That was one of the great days, applauded my lifelong friend, Beaz.
“It was good, wasn’t it?” I asked. I had a glass of The Beast from Hentley in my paw, and was doing my best to swirl it around the way they do on the wine shows. I wanted to “study the legs” before running it across my tongue and into my gullet.
“Not good, Daddster,” says Beaz. “Good is a win at the races. It’s go-karting or standing up on a surfboard. A good day is shooting your handicap or being let off a speeding ticket. But this? This has been one of the great days!”
I took a long snort of The Beast, letting the earthy, truffle-like aromas mingle with the blackberries and black olives. It’s a heady wine with “soft, grippy tannins, and quite rich.” Yes, it had been a brilliant day, and was heading for quite a night as the shadows lengthened across The Grange golf course in Adelaide. This scene verged on poetic.
I’d sent Beaz an email a week earlier, saying I was heading to Adelaide for bit of golf and asked if he was able to join me.
“Adelaide? For golf? On a school day? Are you mad?”
“Well, no,” I replied. “It’s a chance to try something you might not have considered.”
“But Adelaide?” says Beaz, anchored in Melbourne’s sandbelt. He’s spoilt and he knows it.
“Trust me,” I said.
This might be the moment to declare an interest: I am a massive fan of golf in The City of Churches. In fact, I love the city of Adelaide and the way she’s growing up out of her rural roots and sharing her best bits with the rest of us. She holds a unique place in Australia, hanging onto that beautiful, welcoming small-town feel, but overflowing with big-town benefits.
This is a city changing for the better: great food, funky cafes, trendy little bars popping up like bindis on our front lawn – once they get their barbs into you, you’re hooked. I love looking back from the Adelaide Hills across the vast flatlands of the city to Glenelg, and beyond.
Then there’s the wine. If Melbournians talk sport and Sydneysiders talk real estate, Crow-eaters talk the grape. They love wine; it’s in their blood and their history.
West is the only direction you can head without finding a world-class winery, and that’s Gulf St Vincent – where you’ll boat your load of fish instead.
South Australia has always been a great provider for our country – athletes, produce, exports, tourism and the arts. It makes absolute sense she’s also got great golf courses as well. Perched on the edge of everything and that great expanse of nothingness, Adelaide has been the launchpad for so many great Australian stories.
But golf was Adelaide’s biggest lure for me, and possibly her biggest surprise.
Like Melbourne, Adelaide has a sandbelt peppered with golf courses. In true entrepreneurial style, these clubs have banded together to create a kind of super experience – hence Beaz’s comment, “one of the great days.”
At the pointy end of the golf experience, you’ve got four courses in Australia’s top 40 to choose from, but it would be unfair to rule out other courses given time and opportunity. Given judging is entirely subjective, I’ll confess my surprise that Glenelg, Kooyonga and the East Course at The Grange aren’t considerably higher up the list of Australia’s absolute best. Royal Adelaide sits within chipping distance of the top 10 courses in Australia, and with current work in place, it could easily crack one of the top spots.
The idea from the big four of South Australian golf was to team up with some of Australia’s best wines to create an experience to look forward to and, ultimately, savour.
And so the ‘Four Reds’ golf tour was born.
Glenelg By The Glassful
My favourite, I think. But how do you love something that clearly doesn’t love you back? Not for the first 10 holes anyway. It was difficult, but not mercilessly so. Glenelg is a beautifully presented golf course that celebrates the good shots, maybe even the average ones, but will rain hell upon your score should you take on parts of the course not marked for mowing.
It’s not ridiculously narrow or even mean; you just have to negotiate rolling fairways, billions of manicured bunkers and greens that were described to me as ‘subtle.’ I missed a lot of putts – more than usual – and many by millimetres. Every time the ball slid by, or lipped out or just missed (by feet) someone in the group would say, “Hmm … subtle greens. Hard to read if you haven’t seen them before.” I kept searching for the “you ain’t from around here” tone but it wasn’t there.
The greens were subtle, but they were true and fast and I’m quite keen to get back and give them a chance to apologise. It’s a pure test of golf for all levels, but not a place to fear for the higher handicappers. This is a modern, progressive and the most relaxed of Adelaide’s top courses. They make no bones about their intention to be the best-presented course in South Australia, and it is a wonderful track. The mantra for play here? “Fairways good, long grass bad.”
