness and good conditioning is not a substitute for good routing and superlative design.
I am much indebted to my mates Seamus and John for arranging the excursion and for inviting the course convenor Derek to join us. The round was notable for the fact that I saw the only snake of my Australian adventure, a red-bellied black snake, in the bush beside the 17th fairway.
St Michael’s is a step below the main event on offer at La Perouse, however it represents very good value and is eminently playable, sharing some of the fine vistas that are available over the fence at New South Wales Golf Club. The course was hosting the New South Wales Men’s and Women’s Amateur Championships, which were due to begin the day after we played and was in the sort of nick that you would expect for a course holding a tourney of that magnitude.
My mates think very highly of the place and I appreciate the pride that one feels for your home track, but suggesting that it was better than NSW was a bit outlandish. The par threes are a bit out of kilter and I’m not a huge fan of the 2nd or indeed the 4th, which are somewhat contrived.
St. Michael’s is undoubtedly the second-best course in a stretch of four courses that run from Randwick and The Coast to the north, but not part of the same conversation as NSW, its immediate southern neighbour. I guess it lacks both that extra bit of detail in its presentation and that “wow” factor that is offered in spades next door. I’m probably being a wee bit too critical...the golfing snob in me or perhaps the “West Brit” as my republican friend might say.
Notwithstanding the above, if you’re looking for big views and a cooling breeze you could do an awful lot worse than to take a trip out the Anzac Highway to the oasis that is St. Michael’s.
Bonnie Doon Golf Club (4.5 Balls)
“Marmite and holes that never were.”
I was very fortunate to be introduced to an esteemed Bonnie Doon and NSWGC member, Greg Hall, through a mutual friend in Adelaide. Thankfully for me, Portsmouth native Greg had just begun a six-month sabbatical in a quest to reach scratch. He was to be my guide through two days at Bonnie Doon with New South Wales sandwiched in the middle. I could not have asked for a better host!
Despite incorrectly addressing him as Geoff at one point, we became firm friends and he has an open invitation to visit me in the Northern Hemisphere, whenever his drive to scratch allows it over the coming months.
Bonnie Doon is a fantastic members’ track that has been augmented through the involvement of the design consultants OCCM, with Mike Clayton being the lead designer. I was told that Clayton’s work can often be compared to marmite: You’ll either love it or hate it. I am most assuredly in the “love it” category. Plenty of template holes to get stuck into with significant nods in the direction of Kingston Heath (13th green), Hoylake (14th tee shot), Riviera (14th green) and Augusta (14th green also). Bonnie Doon is a true masterpiece with thrills, spills and undulation a-plenty on a relatively compact site. Take a bow OCCM...you deserve it.
The par threes and short fours are an absolute delight and real standouts. I vividly remember the vast majority of holes. Having had the benefit of playing 50 holes here, over two days, it is a real grower that gets better the more you play it.
A great welcome awaits you from the boys in the pro shop and indeed from the few members that I met while sheltering from the insane temperatures that built throughout my last day in Sydney.
If you are golfing in Sydney, Bonnie Doon is a must-go on your itinerary.
New South Wales Golf Club (5.0 Balls)
“I was hot and just went down there for a swim mid round to cool off.”
It’s always a delight to get a game at La Perouse and even better still to be facilitated as a member’s guest. This visit was a tale of two halves, with the morning competition showing us this grand old lady, laid bare, without the merest zephyr of a breeze. I believe that Peter Lonard posted -9 that very morning...unfortunately I wasn’t quite able to match his endeavours. The afternoon’s spin around the coastal holes presented a completely different challenge, with a constant NSWGC gale of circa 45kph. I even managed to play the relief par three that was in play during the renovations and repositioning of the iconic 6th green (thanks Greg).
Both the mid and post-round experience at New South Wales is sublime, with a strictly-brisk 12 minutes to enjoy the offerings of the halfway house and then a cheese board and fruit-flavoured water to sustain you post-round. The members are “bonzer” too, not quite what you would expect if you listen to some of their near golfing neighbours. A big shout-out to both Noel Ratcliffe the ex-pro golfer and octogenarian David Furlong (who’d pass for 60) who regaled me with great stories and anecdotes mid-visit.
The real delight at NSW is to be found on the truly mind-blowing coastal holes that bob and weave through offset and funnelled fairways, directing you hither and thither around the mouth of Botany Bay. I’m glad to report that I finally managed to birdie the iconic 5th hole that cascades down to the glorious Pacific Ocean.
