The original intent was to go even shorter.
The design team at Ogilvy, Cocking and Mead first proposed a 12-hole layout and then 15 for the redevelopment at Sandringham Golf Links adjacent to the regal Royal Melbourne Golf Club. They saw an opportunity to incorporate new elements into a golf facility that would appeal to a broader demographic, yet golf’s 250-year-old convention of a course consisting of 18 holes won out. It is a convention amid golf’s COVID-19-driven popularity boom that is being increasingly brought into question. In addition to the 4,835-metre Sandy Golf Links layout that consists of 11 par 4s and seven par 3s, Barnbougle is preparing to unveil its latest masterpiece, a 14-hole short course with 12 par 3s and two driveable par 4s designed by Bill Coore [see below].
During the past 100 years Australian golf has seen design trends inspired by Alister MacKenzie’s Golden Age visit (1926), foreign investment in resort courses (1980s) and discovery of pure linksland on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula starting with RACV Cape Schanck in 1988. Now downsizing may become all the rage.
“Moving forward, one of the things I hope we see is more understanding of what really makes a golf course interesting and that we start to see some variety in the designs at both public and private level,” says Mike Cocking. “If you look at the broader golfing landscape, especially in Australia, one of the things it lacks is real variety. Too often people are influenced by what is perceived as being a ‘proper’ golf course. What’s happened over the years is that we’ve ended up with a lot of courses within a fairly narrow band.
“We have very few nine-hole courses – certainly very few good ones (the ‘Millionaires Club’ in Frankston being the local exception) – and anytime par slips below 70 or 71 and the course length doesn’t have a ‘6’ in front of it it’s not seen as being a ‘proper’ course. A course predominantly made up of short and medium par 4s and some par 3s is a terrific place to learn the game. Plus, the holes are really interesting for those who want something different or who are at the point where they find the ‘big’ courses too long.”
All told, Sandy Golf Links taps out at 4,835 metres from the men’s tees and plays to a par of 65. The 11 par 4s range in length from 270 to 370 metres while the seven par 3s start at just 135 metres all the way up to 200. It has the potential to join RACV Healesville as the only sub-5,000-metre layout featured in our biennial ranking of the country’s Top 100 Courses and become one of Melbourne’s most popular – and accessible – golf facilities.
“The double green at 5 and 10 will no doubt be a talking point,” adds Cocking, whose design firm’s other gift to Australian golf at Sandy is a St Andrews-style ‘Himalayas’ putting complex.
“It is modelled on the double green at my home course Kingston Heath (eighth and 16). In both instances the holes became better by moving the greens towards one another. They’re both good holes and no doubt at last light when no-one is around will become a popular place have a few extra putts with your mates from one side to the other.
“We always liked the idea that, irrespective of the par, the number of holes or the length, that the intent should be to give the public golfer an experience of Sandbelt golf.”
MARK OF GREATNESS
Two schools of thought emerge when you ask golfers to recount their most fun experiences on a golf course: short courses you can play in a T-shirt with as many mates who want to play and the greatest courses on the planet.
“In a way, a fun course would have no different features from a good course – the two things are far from being incompatible,” suggests course designer and highly respected architecture commentator Mike Clayton. “In fact, you can’t have one without the other.
“The most fun courses are unsurprisingly some of the best courses – the Old Course, Royal Melbourne, National Golf Links of America. They have world-class holes, interesting choices which vary wildly in different conditions. All of the best courses, by definition, are fun to play.”
In addition to the holes laid out before the golfer, course architect Phil Ryan of Pacific Coast Design says course designers play a role in facilitating a fun environment for an enjoyable experience with friends.
“Royal Melbourne has wide fairways, the rough has never been penal and while my score has varied, I have always had fun playing there,” Ryan offers.
“Five years ago I took two Asian clients to Anglesea Golf Club, not only for the quality of the golf course but for the fact that I knew we would see plenty of kangaroos. The joy of the experience led to general fun where the score was largely ignored but the banter increased to the point of us naming our favourite kangaroos after mutual acquaintances and political figures. It was a day to remember.”
Few Australian golf facilities offer a higher fun factor than Barnbougle Dunes on the north-east coastline of Tasmania. That it will soon include a 14-hole short course only enhances that offering.
“I really can’t consider a more fun layout than the two Barnbougle options,” adds course architect and mini-golf mogul Richard Chamberlain, a regular at the nine-hole Boomerang Farm Golf Course in the Gold Coast Hinterland.
