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Top 100 tidbits: The marvellous maniacs - Australian Golf Digest Top 100 tidbits: The marvellous maniacs - Australian Golf Digest

Our course-ranking panellists share their most notable experiences.

As defined by the Australian Psychological Society, obsession is “a persistent thought, idea or impulse that is experienced as intrusive”. Family and friends of many of Australian Golf Digest’s 140 course-ranking panellists would probably nod their heads in agreement.

These course-obsessed junkies travel the country on behalf of our publication, filing scores that determine our course rankings. Some of our panellists have been travelling Australia – and the world – for more than 25 years. Theirs is an ongoing education in golf-course architecture to judge the finest designs in our sport, all for the betterment of our biennial Top 100 Courses ranking, the most recent of which was published in May. We’ll call it a healthy obsession.

Here are some of our panellists recounting their favourite experiences.

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What was the trip where you played the most golf?

I did a mad dash in December 2021/January 2022 under the guise of a family holiday to Melbourne and Adelaide to play. A very understanding family allowed me the time to cram eight courses into our holiday, and after 12 days I was knackered!

– David Cuda

Pre-COVID, I used to take the clubs on virtually every family holiday. Coming from New South Wales, I try to get to Victoria at least once a year – there are so many courses and regions to visit and there always seems to be a new course that pops up each year. From the Sandbelt, Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas to the country areas, there’s plenty of choice. In a week in Victoria, I try to play 10 or more courses.

– Kevin Pallier

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What is a benefit of being a Top 100 Courses panellist you wish more golfers would experience?

People have a misperception that we get to play for free everywhere, but this is incorrect. What we do get is far more valuable: access to venues that are off limits to most. The rounds I’ve had at exclusive clubs, like some of the Royal courses and the uber-private Cathedral Lodge, have been wonderful experiences that I am extremely grateful to have had.

– Ben Martin

Not necessarily the courses that you have access to but it’s more the way that Australian Golf Digest asks us to assess the courses that gives you the appreciation of each one and what the architect wants you to experience. It broadens your knowledge of golf and history.

– Jason Gluch

A regular benefit is that you will often have the pleasure of the club pro or golf operations manager spending time with you pre- or post-round discussing the history of the course and its designer, current conditions and issues, and pointing out any recent renovations. However, this is a privilege not limited to panellists, as I’ve no doubt these staff members would only be too happy to have the same conversation with any guest of the club. People are proud of their clubs and courses and are generally very generous with their time towards anyone who shows some interest.

– Ben McIlwain

It ‘forces’ or encourages me to play and travel more to a range of courses. Being on the panel gives me an incentive to organise golf trips and be adventurous.

– Robert Shakeshaft

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What is the most under-the-radar course you’ve encountered?

It has become less so in recent years but growing up in the Western District we played pennant at Port Fairy most years. I remember thinking it was like my own little Pebble Beach. 

– Ben Martin

Narooma. Fantastic setting on the coast plus the back nine set in the hinterland. An absolute joy to play.

– Jamie Woodhill

I have a soft spot for the Boonah nine-hole golf course in Queensland – great presented greens, although small complexes. Elsewhere, improvements at Queanbeyan impressed the pennant players from multiple clubs this season.

– Jason Gluch

One that hasn’t cracked the Top 100 yet and is underrated is Shepparton. One that is in the Top 100 but in my opinion should be ranked higher is RACV Healesville. So much fun can be had around there.

– Kevin Pallier

It is not quite finished yet, but Lakeside at Camden will be a cracker once done. The new green complexes and bunkering are fantastic.

 – Trent Pilgrim

Scone – a nine-hole golf course with an awesome practice area, glorious greens and the touch of fun that more courses should embrace.

– Robert Shakeshaft

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What is the most memorable non-course-related experience you’ve had at a golf club?

Staying in the on-site accommodation at Victoria Golf Club is an experience anyone that gets the chance should do. The rooms have a traditional feel, the food was superb and the atmosphere made a lasting impression.

– David Cuda

I became so engrossed in the historical artefacts and honour boards in the clubhouse of Royal Queensland, I almost missed my tee-time! From reading about Arnold Palmer playing in the Australian Open to finding names like G.J. Norman, O. Moore, A.D. Scott, et al on the club championship board, I could have spent hours looking around.

– Ben Martin

Eating lobster washed down with some James Boag Premium after 36 holes at Cape Wickham or tucking into the big ribeye steak at Lost Farm with a bottle of Moss Wood red wine overlooking the great golf course.

– Jamie Woodhill

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Do you have a collection of caps/balls/ball markers/shirts or anything similar that you’ve accumulated from your golf travels?

I keep scorecards from every course I’ve visited from my travels. It’s more than 750 courses and counting.

– Kevin Pallier

Playing different golf courses across Australia has made many memories, but I always buy a ball marker, shirt, jumper or souvenir as a keepsake. I probably have enough ball markers to last a lifetime as a result!

– David Cuda

Unfortunately, I am a shirt collector and try to buy one at every course I visit, except at the Masters where you buy almost everything you think you will either use or wear. I am unsure why they do not have Masters underwear to sleep in.

– Jason Gluch

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Do you have any weird, funny, strange or wonderful memories from your Top 100 panellist experiences?

While staying on the Mornington Peninsula for a birthday golf trip in March 2021, I ran into a golfer at the local supermarket who asked if I was playing at The National. When I said I wasn’t, he said, “You have to play one of The National courses if you are a golf judge playing the courses on the Mornington Peninsula.” So he organised for me and my playing partner to play the Moonah course. It was an absolute delight.

– Jamie Woodhill

In 2019, I was lucky enough to gain a tee-time at Cathedral. It was fairly embarrassing when they insisted on ‘valeting’ my 2007 Toyota Yaris, which had seen better days and was missing a couple of hubcaps. It was a unique experience for me as a golfer and the gentleman who valeted my much-loved car.

– Ben Hall

On a golf trip to the USA a few years back, I randomly was in a group with two guys while playing Pinehurst No.2 and they were members of the American Golf Digest course-rating panel. While there is no affiliation between the Australian panel and the American one, it was interesting to compare notes and experiences. None of us played particularly well that day, but we all left with great memories of a fantastic course.

– David Cuda

I’ve been an Australian Golf Digest panellist for more than 16 years and have many experiences. One of the funnier moments was searching for a lost ball at Sun City in Western Australia. I was out by myself and after a couple of minutes of head-down searching, I heard a noise in front of me and looked up to see a giant red kangaroo only a few metres away. I’m 6-foot-4, but I recall looking upward at him and he had these massive shoulders and forelimbs and just stood there staring at me, chewing. I backed right out of there really quick and didn’t go searching for any stray balls the rest of the round.

– Kevin Pallier

After a round at The National, I was enjoying a post-round beverage while waiting for my wife to pick me up. She let me know she had arrived, and in the time it took for me to finish my beer and go outside, I was surprised to find the head superintendent and his 2IC with our car up on a jack, kindly changing the flat tyre my wife had inadvertently been driving around on. Amazing hospitality!

– Ben Martin