Tom Doak’s repositioned 6th green, which was moved at the behest of Botany Bay local authority due to the public walkway that skirts the boundary between holes 5 and 6, is no easier to find than its Eric Apperly-designed predecessor. Word of warning, often on a sunny Summer’s day you can find people sunbathing on the ledge directly beneath the green, these hardy souls are apparently completely oblivious to the thinned tee shot from the tee perched upon the rocky promontory behind the 5th green.
On the day of my visit the effects of the NSW drought were evident in the yellowish, tinged rough that presented itself. Despite what onlookers over the fence at St. Michael’s suggested, I felt it gave the Santa Anna couch ground conditions a welcome “linksy feel.”
Tom Doak is currently engaged in a process of suggesting further enhancements and potential reversion to some of the original MacKenzie and Apperly playing corridors, while possibly amending the Norman and Harrison work on the 1st and 18th, which the members appear none-too-keen on.
If you like clifftop seaside golf, then New South Wales should be right at the top of your list.
Kooyonga Golf Club (4.5 Balls)
Kooyonga Gold Club is a proper gem. I was a guest of the club pro John Corbett on my first day back golfing in Adelaide. John opined on the first tee that “this might be a bit scratchy, I haven’t hit a ball in a while”...famous last words. He missed a putt on the pro side on the final green to shoot 65. It’s always great to see a master at work and John is certainly one of those. For anyone in Adelaide searching for a Titleist Performance Institute Professional, John ticks that box too and also has access to the performance teaching centre onsite, which can only be good for all at Kooey and the surrounding Lockley’s area in Adelaide.
As with Royal Adelaide, Kooey was laid out by Cargie Rymill, who actually owned the land on which the golf course was constructed. Martin Hawtree has recently been involved in further development work on the golf course.
You could make a case that Kooyonga is the Metropolitan of Adelaide, while more undulating than its Melbourne variant, it too is lovingly manicured and presented with those prominent bunker lips that protrude in the true ‘20s style that is so apparent on many of Australia’s classic courses.
During my round at Kooyonga, the course reminded me of the Tom Simpson and Molly Gourlay design at County Carlow on more than a few occasions. It has a more rolling, “heathlandy” feel than any course I have played to date in Australia. I’m always a sucker for rested blind or semi-blind holes as they remind me most often of the 9th at Royal County Down and that other cracker, the 6th at La Perouse, and of course Old Tom Morris’s “Klondyke” at Lahinch. Kooyonga has a number of fine examples of this design template, for which I am an undoubted sucker.
Any trip to Adelaide would not be complete without a visit to Kooyonga, located close to Adelaide International Airport it should easily and quite happily be your first or last port of call.
Royal Adelaide Golf Club (5.0 Balls)
“If you’re going to make 5 from there, I’ll stay and watch.”
Great golf courses are often synonymous with a train line. In historical terms, there was invariably a link between the railways and the building of a golf course: The train line was in close proximity to the course, ensuring that club members and visitors could access the golf course for their allotted tee times. Often the course development was partially funded by the railways too.
RAGC goes one better than an adjoining railway: It has a live one running straight through it, separating the clubhouse, practice facilities, 1st tee and last five holes from the balance of the course. Legend has it that you can place a dollar coin on the track and after a few passes by the train; you will end up with a freshly minted ball marker. I tried this and lost my coin!
Royal Adelaide offers up one of the most outstanding golfing experiences that I have ever had the privilege to encounter. The membership and staff at-large (particularly Cameron, Tony and Nick) seem to really enjoy showing visiting golfers a great time. The outdoor terrace is the ideal location to chew the cud on what you might have done differently if you’d been given a few mulligans, and those locker room showers are just what is required post-round to cleanse the soul. I must admit that I developed a deeply emotional connection with both the city of Adelaide and its Royal Golf Club. I will most certainly be back.
During a recent overdose here, I was afforded the opportunity to uncover some of its myriad intricacies. The greens team was preparing the course for the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open during my visit and as a result even the members hadn’t ever seen pins as ferocious as those on offer for the duration. They got a very worthy winner in Inbee Park, a 20-time LPGA winner and one of the most underrated golfers of all time.
On a regular day, I suspect that patience is the key to performing well at Royal Adelaide...even more so when the pins are precipitously perched at the side of greens. The course itself is a real grower that, members tell me, has really benefited from some subtle Tom Doak/Renaissance Golf Design loving over the past number of years. I believe that further enhancements are planned with Doak himself back for a scheduled visit during March 2020.