“On one trip, we arrived mid-afternoon and didn’t really have time to play a full 18 holes so we grabbed a couple of beers, a putter and a few golf balls. We wandered around the Dunes course and dropped balls around the place, often 60-70 metres off the green, and just messed around with putts. I really think it was the most fun I’ve had on a golf course with a couple of mates.
“They’re pretty clever down there at Bridport and I cannot wait to get down there to try the new shorter Bougle Run layout. It’s exactly what that place needed rather than another 18-hole option. An afternoon on the Bougle Run with a Boags in hand sounds like a pretty cool afternoon.”
Former Australian Golf Digest architecture editor Darius Oliver has been a key driver behind two recent projects that represent fun, yet in very different ways. His Cape Wickham co-design with Mike DeVries can be simultaneously brutal and beguiling while The Farm – a nine-hole par-3 course at the exclusive Hills Golf Club near Queenstown in New Zealand – has been described as a “choose-your-own-adventure”-style golf course with an endless array of shot options for all levels of golfer. Both designs were, first and foremost, driven by the concept of fun.
“Fun means different things to different people,” Oliver says. “To me, it’s the essence of our game and the sole reason I ever want to return to play a golf course again. And for me, the only holes I find fun are those where there are choices and different methods of attack. I generally walk off such holes either promising to never play them that way again, or to repeat the exact same method I just successfully used.
“Selfishly, my most enjoyable golf was at The Farm. I played it three times one night, starting with four clubs, then two and a final loop with just a 6-iron – which was my best round!”
One of the most iconic and successful short courses in Australian golf from the past 25 years has been the Terrey Hills Par 3 Golf Course on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, designed by Graham Papworth of GNP Golf Design. Papworth’s most recent project is the community-led Maleny Golf Club on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast that packs a whole lotta fun into the 5,060-metre, par-68 layout. He believes it is beholden on the future developers of golf courses to make fun a factor.
“Clients looking to create a top-end facility need to embrace the fun factor, because that is really what keeps players of all standards returning for their next game and in turn makes the course a financial success,” Papworth says.
“Terrey Hills is a lot of fun to play, takes less than two hours for 18 holes and is lit for night play. As a result, it has remained an extremely popular and successful golf venue since its inception in the mid-1990s. While the game needs to cater for all types of play, fun golf courses are where most first-time and novice players are likely to be introduced to the game. That then forms the basis from which these players develop a love for it.”
And as we know, fun-lovin’ golfers are golfers for life.
Top Picks For Fun
Our list of the Australian golf courses offering the most fun, plus some less-heralded fun ones. By The Editors
Links Hope Island
The most iconic shot at Links Hope Island is without doubt the long water carry at the par-3 17th. While some may revel in that challenge, the most fun shot you can play at the Gold Coast classic is the creative option presented with each missed green. Leave the lob wedge in the bag because it may require deft touch with a hybrid, long iron or even the putter. Choice is always fun.
Whaleback Golf Course
Just 20 minutes from the Perth CBD, Whaleback’s newest drawcard is the installation of the Toptracer Range. Perfect for the avid golfer who wants to track their shots and monitor their improvement, Toptracer also allows social golfers to engage in competitive games, play on virtual world-class courses and get a taste of the TopGolf experience.
Maroochy River Golf Club
Fun is on offer both day and night at Maroochy River Golf Club on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. If you’re a genuine golfer and can’t find the thrill in getting club selection and execution spot on at the 130-metre, par-3 fourth hole, then fun is not your forte. If you’re new to the game, play every Saturday or still require parental supervision, Maroochy River Mini Golf has something for everyone, including the option to play under lights on a warm summer night.
Victor Harbor Golf Club
There’s a moment – when the ball reaches the apex of its climb – that you wonder whether the tee shot you have launched from an elevated position is ever going to come down again. The first hole at Victor Harbor on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula boasts a tee that sits 30 metres above the fairway and comes complete with views of the Southern Ocean. In terms of a fun way to start a round of golf it doesn’t get much better and is no doubt a prominent reason why it was chosen as the opening hole in the Sunday Mail’s South Australia Best 18 and included in Australian Golf Digest’s Iconic Holes Hall of Fame. The first is not the only high point at Victor Harbor, the mob of kangaroos that frequent the area around the par-3 seventh and par-4 eighth holes adding to the experience.
