Success stories don’t occur as frequently as they should when it comes to Australian golf courses. Between possible and actual course closures, financial plights, scrutiny over the use of green space and more, it has become an increasingly difficult environment in which to find positive vibes.

One place bucking the trend is South Australia’s Mount Compass Golf Course, which continues to uncover good news at the same rate as the owner and course architect have uncovered the site’s natural assets. Situated on a feature-laden, undulating pocket of the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide, the Mount Compass course (which until 2016 carried the same name as the peninsula it sits upon) has become one of the rising stars of Australian golf.

Mount Compass Golf Course
The entire layout has improved thanks to a careful, considered approach.

Stephen Connor is one of the men behind the revival. He acquired the course three-and-a-half years ago and immediately set about bringing life to a true sleeper layout that is now very much awake.

“I think the word that best sums up the condition of the course when it was acquired is ‘tired’,” Connor says of the facility he took over in 2016. “It was clear that a lack of investment and attention had taken its toll on the course and clubhouse in almost all respects.”

Connor started a checklist of necessary improvements, prioritising, in order, greens, fairways, bunker reconditioning and tree management. The bulk of the work took place in 2017 and 2018, while the period since has been more about fine-tuning. Neil Crafter, the decorated amateur golfer and Adelaide-based course architect, returned to a familiar location to oversee the design work. It was a fitting union as it was Crafter and his late father Brian who designed the course progressively during the 1990s.

Mount Compass Golf Course
Portions of Mount Compass take on a Sandbelt feel.

Next came the crucial step of raising awareness. Gradually word spread and golfers soon realised there was a genuine gem to be found at Mount Compass. Connor says the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, not just from local and Adelaide-based golfers but also from those travelling from farther afield.

“Renaming the course was a very simple but necessary step in differentiating old from new, and more importantly letting people know where it is located,” Connor says. “Just the other day we had a golfer in the pro shop saying he’d been driving past the township for years without even realising the course existed. He doesn’t drive past anymore. We now have people making regular trips from the eastern seaboard to play here and the feedback has been consistently very positive.”

“Just the other day we had a golfer in the pro shop saying he’d been driving past the township for years without even realising the course existed. He doesn’t drive past anymore.” Stephen Connor

The style of golf course is intriguing. The bunkering in places gives Mount Compass elements of a Melbourne Sandbelt feel, and after seeing and playing from some of the 90 bunkers, it comes as no surprise to learn the site was once a sand mine. The routing takes in wooded pockets coupled with open holes, flat fairways as well as rolling surfaces. It is a dynamic and delightful 18-hole excursion.

Mount Compass Golf Course
There is room to move, but pitfalls await inaccurate golfers.

Two holes in particular stand out: the multi-faceted par-4 sixth where carrying an expansive penalty area is required from the tee but it’s up to the player to decide how much to bite off, and the demanding par-3 12th with its broad green that pushes towards a lake on its right edge. The tough par-4 11th also deserves praise for the way it trundles down a hillside towards a green that welcomes approach shots bouncing from the left.

After years spent in the course-ranking wilderness, the course currently sits 96th on Australian Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses, with the 2020 edition of the biennial list to be revealed next month. “Our climbing in the golf rankings has mirrored the improvements we have made, and is apt recognition for the work our team puts in to deliver a great experience for golfers as well as patrons of The Range Bar/Restaurant,” Connor says.

Mount Compass Golf Course
The attractive Mount Compass region is also thriving.

What’s next for Mount Compass?

“We have had discussions with the PGA about hosting a tournament,” Connor says. “That’s likely to be a while off, but would be great for the region. Our on-course accommodation development plans are
well advanced – there’s clear demand for it. And we just released the second stage of our residential land estate that overlooks the course.

“Being right in the middle of the Fleurieu Peninsula next to the McLaren Vale wine district makes it very attractive – either to live at Mount Compass or as base from which to tour the area. The region is full of vineyards, cellar-door and restaurant facilities that are worthy of a visit, as well as some great beaches only a short drive away. The now famous d’Arenburg Cube is not far over the hill.

“We are trying to deliver an interesting, challenging and enjoyable experience for golfers that makes them want to keep coming back for more.”

Sounds like even more reason to add a day or two to your next trip to South Australia.

The Details

Mount Compass Golf Course

Where: George Francis Drive, Mount Compass SA 5210

Phone: (08) 8556 8500