When the world is allowed to travel again, these are the six Australian destinations at the top of our list.
I couldn’t tell you every golf course I’ve played in my life, but I’ve got a hundred stories from every golf trip I’ve ever been on.
From almost crashing carts into the lake fronting the old first tee at Cypress Lakes, watching a fellow tourist almost kill someone standing on the sixth tee at Barnbougle and finding late-night sanctuary in the clubhouse of the King Island Sports Club during a wicked squall, golf trips engender moments to remember. Sometimes what happens on the course is memorable too.
Every golf trip is imbued with an element of excitement that builds from the instant a destination is discussed, peaks when the touring party assembles and continues all the way through until someone suggests the next golf course exploration.
The outbreak of COVID-19 – a.k.a. the coronavirus – forced the cancellation and postponement of dream golf getaways for many across the planet, as social media became flooded with photos from escapades of past escapes.
There’s a Mornington Peninsula trip I’m hoping will go ahead in late October – working title of Morning-ton Glory 2020 – but when the flight bans on our 5-irons will be lifted remains to be seen. Until then, all we can do is start planning the next one. To help get you started, these are six Aussie gems that should sit somewhere near the top of your list.
NSW South Coast
Few can rival the breadth of golf course knowledge that Brad Burns has accrued since the start of 2017. The three-time reigning Ladbrokes Legends Tour Order of Merit winner, Burns has played 220 tournaments throughout Australia during the past three years and enjoyed considerable success on the New South Wales South Coast.
Winner of the Bermagui Legends Pro-Am on March 17 before the season was suspended, Burns has also logged wins at Club Catalina (twice) and Worrigee and says that the collection of courses combined with the spectacular coastal setting make it a favourite stop of his every year.
“The scenery along the coastline is magnificent. You drive through Nowra all the way down to Bermagui and Tura Beach, the water is so clear and a lot of the courses have spectacular views,” Burns says.
“There are plenty of really good golf courses down there. My favourite is Mollymook closely followed by Club Catalina. That’s a great course. Old-style course, treelined, so you’ve got to drive it well around there, and the greens are always in good nick. They do a fantastic job for what they have there.
“I’ve never been to Augusta but you play Mollymook and with the way it’s set up you think, It couldn’t be much different to this.
“We played at Gerringong last year and that’s a real sleeper right along the beach. That’s a little gem. Another one that gets very affected by the wind is Worrigee, right on the ocean. It blew about 80 kilometres [per hour] when we played there. They were just about to call it off but it’s fantastic. We had 460-metre par 5s that we were hitting wedge into and then turn around back into the wind and we’re hitting 4-iron into a 320-metre par 4.
“St George’s Basin is one of the friendliest clubs I’ve ever played at and has a number of very cool holes that play around the lake in the centre of the course.
“When we played Bermagui in March, it played a bit different because they’d had a bit of rain down there so it played longer but you couldn’t wish for any better greens. It’s a really interesting golf course.”
Sitting highest of the South Coast contingent in our most-recent ranking of Australia’s Top 100 Courses is 82nd-ranked Narooma, a course most famous for its par 3 that requires a carry across waves crashing into the rocky face of coastline below. While undoubtedly spectacular, a better hole than the 141-metre third might actually be the one that precedes it, a sweeping par 4 with the ocean at its left that challenges the tee shot to hug the coastline as tightly as possible for a more palatable approach into a green that provides a different slant on the term ‘free drop’.
“If you stumbled upon this delightful country course while driving along the Princes Highway, you would be quite chuffed,” Tom Doak wrote of Narooma in his most recent release of The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.
Like Narooma, Mollymook’s two nines are distinctly different and have been regularly switched back and forth in the course’s 43-year history. The front nine plays down to the flattest part of the property before returning to the clubhouse, the back nine boasting the most interesting and visually appealing holes, starting with the downhill par-4 10th. There are twists and turns from that point onward, the picturesque par 3s at 12 and 17 offering a scenic respite with a bite all of their own.
Like the town itself, Mollymook’s charm comes from its relaxed and laidback nature, the nine-hole Beach course and accompanying clubhouse the perfect place for a cheeky game when time may be tight.
