SPOILER ALERT! Royal Melbourne West is not the No.1 golf course in Australia. 

*Triple-checks notes* 

No, that’s definitely not a typo. It’s a tantalising teaser to the tightest, most controversial finish ever in our 38-year-old ranking of the nation’s finest layouts [see Australia’s Top 100 Golf Courses for 2024/25].

After two years of our 277-strong panel of judges evaluating 809 courses and lodging a whopping 7,026 scores via our secure online portal, just 0.22 of a point – yes, POINT-TWO-TWO OF A POINT! – separated numero uno from second best. 

Adding a further twist to the latest ranking is the course that claimed top billing could be yours should you have a spare $30 million to part with, according to industry sources.

And if that news hasn’t already knocked you over, consider this: the country’s new No.1 course has just three full-time greens staff looking after it, all the while confusion still reigns over who actually designed it. How is this even possible, one might ask? Well, ask we did [see page 116], getting the man who paid the bills – developer Duncan Andrews – to set the record straight on one of the most bizarre controversies to hit Australian golf. It’s a fascinating interview that sheds light on the roles of co-designers Darius Oliver and Mike DeVries, both of whom should be atrributed most of the credit, depending on who you ask.

Welcome to Cape Wickham Links, the most isolated No.1 course on the planet, fully equipped with a reinforced marquee as its clubhouse to fend off those blustery Bass Strait breezes. Hugging the northern tip of Tasmania’s King Island, here you’ll find spectacular drama at every turn, on and off the course.

It’s just the second time since our ranking’s inception in 1986 that Royal Melbourne West has been relegated from No.1. Contentious? You bet. (We can picture Alister MacKenzie fans spitting out their morning brew while reading this.)

Warranted? According to our panel, absolutely. After all, since its opening in 2015, this is a course that has been in the conversation alongside America’s Sand Hills as the premier modern course in the world, despite not topping any Australian list. 

The global renaissance of minimalist architecture, combined with peoples’ thirst for playing golf where land meets sea, has led to a wave of positive reviews for Cape Wickham from prominent figures in the game.

“Cape Wickham is not only the best public course I played this year, but maybe the best course I’ve ever played, public or private. Absolutely epic, and it now stands as one of the game’s ultimate pilgrimages,” says renowned American golf writer and author Alan Shipnuck.

Cape Wickham, for me, represents one of the two greatest feats in Australian golf-course architecture. How on earth they even contemplated building a course in such a remote pocket of the world, taking in all the logistical restrictions and minimal resources on offer, is tantamount to insanity or genius – I can’t work out which. The other, for the record, is Kingston Heath. That small, flat piece of property has no right showcasing another No.1 contender, yet its incredible routing and world-class bunkering has made it a firm favourite among architecture buffs and tour pros. That’s not to say either could trump the Royal Melbourne Composite course we see on our TV screens when big tournaments come to town. At its very best, that compilation of holes may well be the closest thing we see to perfection in this game. Alas, we don’t rank the Composite course, not anymore, and while there’s a small window of weakness on the West – albeit very, very small (we hear they’re about to upgrade their irrigation system) – like anything, it’s there if you look hard enough. 

Cape Wickham, on this occasion, has pounced, and our panel ought to be congratulated for their conviction to not go with the flow. Sometimes, it can be all too easy to just tag along with the historical consensus and allure of a course when you enter its gates. The greater question, of course, is: what’s the point of publishing a ranking if, every time you do it, the genuine interest only begins from No.2 down? 

Designers of today are far better equipped to make a better fist of things, provided the land they’ve been gifted is great. There’s simply no excuse not to see significant movement in the upper echelon of course rankings. The Cape Wickham property is otherworldly, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see the numbers fall the way they have, even if it is by the barest of margins.

With all that said, rankings remain a very subjective matter. I’d happily play both Royal Melbourne West and Cape Wickham for the rest of time. US Golf Digest editor-in-chief Jerry Tarde once penned “minimal to no forced carries is a good architectural quality when playing the rest of your life”. I couldn’t agree more. There’s a truism that golf gets more interesting the longer the ball spends on the ground. That’s what Australia’s greatest courses do best. In the true spirit of St Andrews, they make you play the game how it’s meant to be played. It’s why Royal Melbourne folk needn’t be despondent with this result. In fact, they should all band together, raise a glass of their finest and celebrate it as much as those on King Island no doubt will, for this is a win for golf Down Under – a win for all.

No longer should we just wheel out the Golden Age classics on the Melbourne Sandbelt when it’s time to impress the golf world. As hard to believe as it may be, we’ve got so much more to offer. 


READ THE TOP 100 ISSUE IN FULL HERE: https://www.australiangolfdigest.com.au/latest-issue/


If you had only one Australian golf course to play for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?

Mike Clayton: Royal Melbourne West – because it’s the best course and it’s the most fun.

Harley Kruse: Royal Melbourne West. Brilliant architecture and golfing ground along with the sandy heath of rare flora. Not only that, with small restorative improvements this course keeps getting better.

Ross Perrett: Royal Melbourne, because its terrain is suitable for older people and the greens are always challenging.

Mike Cocking: Probably Kingston Heath. I’m a member there and have consulted to the club for 15 years, so it holds a special place for me. Plus, nothing is quite as nice as playing a few holes in the golden hour in summer.

James Wilcher: Taking weather out of the equation, it might be Kingston Heath. It’s just hard to fault – including the clubhouse. Of course, I say this without knowing what the day-to-day camaraderie is among the membership, particularly after golf.

Phil Ryan: I am a member at Keysborough Golf Club in Melbourne. It is close to home, a great golf course, good members and fun to play. Why? Because I value my friendship and general enjoyment of the golf course over any need to play a particular golf hole or course.

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If you could choose, where would you want to play your last round of golf?

Mike Clayton: 7 Mile Beach.

Harley Kruse: If it was in Australia, it would be Royal Melbourne’s West course. But I’d make my way to the deep origins of golf, the Old Course. The “original blueprint”, as Peter Thomson would call it. If I could take some  detours on the way to St Andrews, I would take in Cypress Point and Royal County Down.

Ben Davey: Royal County Down. I’ve never been to Ireland so that would be top of my list. Perhaps Augusta too, because I’ve never played there either.

Mike Cocking: Augusta National.

Ross Perrett: The Old Course at St Andrews, because it plays differently every day and is an easy walk.

Scott Champion: Machrihanish was my introduction to proper links golf, and it seems fitting that it would finish there too. No fanfare, just pure inspiring land for golf.

James Wilcher: My last game of golf would be at Pymble, not for obvious reasons [Wilcher was the architect of the recent renovations at Pymble] but because there’s no better after-game environment in the country. 

Phil Ryan: Gardiners Run Golf Course on the outskirts of Melbourne. Fellow PCD golf architect Paul Reeves and myself are life members at the club and my will reflects a desire for my ashes to be spread in front of the tee at hole five – my favourite – a short, downhill par 4 where the average golfer who has a great drive can reach the green. I have spent all my working life on golf courses; why not spend the rest of eternity on one of my favourites?

 Feature image by nick wall