DESIGNED by the club founder H.L ‘Cargie’ Rymill and opening in 1923, Kooyonga is a classic-style course laid out on a sandy, undulating parcel of land in Adelaide’s sandbelt.
Having previously hosted five Australian Opens, nine South Australian Opens and eight National Amateur Championships, Kooyonga will this month add the Women’s Australian Open to its rich history in tournament golf when it hosts the event for the first time.
Few changes to Rymill’s routing have taken place since it opened but current architects Crafter and Mogford have enhanced the beauty and playability of the course in recent years, according to Kooyonga vice captain and course committee chair Terry Anderson.
“While Kooyonga has always had a well-deserved reputation for the condition of its playing surfaces, it had become obvious to the committee that somewhat haphazard planting and the use of inappropriate vegetation combined with natural growth had left parts of the course looking overgrown and lacking a consistent and coherent look,” Anderson said. “Some playing corridors had been narrowed over time and there were at least three different styles of bunker on the course.”
A detailed Landscape Enhancement Plan (LEP) combined with a five-year rolling course plan presented by Crafter and Mogford addressed these issues and the club has been delighted with the designer’s work over recent years. “In our view, Neil’s work has given a greater sense of spaciousness to our course, widened playing corridors and a consistent design for our bunkers,” Anderson added.
The result has been a course that continues to be a leader in the quality of its playing surfaces combined with a neater and more “cared for” look off the fairways. “Neil’s work has led to a much more aesthetically pleasing look to the course without any loss of playability and challenge to all standards of golfer,” Anderson says.
Kooyonga captain Ken Russell adds: “What Neil has done has really enhanced the course. I feel privileged to be a member and captain at a time when the work is all but complete, and we have the opportunity to show off the enhanced course to a global audience and many of the world’s best female golfers participating in the Women’s Australian Open.”
Crafter talks of Kooyonga as a father might speak of a favourite child. His affection for the famous Adelaide golf course is palpable.
“What we have tried to do here is peel back the curtains that were coming across the holes, give each hole a bit of a chance to breathe,” Crafter says.
“Not a major overhaul, more of an enhancement.”
Kooyonga Golf Club is in Crafter’s blood. His late father Brian was the assistant professional, while Neil worked there as a caddie from the time he was eight and became a junior member at 13, going on to win the club championship on numerous occasions before going on to enjoy a stellar international amateur career. Little wonder he speaks so fondly of the place – it was virtually his backyard for most of his childhood.
“There is a real family connection to Kooyonga. It has been my home for more than 50 years from a golfing perspective,” he says. “It’s a pretty special place for the Crafters and I love it. My sister, Jane, (arguably South Australia’s best-ever professional golfer) was also a member here.”
That’s why Crafter, now a renowned golf course architect, was extremely excited when the club asked him to present an overall enhancement plan for the land on which Kooyonga nestles. “It’s a pretty special opportunity and I thank the club for the trust given to me. I hope I am repaying it.”
The club’s policy of replacing one green per year has enabled it to address the issue of inconsistent bunker design. Over recent years it has added new fairway bunkers on holes one, two, five, nine, 11 and 13 to tighten up approach shots. It’s definitely been strategic, tightening up the landing areas for longer hitters, Crafter explains.
“The vast majority of what we have done is focused on day-to-day play of the course,” he says. “Some of the old aerial photos showed many fairways had ‘necked in’ over the years. So we’ve widened fairways on pretty much every hole. So that is a benefit for day-to-day membership.”
Crafter has his favourite holes, too. They include the eighth, a long dogleg to the left with a left-to-right sloping fairway. If you end up on the wrong side of the fairway you face a blind second shot to a small, perched green. But if you keep your tee shot up the left side to negate the slope, you get a good view of the green. It generally plays into the prevailing south-westerly, adding to the difficulty. He also likes the second, which plays over some beautiful, tumbling, undulating ground between big sand dunes, describing it as “quite a character-filled par 5”.
“And if there’s one hole at Kooyonga I always look forward to, it’s the short seventh,” adds Australian Golf Digest Top 100 Courses editor Steve Keipert. “The pulpit-style green immediately catches the eye and lets you know nothing other than the target will do, as there is no good place to miss the target. Then, once aboard the putting surface, the golfer’s work is not yet done as the sloping green is no bargain to two-putt. It’s one of those magic par 3s where birdies are available – but so too are easy, head-scratching bogeys.”
Club general manager Brett Lewis says golfers are attracted to Kooyonga because of the quality of the course and the pristine condition in which the course is always presented.
“You don’t realise that until you come here and play and get a real sense of the place,” Lewis says. He commended the committee on initiating a strategic plan that focused on continuous improvement and overall enhancement to the member experience. “The membership at Kooyonga has always been strong and there is a healthy waiting list for full membership, however the committee understands that it needs to be progressive to ensure its ongoing success.”
Like most clubs across the country, attracting new female members at Kooyonga has been a challenge. Pathway membership options have been developed to help transition female golfers into the club.
“Hosting the Women’s Australian Open this month will bring more people through the front gate for the first time,” Lewis says. “This will provide us an ideal opportunity to show off our course and facilities and give people a taste of what they can experience if they would like to be a member of the club.”
Kooyonga Golf Club
May Terrace, Lockleys SA 5032
08 8352 5444
– Written with Michael Davis