Mollymook has maintained its standing as a sleepy sanctuary while bringing in elements of luxury, no better encapsulated than by Bannister’s By The Sea and Pavilion properties. Not only does Bannister’s offer a range of high-end accommodation – including Rick’s Place beach house and penthouses styled by Aussie fashion icon Collette Dinnigan – but you can indulge in sumptuous seafood at world-renowned Rick Stein’s at Bannisters, experience Australian-Mediterranean fusion at Rooftop Bar and Grill or experience one of the many treatment packages at Day Spa at Bannisters.
The double-green shared by the ninth and 18th holes is a feature of any round at Moruya Golf Club, while Shoalhaven Heads boasts three par-4s measuring less than 290 metres and at $35 may be the best value golf on the coast. Down on the Sapphire Coast, in addition to Narooma, Bermagui, Eden Gardens and the 27-hole Pambula-Merimbula facility, you have two layouts in particular that carry the legacy of some of Australian golf’s most revered figures.
Peter Thomson designed Tura Beach in partnership with Mike Wolveridge – who passed away in February – while the 12-hole Tathra Beach Country Club was laid out by the hands of 1960 Open champion Kel Nagle.
Given the devastating summer bushfires and toll that the coronavirus has taken on inbound visitor traffic, a future South Coast golf trip is not only good for the golf but also good for the soul.
‘Destination golf.’ The origins of the phrase are unclear but the definition a simple one. A term that became popularised with the opening of Bandon Dunes near Bandon in Oregon on the north-west American coastline in 1999, ‘destination golf’ describes a remote location with little other reason to visit than the golf you can play.
To work, the golf has to go beyond good and towards greatness, the concept transforming Tasmania into a bucket-list destination for Australian and international visitors alike.
Just as he drove the development of Bandon Dunes, Mike Keiser was an influential figure who guided Tasmanian potato farmer Richard Sattler and suggested his piece of property near Bridport on the state’s northern coast could not only house a quality golf course but be good enough to entice golfers by their thousands.
Such was the success of the Tom Doak/Mike Clayton-designed Barnbougle Dunes that a second course was built six years later by the highly acclaimed Bill Coore, with Lost Farm opening to rave reviews in 2010. Construction of a third layout – a short course – was interrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, but will make an already compelling case for regular Barnbougle excursions even more convincing.
The success of Barnbougle gave rise to two even more ambitious projects on King Island, a rock of slightly more people than square kilometres (1,585 locals living on 1,098 square kilometres). The opening of Cape Wickham Golf Links in 2015 and Ocean Dunes a year later instantly created a golf tourism industry that didn’t previously exist, their addition giving Tasmania four of the country’s top 15 golf experiences and two of the top four.
Ratho Golf Farm’s roots to Scottish immigrants in the 1830s provides a link back to the game’s origins while member courses such as Royal Hobart, Tasmania Golf Club, Kingston Beach, Claremont, Launceston Golf Club, Devonport and Ulverstone all offer worthy options for inclusion on any itinerary.
All told there are 65 golf courses located throughout Tasmania so any time you are on the Apple Isle, a game of golf is never too far away.
If the NSW South Coast’s disastrous summer tourist season was brought on by the bushfires, the cancellation of flight services brought on by COVID-19 effectively meant the Gold Coast’s annual winter migration would be a wipeout.
The original titan of Aussie golf escapes, the Gold Coast maintains its status as one of the country’s most popular destinations with its mix of high-class golf, a climate that makes shorts and polo shirts a year-round fashion trend and off-course attractions to satisfy any age or taste.
Ever since Whitney Houston and Frank Sinatra came to Australia to herald the opening of the Arnold Palmer-designed Pines course at Sanctuary Cove, star power has gone hand-in-hand with Gold Coast golf.
“Where Tom Hanks Got It” may be the latest GC claim to fame, but from Kelly Slater playing ‘Cooly’ and Casey Stoner fanging it around Arundel Hills, the Gold Coast has long been famous for golf.
Stories abound of Greg Norman driving into the bamboo right of the green at the famed 18th hole at Palm Meadows in 1988, while two years after dusting Fred Couples in the Bicentennial Classic, Rodger Davis claimed a second big US scalp when he defeated defending champion and two-time US Open winner Curtis Strange in a playoff for the 1990 Palm Meadows Cup.