Monash Country Club
Ask members of Monash Country Club in Sydney’s northern suburbs and they will tell you that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing. A Group 1 Sydney course that blends views of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park with those of the Pacific Ocean, Monash is a piece of pure golf paradise with lightning-fast greens, immaculate playing surfaces and an over-riding sense that you are somewhere very special. It is the club of choice for a number of sporting identities, yet has a reputation for producing outstanding golfers such as current PGA Tour player Cameron Davis. It is a course that poses questions rather than demanding answers; it offers a reward depending on the risk you’re prepared to take. With recent course upgrades overseen by first Bob Harrison and more recently James Wilcher, it is a course that is constantly improving. Which is why members can’t get enough of it.
Wembley Golf Course
Wembley could just be the most family-friendly golf facility in the country. Open to the public from 5:15am until 8pm at night, Wembley truly has something for everyone. The 80-bay automated driving range is part of the only PGA Learning and Performance Centre in Western Australia, PGA Tour of Australasia winners Brett Rumford and Michael Long form part of the 14-strong teaching personnel, there is 36 holes of golf suitable for all abilities and an 18-hole mini-golf course that was the first of its kind in WA. It’s a good-time guarantee.
Rich River Golf Club
Well-established as one of the jewels of the Murray River golf offering, Rich River Golf Club has expanded its facility in recent years to become a true golfer’s paradise. In addition to the classic East and West golf courses, Rich River also now has a 17-bay driving range and practice areas, a new state-of-the-art mini-golf course and a brand new golf simulator. And once you’re done, relax in the newly renovated clubhouse before retiring to one of 63 adjacent apartments.
Noosa Springs Golf & Spa Resort
Set amid the holiday hotspot on the Sunshine Coast, Noosa Springs has everything you could want from golf during a getaway. Luxury golf carts, five-star service and a golf course that offers shots that – if executed well – you won’t soon forget. Water is a prominent feature but the highlight of the Noosa Springs golf experience may just be the firm and pure putting surfaces. And if you need a day off from golf, the award-winning Noosa Springs Day Spa boasts a unique HydroMassage and flotation pool, infrared sauna, blitz shower, thermal capsule and outdoor couple’s spa.
Kalgoorlie Golf Course
Fun often comes from trying something for the first time and every golfer in Australia should at some point in their lives take a swing at desert golf. Where Alice Springs was once the standard bearer for desert golf, the Graham Marsh-designed Kalgoorlie Golf Course has now assumed the mantle. Home to the WA PGA Championship, Kalgoorlie boasts exceptional playing surfaces contrasted by the distinctive red dirt of the Aussie outback. And if you briefly stray from the green stuff, discovering how the desert dust affects a pitch shot is a form of fun found at very few golf facilities.
Moruya Golf Club
Moruya itself is famous for the granite quarried in the region to build the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but the local golf club’s claim to fame is its double green with a difference. A picturesque parkland layout on the New South Wales South Coast, Moruya Golf Club is one of six clubs to host a NSW Open qualifier ahead of the 2021 staging at Concord, and those who visit take great delight in playing to the green shared by the ninth and 18th holes. Unlike most double greens that converge from opposite angles, Moruya’s ninth and 18th holes run parallel to each other, the approach shot for both divided by only a central pot bunker that fronts the green. Easily accessible just off the South Coast Highway, the welcoming atmosphere continues inside the clubhouse where locals and tourists alike can dine at the aptly named Double Green restaurant.
Bonville Golf Resort
Waking up within a wedge of the first tee is one of golf’s greatest pleasures; waking up at arguably Australia’s most beautiful golf resort takes that to a whole new level. Bonville Golf Resort, just south of Coffs Harbour, has long been a favourite of travelling golfers, its mix of stunning scenery, spectacular golf course, award-winning culinary offering and mouth-watering wine cellar a lure that brings many back year after year. Given that in-house guests receive the royal treatment from arrival to departure and can play any day of the week, it is little wonder Bonville is among Australia’s favourite golf resorts.
Cypress Lakes Golf & Country Club
The order in which they are played has changed a number of times over the years, but there are shots at Cypress Lakes in New South Wales’ historic Hunter Valley that never leave you. Hit over the vineyards the region is famous for at the par-4 second; position your tee shot for the precise approach shot needed at the par-4 eighth; trust your judgement to hit the wide yet shallow green at the par-3 11th; take on the water carry from the tee at the par-5 14th and choose the high side or low side of the split fairway at the par-4 17th. It’s a course you can’t play just once, which is what makes it so fun to play.
