What makes a great clubhouse? Is it a storied history, modern luxury or simply an unassuming place to gather with your playing partners to wax lyrical and solve the world’s problems?
We put the question to our 190 course-rating panellists. The answer, we found, is that no one style of ‘19th hole’ appeals to all, although ones oozing character seem to resonate more.
The great Jack Nicklaus warns “never build a clubhouse for New Year’s Eve”.
“Too many build big square rooms with tables in the middle… soulless places,” adds Australian course architect and former European Tour player Mike Clayton. “It’s the interesting little corners of rooms that make clubhouses great.”
Indeed, the passing of time has brought with it a whole new purpose in clubhouse architecture. The days of lighting up a cigarette, Hogan-style, while the locker room attendant polishes your finest dinner shoes have been replaced by, well, almost everything you can think of. Spas, saunas, gymnasiums, simulators, business centres, restaurants… even childcare facilities. It’s a different universe we temporarily live in after that final putt drops.
“Old clubhouse priorities – certainly at fancy clubs – were around locker rooms, showers and men changing out of and into coats and ties,” recalls Clayton. “Expansive locker rooms are an unnecessary expense now. I rarely use them because there are separate toilets in the clubhouse.”
The clubhouse conundrum in Australia, says Clayton, is we have large memberships. “Consequently, we have big clubhouses when the best ones are often at clubs with smaller memberships, like the US model.”
Whether you’re a purist like Clayton or enjoy being pampered, the digs on these pages are some of the best places to relax and ruminate about the day’s round.
– Brad Clifton
“Hands down the best clubhouse in Australia,” declares panellist Steve Beach.
Constructed in the 1920s from Australian hardwood timber, Barwon Heads’ airy, graceful proportions (12-foot-high ceilings) and large, character-filled rooms speak of golf’s golden age. As the club’s website quite rightly proclaims, this clubhouse embodies the characteristics of the quintessential clubhouse, appearing stately in its setting, affording exceptional views of the course, and warmly housing the camaraderie of members and guests on one of the finest links experiences in the land.
“The building perfectly complements the course like no other and gives the golfer a true feeling of royalty,” says fellow panellist Luke Clark.
“If you are looking for a good meal, a place to enjoy a beer and embellish a story or two about the round you have just played or simply enjoy a red wine in front of a smouldering fire, Barwon Heads’ clubhouse is the perfect spot,” adds Rahim Lalani, who visits more courses than most through his company, Fairway Golf Tours.
“The golf is enhanced by onsite accommodation and dining, meaning you can totally relax and repeat the experience the next day,” says David Chantrell.
Any club that boasts 3,200 members – the most in the southern hemisphere – needs appropriate size and functionality to thrive, and “The Nash” has all that and more.
“When approaching this clubhouse you know you are about to enter a premium golf complex,” says panellist Luke Clark. “It starts when you catch an elevator up from the underground carpark. Then you enter and notice the floor-to-ceiling windows that spectacularly frame the course. Then you head upstairs to the rooftop putting green! Seriously… a rooftop putting green? Now they are showing off!”
“And they take their coffee and wine revive seriously,” adds panellist Ian Curley, a respected chef by trade.
What about the view? “In my opinion, the best of any clubhouse in Australia,” says panellist Robert Shakeshaft. “It’s impossible not to be transfixed by it.”
It’s only fitting that one of the most iconic courses in the country has one of the most iconic clubhouses, too. “Walking in you get a sense of the rich history of the place, and its brilliant architectural design,” says panellist Mitch Morgan. “It’s a fantastic clubhouse to be in after a round, enjoying a beer overlooking the first, ninth, 10th and 18th holes with the Pacific Ocean in the backdrop.”
“It is such a grand old building, perfectly perched on top of the hill overlooking the course and out to sea,” adds rater Scott Muller. “Stepping into the clubhouse feels like stepping back in time where technology takes a back seat to a fireplace and great atmosphere. Mobile phones are not allowed inside, instead allowing people to immerse themselves in the history of the club. The walls are full of photos and memorabilia from years gone by. The clubhouse poses as the perfect backdrop for some amazing closing holes.”