Lakelands Golf Club remains just one of two Jack Nicklaus Signature designs within Australia, Links Hope Island represents some of the best work of the Thomson Wolveridge Perrett team and the ultra-exclusive Grand Golf Club designed by Norman and Bob Harrison abounds with famous members, such as motorcycle world champion Mick Doohan, rugby league legend Paul Vautin, hairdressing icon Stefan and billionaire hotelier Bruce Mathieson.
Topgolf introduced a new element of golf and entertainment to the Gold Coast offering and the dining and nightlife continue to evolve into a standard befitting Australia’s sixth-largest city.
If your last golf trip to the GC consists of little more than foggy memories of late nights with mates, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what a more refined Gold Coast now offers to the discerning traveller.
The mixed format of the ISPS Handa Vic Open has not only shone the spotlight on the opportunities such a concept offers in future, but also the high-quality golf courses found throughout the Bellarine Peninsula.
Less than 90 minutes from the centre of Melbourne and just half an hour from Geelong, the Bellarine’s most prominent golf courses are found at Barwon Heads, the 36-hole Thirteenth Beach Golf Links and the timeless classic that is Barwon Heads Golf Club situated virtually side by side.
The wind that whips across all three courses provides for a different experience each time you play there, the shot-making of Min Woo Lee in ferocious gusts a feature of his breakthrough win at Thirteenth Beach in February.
Like so many of the game’s great layouts, it is the shorter holes that elevate the Beach course to a ranking of 32nd in the country, the 104-metre, par-3 16th rivalling the 112-metre seventh at Barnbougle Dunes for fear factor.
Less impacted by the prevailing winds, the Creek course was designed by Nick Faldo in partnership with Tony Cashmore and asks for careful consideration of placement from the tee in order to access pins that can be tucked behind dunes or placed precariously above challenging drop-off areas.
A club that upholds the traditions of the game, Barwon Heads will seduce you with its combination of curves and beguiling charm. Each hole has a unique character all of its own and, in truth, would probably not be built the same way today. But that is exactly what makes it so wonderful. When weather can dictate so greatly the success or otherwise of a golf trip, Barwon Heads is a course that is fun in absolutely any conditions.
With terrain that embodies much of what makes the Sandbelt so great, Curlewis continues to climb in the esteem of astute judges, rising to 69th in our most recent ranking of the nation’s best. The ongoing influence of Mike Clayton is telling and combined with the progressive approach of its owners David and Lyndsay Sharpe make Curlewis a golf experience with something for every member of the touring party.
The back nine at The Sands Torquay has an array of holes that will get the nerves jangling, RACV Torquay is a relatively short layout with some tantalising approach shots, while Portarlington and Queenscliff are member layouts with their own appeal.
If time permits, tack on a few days and take a drive further down the Ocean Road all the way to the Shipwreck Coast where Warrnambool and the sublime Port Fairy courses are always eager to welcome visitors.
Golf courses are common landmarks as the Murray River snakes its way 2,508 kilometres along the New South Wales-Victorian border and into South Australia.
Starting with the Albury and Howlong golf clubs in the east, there are 27 holes at Corowa, 36 at Cobram-Barooga, Tocumwal and Rich River and 45 at Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort. The latter consists of the Murray course that abuts the famous river, the Lakes course and the nine-hole Executive course.
Just 11 minutes from the Murray’s largest golf facility is its newest, Black Bull Golf Club that sits on the banks of Lake Mulwala and has come to prominence for two primary reasons. As the final of Peter Thomson’s decorated career in golf course design, it will forever remain an important milestone in Australian golf. It has struck a chord with golfers too, not only for its design but also the three-hole ‘Bull Ring’ that constitutes the fourth, fifth and sixth holes and the full-size statue of Charlie the bull that guards its entrance. It’s a ‘selfie spot’ few visitors can resist.
Five years since the course’s completion, there will soon be a luxurious reason to put Black Bull on your itinerary with the $48 million Sebel Yarrawonga expected to open shortly after the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 are lifted.
