With many capital-city courses overflowing with bookings or torrential rain, there’s never been a better time to head off the beaten track in search of that memorable round.

If the restrictions brought about by the lingering COVID-19 pandemic weren’t bad enough, wet weather and even severe flooding has wreaked havoc with many of our city and coastal golf courses these past two years. It’s a villainous double act not seen since Bonnie and Clyde first worked together.

There is a solution for golfers, though. Head inland, or at very least away from the major population centres and away from the super-soaked regions. Sure, there will come a time – and soon – when those impacted areas will need your visitation and support, but in most cases the clean-up is still ongoing as the La Niña weather pattern hangs around like a bad house guest. In short: right now is the time to go bush.

In each state are golf courses and regions where you’ll find a little country comfort, playing fantastic layouts – several rated in Australian Golf Digest’s biennial Top 100 Courses ranking – and others that are on the list’s periphery. Featured here is an array of terrific tracks that lack little when it comes to substance. We’ll get you underway with a trio of Top 100 denizens as we lead you around the country, wrapping up the circular journey with another Top 100 favourite.

Cypress Lakes [featured image] and The Vintage form the backbone of the golf scene in the Hunter Valley wine region.

Hunter Valley

Some people meditate to relax. Others prefer yoga. An alternative method we discovered is swinging by The Vintage in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, for it is here that your heart rate drops, the wine corks pop and the good times (and putts) roll.

There’s something to be said about a course that welcomes you with open arms. In a world where attracting clientele to a regional course can be an ongoing battle, the friendly folk at The Vintage are onto a winner. Despite being a prestigious Greg Norman/Bob Harrison-designed layout ranked 51st in Australia, knee-high socks and rule Nazis hold no place here. Instead, they are replaced with young kids having the time of their lives outside on the club’s endless lawns, clinking wine glasses echoing off the clubhouse verandah and passing confetti showers blowing in from the on-site chapel where hundreds celebrate the most important day of their lives.

This is indeed a venue that caters for everyone, yet does so without losing its true and original identity, that being one of the country’s premier regional golf courses. If the rippled fairways, slick greens and brazen bunkering of The Vintage don’t seduce you, the after-golf offerings surely will.

It was a result that turned heads in the Hunter Valley and perhaps raised an eyebrow or two outside the region, however Cypress Lakes’ return to Australian Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses ranking in 2018 was most definitely on merit. Re-entering the list after an absence of 12 years – and staying there in 2020 and 2022 – is due praise for a course that had experienced chequered conditioning in the years prior, but one that addressed its shortcomings and became vastly improved for it.

Thirty years after its first nine holes opened for play, 90th-ranked Cypress Lakes has never looked better. The secret recipe? A dedicated program of bunker replacement and refurbishment was the major component. The large, sprawling bunkers on the clay-based course were always susceptible to huge washouts in heavy rain, creating a nightmare repair task for course staff. Their revised shape and construction alleviates that problem, while the turf across the Steve Smyers-designed layout is also in peak health. In a climate that varies between morning frosts and 40-plus degree temperatures, the ability to look in best-ever shape throughout the year is now Cypress Lakes’ calling card.

The great irony of the natural bush setting that greets visitors to Pacific Dunes, located in the inland portion of the Port Stephens region, is that it was in many respects a manufactured ecosystem to begin with. Seventeen years have passed since the James Wilcher design welcomed its first golfers and immediately announced itself as a layout of high regard, currently sitting 67th in our most recent Top 100 ranking. The distinctive nature of Pacific Dunes is that the front nine plays through a quintessentially Australian bushland backdrop while the back nine boasts a more open feel with interconnecting waterways that threaten danger at almost every turn. As soon as you take a turn to the left after your drive at the par-4 first hole, you are invited to step into an Aussie oasis. But that is hardly the setting that welcomed Wilcher in his initial site visits nearly two decades ago.

“It was a semi-cleared, semi-rehabilitated, partially open paddock,” Wilcher says of his initial impressions of the site. “It was a remediated old rutile mine and so they’d done a lot of planting of native species and we cut the fairways through that.”

But that’s not to say Wilcher didn’t see great potential. He didn’t have wild dunes from which to bounce off, a clifftop vista on which to perch a green or elevated tees boasting views into the distance. But he was adamant he had enough of the characteristics shared by some of the best courses in the world to create something memorable. Pacific Dunes today continues to impress, offering golfers the best of two environments as they navigate their way through the 18 holes.

