TO SAY there’s something in the water in Western Australia is an understatement. Our largest, most resource-rich state is punching well above its golf weight when it comes to producing rising stars (think Curtis Luck and Min Woo Lee – to name just two), which is merely a continuation of a trend that began some decades ago.

Hard work, astute coaching and an agreeable climate all help, but you have to think the calibre and volume of great golf courses is a prominent factor. Just like its talented players, WA has an over-abundance of excellent golf courses. From the resorts of northern Perth through the sequence of coastal gems near Mandurah to the Busselton and Dunsborough region further south lie dozens of top-class layouts and a handful of unheralded tracks. Each is as diverse and potent as the Fremantle Doctor breezes that cool a summer’s day in the golden west.

The Vines began the golf surge with the arrival of its two courses in the late 1980s.
The Vines began the golf surge with the arrival of its two courses in the late 1980s.

Perth Glory

Few places offer a week’s golf in such glorious settings. And WA’s premier golf courses cover a broad range of styles. There are resort layouts, parkland courses and even one of the best links in the country.

The Vines Resort helped put the state on the golf map. Graham Marsh and Ross Watson’s 36-hole creation in the Swan Valley north-east of the city drew the international spotlight to Perth through the original Vines Classic (later the Heineken Classic), the Johnnie Walker Classic and Lexus Cup. The Lakes and Ellenbrook courses offer complementing layouts that utilise the stunning WA flora (and fauna) to great effect in a pair of layouts that make a great starting point for any assault on the state’s best courses. An easy half-hour drive from Perth Airport, The Vines was originally an outpost within the city limits but now suburbia is catching up, making the resort and country club a neat oasis.

A concerted effort in recent years to trim back the surrounding vegetation to let the two courses ‘breathe’ a little has aided The Vines’ playability and visual appeal. They remain a challenging duo, just a little less brutal for novice golfers. Tee to green, both layouts are in truly commendable condition, with attention to detail evident throughout. The huge, undulating greens are the hallmark – some stretching 50 metres or longer in depth, which alters the strategy simply through the changing pin positions.

The waterlogged stretch of holes to close the round on the Lakes course is familiar to golfers who have viewed tournament action through the years, although one of the most exemplary holes falls earlier, at the fifth. The dogleg-right par 4 calls for a right-turning tee shot on its way towards an ingenious, U-shaped green. Carved through the native bush and often dotted with kangaroos, it is a quintessentially West Australian golf hole. Over on the Ellenbrook course, I challenge anyone to make a straightforward par at the ‘short’ 13th – a par 3 measuring a beefy 229m from the back markers. I confess to hitting a driver off the tee, although that blow to the ego was quelled by being able to write down a three on the card after a nifty sand save.

Travelling through the Swan Valley before and after visiting The Vines, I lost count of the number of wineries, restaurants, olive farms, cheese factories and the like dotted across the region. So if the 36-hole smorgasbord at The Vines isn’t enough to sate you, there are plenty of gastronomic delights to quench the appetite. It’s the sort of place where you could come for a few hours and wind up spending two or three days and think nothing of it.

Golfers encounter shots at Joondalup unlike anywhere else.
Golfers encounter shots at Joondalup unlike anywhere else.

Much like The Vines, Joondalup Resort began as an outpost within the northern parts of Perth in 1985 before gradually being closed in. During this era of Slope ratings for golf-course difficulty, Robert Trent Jones Jnr’s design carries notoriety as the toughest course in the state from the back markers – and a handful of new back tees highlight the degree of difficulty.

Other than some tree removal, the sprinkling of new black markers is the only recent change to a 27-hole layout once tagged as ‘Moondalup’ thanks to its hilly terrain and unique surroundings. The moniker might have been intended as off-handed criticism, although I’ve always interpreted it as a compliment – or at very least a nod to the site’s origins. Playing the premier 18-hole combination of the Quarry and Dune nines takes golfers through an otherworldly setting. The three holes built around the old quarry on the nine of the same name are unlike anything else in Australian golf. The third, fourth and fifth holes – a par 3, 5 and 4, respectively – require three separate shots to traverse the old quarry. And the mere thought of having to extricate one’s golf ball from the deep pit fronting the fourth green is enough to make golfers wake startled and in a sweat. The lunar walls flanking the third and fourth holes of the Dune nine give that loop its unique selling proposition, while the slightly younger Lake nine in reality is only a minor step down in design quality.

