“I don’t know why anyone wants to go overseas; we’ve got everything here.”
For half of an iconic duo who brought road trips to the unknown into the lounge rooms of millions of Australian households in the late 1970s, Mal Leyland knows the allure of the open road better than most. He and brother Mike uncovered corners of Australia that to those of the time seemed as distant as Siberia or the Sahara. The Leyland brothers proved that with just a little preparation Aussies could holiday in wildly wondrous localities littered throughout the land.
Without trawling through the back catalogue of all 153 episodes of “Ask The Leyland Brothers”, it is unlikely that golf ever featured. Yet anyone who has ever filled the tank, thrown the clubs in the back and set sail for adventures unknown understands the appeal. They can be defined by the vehicle you travel in, the people you travel with or the destinations you travel to, but the memories they create often out-live the wheels that took you from golf course to golf course.
Driving – whether behind the wheel or whaling away on the first tee – is in the Aussie DNA. Put the two together and you’ve got a golf trip with genuine grunt.
It’s not until you get to Caloundra and realise that there is still another 60 kilometres to Noosa that the actual scope of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast becomes clear. The Coastal Strip is a cruisy, hour-long drive that takes you from Caloundra up through Mooloolaba and Alexandra Headland to Sunshine Beach at Noosa, yet golfers would be wise to jump in the car in Brisbane and sample a Top 100 delight along the way.
Pacific Harbour Golf & Country Club is situated on Bribie Island and the Ross Watson design should not be driven past for the sake of getting to your intended destination a day early. An open design set on a sand island will always lend itself to a links-style layout and Watson did a tremendous job of introducing drama through the bunkering and allowing the prevailing winds to stiffen the test on any given day. Once ranked as high as 51st in our biennial ranking of Australia’s Top 100 Courses, Pacific Harbour sets a tone of sophistication that continues as you move north.
One of the under-appreciated aspects to a golf trip on the Sunshine Coast is the ability to intersperse terrific member courses with high-profile resorts that have featured prominently on the PGA Tour of Australasia schedule. The Greg Norman/Bob Harrison design at Pelican Waters Golf Club at Caloundra played host to the Queensland Open in February, while Caloundra Golf Club gained worldwide attention in June when it hosted Adam Scott’s live Instagram match with local junior Bailey Arnott.
Scott’s extended time at home has shone the spotlight on a number of Sunshine Coast courses, with Headland Golf Club and Maleny Golf Club in the hinterland also benefiting by regular visits from the No.6 golfer on the planet.
Given its year-round playability the Sunshine Coast has long been the destination of choice for many golfers in the southern states. Palmer Resort Coolum has shown an encouraging move towards its former glory that saw it host the Australian PGA Championship for more than a decade from 2002, Twin Waters Golf Club has been the long-time host of the Volkswagen Scramble and Legends Tour event, while Noosa Springs and Maroochy River Golf Club currently reside within our Top 100.
Rarely has Noosa Springs been better presented than it has been in recent times. The opening holes pinch in from the sides to test how committed you are to each swing, while the firm greens reward only the purest approach shots. Unlike many resort courses where balls hit and stick regardless of the quality of your strike, Noosa Springs places extra emphasis on your path to the putting surface.
While the front nine is defined by the narrow avenues you have to navigate, the back nine at Noosa Springs is more expansive and with more dramatic topography. The par-4 11th is only short but requires an exact shot from the tee and from the par-4 12th water regularly comes into play, flanking the entire left side of the par-3 13th and providing a tempting water carry of some 185 metres at the par-5 15th for the daring and foolhardy.
The most unique golf offering on the Sunshine Coast is the Graham Marsh-designed Maroochy River, an expansive layout with Mount Coolum in the distance and that relies on subtle mounding, snaking watercourses and ever-present wind of varying strength to throw up a different set of challenges almost every time you play there.
The second shot into the 399-metre 18th will be the one first discussed when enjoying a post-round drink in the stunning clubhouse, but it is the par 3s that purists will revel in most. Despite playing just 130 metres at its full extent, the fourth hole will test the confidence of your club selection while the 136-metre 12th has water flanking the right side of the hole and a large bunker guarding entry from the left. Maroochy River also boasts a brand new mini-golf course courtesy of the team at Mini Golf Creations that creates a fun environment for every member of the family.
Throw in Peregian Golf Course, and it’s hard to drive too far on the Sunny Coast without passing a course worth playing.
Adelaide to Fleurieu Peninsula
Road trips are more than connecting two dots on a map; it’s the discoveries you make along the way.
