Here are 10 of the best places to play and stay this winter, covering a range of budgets.
Money and golf remain inextricably linked at all levels of the game. From the best tour professionals, who can become multi-millionaires in the space of mere days, right down to the $5 wagers a group of high handicappers might concoct for an 18-hole match, pecuniary interests touch almost every aspect of play.
For everyday golfers, where we play is often at the forefront of our financial relationship with golf. If money were no object, and access no restriction, we’d surely play top-shelf courses almost exclusively. But golf clubs and courses don’t work that way – and we’re actually richer for it. In Australia in particular, the affordability aspect is vastly superior to most other golf-playing nations and some of our most affordable courses are also our best. We’re not subjected to six-figure joining fees here, and even three-figure green fees are reserved for only the best courses.
Yet sometimes the money factor isn’t the hurdle to playing more, which is why we’ve compiled this snapshot of 10 courses in three different price categories. If money is tight, of no concern or something in between, we’ve got a golf course for you.
Cheap and cheerful
In the access stakes, often it’s members and member competitions that prevent golfers from playing more frequently. After all, most members play on weekends and most non-club members want to tee it up then as well. It’s an equation that often fails to add up for all. Fortunately, public play is the focus at Calderwood Valley Golf Course in the Illawarra region south of Sydney. There are no members, so your only access obstacle is the golfers who have nabbed tee-times before you.
Framed by the striking Illawarra Escarpment, Calderwood is set amid rolling hills and lush greenery in a genuinely picturesque setting. The course offers a challenging round of golf for players of all abilities. Calderwood’s fairways weave between stands of trees or sometimes thicker vegetation and several small ponds and creeks. Be careful not to trip up at the 11th hole, a lengthy par 3 across water where the tee shot simply must make the distance to remain dry.
With a focus on social play and social groups, Calderwood is also a pleasant place to stick around post-round and regale stories of the 18 holes just encountered.
Green fee: $29-$35.
Moore Park Golf owns a piece of prime real estate in Sydney and an important slice of Australian golf history. Now 110 years old, the course is iconic for its central location and contribution to the sport in the harbour city.
The three-storey, 60-bay driving range never seems to sleep, such is its enduring popularity. Balls fly off all three levels for most hours of each day, with the range set flush against the 18-hole course, which is replete with views of the city skyline, neighbouring stadium precinct and Centennial Park.
The calibre of the golf course at Moore Park is sometimes overshadowed by the popularity of the range – it’s unusual for such a high proportion of visitors to a golf club to not actually set foot on the course. Split into two ‘paddocks’ by Dacey Ave, the par-70 layout features several elevation changes with many fairways edged by rows of enormous Moreton Bay fig trees. The parkland environment is reflective of this part of Sydney and the design features make it urban golf at its best.
Moore Park is a two-time New South Wales Open venue, the first in 1963 when Peter Mills beat Frank Phillips and again in 2006 when Rick Kulacz won as an amateur.
Green fee: $41-$65.
Across the other side of the country, Busselton Golf Club is still brimming with pride after snaring two major awards at the WA Golf Industry Awards. Busselton received the Regional Golf Course of the Year and Regional Golf Facility of the Year for 2022 on the strength of successful renovation work and increases in membership.
Judges noted that: “Busselton continues to be one of the best-presented and must-play courses in the south-west. The course is maintained in prime condition and their course superintendent works very closely with the various government agencies to ensure the Busselton Golf Club is at the forefront of environmental strategies and implementation.”
Lance Knox, Australian Golf Digest’s reigning Superintendent of the Year, is a large part of the reason for the accolades. During the past two years at Busselton, Knox’s team has completed numerous improvement projects. They constructed a new bentgrass nursery, upgraded the existing maintenance facility, reconstructed green complexes and redesigned greenside bunkers.
The course is a central part of the Margaret River golf scene. Fairways wend through corridors of redgum and peppermint trees to reach some of the best greens in this corner of the country. The par-72 layout is known for its challenging hazards, which demand strategic shot placement. It’s also home to a range of wildlife, including kangaroos, which add to Busselton’s charm.
Green fee: $55.
If south-western WA isn’t remote enough for you in the quest for value golf, we offer up Mt Isa Golf Club. And this is the time of year – as the region emerges from the hottest part of the year – when the club really comes into its own. The Mt Isa Open and Outback Queensland Masters are two events squarely on the calendar. If you’re looking for a piece of cosmic calendar coincidence, this year’s Outback Queensland Masters concludes at Mt Isa on the weekend of the Open Championship, 30 years after Greg Norman – who was born in the town – won his second claret jug.
The club was founded 12 years after the Normans left town, but that matters little today. It is the only golf course in north-western Queensland with grass greens, while the 18-hole layout uses its barren environment to full effect. The past few years have seen a focus on improving the layout’s irrigation. All tees, greens and almost all the fairways are now grassed, which is a vast improvement from when the fairways were almost dirt and rock.
Green fee: $35.
Middle of the Road
The current NSW Open venue, Rich River Golf Club is making all the right moves to stand out in what is a crowded Murray River golf scene. Aside from hosting the championship for the first time when David Micheluzzi prevailed in March, the 36-hole club has taken extensive steps to renovate and refresh the entire facility.
Irrigation upgrades to both the East and West courses sit alongside a broader, ongoing masterplan to upgrade all 36 holes. A top-class mini-golf course is also now open, with a 51-lot residential estate under construction. An internal renovation of the clubhouse completes the picture, however the activity won’t stop there. In the coming years, the club is aiming to include a seniors living facility, an entertainment-based driving range, a short course comprising six to nine holes, a new 4.5-star accommodation facility, construction of two new holes on the East course and a complete renovation of the clubhouse, internally and externally.