The late Kerry Packer loved the idea of an exclusive golf club. So it’s little wonder his home course in Sydney took exclusivity to a whole new level during his time there.
“The most outrageous clubhouse I have been to in Australia,” says panellist Robert Shakeshaft. “The views of the course and the city have a serene feel, even though you are so close to one of the busiest roads in Australia. One day, I am going to be one of those men, standing naked in the bar, having a coffee or a whisky.”
“The facilities are extraordinary and the service is exceptional,” adds Jason Hill. “The men’s locker room is particularly extravagant – fireplace, bar, spa, sauna and an oft-overlooked feature: great showers! Then, of course, there’s the terrific little café adjoining the pool, and the main bar and restaurant that boasts one of the best menus and wine lists in golf.”
“It has an almost log cabin-like feel,” says Top 100 Courses judge Tim Browne. That’s probably because Barnbougle’s clubhouse brief was that if no one turned up and the course went broke, owner Richard Sattler wanted to be able to turn this cosy space into his house. He needn’t have worried.
While the food and beverage service is top shelf, it’s the little things Barnbougle gets right that separates it from the rest.
“There’s no showing off, no wasted space, no rooftop putting greens… but there is a fireplace with red leather chesterfield chairs and an area to leave and display your own personal perpetual trophy for years to come,” says Luke Clark. “This is one of the all-time great ideas, giving your Barnbougle experience a very personal touch – reason alone to make this list.”
When investment banker David Evans had Greg Norman design his very own golf course in the Cathedral Mountain Ranges, two hours north-east of Melbourne, the only thing he could possibly get wrong was the clubhouse, such is the topography.
Thankfully, they nailed that, too.
“It’s more like a home than a clubhouse,” says Top 100 rater and renowned golf-course photographer Gary Lisbon. “It’s warm, inviting, welcoming and the long bench near the kitchen is the perfect place to start to dissect the round with the friendly, engaging staff before a more intimate and detailed dissection occurs with your mates sitting outside overlooking the 18th hole as the sun sets, beer in hand and the Cathedral Ranges in the background.”
“From the moment you walk through the front door you get to experience a vista like no other,” adds Matt McGuire.
“The way it blends into the landscape and makes you feel like it has been there forever is a credit to the architect. It makes you want to grab a bottle of red from the cellar and sit next to the fireplace before you have even hit a ball.”
This place was never going to miss the list. You’ll struggle to find a clubhouse facility with more bells and whistles than Royal Sydney.
“It has it all – an extraordinary and intimidating building with impressive amenities and facilities for its huge membership base,” says panellist Chris Dugan. “I just stop and imagine the value of the real estate that this iconic club sits on.”
Adds fellow panellist Grant Naylor: “No doubt it has to be the best-looking clubhouse in Australia. When you play your approach shot into the 18th green, it’s hard not to think about the people inside having a drink and watching you. I love the old-school locker assistant that can shine those Niblicks back to brand new.”
The new Eastern Golf Club clubhouse has been built perfectly, according to many of our panellists. The urban design concept is conceived as a picturesque, low-profile, single-level country house, sitting harmoniously in the immediate and surrounding landscape. All member facilities and services are located on a single floor at ground level to promote easy access and high member usage.
“The members’ lounge, fitted with comfy armchairs at nearly every table, that spills out to the terrace overlooking the Yarra Valley has to be arguably the most comfortable members’ lounge in Australia,” says panellist Tony Hicks. “The clubhouse also offers rooms for the kids for parents wanting to have some space to themselves and let the little ones run riot.” A clubhouse that not only welcomes the entire family but caters for them? Brilliant.
This multi-purpose clubhouse – at a cost of more than $20 million – in Sydney’s inner west has been cleverly designed for Strathfield’s diverse, predominantly Asian-Australian membership. The food and beverage includes a wok station while the golf shop has three hitting bays, each with simulators for golf tragics. The large, compartmentalised function area will allow Strathfield to generate substantially more revenue from wakes (in excess of 200 per year) at nearby Rookwood, the largest necropolis in the Southern Hemisphere.
“It’s the Taj Mahal of clubhouses – multi-purpose, catering for aprés golf as much as hardcore golfers with restaurants, café, function rooms, indoor simulators and locker rooms,” says panellist and Australian Golf Digest senior writer Rohan Clarke.