As with all courses in Australia, sustainable irrigation and access to water is of utmost importance. This is especially true in South Australia, which is one of the driest places on earth. I am glad to report that in partnership with the state government, RAGC is a net contributor to the Adelaide aquifer. Utilising storm water runoff from the surrounding suburbs, a series of reed beds on the site purify and clean water for use on the course with the balance being injected back into the city’s main supply. The ability to access an abundant source of ethically sourced water for irrigation purposes ensures that the verdant grasslands of RAGC are always in tip-top shape for your enjoyment.
A real feature of Royal Adelaide is its exquisite bunkering. Strategic questions abound, usually involving the challenge of either carrying one or avoiding another. Do not pass up any opportunity to sample the delights of the combination of the enchanting Royal Adelaide and the “moreishness” of Adelaide itself. Take a look at the following Gary Lisbon drone video to get a feel for RAGC .
Cape Wickham Links – opened late 2015
Hindsight is a great thing! If I had the planning of my most recent trip back I would have swapped three days in Sydney for three days on King Island. It would be opportune to mention to bad fliers that you get to King Island on a small plane. If you can summon up enough courage and pack light, then you’re game ball to plan a trip.
The secret of Cape Wickham Links is most surely out locally, however, for those with their heads in the sand on this side of the world, this Mike DeVries creation looks like a rip-snorting clifftop roller coaster of non-stop golfing entertainment. I’m reliably informed by those that have played here that this is one of the best out there. Let’s see if you agree by viewing it through the lens of a Jacob Sjoman drone video .
The Peninsula Country Club and Kingswood Golf Clubs merged in September 2013, ultimately moving to the newly recreated, OCCM-designed, 36-hole facility at the old Peninsula site at Frankston, Victoria. The majesty of this redevelopment can best be illustrated in the words of OCCM’s lead designer, Mike Cocking:
“We really haven’t seen a renovation of this scale around the Melbourne courses before...Every green, bunker and tee has been redesigned or rebuilt, fairways reshaped and re-grassed, creeks and water bodies added, a state-of-the-art irrigation system installed, and cart paths, drainage and vegetation developed. What Peninsula Kingswood has achieved in the past four years is basically what every other Sandbelt course has spent the last 20 or 30 years accomplishing.”
A notable reference above relates to the green resurfacing with Pure Distinction bentgrass, as you may have seen from my review of Victoria Golf Club above, this surface is unsurpassed in relation to uniformity and trueness. We must get to Peninsula Kingswood to see for yourselves!
The National Golf Club (Gunnamatta) – Opened April 2019
I’m beginning to think that Tom Doak and Renaissance Design (RGD) have shares in Australian golf, so often does the RGD name crop up in redesign work Down Under. Despite attempts to contact the club, unfortunately I only have third-hand information to inform this little piece. The original Ocean course was laid out by Peter Thomson and Michael Wolveridge, however the powers that be at The National decided that augmentation was required and in 2017, RGD and Tom Doak were commissioned to carry out the following works:
- all 18 greens have been either reshaped or built to complement the natural contours of the land, ensuring consistency of design given the age of the turf
- a number of new greens were built in receptive natural hollows
- greens now offer more hole locations than previously available, with options to set up each hole to be easier or more difficult
- the number of fairway and greenside bunkers were reduced and the style standardised
- large open fairways with short carries from most tees were retained
- the routing of the course was changed, allowing the ocean in the background for three new holes
- most of the fairway corridors and many of the existing features, which are well-regarded by members, were retained and incorporated into the design plans
Rumour has it that over time this may well develop into the pick of The National courses. I understand that Gunnamatta opened for limited member play in early 2019, with it still being difficult to gain visitor access to the course as of January 2020.
In Tom Doak’s book The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Vol. 5 , the four par threes at Yarra Yarra Golf Club are all rated as 7/10 (this doesn’t sound great, until you understand that no other par three in Australia received a seven rating). Notwithstanding the above, Yarra Yarra’s 11th hole was also described as a “national treasure” by no less than five-time Open champion Peter Thomson.
It is with the above backdrop that Tom Doak and Renaissance Design were appointed in April 2017 to restore the greatness of this original Alex Russell classic. The main themes driving the restoration project are as follows
- improve general views throughout the property
- integrate the tees into their surrounds as part of greater de-cluttering of the site
- remove superfluous bunkers and/or reshape those bunkers that are out of character with the Russell/Sandbelt style
- adjust fairway mowing lines to fully engage with hazards and present strategic risk/reward angles into tucked hole locations
- restore altered greens where possible
- judiciously open gaps in the forest for the golf and landscape to benefit
The redevelopment work continues apace, with plans afoot for a unique par three style facility which will no doubt cater for a different type of time-poor member seeking a shorter format of the game to play and enjoy, or indeed be a hothouse for budding young beginners prior to cutting their teeth on the big course.