Rich River has earned a reputation among Murray golf enthusiasts for being a one-stop shop. With 36 holes, accommodation and a huge clubhouse with ample dining and entertainment options, the ongoing improvements only enhance the allure of what has long been an appealing destination in its own right.
Green fee: $59 ($89 unlimited daily rate).
The newcomer to the Murray River golf scene is of course Black Bull Golf Course and the Sebel Yarrawonga. In a destination noted for its established, proven golf courses, dining and accommodation options, the Black Bull/Sebel pair brought a novel look to the region.
Meanwhile, the offering just keeps getting better. What began as nine holes midway through last decade soon evolved into the full 18. Later came the game-changing 4.5-star Sebel hotel and the restaurants and facilities that went along with it. More recently has been the growth in the Silverwoods Golf and Lifestyle Resort, which has seen ‘river-changers’ from Melbourne and elsewhere start to call the region home. Accurately using the catchcry ‘Live, Stay, Play’, the totality of the complex is as impressive as it is complete.
The hub remains the golf course, which continues to flourish with time and maturation. Peter Thomson’s final course design – penned in collaboration with longtime associate Ross Perrett – captures imaginations right from the first tee. The layout is arguably better off for the completion of the infrastructure in that it ‘finalised’ the golf course and allowed the always-intended 18th to finally become the home hole. A par 5 that snakes towards the shore of Lake Mulwala, it provides a fitting climax to a course – and a facility – worthy of one.
Green fee: $65-$75.
Meadow Springs Golf & Country Club near Mandurah, south of Perth, is part of a region known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant cafés and charming shops. It is situated in the heart of the Peel region, which is home to a range of other attractions, including wineries, wildlife parks and historical sites.
Billed as “golf as nature intended”, Meadow Springs still lures golfers captivated by the layout’s big features. Large greens and sprawling bunkers dominate golfers’ eyes and minds along with cascading undulations on fairways and greens to challenge high shots and ground-huggers alike. The opening nine, called Meadow, is flatter but with narrower playing corridors, more water and more prevalent bunkering. The inward half, Tuart, uses the centuries-old eponymous trees to define the path towards each green. There are few better complementary-yet-diverse golf excursions to be found.
Green fee: $65-$75.
Glitz and glamour are still synonymous with the Gold Coast and Links Hope Island is golf’s version of the high life on the coast. The course opened to much fanfare in a region destined to become home to several outstanding layouts. Its reputation was already stablished when the course was chosen to host the 1997 Johnnie Walker Classic, a European Tour event that involved such luminaries as the winner, Ernie Els, plus Fred Couples, Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and others.
Now 30 years old, recent alterations have seen Hope Island take on a slightly new look. The layout underwent change in 2021 when the par-4 ninth hole was replaced by an interesting, visually appealing and challenging par 3. The reasoning behind the change was to accommodate the introduction of an adjacent real estate precinct and to relocate the previous aquatic driving range. While those changes solved one problem, they created another.
Determined to retain its par of 72, which had been impacted by the new ninth hole, management at Hope Island considered several options before settling on extending the superb par-3 third hole into a near-driveable par 4 while retaining the original hole’s outstanding green complex. The new hole, which is set to open soon, measures 320 metres and will certainly be driveable in some conditions as tees of varying lengths will be utilised.
Green fee: $140-$150.
For a little international flavour for that golf splurge, why not venture to Fiji? Denarau Golf & Racquet Club is a spectacular par-72, 6,538-metre resort golf course designed by Eiichi Motohashi. Such remarkable craftmanship and skilled techniques helped create one of the South Pacific’s premier golf destinations.
The course has also created a reputation for hosting major tournaments, gathering local and international professional golfers. Conveniently located near neighbouring hotels on Denarau Island, the course is just steps away from the doorstep of almost all the island’s accommodation options. Few places offer such a welcoming and inclusive golf experience.
Denarau offers exceptional amenities, such as international-standard golf lessons and daily clinics led by Denarau Golf & Racquet Club’s resident golf professional in an experience that can be enjoyed by golfers of all levels. The club also provides rental clubs, pull buggies or electric carts, golf bag storage, showers and changing rooms.
Green fee: $F180.
There are few, if any, better winter golf destinations in New Zealand than Muriwai Golf Links. Perched on sand dunes overlooking the famous black-sand Muriwai Beach, the course features crumpled fairways built on an impeccable sand base, tricky bunkers and demanding greens. It’s a fierce test of skill but equally a great fun course to play for all.
Something of a local secret for many Aucklanders, the course is now getting due recognition from around the world. Just a 40-minute drive from Auckland, you’re delivered from the motorway to the course via rolling farmland that helps set the tone for the round.
The undulating terrain, the mix of sand dunes, wind-whipped bush and the visual splendour of the tumbling waves in the background are matched by superb playability. The course is not adorned with the definition of ‘true links’ turf – fescue simply won’t grow in Auckland’s climate and kikuyu is almost impossible to eradicate – but the course is so well maintained it plays as a true links course with firm, fast fairways and greens to suit.
The wind also has its say – every day. It’s most revealed on the par 5s. All four run in much the same direction, so if you happen to strike the right conditions and a breeze from the southern quarter, they all become reachable in two shots for the good player. Get the wind in the opposite direction and your work is ahead of you.
Green fee: $NZ140.