After golf, you must eat. If you play here as part of the Four Reds experience, it’ll be with a brilliant tasting platter and a bottle of Henschke’s Keyneton Euphonium. It’s a shiraz/cab sav/merlot from one of the world’s great winemakers and it will give you a new appreciation of the word ‘subtle.’ Dinner in the Pinehill Bistro is excellent. With the floodlit 18th before you and a predictably extensive South Australian winelist, it was one of the stellar meals of the trip.
Royal Adelaide – Pretty As A Picture
I had a moment at Royal Adelaide Golf Club that was somewhere between surreal and bizarre … but most definitely wonderful. I love South Australia’s most iconic golf club because it has everything, including a commuter train that passes through the course throughout the day – it is quiet, though, so no excuses here for the fast, subtle greens. Yes, the greens here are subtle, too.
Everything stacks up for Royal Adelaide: A Rymill/Gardner creation built from the dunes in 1903, re-imagined by Alister MacKenzie in 1926 and considered a masterpiece ever since. Royal Adelaide is regularly in the world’s top 100 courses.
It’s interesting. I took lots of photos at Royal Adelaide, but none of them adequately captured the joy of playing here. Obviously, I’m not a great photographer, but I thought the seventh, with its magical bunkering, would have transcended anyone’s snapper ability. To stand on the tee and see those six bunkers protecting the front of the green, knowing there’s another on each side for good measure is daunting, and yet, quite spectacular. Who needs island greens when you’ve got sand like that?
The most breathtaking moment came on the 10th tee. It’s a lovely hole – working towards a tough second shot as the green slopes away from the fairway in a very ‘unsubtle’ way. To the right of the tee is a pine – it transported me back to my HSC where I studied the work of French impressionist Paul Cézanne. Sounds pretentious, doesn’t it? But it was unmistakable. When I squinted, I could see Cézanne’s The Bay of Marseilles, Seen from L’Estaque. It’s from the Chateau Noir series. And I vaguely remembered his words about putting his paintings next to God-made objects like flowers or trees to see if they clash. If they didn’t clash, it was art. The longer I looked from the tee, the more art I could see laid out before me.
Cézanne also said, “We live in a rainbow of chaos,” which is a fair description of the golf that was played that day.
Royal Adelaide is literally unmissable for every golfer. It’s as simple as that. The wine matching with the tasting plate after the round was the Bakers Gully Syrah from Clarendon Hills. The verdict? We ordered a second bottle…
Kooyonga’s True Character Test
H.L. “Cargie” Rymill, one of the initial course designers of Royal Adelaide, is to be thanked for the magic that is Kooyonga. As you’d expect from one of Alister MacKenzie’s disciples, this is a gorgeous place to play golf on an utterly beautiful track.
I’ve heard Kooyonga described as the “height of hoity toit.” If that means being welcomed warmly and made to feel part of the fabric of this impressive club, they certainly got that right.
The clubhouse is magnificent but fails to overshadow the golf course, which may well be described as a genuine examination of your golfing ability. It’s possibly how all great courses should be remembered, and the condition of Kooyonga will stay with me for some time to come. I’d seen it on the TV many times, but tournament golf rarely shows the true character of a golf course.
I was struck by the undulations; especially when remembering how flat Adelaide appeared to be from the hills to the East. It’s the pines that got me, and the hard, fast greens, the sloping fairways and again, the stunning red sand of the bunkers. There’s a chance I went off too early suggesting Glenelg might be my favourite. For on reflection, Kooyonga might be, too.
Like Glenelg, I was given a touch-up here, so there may be something in the old adage, “Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen”. As was pointed out by our playing partners, the course is constantly evolving. Most notably, a ‘canopy raising’ is underway along many of the fairways. That’s clearing the bush and brush under the trees in the rough, giving the golfer a chance to get a swing at the ball and to keep play moving.
We drank my favourite wine after the game – the Rockford Basket Press from the Barossa Valley. It’s heaven in a bottle, and given a morning off, or an afternoon, well worth a visit to see Robert O’Callaghan – founder and winemaker who put it all together. A true character – possibly eccentric – he’s making new wine the old way, and if your golf game fails you, this wine will not.
