To get more for your money, you need to go where land is reasonable, golf is plentiful and the experience is memorable. With these best bang-for-your-buck options, you’ll never have to leave Australia.
Value an intangible entity and perhaps never more so than in golf. One golfer’s $250 green fee at a world-class facility is another man’s rip-off, while a $25 ‘hidden gem’ find can fail to move the needle for some golfers. It’s eye-of-the-beholder stuff that can’t truly be quantified with certainty. But we’ll try.
Australian Golf Digest canvassed a selection of its readers to ascertain where the ‘valuemeter’ sits when it comes to green fees. Naturally there is a course quality factor at play here, but setting aside the calibre of the golf course, we asked whether there is a dollar figure that Australian golfers won’t go past when it comes to green fees, except for once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list opportunities. Opinions varied, but a common figure (also essentially a median amount) you told us was $80.
Eighty dollars gets you a decent number of things in golf: a dozen premium balls, a lesson with most PGA professionals, a golf shirt or some caps and gloves, maybe a few fresh grips. It also buys your way on to a vast number of our best golf courses. So using $80 as our ceiling, here is a snapshot of the best-value places in Australia where you can play golf in 2022.
FAIRY DUST (Feature image)
If value were a heavyweight boxer then the Port Fairy course would be Muhammad Ali. The course set flush against Victoria’s south-western coastline has something of a cult following and value is a large part of the reason why. The $49 green fee is definitely part of the appeal, but the quality of the golf course is the primary drawcard. Surely no golfer has ever made the journey there and walked away disappointed with the voyage or unimpressed by what they found. A throwback golf course in so many ways, Port Fairy Golf Club challenges golfers through its exposed location where the wind can blow off your cap, and through a short but enchanting seaside layout. Short by modern standards, the 5,887-metre course punches far harder than its scorecard indicates, blowing many an unsuspecting golfer offline if they cannot manage their game in strong winds. A top-class double act when played before or after the nearby Warrnambool course, Port Fairy is an ornament to the best aspects of playing golf along a volatile coastline.
SPRINGING TO LIFE, MK I (Above)
Parked conveniently between Sydney and Newcastle, The Springs is a bushland course built on sloping terrain where serenity rules. The design is a multi-generational collaboration in a way, with the late Al Howard penning the first 11 holes and Graham Papworth designing the last seven. Armed with one of the quirkier opening holes you’ll find – a snaking, downhill par 5 of 518 metres where a chain of small, hidden ponds funnels along the left side – the whole course is an enjoyable excursion across a beautiful part of Peats Ridge in the Central Coast region between New South Wales’ two largest cities. Bushland views are a constant companion on all holes, while the challenge factor remains high but manageable right across The Springs layout. Visitors pay $50 on weekends and $40 on weekdays, although chances are you will happily part with a few more ‘pesos’ at the on-site Duck Inn bar or Sitting Duck restaurant.
SPRINGING TO LIFE, MK II (Above)
Robert Trent Jones Jnr is known for his love of wild contours, which are evident at most of his Australian designs. Meadow Springs Golf & Country Club, however, was more an exercise in restraint for the prolific American course architect. Which isn’t to suggest the course south of Perth is bland by comparison – far from it. Instead, the layout’s natural features are given centre stage. Combining two distinct nines, Meadow Springs wends its way between stands of centuries-old tuart trees, past and over several expansive lakes and through moderate dunes. The putting surfaces do hold plenty of shape but their subtlety adds to the course’s allure. It’s a don’t-miss course in the area known as the Golf Coast. For $69 on weekends or $49 on weekdays, it represents tremendous value for a layout ranked 84th in Australia.
CURLY CURLEWIS (Above)
The story of Curlewis Golf Club should give hope to any Australian course that feels underappreciated or too hidden from view. It took the layout on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula 48 years and the input of four separate course architects to break into our biennial Top 100 Courses ranking, but once it did in 2018, it confirmed a reputation for excellence and reinforced its place with an eight-spot jump on the most recent list. Blessed with sandy terrain and shapes resembling the Melbourne Sandbelt, Curlewis calls upon its rippling fairways and natural bunkering throughout. Vern Morcom was the original course architect before Kevin Hartley stepped in six years later, in 1976, to augment the course. So far this century, the Curlewis layout has sat under the watchful gaze of Mike Clayton’s design firm, which has realised the site’s considerable potential. Today, Curlewis is a hive of activity with mini golf, a state-of-the-art driving range, X Golf simulators and all-day dining on offer. Green fees are $60 on weekdays, $70 on weekends and public holidays, with cheaper twilight rates available.