Having sampled the banquet of classical courses that are – in my humble opinion – second only to Melbourne for the gold standard of metropolitan golf in this country, a touring party I was part of in 2009 plotted a trip from Adelaide to the Fleurieu Peninsula with the primary purpose of playing Links Lady Bay, a Newton, Grant and Spencer course 80 kilometres south of the city centre.
What we didn’t expect to discover was another course that would immediately become a Top 100 contender and a night of poker with the locals at the Mount Compass Tavern that saw a member of our group strut out of the pub with the lion’s share of the money.
Leaving our Glenelg base and heading south on the M2 with the Gulf St Vincent to our right, the trusty Tarago took a left at Pages Flat Road towards Fleurieu Golf Course – since re-branded to Mount Compass Golf Course – and unveiled the surprise packet of the trip. Embedded with the DNA of the Crafter family starting with Brian and more recently his son Neil of Crafter + Mogford Golf Strategies, Mount Compass mixes charming quirks with expansive vistas that offer a number of breathtaking tee shots. And word is out, with Mount Compass rising 23 spots in our most recent evaluation to be ranked the 73rd best course in the country.
Currently six positions further up the ranking, Links Lady Bay sits with little between it and the gulf and thus not only offers water views but also the opportunity for a day playing in wind that has all the hallmarks of a Scottish howler.
Jump back in the car and 30 minutes to the east you will find Victor Harbor and two courses of serious quality that look across the Great Australian Bight, Victor Harbor Golf Club and McCracken Country Club. Established in 1911, Victor Harbor provides memorable moments from the moment you step onto the elevated first tee yet its immense contribution to world golf is less well known.
Having moved to the area from Michigan in the US in the 1960s, Richard ‘Dick’ Ambrose and his wife Mary introduced a new format of play that would in time become known the world over. It was called ‘Shot Gun’ when Dick and Mary were joined by then secretary-manager Geoff Bohnsack and his wife Joan, Dick and Patty Rymill, Stan and Rose Lucas, Bill and Yvonne Goode and Jack and Dorothy Vawser.
The format proved so popular that day, it was used for the club’s opening and closing days, the name of the competition changed to ‘Ambrose’ by Bohnsack in honour of the man who brought it to Victor Harbor. If you and your travelling party make it down to Victor Harbor, it would be only fitting to partner up and play an Ambrose match and pay homage.
Soon enough there will be even greater incentive to continue further south with Cape Wickham Links collaborator Darius Oliver currently putting into the ground a spectacular coastal design on Kangaroo Island.
I once thought it would be a fun idea to travel the length of the Murray River and play every golf course I came across for a feature story in this very magazine. I played 270 holes dotted along 2,530 kilometres of Murray River mightiness across nine days and lived to tell the tale. I went to some dark places, talked to myself often, chipped ice from the windshield prior to leaving Corowa and played myself in and out of form at least five times, all for the purposes of sampling everything golf on the Murray had to offer.
Starting in Albury and tracing your way all the way down to the salubrious Murray Downs Golf Resort, much of the Murray River experience rests with the manner in which you wish to do it. If you’re a subscriber to the theory that variety is indeed the spice of life then you are well catered for; if you prefer to set up camp and leave the car to recuperate in the car park, there are a multitude of alternatives capable of meeting your needs.
The most recent addition is Peter Thomson’s final design at Black Bull Golf Club and the imminent opening of the adjacent Sebel Yarrawonga will provide a level of luxury that the region has largely lacked since it exploded on the back of busloads of Victorians wanting to play poker machines in New South Wales.
Ten minutes down the road is Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort, with 45 holes, nine different accommodation options, a movie theatre and the Border Bistro – a facility with everything you could ask for of a one-stop golf holiday.
Rich River Golf Club (36 holes), Tocumwal Golf and Bowls Club (36), Cobram Barooga Golf Club (36) and Corowa Golf Club (27) all boast more than the standard 18 holes and most will give you change from $50 for a round at one of their courses. It’s easy to see how the holes can quickly add up.
While there is a consistent theme to many of the courses found along Australia’s greatest river, there are subtle differences that give each their own character. The Murray course at Yarrawonga is as pure an Australian golf experience you will find in a regional area. With its Captains and Presidents courses, Tocumwal harks back to the game’s origins, while Murray Downs is a bigger, bolder resort-style course with water carries and risk-reward challenges.
Whichever end you begin your journey, there is enough good golf on the Murray to gorge yourself into a coma. Trust me.