NSW Central West

Regal Duntryleague in Orange has been a favourite among travelling golfers for nearly a century, and this spring is set to be a busy one for the club. Duntryleague will host three significant events in the next few months, starting with the Annual Veterans Tournament from October 4-6. Later that month comes the Ladies Open (October 24-26), ahead of the 99th Open Amateur Championship from November 19-20, which is open to any playing member of a Golf Australia-affiliated club.

The course on the western side of town is an arborist’s delight. An estate with an extensive array of mature exotic trees long before it was a golf course, many impressive species have been preserved through the years – even as the golf course took shape during the 1930s. Handsome redwoods, elms, cypress, cedar, beech, maples, pin oaks, spruce and pines adorn the layout, which takes on a different look depending on the time of year. If you really want to get the full treatment at one of the finest regional golf courses in Australia, stay a night or two at the on-site mansion, Duntryleague Guesthouse, which dates back to 1876.

Few courses can match Narooma’s spectacular location – and varied settings across the 18 holes.

NSW South Coast

OK, so we’re looping back to the coast now, but in the region arguably least-impacted by the wet weather that has plagued much of Australia’s right-hand side.

Geographic definitions vary, but 307 kilometres separate Nowra and Eden, or the region generally referred to as the NSW South Coast. It’s a strip of land more diverse than many realise, with a string of beaches – both lengthy and secluded – plus scenery so striking it can be a distracted-driver hazard. Golf forms an integral part of the South Coast, with courses that take advantage of both the coastal cliffs and pastural precincts.

On the northern end of the region at Nowra, Worrigee Links is part of the vastly underrated Shoalhaven golf scene. Originally designed by Ken McKay and opening in 2005, the course is largely flat, open and with minimal trees – befitting a course with “links” in its name. However, it is in for an exciting refresh. Golf-course architect Ben Davey unveiled a masterplan in February that will raise the layout’s appeal as well as add 250 metres and raise the par from 70 to 71. By better utilising the site’s existing wetlands and enhancing its natural features, Davey’s plan is to bring out the ‘wow’ factor in Worrigee.

There’s more than just golf on offer, though. Enjoy lunch or dinner at Worrigee Sports overlooking the fairways with stunning panoramic views. The club offers a sophisticated and fresh space to gather with friends and family to dine and drink. If something a little more unique is in your wheelhouse, attached to Worrigee Sports is The Growers, a contemporary and casual indoor/outdoor bar and eatery. The Growers’ menu reflects seasonal fresh food, using produce from the community and herbs straight from their garden beds. Open Wednesday to Sunday, The Growers is packed with flavour with their farm-to-plate casual menu, plus a pizza menu. Meanwhile, you can play then stay at the Springs Resort Shoalhaven, a peaceful and scenic escape adjoining the golf course.

Australia has an oversupply of golf courses where comparisons are made between them and Augusta National. Bonville is one; Royal Canberra (pre-redesign, but perhaps also post) is another. However, the course that arguably resembles the mighty Georgia layout most closely is the Hilltop course at Mollymook Golf Club, for its back nine marries magnificent flora with heavy undulations and slick putting surfaces.

Visit at the right time of year and the 92nd-ranked Hilltop course is a veritable array of floral delight, but at any time you’ll experience the roller-coaster ride that is the Bill Andriske/Ken McKay-designed layout. While several holes in the middle of the front nine unfold across a flat portion of land, at least 12 holes feature steep ascents or descents plus several sidehill lies.

The Hilltop back nine is one of the prettiest and most challenging stretches of holes to be found. The elevation changes – some quite severe – link with the forest and garden-like setting to provide tranquility. Tranquil, though, is hardly the word to describe the greens. There are some brutal contours to conquer after navigating the sloping fairways. We hear the advice, “Stay below the hole” often, but on these putting surfaces it is often mandatory. The club itself puts it best with this succinct warning: “Once on the putting surface there may still be a good deal of golf left.”

Every golf destination needs a big-ticket item and Narooma Golf Club is the course that has to feature somewhere on any South Coast golf itinerary.

The two nines are distinctly different yet offer shot-making opportunities that players of the highest calibre will revel in. There’s the second shot into the par-4 second hole to a green perched on the edge of the cliff face; survive that and you’re confronted with a tee shot at the par-3 third that must first traverse a chasm and the ocean below before reaching the putting surface 141 metres away.

The six oceanside holes are a breathtaking way to begin a round, but Narooma wouldn’t be ranked the 85th-best course in the country by this magazine without the quality continuing on the back nine. The setting at the southern end of the course is more of a tree-lined coastal nature, with the holes wrapping around Little Lake that sits in the centre of this section of the course. The lake is in play on a number of holes but none more so than the par-4 15th, a short par 4 that dares you to cut off as much of the water as you dare to provide an easier approach for your second.

