Growing up and playing golf in Western Australia certainly was an exciting adventure. The amount of quality public-access courses to choose from around Perth’s inner suburbs was amazing and it all started for me at the Embleton Golf Course, five minutes from where I lived.
As an eight-year-old beginner, I thought this nine-hole, par-31 layout was the best course ever! Turns out it was just the beginning of my golfing education throughout the city’s metropolitan area.
After “Royal Embleton”, as my dad called it, I began venturing to a variety of courses such as Rosehill, Hillview, Wembley, Hamersley and Collier Park to name a few. I visited each regularly for junior tournaments or simply just for fun. Today, these courses and more continue to lay the foundation for some of the best-value public venues in the country.
Hillview stretches out in the foothills of the eastern suburbs and has 27 inviting holes in a relaxed setting. The Wembley Golf Complex has 36 holes to choose from that meander through wooded terrain northwest of the city only five minutes from the beach. The Swing Driving Range there is state of the art and just recently added one of the coolest mini-golf facilities in the country. If the kids don’t have fun there, take away their iPhones for a month!
Not far up the road is Hamersley, an enjoyable walk around a tranquil layout that’s great value for money.
Located just south of Perth is the Collier Park Golf Course with 27 holes covering a beautiful expanse of parkland to test all the clubs in your bag. The original 18 holes there were the Pines and Island nines designed by Peter Thomson until Michael Coates added the Lakes nine in 1996. All three have a different feel, while the driving range and short-game area will ably assist whatever you’re working on in your game.
I’ve played several tournaments at Collier Park over the years, both as an amateur and pro, and even though it’s been a while since my last visit, I hear it just keeps getting better and better.
These days the toughest part about playing golf around Perth is figuring out which courses to play because there are so many hidden gems.
Along with those mentioned, Maylands Peninsula Golf Course offers a pleasant walk next to the banks of the Swan River just 10 minutes from the CBD. Point Walter, also on the river, is about 20 minutes south and has some spectacular scenery around the nine-hole layout. Then there’s Whaleback, a picturesque 18-hole venue that includes a day/night two-story covered driving range so you can hit balls until your heart’s content, all year round.
Two public golf courses dear to my heart in the northern suburbs are Marangaroo and Carramar. After finishing high school I did my three-year apprenticeship to become a golf professional at Marangaroo under Craig Duncan and Tim Crosbie. After they expanded their operations to Carramar when it opened, I went to work there for a few years as well. Both layouts present a very strategic challenge with Carramar being the more demanding of the two. I pretty much wore out the courses and practice facilities at both during my stints there and they are well worth your time to play a round or two.
All these courses mentioned are great value for money and a thoroughly enjoyable experience that won’t do too much damage to your scorecard. But, if you’re looking to up the ante and really put your game to the test, there are a number of places that rise to the challenge.
Half an hour or so up the coast is Joondalup Resort, designed by the renowned American Robert Trent Jones Jr. It has 27 holes that cut through dense bushland, limestone quarries, and around stunning lakes. Several holes on the Quarry nine will take your breath away as you think, I have to hit my ball over that? The Lakes and Dune nines are just as breathtaking but for different reasons as their namesakes imply. Take plenty of balls with you though as the rough is unforgiving, plus I’m yet to see one come back out of a quarry or lake. But it’s all worth it as the entire complex is one of the most spectacular public facilities in the country.
Head 30 minutes inland towards the Swan Valley wine region and you’ll find the Vines Resort, host to several professional tournaments over the years including the Heineken and Johnnie Walker Classic events in the ’90s and 2000s. Designed by Graham Marsh and Ross Watson, the two courses (called the Ellenbrook and Lakes) are quality tests of golf and these layouts twist and turn throughout the valley. Recently they added an 18-hole mini-golf area to enhance the resort and provide some relaxed fun late in the evenings if you’re staying onsite at the Novotel.
A distinct feature of both Joondalup and the Vines is their huge undulating greens, so a creative imagination and silky touch are required to hold you in good stead on the putting surfaces.