READY TO RUN (Above)
Tasmania has several world-class 18-hole layouts and a healthy supply of nine-holers. It’s latest inclusion, however, lands somewhere in between. The 14-hole Bougle Run course opened for play last March and the ‘little sister’ to the Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm courses added extra appeal to golf trips to the ever-popular complex. It’s a really useful addition during summer, mostly because it gives visitors a reason to play more than one course in a day, while also providing incentive for travellers to play on the day of arrival or departure. The brainchild of Bill Coore, who designed the Lost Farm layout, Bougle Run features a dozen par 3s and a pair of par 4s. The first two and last two holes occupy land between Lost Farm’s first tee and ninth fairway, while the remaining 10 holes tumble across a high ridge wedged between the eighth to 11th fairways at Lost Farm. As for why the course is 14 holes, well, that’s just how many fit the land. Green fees at Bougle Run are $80.
FUN IN THE SUN (Above)
Peregian Golf Course and driving range is one of the best golf facilities on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Located just seven minutes north of Coolum and 12 minutes south of Noosa, Peregian is a premium parkland-style course that’s open to the public every day of the week. The layout is challenging to golfers of all abilities and provides a variety of strategic options. Players need to plot their rounds, taking on some of the hazards and steering clear of others. Peregian’s operator, GSM Golf, is particularly proud at present with ambassador Lucas Herbert breaking through to win the recent Bermuda Championship on the PGA Tour, aided by his locally based swing coach Dom Azzopardi. The pair earned accolades this month as Australian Golf Digest’s Male Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, respectively. With green fees of no more than $75,
Peregian is a must-play.
BEND AND STRETCH (Above)
Yarra Bend’s drawing power begins with its handy location – 10 minutes north-east of Melbourne’s CBD – but flows further upon arrival to include not just a terrific public golf course but also driving-range facilities, mini golf, elite coaching facilities and more. Built in 1936, the original course design was heavily influenced by Vern Morcom, who is responsible for many of Australia’s best layouts. More recently, the design team of Ogilvy Cocking Mead has restored the course, which sits among the best public-access golf options in the golf-plentiful city and offers sub-$55 green fees every day. The urban location and views blend perfectly with Yarra Bend’s leafy surroundings in a playing experience that serves as an important reminder of the need for affordable golf options in cities. However, if things didn’t go ideally on the course, take solace in knowing three of Australia’s premier swing coaches – Steve Bann, Dale Lynch and Denis McDade – are based at Yarra Bend.
ANYTHING FOR A LADY (Above)
South Australia’s Links Lady Bay was one of many turn-of-the-millennium layouts to open but was a rare design collaboration between Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and the late John Spencer. Blessed with multiple natural advantages, the course has grown to include a significant but not intruding residential estate plus holiday apartments, a hotel, restaurant, bar and full resort facilities. It’s a terrific place to base yourself for a full-scale assault on the golf courses of the Fleurieu Peninsula. You would start, of course, at Lady Bay, which is still one of the state’s – even the country’s – more underrated layouts. The high-quality design uses the natural shapes of the land astutely. The holes constantly change direction, a trait that becomes more noticeable in a stiff coastal breeze, and the parcel of land hidden from view that comprises holes 13 to 17 offers a compelling contrast to the rest. One piece of advice: play early if you can, because it can be a bear in the wind. Whatever time you play, though, you won’t need to fork out more than $58.
