GOLFERS are eagerly counting down the two months until Australian Golf Digest publishes its famous biennial ranking of Australia’s Top 100 golf courses. Always one of our most keenly anticipated issues, this year’s ranking is sure to be a major talking point across the industry. While much of the attention with be focussed towards the top of the list, there is plenty of interest elsewhere, particularly towards the bottom of the list. History shows the courses most likely to drop in the Top 100 were those ranked in the bottom 20 on the previous ranking. There have been a few instances where courses ranked better than 80 were dropped the next, but generally newcomers will slot in near the bottom of the list and it’ll be some of those final 20 courses which make room by losing their spot.

From 2014, the courses ranked between 81 and 100 were: Eynesbury; Castle Hill; Tasmania; Murray Downs; Paradise Palms; Araluen; Cranbourne; Narooma; Indooroopilly (West); Monash; Kooindah Waters; Alice Springs; The Vines (Lakes); The Heritage (Henley); Riversdale; Palmer Gold Coast; Federal; Horsham; Fleurieu; and Macquarie Links.

In advance of the new Top 100 rankings, we asked our judges which of these courses they thought were most vulnerable to being omitted. The answers varied, as did the reasons. Some suggested the likes of Fleurieu, Tasmania, Kooindah Waters and Heritage (Henley) were in the firing line because of either problems with conditioning or over-planting during the past two years. Some flat-out felt they lacked the quality necessary to have been on the list in the first place. Fleurieu has its fans on the panel, and those judges concerned about its position were all hopeful that it would remain.

Rater David Chantrell noted about those in danger: “The overall theme here is a lack of money and owners failing to spend the required cash, possibly due to lower green fee revenues and, for private clubs, lower memberships, meaning less money to spend. Maintaining what is there becomes increasingly difficult as costs soar. Lets face it, we are not talking about architectural masterpieces so unless they (bottom 20 courses) maintain what is there, a ‘new kid on the block’ or a course that just missed out that improves conditioning and/or the architecture will leap ahead.”

As if to almost prove Chantrell’s point, the most commonly nominated course was Palmer Gold Coast, formerly known as Robina Woods. As several judges observed, Clive Palmer has a track record of not maintaining his golfing acquisitions to Top 100 standards and the fear is his Gold Coast course will follow the sad case of Coolum and continue to deteriorate further.

As Top 100 judge Loren Justins said, “Palmer Gold Coast has had a tougher two years with the weather not being kind. Each time I have played it, the water hasn’t been able to escape the course, leaving many areas unplayable. Along with quite a few courses stepping up, and new courses added, I fear for Palmer Gold Coast being able to keep its Top 100 status.”

Rater Chris Crocker added: “Palmer Gold Coast was ‘pretty ordinary’ in most respects of our assessment criteria when last I played it.” Chantrell had a similar view but added he suspects “we will see this facility go in the same direction as Coolum and that Palmer will turn it into housing if he can re-zone it.”

Other nominations to drop off the Top 100 list included Eynesbury, Kooindah Waters and The Vines. According to rater Ross Hildebrand, The Vines has also struggled with its conditioning. “I think The Vines might be lucky to hold its spot,” says Hildebrand. “I have played it twice during recent years and found that there are several poorly designed holes and both times the course was in poor condition.”

The second at Royal Hobart.
A stunning image of Noosa Springs’ picturesque 17th.

While one or more of these courses seems set to lose its place to the newly-opened Cape Wickham, several others could make way for either the new Eastern or Maroochy River courses. Or perhaps those courses knocking at the door from the previous ranking – Pymble, Sandhurst (Champions), Arundel Hills, Torquay Sands, Royal Perth and Palm Meadows were within one point (out of 50) of making the Top 100 in 2014. Less than half a point behind is another strong group including Long Reef, Yering Meadows, North Lakes, Killara, Royal Hobart, Noosa Springs, Sea Temple and Camden Lakeside. Each course has the potential to have improved enough during the pas 24 months to force its way onto the list. It will also be interesting to see whether Sydney’s Bonnie Doon will return to the list in 2016, after significant redevelopment during a four-year period. Only a handful of the new Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Mead holes had been finished prior to the 2014 list, but several more have now been designed, built and grown-in.

