Golf writer Darius Oliver has spent five years visiting golf courses around the world. Here is a short list from his selection of the best courses Australia has to offer.
1. The hardest hole
The National Golf Club, Ocean Course, 18th hole, Vic
The National Golf Club’s Ocean Course was designed and constructed with the goal of maintaining the natural environment at Cape Schanck as much as possible. As this means construction only involved minor earthworks, natural vegetation and sand hills abound. The views of Bass Strait are extremely breath-taking but the stunning positioning of the Ocean Course also makes it one of the tougher to play as it is substantially more exposed to the elements than other links. The 18th hole is particularly challenging, with shots having to be taken directly into the wind.
2. The best opening hole
The Metropolitan, Vic
The second oldest club in Melbourne’s sandbelt is recognised, both locally and internationally, as having some of the finest golfing turf on the planet. The Metropolitan is undoubtedly one of the more beautiful courses despite the majority of the holes having undergone significant transformations throughout the 1900s. The abundance of trees at The Metropolitan contributes to the prevailing sense of serenity and means that, despite its surroundings, the course feels extremely isolated.
3. Hardest closing stretch
The National Golf Club, Moonah Links, holes 16-18, Vic
The National Golf Club’s Moonah Course is a modern treasure. Built on breathtaking coastal dunes, it takes its name from the indigenous trees of the area. The closing stretch is made up of a series of long holes that head back to the clubhouse, usually in the teeth of stiff southerly winds. So the key to scoring well at Moonah is to get through the first 11 holes as the battle to hold onto your score coming home is one of the toughest and most exciting in the country. For low markers who like their golf raw, this is a special treat – and a course designer Greg Norman particularly enjoys.
4. Most spectacular hole
New South Wales Golf Club, 5th hole, NSW
Situated on the rugged cliffs at La Perouse, the New South Wales Golf Club overlooks Botany Bay where Captain James Cook sailed into Australia aboard the Endeavour in 1770. Designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, golfers make the pilgrimage to this site to take a course built by nature, framed by the Pacific Ocean and shaped by a master. Most significant was the building of the world-renowned 6th hole in the 1930s and the shifting of the 5th tee after the army reclaimed land during World War II. These two holes are individually among Australia’s best; collectively they are one of the most awe-inspiring double acts in world golf.
5. The hardest course
Ellerston Golf Course, NSW
Also described as a ‘modern masterpiece’, Ellerston is located in the upper Hunter Valley. Owned by the Packer family, this (very) private course is both the toughest and one of the more spectacular courses in the country. The design team was given carte blanche to select any suitable site within the late Sir Kerry’s 70,000 acre estate. Pages Creek was chosen as the best location and this creek has been incorporated into the nine holes. The course can now boast the ultimate challenge to the world’s best players. Pure Santa Ana Couch is used in the fairways and Pennlinks Bentgrass on the greens, with short roughs comprising a Buffalo mix for contrasting colour and texture. Ellerston is a fitting tribute to the man who left an indelible mark on the Australian sporting landscape.
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6. The best non-member course
Barnbougle Dunes Golf Links, Tas
Opened in 2004 in the sleepy seaside village of Bridport, Barnbougle Dunes, a former potato farm, occupies a two-mile stretch of giant sand dunes along Bass Strait. Laid out in two loops on either side of a central clubhouse, standout features are the bunkers and designer Tom Doak’s quirky greens. The direction of play changes regularly and offers one of the most thorough links examinations in golf. This is the sort of pure, uncompromised golf project of which the world needs more.
7. The best private classic
The Royal Melbourne Golf Club, West Course, Vic
Volumes have been written on the qualities of the West Course; put simply, it’s a combination of the greatest land, greatest design and greatest construction. Established in 1891 in inner-suburban Caulfield, it is now situated in the famous sandbelt in Sandringham and Black Rock. For a fee of £1000 St Andrews consultant, Dr. Alister MacKenzie was engaged to design the course. Dr. Mackenzie asked first for a register of all members’ ages and handicaps, determined to make his course ‘enjoyable for golfers of any ability’. The rest, as they say, is history.
8. The best redesign
Royal Queensland Golf Club, Qld
Built on reclaimed riverbank land, this prestigious club began as a six-hole course in 1920 before extending to 18 holes the following year. But the Gateway Bridge, which was constructed in 1981, effectively sliced through the Royal Queensland layout forcing radical changes to the configuration of the back nine. In 2007 the course was totally rebuilt and designer, Michael Clayton, transformed a somewhat dreary course into an exciting, strategic masterpiece. There are few better flat courses than this in Australia, or anywhere in the world. It is an experience to be savoured.
9. The most attractive
Royal Adelaide Golf Club, SA
Unique design and distinctive charm are the winning qualities of Royal Adelaide. Moved from Glenelg to Seaton in 1904, a beautification program, which included the introduction of magnificent pines, transformed the site from a raw coastal sandscape to a grand scale golfing experience. The ubiquitous Dr. Mackenzie, on a flying visit in 1926, enthused about the abundance of sand, suggested a redesign that would make full use of the site’s natural features by locating holes over and around the enormous dunes.
10. The best ocean views
Narooma Golf Club, NSW
The spectacular positioning of its 3rd hole and the air of mystery surrounding the three white crosses close to the green of the 5th hole contribute to the allure of Narooma Golf Club. While the back nine holes are further as they were not constructed until 1980, the majority of the front nine offer unrivalled views of the Pacific Ocean and Glasshouse Rocks making Narooma’s location one of the more enviable in Australia. The 3rd hole, also known as ‘Hogan’s Hole’, was made famous by one of Paul Hogan’s ‘G’day Mate’ advertisements in the 1980s.
This is an edited extract from Australia’s Finest Golf Courses by Darius Oliver.
New Holland Publishers.
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