Further down the mighty river you will find regional layouts such as Cohuna and Barham, and any Murray River marathon wouldn’t be complete without playing Murray Downs Golf and Country Club, the Ted Parslow design maintaining a place within the Top 100 ever since its debut in the rankings in 1996.
Unlike many golf trips, the extraordinary collection of Murray River courses also offers the opportunity to incorporate a road trip among the golf, an aspect that becomes all the more enticing if there’s someone willing to serve as bus driver for the week.
Out of sight, out of mind. If there’s one thing holding Perth back from becoming one of the nation’s most treasured golf destinations it is distance, because – with the exception of Melbourne – the quality of courses is enough to rival any metropolitan centre.
The West Australian capital can seem a world away for those located along the eastern seaboard yet it is a discovery more should make the effort to make. Led by Lake Karrinyup Country Club, the former host of the World Super 6 Perth tournament, Perth and its surrounds boast no fewer than 10 courses currently residing within the Top 100 Courses ranking, with others such as Sun City and Kalgoorlie offering contrasting experiences in relatively close proximity to the state capital.
Now based in Melbourne after spending much of his career in the United States, Nick O’Hern is a Perth boy born and bred and says that from high-profile layouts to beautifully manicured member courses, visiting golfers are spoilt for choice.
“The toughest part about playing golf around Perth is figuring out which courses to play because there are so many hidden gems,” O’Hern said.
“Several holes on the Quarry nine at Joondalup will take your breath away as you think, I have to hit my ball over that? The Lake and Dune nines are just as breathtaking but for different reasons, as their names imply.
“A distinct feature of both Joondalup and The Vines Resort are their huge undulating greens, so a creative imagination and silky touch are required.
“If you’re up for a bit of a drive then you’ll definitely want to head south 45 minutes where you’ll find four beauties in Secret Harbour, Meadow Springs, Links Kennedy Bay and The Cut.
“To my mind, Perth has a collection of public courses that are hard to beat anywhere in terms of variety, quality
Where we’re going next…
We asked an eclectic array of people associated with Australian Golf Digest to nominate where they want to play golf in Australia first when travel restrictions are lifted.
Steve Keipert, Associate Editor
“Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula. For two reasons: firstly because it’s been a good seven-plus years since I toured the area properly, and secondly because I had a trip there scheduled for late March that was scuttled amid coronavirus concerns. Normality – whatever that really is nowadays – will only feel truly normal when that trip can return to my calendar.”
Annabel Rolley, Columnist
“In light of recent circumstances and the fact I have two young children, I would love to take my husband to my favourite courses in the country: Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and Victoria Golf Club. It would be special to show him around three courses I love and also know very well.”
Nathan Green, PGA Tour winner
“I’d probably have to say Peninsula-Kingswood. We were meant to be down there in April for a week of golf on the Sandbelt, so hopefully we can get that trip back up and running.”
Ewan Porter, two-time Nationwide Tour winner
“I planned on heading up to Port Douglas for a few days before the lockdown so that would be my choice. I haven’t been to that area since 2003 and in addition to having a couple of terrific golf courses, it’s such a laid-back vibe and you can’t help but switch off and enjoy your surroundings.”
Paul Gow, former PGA Tour player
“I’d love to go back to King Island as they are amazing courses and it’s a wonderful experience. Adelaide and the golf courses there are the best-kept secrets in Australia. Kooyonga, Royal Adelaide, Glenelg and more, they’re all sensational.”
Ryan Harris, former Test cricketer
“I went to Pinehurst a few years ago and would go back there in a heartbeat, but within Australia it’s pretty hard to go past Barnbougle Dunes.”
Ben Ikin, Host of NRL 360
“Barnbougle Dunes. It’s always Barnbougle. It’s my favourite place on the planet… outside of the home that I share with my beautiful family, of course.”
Evin Priest, PGA Tour Editor
“I’d love to see Adelaide and do the Four Reds tour. I must be the only golf writer in Australia who hasn’t done it. I’ve always wanted to play Royal Adelaide and I’m itching to see Tom Doak’s tweaks to it. And then hit the wineries.”
Stacey Peters, two-time Ladies European Tour winner
“Absolutely no question a trip to Barnbougle Dunes with my husband as we had to cancel! We will do it ASAP!”