Always a popular stop on the PGA Tour of Australasia Legends Tour, Bermagui Country Club is a beguiling golf experience that delivers postcard-worthy scenery while applying the squeeze to whatever golf game you happen to bring on the day.

With views of the seaside town, Horseshoe Bay and Gulaga Mountain rising beyond the course’s western fringe, the setting for golf could hardly be more idyllic yet the challenge it poses is compelling. Four of the first five par 4s on the golf course stretch beyond 375 metres at their longest and three of the layout’s four par 3s play between 161 and 178 metres. Scoring opportunities are on offer at the par 5s, and the 330-metre 14th and 316-metre 17th are gettable if your long game has stood up to the earlier test.

For those with a sense of history it is impossible to bypass a round at Tura Beach Country Club, a course designed by five-time Open champion Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

A northern suburb of Merimbula, Tura Beach was established by AV Jennings in 1980 and has the honour of being the first purpose-built integrated golf course and housing development in Australia. A major selling point was the Thomson/Wolveridge imprint on the golf course that features a par 3 that plays straight towards the ocean and another that runs so closely alongside Short Point Beach that the salt air brushes gently across your face if you play down the left side of the fairway.

If Thomson’s connection to the British links and in particular his fondness of St Andrews wasn’t enough, the playing surfaces at Tura Beach have been raised to a new level under the guiding hand of course superintendent Brad Foster. A Merimbula native, Foster not only spent time working on the hallowed grounds of St Andrews and Royal Wimbledon Golf Club in the UK, but also at famed Los Angeles Country Club (next year’s US Open venue) and Liberty National Golf Club in America.

Great diversity separates Moonah Links’ two courses.

Mornington Peninsula

Moonah Links’ twin layouts offer the largest truly publicly accessible golf realm on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Known for being conceived as the ‘Home of Australian Golf’ and the pair of Australian Opens it held in 2003 and 2005, Peter Thomson’s Open course (ranked 47th in Australia) is the aggressive big brother of the two: ready to pound and punish anyone looking for a fight. Ross Perrett’s Legends course (ranked 43rd) is the younger sibling that more than holds its own. Together, they make a compelling pairing with options for golfers seeking a brawny challenge or a more playable 18. Which isn’t to say the Legends lacks venom or that the Open is impossible. Indeed, the Open course is perfectly playable from the white tees or farther forward, while the carefully positioned hazards of the Legends require considerable nous to successfully navigate.

Among the attributes Thomson nailed with the Open course is that variety in the tee options. The back tees make the course brutal, but the forward set or two still showcase the course’s best elements to players of lesser ability and the strategy required. However, the essence of the Open course lies in the bunkering. Depending on the conditions, many pots won’t be a factor on some days but almost certainly every full shot a golfer faces will need to dodge bunkers – and potentially dozens of them.

Yet the contrast is a large part of the appeal. Unfolding across largely uncluttered but undulating ground, the leviathan Open course shows off multiple holes in any given panorama. Holes on the Legends, meanwhile, weave through secluded valleys and rippled corridors accentuated by large, blowout traps and waste bunkers in comparison to the array of pots dotting the Open layout. Whether you tackle both in one hit or make use of the Peppers resort for an overnight stay, there’s no need to exit Moonah Links without sparring with both pugilists for at least a couple of rounds.

Bellarine Peninsula

Across Port Phillip Bay, a first-time visitor to Curlewis Golf Club would not be blamed for thinking he had chanced upon a Scottish links course. The only difference is that it is just an hour’s drive from Melbourne and 15 minutes from Geelong, on the road to Portarlington.

It comes as no surprise that locals long ago dubbed this wonderful par-72 6,150-metre layout the ‘emerald’ of the Bellarine Peninsula. And since being purchased in July 2015 by local cider brewery and winery owners, Lyndsay and David Sharp, it has become even better – now ranked 69th in the land. With sweeping views of Corio Bay, superb undulating fairways and fast, contoured, manicured greens, Curlewis is an absolute gem. The bunker sand is so good you want to go in the traps (well, almost) to experience the joy of successfully negotiating your way out of them.

While the back nine is a stern test, perhaps the real charm of Curlewis lies in its front half. It is not drawing too long a bow to say the sixth, seventh and eighth holes are reminiscent of Royal Melbourne and certainly would not look out of place on the country’s top-ranked golf course.