Yarra Yarra is located some 35 minutes from Melbourne’s central business district. It should undoubtedly be considered as a constituent part of any serious Melbourne golf itinerary.
The Cliffs, Kangaroo Island (South Australia)
Kangaroo Island, South Australia, has become better known internationally for the wrong reasons. Unfortunately the bush fires, which plagued many parts of Australia over the course of late 2019 and early 2020, inflicted significant fire damage on Kangaroo Island.
Prior to the intercession of fire season, plans were already afoot to develop a world-class golfing facility at a site at Pelican Lagoon, located at the Eastern side of the Island, through a 600-acre plot, which includes both rolling dunes and 25 metre-high cliffs. Approval was granted for the development in mid-2017 and the project and design team of Andrew Purchase and Darius Oliver, of Cape Wickham fame, will look to cast their magic spell once again.
Speaking to ‘Forbes’ magazine in 2017, Oliver was quoted as saying “like on King Island, the golf site at Pelican Lagoon has tremendous natural potential and is ready made for great golf...the vast majority of holes are just sitting there on the ground, and will require little more than clearing, grassing and some light shaping...while the golf along the cliffs is stunning, I believe the inland holes to be at least as good, and arguably the most interesting on the course.”
Despite the ravages of the fire season 2019/20, I understand that the developers have begun to seek financing for what can become a proverbial phoenix, to firmly place Kangaroo Island on the worldwide golfing map.
Barnbougle Dunes – third course
The two courses at Barnbougle sit on a coastal property that stretches to more than 15,000 acres. While there I heard murmurings of an additional course on the coast to the east of where the Lost Farm course is located.
Richard Sattler, the owner of the property confirmed to the website golfgrinder.com back in late 2017, that a number of major designers had approached him pitching for an opportunity to top both of the existing courses on the property...no small task!
Despite a number of approaches by this writer, Barnbougle Links remained tight-lipped about any decisions on additional developments. Time will tell whether the stars align and a triumvirate of stomping links courses come to pass at this very special location on the edge of civilisation (apologies to the residents of Bridport for this analogy). Unsubstantiated rumours are currently doing the rounds on the Twitter machine that a Bill Coore short course may be the additional flourish to the existing offerings.
Update (September 2020) – a Bill Coore designed short course, comprising of 12 or 13 holes is currently being laid out on land above the Lost Farm course. There's no projected opening date yet, but I am led to believe that Mike Clayton and Mike DeVries are also planning a Himalayas style putting green somewhere on the site as an added golfing draw to this Tassie golfing mecca.
Nora Creina Development
One of the next big developments to hit the Australian golf market may well be located within the majestic virginal dunescape of Nora Creina, South Australia, located some 350 km south of Adelaide. Former aquaculturist brothers Justin and Damien Scanlon have been involved in a labour of love for the past 16 years in an effort to gain both approval and the backing of the South Australian government for the development.
Unusually, the dune structures at Nora Creina run parallel to the ocean and it is amongst these “Himalayan” 30 to 40 metre-high formations that renowned Australian course designer Bob Harrison, has routed two 18-hole courses. Due to the environmental sensitivity of the site, final approval was subject to a fixed routing in an effort to minimise the disturbance to native flora and fauna.
Harrison, fresh from his heroic endeavours at Ardfin Estate on the wilds of the Hebridean Island of Jura, has been so smitten by Nora Creina to opine that “this may well surpass anything that I have ever done.” High praise indeed. It may indeed be his opus, set on this remarkable 600-acre site with 3.5 km of beachfront.
I have a newfound appreciation for warm weather, sand-based golf courses. In a Lytham & St Anne’s way, were you to transplant the Melbourne/Sydney/Adelaide Sandbelt courses to the UK, you would have some of the most stunning links courses known to man. The only difference being the inability to grow maritime grasses such as creeping red fescue and brown-top bent in Australia’s agronomically-testing climate. I shouldn’t have been surprised, with the MacKenzie influence so deeply rooted down there, but I was!
From what I observed, there also appears to be a genuine understanding that traditional golf clubs are competitive businesses, where maintaining the status quo equates to going backwards. A culture of continuous improvement pervades the continuing reinvention of classic courses, bringing modern techniques to bear, while using original templates to drive and inform a return to relative authenticity.