Southeast of Perth, up in the Roleystone hills, sits the Araluen Golf Resort. With plenty of elevation changes throughout, designers Michael Coate and the late Roger Mackay have used the terrain to dramatic effect. Early on in the construction process Roger actually wanted one of the trees on the opening hole cut down but it remained in play. After Roger passed away they hung a plaque on the tree saying, “If you hit this tree, don’t blame Roger, he wanted it cut down.”
If you’re up for a bit of a drive then you’ll definitely want to head south 45 minutes or so to find four beauties. Firstly, Secret Harbour is a links-style course crafted by Graham Marsh that entertains a variety of challenges, especially when the sea breeze whips in . . . which is just about every day.
Another Robert Trent Jones Jr design is Meadow Springs Golf and Country Club. Rolling through open bushland and 200-year-old Tuart trees it offers an experience that won’t disappoint. Further along the coast is The Cut, a truly unforgettable course perched next to the Indian Ocean. With breathtaking views and some devilish holes, it will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the round. Afterwards, you can either drown your sorrows or celebrate your play while relaxing in the stunning clubhouse and restaurant.
Topping off the experience down south is The Links Kennedy Bay. Designed by Coate, Mackay and Ian Baker-Finch, Kennedy Bay is one of the premier links courses in the country. Count yourself lucky if you happen to snag a tee time on a calm day. For when the wind blows around there, controlling your ball is at the utmost premium. With its design weaving beautifully out of the existing landscape, this course is my favourite public venue in the West.
Now if you do get the chance to play some of the private courses around Perth, there are plenty of great clubs to choose from as well, but too many to name here. However, a couple of favourites for me are Mount Lawley and Lake Karrinyup. Following in my family’s footsteps, I joined the Mount Lawley Golf Club as a 12-year-old, somehow slipping my way into the membership before the minimum 14-year-old age limit. It’s where I began to make inroads with my game under the tutelage of the head pro back then, Ivan Campbell. Slowly but surely I lowered my handicap to single figures and began dreaming of playing golf for a living. As a young pro, I returned to the club and started taking lessons from Neil Simpson who had assumed the head pro position some years earlier. Mount Lawley and Neil changed the course of my career forever and a few years ago the club bestowed upon me honourary membership, which sits as one of my proudest achievements in the game. The course has stood the test of time and consistently maintains its status as one of the state’s premier venues.
Perth’s most renowned private course is Lake Karrinyup Country Club, host to the ISPS Handa World Super 6 professional event. It’s seen a variety of major Australian tournaments and had legends like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Peter Thomson and Greg Norman roam its fairways over the years. Originally designed by Alex Russell in 1928, and more recently restored by Mike Clayton, it classically winds its way through undulating terrain and native gum trees. A nine-hole short course is also on property and is a fantastic complement to its championship counterpart.
To my mind, Perth has a collection of public courses that are hard to beat anywhere in terms of variety, quality and value. There’s a vast array of venues to tickle everyone’s fancy and challenge all levels of golfer. You can play all year round and never be alone out there with the ever-present kangaroos and local wildlife keeping a watchful eye on proceedings.
If you come to visit the West, try and see how many courses you can tick off the list. And if you’re a local, then maybe it’s time to try a few you haven’t already. In any case, hopefully I’ll see you out on a few of these courses in the years to come.
While You’re There: Go The Distance At Kalgoorlie Golf Course
The premier desert course in Australia, Kalgoorlie is as rough and tough as the arid terrain surrounding the course in remote central Western Australia. Designed in 2010 by Graham Marsh, the Kalgoorlie-born golfer-turned-architect brought the best out of the landscape, including one unique feature. “The old tip site of approximately 30 hectares was a blessing in disguise as it afforded a number of the holes a modicum of elevation change,” Marsh said. It is edged by a mere 15 metres (by the Open course at Moonah Links) for the right to be the longest course in Australia’s Top 100.
For more information, visit kalgoorliegolfcourse.com