The order of Australian Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses are a common debate amongst the lads on tour … well maybe not the Top 100 but definitely the top 10. And just like the debates happening at clubhouse bars, no decision is ever unanimous because everyone has different tastes.
For me, personally, ranking a golf course is a lot about the aesthetic appeal, or the ‘vista effect’. This is important because I love nothing more than arriving on a tee and looking down the hole and having something take my breath away, whether it’s a spectacular coastline or an incredible view of the natural surroundings. A great example of this is playing at Barnbougle Dunes [above] – on the northeast tip of Tasmania – and staring out into Bass Straight.
However, stunning views can also be achieved through man-made practices. For me, a checkered, lush green fairway has that effect, as does a demanding tee shot over water. A thick, pinetree-lined course or a tee shot between two bunkers can also get my golf juices flowing. Even the superb conditioning of a course from tee to green gets me excited.
Socially, I love playing courses with such incredible scenery. These are the type of layouts that inspire me and make me want to play, again and again.
In tournament golf, however, the rules change somewhat. On occasions we play beautiful courses and those are the weeks that all tour pros look forward to. Courses that have that awe-factor inspire us all and it’s pretty easy to leave home for a week when you’re heading to a such a venue.
When it comes to making money in a tournament week, we all have different views on what we like best. The truth is it depends on what your strengths are as a golfer – the bombers love wide-open spaces that allow their driver to barely leave their hands all week and serve up short wedge shots to every green, while the ball strikers favour tight courses that shape both directions and boast small green complexes, allowing their precision to move them up the leaderboard.
The great putters and short-game experts love courses with challenging putting surfaces and tough green surrounds to allow their wizardry to give them an edge, while the thinkers like a demanding course where strategy and solid course management are advantageous.
When a course blends of all these factors it generally results in a packed leaderboard.
What courses around Australia fit those descriptions for me? Well, my favourite on the social front is Barnbougle Dunes – a stream of holes that make your jaw drop. But for tournaments, I love Melbourne’s Sandbelt region and always jump at the chance to play events at Kingston Heath, Victoria, Metropolitan, Royal Melbourne and Huntingdale as they suit premium ball strikers.
A few underrated courses have my tick of approval, including Long Reef on Sydney’s northern beaches, Kalgoorlie Golf Course in Western Australia’s gold country, and Thirteenth Beach down in the Geelong area – all magic in their own unique way.
Today’s courses seem to be getting longer to cope with technology advances. This isn’t an issue for pros, but for amateurs I’m sure it is. Club golfers at least have the option of multiple tees but when it comes to greens there’s no forgiveness. What frustrates me is the mentality of today’s designers who build greens with ridiculous humps, bumps, dips and swallows, making putting extremely difficult. While this is aimed to force pro golfers to control their ball in order to leave makable putts, the average golfer finds it way too difficult. Tone it down a little and I think you have the answer for everyone.