Perhaps the biggest continuing story at Curlewis is the opening in 2018 of the $8 million The Range@Curlewis, just a kilometre up the road from the golf course. Among other things, The Range boasts state-of-the art driving bays and practice facilities, two-tiered mini-golf, a conference centre for 200, pilates classes, virtual golf, superb bistro and bar and a wonderful outdoor deck.

Black Bull gave Murray River golf new energy as soon as it opened.

Murray River

While attractive to tour and fun to play, the golf courses of the Murray River do tend to follow a certain design script. Black Bull, a Top 100 Courses resident since the 2018 list (and currently ranked 73rd), broke the rules and moved away from narrow, treelined runways and instead used its lakeside location to cultivate a larger, links-style course where the breezes off Lake Mulwala are an ever-present factor.

Also notable for its trio of ‘Bull Ring’ holes on the front nine, at Black Bull designers Thomson and Perrett replicated many of the best attributes of their considerable portfolio of links-like layouts across what turned out to be the late Peter Thomson’s final design.

Design-wise, it’s a straightforward course to navigate as all the features are not hidden from the golfer. The design is a good test for low handicappers without crippling beginners or high markers, which is never an easy mix to get right. First-timers will note several things about the course but more than likely two aspects of Black Bull will remain in memory: how the golf course changes with the seasons, including the various wind directions and strengths, plus the excellent condition the surfaces. The Penn G2 bentgrass greens in particular are phenomenal. They’re firm and true but not so firm that good shots won’t hold.

Only minutes away, Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort is Australia’s largest public-access golf facility, boasting stunning surrounds alongside the majestic watercourse. The 45 holes feature some of the finest locations in Australia, also winning rave reviews for immaculate condition and commendable playability for novices, casual and elite players alike.

The Murray course is right beside its namesake river, and meanders through towering river gums and sandy river flats. It favours the straight hitter, as many billabongs and lagoons are eagerly awaiting a wayward shot. Named after Lake Mulwala, the Lake course overlooks the beautiful waterway. Golfers will encounter strategically placed lakes, undulating greens, 56 bunkers and lots to test the more heroic player. If you’re a novice or are tight for time, the shorter, nine-hole Executive course is ideal. Set in beautiful parkland, it is more lenient for beginners but still provides plenty of challenges for more experienced golfers.

Along the Murray, 425 kilometres separate Thurgoona Country Club at Albury in the east and Murray Downs Golf & Country Club in the west (plus another 229km if you elect to push on towards the half-dozen more courses in and around Mildura). It’s a mighty river – and mighty in length – but is the extra distance to get to Murray Downs worth it if you’re travelling from the east? Absolutely. For so long ranked as the best course along the river, the layout hasn’t lost any of its lustre. Built next to the spectacular surrounding Mallee plains, the arid scrubland borders several holes – a vivid reminder of the transformation required when brothers Ted and Geoff Parslow designed the course 32 years ago.

It is as beautiful as it is challenging, with backdrops of river gums, artfully formed lakes and several tricky holes. Most notable is the long par-3 fifth, which features a daunting carry over a lake that also works its way beside the right edge of the deep green, while bunkers guard the left side. Large greens, large bunkers – large everything – are a feature of the near-6,200-metre layout. It’s an ideal course for strong iron players as the huge putting surfaces allow sharpshooters to hone their focus directly at the flag, although several difficult long putts are the punishment for a wayward strike.

Tanunda Pines shines among regional South Australian golf courses.

South Australia

Tanunda Pines is regarded as the pick of the courses in South Australia’s famous Barossa Valley, but the club confesses that once upon a time it had a reputation for being a fine layout in substandard condition. However, a concerted effort several years ago to enhance the playing surfaces bore fruit and for the past few years visitors have been so taken by the course that they’ll often favour playing it twice over some of the area’s other layouts.

A club with a rich history, Tanunda Pines’ present chapter really began when Murray Crafter redesigned the course in the mid-1990s. He expertly utilised the landform and weaved holes between the weathered, gnarly, centuries-old gum trees to conjure a layout that asks for a range of shot shapes, making it a true ball-strikers alley. The ancient gums amid the fulsome stands of trees are eye-catching, but the contours on and around the greens are what keep Tanunda Pines compelling round after round. Many greens have tiers and spines that make approach shots, all greenside plays and putting a constant challenge. No wonder golfers like to play it twice.

