Links Lady Bay opened in 2000, which perhaps did the coastal South Australian golf course more harm than good.

The lone collaboration between Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and the late John Spencer (the trio did perform redesign work elsewhere, but this was their only ‘from scratch’ Australian project), Lady Bay was one of a raft of new golf courses to open in Australia during the heady years either side of the new millennium. So the layout on a majestic sliver of waterside land south of Adelaide became a little lost in the rush.

The opening hole at Links Lady Bay is a docile starter before the challenge quickly ramps up.
The opening hole at Links Lady Bay is a docile starter before the challenge quickly ramps up.

Seventeen of the current 100 courses listed on Australian Golf Digest’s most recent ranking of the 100 best layouts in the country opened between 1998 and 2002. It was a development ‘strike rate’ David Warner would be proud of, but one that has certainly slowed in the years since. For golfers seeking newfound turf to sate their desires, Lady Bay faced competition from places the likes of Brookwater, Links Kennedy Bay, Glades, two of The National’s three courses and the original layouts at Moonah Links, Heritage and Thirteenth Beach. By comparison, the advent of Lady Bay might have seemed something of a low-voltage arrival. Plus, opening nine holes at a time didn’t help its status within the mix.

Yet 18 years on, the golf course has evolved into one of the nation’s best public-access options. The 70-minute excursion from the city to the Fleurieu Peninsula is a particularly pleasant one, affording those with the time and a vinous inclination to stop at some of the premier wineries in the land. Once in Normanville, however, the best regional golf course in South Australia unfolds before you.

Parts of the green are not visible from the tee at the par-3 sixth.
Parts of the green are not visible from the tee at the par-3 sixth.

Situated on gently undulating land wedged between a prominent hillside and the Gulf St Vincent, Links Lady Bay rides the rolling terrain for its first dozen holes before sneaking behind the spur and into a secluded pocket of land for a handful of the back nine holes before re-emerging for the hillside 18th. It’s a beautiful setting, says co-architect Grant, but one that not enough golfers know about.

“The lack of recognition Lady Bay has received has disappointed me over the years,” Grant says, adding that its out-of-the-way location and the timing issue referenced above were certainly contributing factors.

The course was constructed on a shoestring budget but built “in a way that didn’t reflect that”, Grant says. Lady Bay’s owner, Mike Hill, wanted to sell the blocks of residential land to fund construction of the golf course but, in reality, projects like this are more successful if the golf course opens first. As such, people were sceptical whether the project would work. Today Grant applauds Hill, saying he was something of a visionary in the field for the way he allowed the designers to use their expertise and trusted them with his land.

Ominous clouds gather over the green of the par-4 second hole.
Ominous clouds gather over the green of the par-4 second hole.

That was refreshing to experience for Grant, who at the time was working on minor redesign projects for other golf clubs, a situation that invariably leads to a need to sate the desires of a group of disparate members. Often in such scenarios, the skills and intelligence of the architect become suffocated by a need to appease so many ‘clients’. Not so at Lady Bay, where Grant’s creative juices were allowed to flow to their fullest.

“The greens I built were a benchmark for the future for me,” he says, adding how Lady Bay’s set of greens are different but retain the same style. “And it’s difficult to achieve variation within your own style.”

Grant is by nature a hands-on architect. He thinks nothing of jumping in and excavating or digging bunkers himself. Such was the case at Lady Bay, where Hill at times wondered when the bunker digging would stop. Indeed, they are a dominant feature of the course, as most shots – whether drives, approaches or greenside pitches – involve navigating a way past or over at least one trap and often several of them. They’re perhaps more visually intimidating than they are imposing to play out of, but there’s little doubt that in most instances finding a Lady Bay bunker is a course management error.

The par-5 seventh features the largest water hazard at Lady Bay.
The par-5 seventh features the largest water hazard at Lady Bay.

On first inspection Grant, who was formerly the long-term course superintendent at Kingston Heath, envisaged a golf course akin to the best in his native Melbourne, yet it didn’t pan out that way. “When we were shown the land, I felt like we could produce something along the lines of a Melbourne Sandbelt-style course,” he says. “But over time we realised a course closer to a links-style course could evolve.”

And it has, right down to the capricious breezes off the gulf and how the turf plays. The exposed site, long wispy rough and array of deep bunkers of varying sizes characterise most holes at Lady Bay, although a few feature water, either in pond form or a babbling creek. It is a significant transformation for a former sheep and cattle grazing property.

Grant draws substantial satisfaction from creating great holes out of the lesser land – holes like the testing par-4 fifth and the sixth, a par 3 with a tremendous green complex featuring segments disguised by the terrain and bunker lips. Golfers stand on the tee not knowing how much of a safe area they have to use.

The club has dealt with water issues and chequered conditioning in the past – few rural courses are immune to that particular plight – but these days Links Lady Bay glows. It’s also a course susceptible to the vagaries of the calendar. Depending on the time of year, golfers will encounter varying wind directions and ground conditions. The seasons reveal the course’s multi-faceted personality as the winds switch and the course shifts from firm and fast conditions during summer to winter lushness. If you’ve played the course before, returning at the opposite time of year can yield a totally different perspective.


Links Lady Bay
Where: St Andrews Boulevard, Normanville SA 5204
Phone: (08) 8558 0650