These clubs are not afraid of change, while also perhaps not as wedded to “tradition” as many of their Old World counterparts. Dare I say it, conscious of the past but perhaps less encumbered or shackled by the weight of history. Undoubtedly some of this contrast is bound up in the wider lack of formality in Australian society, an appreciation of and for knowledge, and an understanding that sustainability needs new and augmented revenue streams that secure the meaningful future of the golf club.
I have penned a final piece below as an exposition of my personal experiences to further highlight some of the contrasts that exist between the hemispheres.
Golf Club Reciprocity – Old World v New World
The seeds of this section were sown last year in the depths of the Scottish Summer over a natter with a very good mate and fellow golf tragic.
For the purposes of this article, it is irrelevant what clubs we are members of, safe to say we enjoy the benefits of “circular” reciprocity, and as a result we can enjoy the delights of one another’s golfing establishments whenever we are on different sides of the globe.
So, we’re similar in age, golfing ability (he does have the hex over me recently), drinking capacity and are brothers from another mother when it comes to enjoying the golfing delights that the planet has to offer. And when you start comparing our respective golfing oases you find the following:
My club...a traditional Old World course being one of the first clubs to come into existence in the country in which it is based.
His club...a traditional New World course being similarly founded prior to the turn of the 20th Century.
The same so far. Now is the juncture that this story begins to diverge:
My club...22 reciprocal clubs, all mainly on the opposite side of the world, with one premium exception. Unfortunately due to wholly foreseen circumstances, we are now limited by restriction to a certain number of visits per year...if only some thought and foresight was used by our powers that be.
His club...51 reciprocal clubs, more than 50% nearby and the balance providing good cover throughout the known world, not obviously including the United States (we will go there with gusto later, however).
In my experience, my club likes to look at the reciprocal board mounted in the entrance foyer of the club and enjoy the fact that were they ever to travel they would be able to use the reciprocals on the board. Truth is the majority of them have never used most of them and most probably never will.
The club membership at his club utilise their reciprocals on an ongoing basis. It’s seen as a real tangible benefit to being a golf club member in Australia. I found this to be a recurring theme throughout visiting three of the major population centres. Don’t get me wrong: Some of us “Old worlders” travel, but many do not. Perhaps it’s a generational thing? How many more might travel if our policy on reciprocals was a little more inclined towards the addition of some “localish” offerings? Given the challenges that the golf market in general are dealing with, one would have thought that an extension of a traditional offering (reciprocity) could tick another box or two for a golfer looking at joining.
While down under I was the beneficiary of the extensive network of new world reciprocal arrangements that my friends’ club holds. As a result of this I was favoured (and eternally grateful to boot) by many of the visited clubs with a preferred “member guest” rate. When the shoe is on the other foot in an Old World context I will once again be at the mercy of these new world arrangements as my own club appears not to care unduly for the addition of new reciprocal arrangements, for fear that we might “lose” something. Au contraire: We gain so much more by opening the door just a little.
Finally, I wanted to address the equity elephant in the room alluded to earlier. Namely, access or more correctly “non-access” to all of the private members clubs in the United States. Once again while on tour around the new world we met a plethora of golfers from America hell bent on ticking courses off lists. Surely sanity must prevail. How about some fairness in all these things? Access should be earned through more than just waving a fist of green backs. You want to play the great links of Great Britain and Ireland or the Antipodes. How about sharing the wealth access-wise? Happy with a closed door reciprocal arrangement, where golfers are pre-vetted due to their membership of some of the finer and finest courses elsewhere? By all means, pair with courses of sufficient perceived quality around the world within your own consideration set. The door almost surely currently closed to enduring often beautiful new friendships. These people speak your language, play your game...but can’t play your course. Throw us a bone, please!
The vast majority of the photographs and videos used throughout this article have been very graciously provided by Gary Lisbon. Gary is Australia’s foremost golf photographer. Check out www.golfphotos.com.au for further details. Should the above article whet your appetite to organise a trip in the great golfing country that is Australia, Gary and his inbound travel team can provide you with a measured itinerary to immerse yourself in this golfing Mecca. More details available through www.golfselect.com.au
Jacob Sjoman must also get an honourable mention too, for some outstanding drone footage that I have linked to through YouTube above.
I would also like to thank the General Managers, Club Professionals, resort owners and staff that assisted me in researching and collating the unknown unknowns that existed at the start of writing this piece. You know who you are!