Torquay to Warrnambool
If we’re mixing good golf and great drives it’s impossible to overlook the Great Ocean Road, a picturesque stretch of bitumen covering close to 250 kilometres from Torquay, near Geelong, to Marc Leishman country in Warrnambool.
Since the establishment of Thirteenth Beach Golf Links at the turn of the century, the Bellarine Peninsula has blossomed to be regarded as one of the best golf destinations in its own right. Mike Clayton-inspired upgrades at Curlewis Golf Club and Torquay Golf Club further bolstering an offering that is headlined by the timeless beauty of Barwon Heads Golf Club and The Sands Torquay.
If that is merely the starting point to a golf trip it will be an unforgettable journey. Passing the iconic Bells Beach as you head south, the tyres will barely be warm before your first golf detour takes you into Anglesea Golf Club, a course heavily populated with kangaroos and that has elevation changes and cambering fairways reminiscent of the Melbourne Sandbelt.
As you continue on, the Southern Ocean and Bass Strait lap seemingly at the edge of the passenger side door on your way to Cape Otway and such natural wonders as the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge and London Arch, while there is golf to be played at Lorne and Apollo Bay before arriving at the Shipwreck Coast.
While Warrnambool with its ‘Shipwreck Bend’ stretch of holes through mountainous sand dunes technically signifies the end of the Great Ocean Road, any golfer worth their salt will continue on to Port Fairy, a charming town of 3,000 people founded as a whaling port and with a golf course deserving of far wider recognition. When our convoy of matching SUVs pulled into the Port Fairy Golf Club car park, we felt as though we had instead been transported to a remote Scottish town, the quality of golf found within far exceeding whatever preconceived ideas we held prior to our arrival.
We’d seen the photos, we knew there were holes that would provide moments of wonder, yet they just kept coming one after the other.
It took twists and turns that put a Dan Brown novel to shame and kept us constantly turning to one another to say – even without having to say it – How good is this!
If the Great Ocean Road cared to be extended a further 30 kilometres it would be even greater.
Sydney to South Coast
Want to make a good first impression? How about driving a Maserati Quattroporte down the Sea Cliff Bridge south from Sydney and pulling into the Scarborough Hotel for fish and chips on the back deck looking across the Pacific Ocean. That was the privileged position I found myself in 11 years ago when I suggested to a generous advertising client that a South Coast excursion deserved to be done in style… and they agreed.
Whether it was the patrons at the Scarborough Hotel or an early-morning surfer who stopped in his tracks while crossing the road in Mollymook, the Maserati and I caused quite a stir in a region featuring equally enjoyable coastal and highland routes.
Highlighted by Wollongong Golf Club itself – home club of NRL legend Wendell Sailor – Wollongong has enough quality golf to make it a destination of choice. The Links Shell Cove, Grange, Calderwood Valley and Port Kembla surround Lake Illawarra, but there are further delights to be found as you progress down the Princes Highway.
Gerringong Golf Club is an exposed layout that runs along the coastline, Shoalhaven Heads is a hidden gem on the southern end of Seven Mile Beach and St George’s Basin has been a popular stop on both the ALPG and Legends professional circuits during the past 20 years.
Mollymook’s Hilltop course is a perennial Top 100 inclusion, Club Catalina at Batemans Bay has been a long-time host of the National Futures Championship and Narooma Golf Club features tees that bring the prospect of missing Australia very much into the picture. If time is no object then taking the inland route on the trip back north opens up the possibility to experience a completely different style of golf at Kangaroo Valley and up into the Southern Highlands where Mount Broughton, Moss Vale and Gibraltar golf clubs lay in wait.
And if you can cruise through in a stylish sports car, the locals won’t soon forget you.
And now for something completely different.
Whether you start your round at the Kalgoorlie Visitor Centre or 1,365 kilometres further east at the Ceduna Visitor Centre in South Australia, Nullarbor Links offers the chance to play the longest 18-hole golf course on the planet.
A concept devised by the Eyre Highway Operators Association as a way to bring more tourists to one of Australia’s most iconic stretches of bitumen, the golf course itself plays to a par 73 over 6,174 metres, the course record of three-under 70 set by 2015 ALPG Rookie of the Year Hayley Bettencourt in 2018 having previously been shared by West Australian pro Matt Jager and Ian Darwen at one-under 72.
Seven holes are played on existing golf courses and 11 at roadhouses and road-side stops, names such as Oyster Beds, Wombat Hole, Dingo’s Den and Brumby’s Run giving each hole a unique character all of its own.
You’d have to think for an intrepid traveller such as Mal Leyland, it’s probably his favourite golf course in Australia.