Proof that old school is still cool, Victoria’s stately, three-storey, fully air-conditioned clubhouse exudes comfort and a welcoming, congenial atmosphere. The clubhouse has 15 comfortably appointed rooms, each with full ensuite facilities and views of the course.
“The traditional dark wood finishes, sitting room with open fireplace, and old-world jacket policy in the dining room gives this place a very memorable and warm feeling,” says panellist Daniel Kofoed. “It’s what I envision Augusta to be like.”
Members love the modernised yet traditional feel in the clubhouse at Commonwealth. “From the outside it looks extremely warm and inviting, which is only greater once you step foot inside,” says Tony Hicks. From the old grandfather clock, the classic dark timber lockers to the endless amounts of history through the clubhouse, and the tunnel from the pro shop to the locker rooms, Commonwealth isn’t afraid to promote its proud history through a modern lense. “The view from the clubhouse over the 18th and first holes is a very pleasant site to sit back and take it all in,” adds Hicks.
There’s something beautiful about the design of Brisbane Golf Club’s heritage-listed 19th hole. A typical Queensland-style timber building with a green roof, this clubhouse sits majestically in its natural environment, overlooking the practice green and 18th green and servicing one of the most improved courses in the country.
“As you walk along the first fairway, you walk parallel to the clubhouse and marvel at how it has survived the worst of Brisbane’s floods since 1896,” says Lachlan Begg.
One of the great clubhouses in Sydney, the original building at Avondale still stands proudly today, and although there have been several extensions – the latest in 2018 – the same architectural style has been honoured to make Avondale a memorable experience.
“It was always elegant and stylish, but now Avondale’s clubhouse has the functionality it deserves,” says Chris Dugan. “I particularly love the upper deck area that looks down upon the 12th green – such a fantastic spot to chat about how the round went.”
Like the golf course itself, the clubhouse at Royal Adelaide fuses rich history with modern finishes and comforts, making it one of the great post-round experiences in Australia. “With a beautiful verandah overlooking the practice green and the 18th fairway, not to mention the railway line that’s still in operation today, it’s the perfect place to relax and unwind,” says panellist Richard Angove. “How can you not love the fantastic food, extensive wine list and relaxed atmosphere that complements some stunning views of the surrounding links?”
Heading up the driveway at Yarra Yarra, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the imposing Spanish Mission-inspired clubhouse that features vast terraces, classic internal architecture and beautifully appointed meeting and function rooms… all within 30 minutes of Melbourne’s CBD.
“Yarra Yarra is a delight from yesteryear,” says panellist Craig Gallie. “Brimming with history, it’s like walking through Pinehurst, where you can read all of the intriguing facts and feats of times gone by.”
Known for its progressive management, the club recently converted one of its old-school rooms into the first fitness centre to be opened by a Sandbelt club, a move members have embraced and immediately benefitted from.
The new blueprint for modern clubhouse design, Peninsula Kingswood didn’t miss a trick when it officially opened for play this year. Space, functionality, fitness centre, swimming pool, world-class locker rooms and top-notch food and beverage has kept the rave reviews flooding in.
“The clubhouse is what I would call ultra-modern but not overwhelming,” says panellist Craig Gallie. “I’m usually not one for a games room, but the shuffleboard at PK always manages to drag me in for at least an hour and the menu looks simply brilliant.”
One of the more recognisable buildings in Australian golf, Terrey Hills’ renovated contemporary clubhouse, complete with grand function rooms, private meeting rooms and club lounge isn’t complete without its own iconic watchtower that guards the memorable layout.
“I love this clubhouse, particularly as the sun sets on the terra cotta/pink building in its natural bushland surroundings,” says Craig Gallie. “The grand fireplace is a treat during winter, too.”
Few clubhouses look better matched with their environment than Kingston Heath’s. “I just love the very traditional architecture, with the starters box and pro shop all blending in seamlessly,” says panellist Shane Barnes.
“It’s a classy building that sits so well in the landscape,” adds Andrew Coghlan. “I particularly like the elegant entrance from the carpark side.”