Bonnie Doon, in Sydney's eastern suburbs, has undergone significant redevelopment, including the par-5 14th [pictured].
Bonnie Doon, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, has undergone significant redevelopment, including the par-5 14th [pictured].

When Top 100 judges were asked which outside course they thought belonged on the list, the overwhelming favourite was Bonnie Doon.

“I think Bonnie Doon is a special for the Top 100,” says rater and former tour pro, Grant Dodd.

“Bonnie Doon will jump into the Top 100. I have only played it when nine holes were done, but if the remainder matches that nine, which I am sure it will, then it should be top 50,” adds rater Alex Cleave.

“I believe Bonnie Doon will be included in the Top 100 this period. I think the work that was completed in Stage 2 in 2014, along with the course having some time to grow in, now shows what a golf course it can be. The work that Michael Clayton, Geoff Ogilvy and Mike Cocking in clearing some vegetation, and reshaping some holes has made the course more interesting and more playable in my opinion,” says rater Loren Justins.

“Beautiful site, great sand, great undulation and vistas from clubhouse are magnificent now Clayton has employed his chainsaw,” adds David Chantrell.

A stunning image of Noosa Springs' picturesque 17th.
The second at Royal Hobart.

Other courses from outside the Top 100 with multiple nominations include Noosa Springs and Royal Hobart.

“The only one I have played on this list recently is Noosa Springs. In my mind thoroughly enjoyable and worthy of a Top 100 spot.” – Matthew MacMahon

“Noosa Springs has a design that requires brains as opposed to brawn. Many resort styled courses in Queensland allow plenty of room for the golfer to pull the driver on most holes but not this one. I think this course gives the golfer a number of different options off the tee and that is a lost art in many modern designs. The course should be in the Top 100.” – Kevin Pallier

“Royal Hobart for me is definitely worthy of a place in the Top 100. I found it to be a really classical, old-style course in great condition with majestic trees lining the fairways and super quick, true putting surfaces. When you factor in the history of the course, with Jack Nicklaus winning an Australian Open there, I was really surprised it wasn’t already in the Top 100.” – James Ponder

There were further recommendations for Arundel Hills, Pymble, Royal Perth and Killara – all received a special mention from NSW–based panelist Grant Naylor, who believes the course is “a great test of golf for all players. That’s very easy to forget where you are in Sydney playing a round. Hard to imagine this being out of the Top 100.”

Could Sydney's Killara Golf Club make its way into the Australian Golf Digest Top 100?
Could Sydney’s Killara Golf Club make its way into the Australian Golf Digest Top 100?

The Brisbane Golf Club was also recognised for its efforts in recent years to improve both design and conditioning. Says rater Tony Webeck, “Ross Watson’s modifications and the successful implementation of the Champion Ultradwarf greens has put Brisbane in prime position to burst back into the Top 100. Set to host the Queensland Open again from 2016, the mix of shorter holes bordering water and lengthy par 4s with bunkering reminiscent of the Melbourne Sandbelt re-establishes Queensland’s second-oldest golf club as one of the state’s finest – with more exciting developments on the horizon.”

As we begin the process of compiling our forthcoming Top 100 list, there are certain to be golf clubs Australia-wide nervously awaiting the results. Our hope is that such clubs treat the rankings as intended, to provide a snapshot in time of the perceived, or actual, quality of Australia’s best golf courses and an indication as to which courses are heading in the right direction and, perhaps, those that aren’t.

However, there is also good news for clubs fighting for those final twenty spots: the margin for improvement is so thin it only takes minor refinements to see a noticeable jump. As Australian Golf Digest deputy editor and Top 100 panel member Evin Priest notes, courses like Macquarie Links – which snuck in at No.100 – can easily climb the rankings with positive adjustments.