Bondi Golf & Diggers Club
Given golf’s popularity boom during the pandemic, there may not be a more spectacular location for a social round than the Bondi Golf & Diggers Club. With iconic Bondi Beach to the south and a sheer cliff face to the right, three tees sit alongside the edge of the continent for the ultimate swing with a thrill. Such is Bondi’s appeal that acclaimed course architect Tom Doak listed it as one of the seven ‘Best Bargains’ in his latest edition of The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. Snag a table at Bondi Icebergs Club for lunch and you’ve got a day to savour.
Ever taken a plane to golf? Boarding at Moruya River, the Seaplane Golf and Gourmet Experience operated by Classic Capital Golf Tours takes you down the NSW South Coast before landing at Club Tuross where you can enjoy one of the most scenic nine-hole courses in the country. The hillside location provides panoramic coastal views and if you are enjoying your round too much to leave, there are two sets of tees to create a complete 18-hole layout. Whether part of a South Coast getaway or a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Club Tuross is a destination all golfers will revel in, however they get there.
The Vintage Golf Club
A pleasurable golf experience need not be confined to what happens on-course and few facilities combine quality golf with a taste of luxury quite like The Vintage Golf Club. From the design team of Greg Norman and Bob Harrison, The Vintage has been a perennial top-50 resident within our Top 100 Courses ranking, registering its best score for Conditioning in the 2020 ranking. Off-course is also of the highest standard, Chateau Elan’s accommodation and 17 treatment rooms at the Hunter Valley Day Spa providing a host of reasons to start planning a weekend away.
Woollahra Golf Club
Location, location, location. Real estate’s mantra also has a role to play in golf gratification and Woollahra Golf Club boasts one of the most envious locales for Sydney golfers. Sitting adjacent to Royal Sydney Golf Club, Woollahra has been a long-time favourite of beginners and social players, its nine-hole par-34 layout offering a challenge without being unnecessarily punishing to newcomers. The seven par 4s stretch to a maximum of 357 metres and with Sydney Harbour as its backdrop and proximity to the CBD, there’s little wonder its popularity is soaring. And all for less than $30.
TASSIE FUN RUN: Could this newcomer be the most fun of all?
Almost regardless of your personal definition of what constitutes ‘fun’ when it comes to golf courses, the Australian layout exuding the most fun might be one that no golfer has even played. Why? It’s not open yet. But it soon will be.
Opening in January 2021 is the latest addition at Barnbougle: a 14-hole short course to be known as Bougle Run. Designed by Bill Coore, the American architect behind Barnbougle’s Lost Farm course, the 14 holes comprise 12 par 3s of assorted distances and a pair of par 4s. The first two and last two holes sit on a slender tract of land between Lost Farm’s practice-range tee, first tee and ninth fairway, while the middle 10 holes flow across the top of a ridge above the eighth and 11th fairways at Lost Farm. Those 10 holes occupy the highest parts of the property and yield some of the most impressive views of the northern Tasmanian coastline offered by any of the complex’s now 52 holes.
What will make Bougle Run so fun is not just the truncated nature of many holes, nor the strategy behind the shot options or the voluptuous green complexes, but the more relaxed approach to playing them. Group sizes will be as large as you’d like to make them. There will be no hole indexes, so anyone wishing to make the sojourn a competitive affair will need to negotiate strokes among themselves. And the variety in tee options on offer will ensure there are fun shots for every golfer – even first-timers.
While the first two and last two holes are quite docile, it is far from being a pitch-and-putt layout. Most of the par 3s will still require stout mid to short-iron shots, depending on the tee you choose (the hierarchy of tees will match those of the two main courses), while the two par 4s will challenge perpetually. Listed as the fourth and eighth holes, the two-shotters run in opposite directions, ensuring at least one will always be driveable. The fourth, however, will be the one played into the prevailing wind most often. Forward tees are available, but the rear tee there asks players to fire a drive from an elevated tee across the same sandy waste bunker and scrub that sits to the right of the eighth green at Lost Farm. Drives that successfully traverse that expanse will then need to dodge a nest of fairway and greenside bunkers that, if challenged, will bring the green into play on the tee shot. A more reserved, two-shot strategy is available by aiming farther left, but even that will still present a daunting play into a strong breeze from all but the forward-most tee.
At the fourth and throughout the 14 greens are banks and swales, tilts and tiers to help golfers use the terrain to funnel balls towards the hole, all aboard one of the best slices of dunesland at Barnbougle.
The Bougle Run course will make for an ideal entrée round on the day travellers arrive or a farewell game on the day of departure. Another option will be to play it as the second round of the day, perhaps carrying just a handful of clubs and a six-pack of your chosen beverage. Sounds like the very definition of fun to us. – Steve Keipert