The Grange Had Me At Greg
“One of the great days,” said my mate Beaz. And he was right, because days like this don’t come along very often and it exists as a reminder that we should take our chances in life to enjoy special moments, because we never know when the chance might come again.
We had breakfast, it was fine, then dropped into a café frothing with hipsters to get a coffee for the drive up to Penfolds. Now, to be fair, we could have gone for a tour to Adelaide Oval. Or perhaps a morning’s fishing in the harbour. We could have done a tour of Glenelg or a drive to the Barossa, a night in the Claire, or even a quick hit at Mt Osmond for a chance to look back at the city.
But we opted for Penfolds – it’s a winey kind of trip, plus we’re winey kind of guys. So we opted for the Ultimate Penfolds Experience – it sounds even better in a deep movie-promo American accent. “The Ultimate Penfolds Experience.” There was a full tour of the Magill Estate, the spiritual home of Penfolds and staggeringly close to the city of Adelaide.
This is the home of the Grange story, where Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold lived and conceived the world’s best red. Zoe, our guide, showed us through the cottage and the Magill Estate Winery, from where the grapes come in to where the bottles go out – all of it. The bluestone cellars, underground tunnels, Still House, tasting rooms and … the Holy Grail – the Grange tasting room.
It was set for three people … we were three people. I had no idea we’d signed up for that. I’d hoped, of course, and on the four times we walked past, I’d yearned to enter. Finally, Zoe said, “Are you ready to try Grange?” Not, “the Grange,” or “a Grange.” It was “Grange.”
You bet. And even then, it wasn’t “sit down, drink up.” We worked our way towards it, past a 2007 Yattarna Chardonnay, and all that biscuit, lemon curdish, raw hazelnut perfume. There was a 2011 Magill Estate Shiraz – pink peppercorns, violet, lavender and red fruits, like currents. The ’07 RWT was plush and ripe; silky tannins caressed my tongue in ways my normal wine does not.
Beaz was weeping, openly. Zoe nodded appreciatively. “Save it,” she said. “The Max Schubert cab sav is from 2012. It’s young, of course, but as it’s Max’s 100th birthday, it’s going to be extraordinary.”
It was my turn to weep, though I did a fair job of hiding it. We were there, and a glass of ’81 sat before me. I have tasted Grange Hermitage before, but not like this. Not after a dry biscuit and two dry, green olives to settle my palette. Or a Zoe to tell me what I was about to experience, instead of rushing it around a glass, having a snort and saying, “yum.” This was anticipation at its finest, like that moment before the first tee, or the final putt.
The year 1981 had a drought-affected summer, so this was only a 3-star vintage. To look at – deep, brick-red. Roasted meats, tobacco, prune, dark chocolate on the nose. It was brilliant because it was supposed to be brilliant, but it was also gobsmackingly good. Really. And not just the wine, but also the moment in time, the atmosphere and the company – the whole dang thing.
The 2009 Grange – a 4-star year, rich, plush and fresh – was buoyant.
I was buoyant. We all were. And this was how we prepared to play The Grange, East. It’s a Norman course, and is vastly different to the Clayton redesign of the West course.
To be honest, given the lead up, I can’t imagine how we could have failed to enjoy the golf. Having said that, the Grange East not only held our euphoria, it took it to another level.
The greens may have got the better of us, again, but the course was both enjoyable and challenging. The large, sandy waste areas begged us to take them on, with predictably average results. It was great, and given another chance to play The Grange, I’d pick East over West. But my feelings for Norman might have something to do with that.
On any other day, The Beast Shiraz from Hentley Farm would have been top of the pops. On this day, while good, it was never going to knock off the wines from earlier in the day.
Look, I understand the genuine excitement surrounding some of Australia’s newest courses. I do. The thought of playing on a near-deserted island, hitting along rugged coastlines with a 60-knot southerly bluster up my clacker is thrilling at the very least. But after a week in the red sandbelt of Adelaide, I found a new appreciation for the traditionally styled golf game as well.
One of the great days can very easily be one of the great trips, and Adelaide should have its place on every golfer’s bucket list.
For more information on the Four Reds golf experience, go to fourreds.com.au