“Macquarie Links is a course you never get sick of playing because each hole has so much identity. There is a wonderful sense of variety in the length, difficulty, elevation and strategy of each hole. During the past two years, conditioning has improved and it could see a jump from 100th.”

We feel that if an omission or ranking drop leads to some sensible remedial work, then the ranking process will have been worthwhile.

The 2014 Australian Golf Digest Top 100:


1 – Royal Melbourne (West) VIC 

2 – Kingston Heath VIC

3 – Ellerston NSW

4 – Barnbougle Dunes TAS

5 – New South Wales NSW

6 – Barnbougle Lost Farm TAS

7 – Royal Melbourne (East) VIC

8 – The National (Moonah) VIC

9 – Lake Karrinyup WA

10 – The National (Old) VIC

11 – Victoria VIC 

12 – Royal Adelaide SA

13 – Metropolitan VIC

14 – The Lakes NSW

15 – The Australian NSW

16 – The Dunes VIC

17 – Joondalup (Quarry/Dune) WA

18 – Woodlands VIC

19 – Moonah Links (Legends) VIC

20 – Newcastle NSW

21 – St Andrews Beach VIC 

22 – Kooyonga SA

23 – Links Kennedy Bay WA

24 – Royal Sydney NSW

25 – Barwon Heads VIC

26 – Magenta Shores NSW

27 – Royal Queensland QLD

28 – Commonwealth VIC

29 – Thirteenth Beach (Beach) VIC

30 – The National (Ocean) VIC

31 – Moonah Links (Open) VIC 

32 – Brookwater QLD

33 – Huntingdale VIC

34 – Peninsula (North) VIC

35 – The Cut WA

36 – Peninsula (South) VIC

37 – Hamilton Island QLD

38 – Elanora NSW

39 – Glenelg SA

40 – Grange (East) SA

41 – Links Hope Island QLD 

42 – Bonville NSW

43 – Grange (West) SA

44 – The Grand QLD

45 – The Vintage NSW

46 – Terrey Hills NSW

47 – Palmer Resort Coolum QLD

48 – Yarra Yarra VIC

49 – Royal Canberra ACT

50 – The Western Australian WA

51 – Pacific Harbour QLD 

52 – Sanctuary Cove (Pines) QLD

53 – Spring Valley VIC

54 – Portsea VIC

55 – Pacific Dunes NSW

56 – Capricorn (Championship) QLD

57 – Glades QLD

58 – Pelican Waters QLD

59 – Concord NSW

60 – Kalgoorlie WA

61 – Links Lady Bay SA

62 – The Heritage (St John) VIC

63 – Sanctuary Cove (Palms) QLD

64 – Mount Lawley WA

65 – Settlers Run VIC

66 – Avondale NSW

67 – Stonecutters Ridge NSW

68 – Lakelands QLD

69 – Sanctuary Lakes VIC

70 – Meadow Springs WA

71 – Twin Creeks NSW

72 – Sorrento VIC

73 – Port Fairy VIC

74 – Amstel (Ranfurlie) VIC

75 – St Michael’s NSW

76 – Secret Harbour WA

77 – Thirteenth Beach (Creek) VIC

78 – Cottesloe WA

79 – Long Island VIC

80 – RACV Healesville VIC

81 – Eynesbury VIC 

82 – Castle Hill NSW

83 – Tasmania TAS

84 – Murray Downs NSW

85 – Paradise Palms QLD

86 – Araluen WA

87 – Cranbourne VIC

88 – Narooma NSW

89 – Indooroopilly (West) QLD

90 – Monash NSW

91 – Kooindah Waters NSW 

92 – Alice Springs NT

93 – The Vines (Lakes) WA

94 – The Heritage (Henley) VIC

95 – Riversdale VIC

96 – Palmer Gold Coast QLD

97 – Federal ACT

98 – Horsham VIC

99 – Fleurieu SA

100 – Macquarie Links NSW