TWO FOR THE SHOW (Above)
Visit at the right time of year and Mollymook Golf Club’s Hilltop course is a veritable array of floral delight, but at any time of year you’ll experience the roller-coaster ride that is the Bill Andriske/Ken Mackay-designed layout. While several holes in the middle of the front nine unfold across a flat portion of land, about 12 holes feature steep ascents or descents plus several sidehill lies. The Hilltop back nine is one of the prettiest and most challenging stretches of holes to be found. The elevation changes – some quite severe – link with the forest and garden-like setting to provide tranquility. Tranquil, though, is hardly the word to describe the greens as there are some brutal contours to conquer after navigating the sloping fairways. The best news is: this challenge never costs visiting golfers more than $79. Meanwhile, the club’s charming nine-hole Beachside course re-opened in late December after a $1 million renovation.
ON THE GROWL
Graham Marsh is responsible for designing a significant number of leading Australian golf courses. One that used to hover under the radar but has emerged from the ‘hidden gem’ category to sit nearer the spotlight is Growling Frog Golf Course. The layout in Melbourne’s north owns a memorable name and 18 holes to match. First, to the name. Environmental sustainability is a focus at Growling Frog, which is a haven for a variety of fauna – including the distinctive growling grass frog from which the course derives its title – and runs on recycled water. As for the golf course, Marsh added character to a mostly open site through smart bunkering and his incorporation of the natural contours into the strategy of the layout. Green fees are $52, but book online and that figure nudges below the important ‘pineapple’ mark.
AHEAD OF THE REST
South-western Sydney is blessed with an abundance of golf courses, many of which would be regarded as nearly equal in calibre. So what sets Cabramatta Golf Club apart? A long-held reputation in the region for pure playing surfaces and a convivial atmosphere in the clubhouse. Meanwhile, the golf course puts up a stern but enjoyable challenge in a setting that is part urban, part bushland. It fits in a compact parcel of land flanked by a pair of busy roads and Cabramatta Creek, which comes into play on several holes and feeds a series of water hazards that are squarely in play, most notably on a pair of par 3s at holes seven and 14. Green fees are never higher than $37, which represents supreme value in a competitive golf market.
ROOM TO MOVE (Above)
Ranfurlie represented a watershed moment in the burgeoning design career of Mike Clayton when it opened in 2001. The former touring professional’s first ‘from scratch’ project became emblematic of the shape his design portfolio would take over time. The layout is open, astutely bunkered and asks golfers to veer away from the centrelines of fairways in order to open up the preferred angles towards the greens, which are generous in size and not contoured to excess. Trees do have a home on the course, but they are afforded distance from the targets as the ground features instead provide the contest. Ranfurlie is a members course, however visitors (preferably in groups of at least eight golfers) are welcome at restricted times on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesday afternoons, Fridays and Sundays. Green fees for groups of eight or more are $63 per player; $79 otherwise.
VIEW TO A THRILL
Previously known as Rosebud Public, Bay Views Golf Course today owns a more appropriate moniker given the vistas the layout affords north across Port Phillip Bay. However, the golf course is more than just a scenic gem. The 18 holes sweep across undulating land, accentuating the ground game across the par-70 layout as you formulate a path to each target. Several tee shots need to fit the contours of the canted fairways, while once that goal has been achieved, the next task becomes funnelling an approach shot near the flag in similar fashion. Bay Views for the golfer who likes a challenge that’s full of guile rather than one where raw power rules. Green fees peak at $45, making it a genuine value proposition on Victoria’s golf-rich Mornington Peninsula.
COASTAL STYLE (Above)
Batemans Bay has a reputation as being ‘Canberra By The Sea’, such is the popularity of the NSW South Coast town among residents of our nation’s capital. Canberra’s golfers know Batemans Bay is also home to a tremendous 27-hole layout at Club Catalina – one with a reputation for being kept in remarkable condition. Catalina’s professional Mal Wilson likes to tell a story of when his longtime friend Rodger Davis contested a PGA Legends Tour event at the club. The 1986 Australian Open champion declared the greens were more consistently true than anything he had encountered during his successful stint on the PGA Tour Champions in America. The distinguishing feature of Catalina’s trio of nines is that none of the three loops is noticeably superior to another. If you can’t tour all 27 holes, no matter which combination of 18 you play, golfers are in for a treat. The 19-27 loop is marginally shorter on the scorecard but that’s about the only discernable difference. And at $50 for 18 holes, you can tackle the full 27 holes and stay neatly under budget.