Western Australia

When you hear the name ‘Busselton’, golfers in the know automatically think of Stephen Leaney. The former US Open runner-up honed his game at Busselton Golf Club and it’s not hard to picture how Leaney grooved his technique to focus on accuracy. What is surprising, perhaps, is that Leaney won the club championship at Busselton only once, in 1987. One might expect to see his name countless times on the honour boards but it appears just a single time. These days, the Leaney Cup, held every November, signifies his connection.

Busselton’s fairways weave between huge gum trees and pine forests – the alleys are narrow but not anorexic and the bunkering is clean, tidy and strategic. The back nine holds the layout’s more interesting holes, with the 11th among the best. The 290-metre par 4 bends sharply right while the fairway slopes in the opposite direction at the corner. The long green is narrow with a bunker on either side. With sand, slopes and tall timber in play, the 11th hole captures the essence of the layout in less than 300 metres.


You’re probably aware of Queensland’s great golf regions, but most are now well-developed and lack a true regional vibe. So we’re putting forward two names you probably weren’t expecting.

Tin Can Bay Country Club – which is almost certainly the only golf course in Australia with three three-letter words in its name – is an unassuming but fun and enjoyable 18-hole course in the town of the same name. A highlight of the round is playing to the green where the putting surface and neighbouring greenside bunkers are together shaped like a footprint; the green plays the role of the sole and five small, circular bunkers are the toes. You might also want to put your best foot forward after golf by playing a spot of lawn bowls. The club runs regular ‘barefoot bowls’ events on its bowling greens for those who like being jack-high as much as pin-high.

Further south, staying close to the beach is where all the action is on the Gold Coast, but there’s still plenty to see and do further inland. Kooralbyn Valley is home to a course that’s lived a curious and chequered life since opening in 1979 and staging the Queensland Open a mere two years later. The Desmond Muirhead-designed layout captivated golfers for years but slipped slowly into the background as more courses emerged in a coastal cluster. Later, it slid into disrepair and the course closed between 2008 and 2016 before Peter Huang purchased and re-opened the course and set about re-energising it and the resort in a multi-million-dollar makeover. Every green was rebuilt, the bunkers reshaped and refurbished with pure white sand and a new irrigation system installed. With a drawing power from Brisbane, the Gold Coast and a regional appeal all of its own, Kooralbyn Valley is back in the frame.

Maclean Golf Club was just one flood-impacted NSW club to receive financial assistance.

Flood recovery support

To say it’s been wet along the New South Wales coast is a large understatement. With a multitude of courses still in clean-up mode, Golf NSW has come to the aid of 41 golf clubs across that state. They received much-needed assistance to help them recover from recent flooding, with proceeds raised through the NSW Golf Club Flood Relief Fund.

Facilities from the Far North Coast down to the Victorian border and west to Broken Hill impacted by the disaster received cheques ranging in value from $2,500 to $7,500 to assist in repairing damaged courses and facilities.

The recipient clubs were: Bellingen, Bogan Gate, Bowral, Branxton, Campbelltown, CEX Urunga, Chinderah, Coffs Harbour, Coomba Park/Sandbar, Coraki, Cronulla, Dungog, Frederickton, Gosford, Iluka, Jamberoo, Kogarah, Kyogle, Lismore Workers, Lithgow, Liverpool, Lynwood, Macksville, Maclean, Marrickville, Mollymook, Moruya, Moss Vale, Mullumbimby, Nambucca Heads, Narooma, Nowra, Pambula-Merimbula, Port Kembla, South Broken Hill, Stroud, Tallwoods, Teven, Waratah, Wingham and Woodburn/Evans Head.

Golf NSW and the NSW Golf Foundation established the NSW Golf Club Flood Relief Fund in March as the natural disaster unfolded. With significant help from Golf Australia and the PGA of Australia, almost $200,000 was raised, with all funds going directly to impacted clubs.

Stuart Fraser, chief executive of Golf NSW, said it was humbling to hear stories of the efforts of staff and members lending a hand to help clean up their home course.

“Inundated clubhouses being brought back to normal, greens and bunkers repaired, bridges being rebuilt that were washed away, right down to the smaller things like garden beds being brought back to life, just show how committed our golfing community is to one another,” Fraser said.

Sunny foursome

After the success of this year’s sell-out winter tournament, anticipation is building for the 2022 Sunshine Coast Spring Classic, with entries now open for the event, which runs from October 10-14.

Held at four premium golf courses – Maroochy River [pictured], Noosa Springs, Peregian and Twin Waters – located within one of Australia’s best holiday destinations, the tournament is graded, open to men and women and comes fully loaded with daily and overall prizes.

Entry is $695 per player. For more information and to book, visit: golfsunshinecoast.com.au