Indeed, Kingston Heath has a clubhouse to match its world-class course, offering some of the finest wine and dining experiences in the country. “It has everything you could want but is so unassuming in its appearance, which isn’t to say it’s not a great looking clubhouse. It looks great from all different points of the course,” says rater Edward Dowling.
Perfectly positioned and perched high above the course giving views in every direction, you can’t help but get that “I can’t wait to get out there” feeling from the impressive balcony. “The clubhouse oozes charm… so much so that I have often taken friends there just look at the building,” says panellist Luke Clark.
“Sorrento offers a terrific experience from the minute you step inside,” adds rater Phil Boulton. “The food is delicious. The service is friendly. The rebuilt clubhouse is stunning, whichever way you look at it.”
The recently renovated clubhouse at Lake Karrinyup Country Club has transformed the place into an elegant experience. “The new eating areas and verandahs at the front add to the ambience and relax a little of the stuffiness of the interior rooms,” says panellist Josie Ryan. “The limestone is also a cool addition and very inviting.”
“I love how the grill and wine room open out on to the practice putting green and first tee,” adds rater John Hopkins. “It’s no surprise it was recently awarded the best clubhouse facility in WA.”
It’s also no surprise the new-look Lake Karrinyup was met with much acclaim by members of The Australian, Metropolitan and Kooyonga on a recent interclub visit.
Ah, yes, unassuming Mount Broughton. “As soon as I saw it, it brought back memories of my round at Royal St George’s,” says Rey Saballa. “It gives a heritage vibe that golf purists will love. Not to mention the links-style golf course sets the perfect backdrop that transports you to the British Isles.”
Mt Broughton’s heritage look on the outside is brought inside with its timber materials and quaint fireplace. “Mt Broughton is probably the best small clubhouse I’ve seen,” says rater Kevin Pallier.
Indeed, sometimes less really is more.
Some clubhouses have to make do with what they’ve been given. Others, like Hamilton Island, revel in some of the most spectacular land sites on the planet. “How many top-quality courses in Australia can boast whale and dolphin sightings from their clubhouse?” asks panellist Damien Tarbox.
“The views of the Whitsundays here are simply stunning. The shades of blue from all seats in the clubhouse are delightful. Hamilton Island boasts a modern clubhouse not cluttered with honourboards, as the walls are minimal with glass windows present to maximise views.”
Adds fellow course rater Loren Justins: “Without doubt the best views you can get after a round of golf in Australia.”
This timeless mansion in Orange, New South Wales, proffers an enchanting atmosphere and aura of old-world charm. “In my mind, unequivocally, Duntryleague stands as possibly the most stunning clubhouse in the land,” says well-travelled course rater Chris Croker. “The Duntryleague clubhouse exudes an ambience and vintage character rarely found in Australian clubs and, consequently, I must rank Duntryleague as one of the most imposing golf establishments I have experienced.”
Heritage listed, Duntryleague also boasts first-class dining, offering lunch and dinner in the formal Brennan Room or alfresco meals on the deck overlooking the course. The building also comes with its own accommodation – 14 rooms of various categories from the original master suites to standard rooms.
“The WA club boasts what I believe to be the best city views in Perth,” declares Corey McKerrow. The Tudor-style clubhouse has been redesigned a number of times over the years and in its current form members can enjoy the large balcony that wraps around the front of the building, offering sensational views of the ninth, 10th and 18th holes.
“The club has certainly used its position atop one of the highest points in the Perth metro area to full capacity,” McKerrow adds. “You could understand why other clubs in the area would be a tad jealous.”
The epicentre of Brighton Lakes in Sydney’s south-west is the magnificent three-storey contemporary clubhouse overlooking the water-fronted par-3 18th hole. At 4,500m2, the clubhouse is capable of easily entertaining up to 600 people at once. “It’s been cleverly designed with the bistro/café, gaming, sports bar lounge and upstairs function rooms able to accommodate small or large parties without interfering with other clubhouse patrons,” says panellist Rohan Clarke.
Designed by Altis at a cost of approximately $20 million, the clubhouse has three outdoor balconies as well as a kids’ playground. On the ground level, the golf shop and halfway house operate smoothly to allow a seamless flow of traffic between the teeing areas and halfway house.