One mistake travelling golfers coming to Joondalup often make is overlooking the venue’s option as a place to stay as well as play. All 70 rooms in the resort were recently renovated and with 27 holes to take on, more than one day is usually required to take in the lot. Logistically, it makes sense to attack the golf courses of the west from north to south, perhaps staying a night or two at Joondalup or The Vines (or both) before moving towards the CBD and then south to the Golf Coast courses and beyond. And if Joondalup is your choice for a base, in 2015 the suburb’s shopping centre expanded to become the largest in the state, giving non-golf-playing companions plenty to do in what is a vibrant community.

Equally energetic is the bustling Wembley Golf Course, which is as complete a golf facility imaginable. Perth golfers know the well-established Old and Tuart courses at Wembley, which cater for 155,000 rounds annually, but its transformation into a multi-faceted and all-encompassing public golf complex over the past decade is less well-known. The Town of Cambridge, which represents only a 25,000-person sliver of Perth’s population, has self-funded a $29 million expansion of operations to include a two-tier, 80-bay driving range with top-class teaching facilities along with a brand new mini-golf course, restaurant, function centre, enormous pro shop, children’s playground and more.

Wembley’s set-up is a window to the future of golf. “It’s about building a community facility,” says Wembley general manager Matthew Day. And he’s right. My peek into this tenet came early on a Monday evening when you might expect patronage to be minimal. Not so. The range was humming with activity, the mini-golf course bracing for a league competition and the restaurant gearing up for a healthy evening trade. I chatted briefly with six female school teachers who had just
tackled the mini-golf course, glowing as they walked away chuckling about their exploits. There’s even FootGolf several times a week. The ability to capture every demographic and golfers of all interest levels is Wembley’s strength.

The mini-golf course is the latest addition, designed by noted Australian course architect Richard Chamberlain and opening for play last November. A far cry from the concrete barrier-lined putt-putt courses of old, the course is state-of-the-art with cannily crafted terrain, hardy manmade playing surfaces plus Bose radio speakers scattered across the course to give it an upbeat vibe. And there are lights to allow play as late as 9pm. Arguably the most innovate design aspect is the inclusion of three cups per hole, marked by red, blue and black flags. The red flags sit inside an oversized cup that’s three times the size of a standard golf hole and are perfect for kids or novice putters. The blue and black flags mark regular-sized holes with the blue offering a moderate challenge and the black a more difficult set of hole locations.

The equivalent south of the Swan River is Collier Park Golf Club, a 27-hole public course on naturally sandy soil. Comprising three nine-hole loops plus a 30-bay, grass-tee driving range, the complex is a haven for golfers in the southern half of the city. Named Pines, Island and Lake, the three nines offer subtle differences while remaining consistent in a design sense regardless of the configuration created for an 18-hole layout.

One hole to catch golfers’ attention comes into view before a ball is struck. Sitting beside the club’s winding entrance road is the fifth hole of the Lake nine, a 152m par 3 across a pond with a shorn bank fronting the green that will send any shots hovering near the front edge back towards the water. The club views the fifth as its homage to the famous 16th hole at Augusta National, and there is a slight resemblance. While largely flat, Collier Park’s sandy terrain helps it cope with high golfer traffic and remain in tip-top shape, also giving it a sandbelt-like look, feel and design – a quality heightened by the surrounding flora.

The Links Kennedy Bay looks and plays like the great British links courses.
The Links Kennedy Bay looks and plays like the great British links courses.

All-In On Golf

They call it the Golf Coast, such is the game’s abundance across the strip of land around Mandurah, one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. Several of the best architects in golf have utilised their great skills in delivering four courses ranked within Australian Golf Digest’s Top-100 Courses.

Nearing its 20th anniversary, change is in the wind at Links Kennedy Bay. A complex combination of factors – that range from global warming to housing – will see at least four holes disappear from the current layout. At some stage during 2018, course designers will put their hands up to build a handful of new holes on adjoining land at Port Kennedy and possibly tweak existing holes to allow the revised routing to flow. The area impacted is that closest to the coast, principally the first four holes on
the back nine but potentially more. Yet it’s an opportunity rather than an imposition for the popular links layout, and nothing will change in the immediate future as golfers can enjoy the course in its current guise for another year or longer.

The Michael Coate, Roger Mackay, Ian Baker-Finch collaboration looks a treat during summer as the wispy rough dries out and highlights the links-like nature of the site. There’s also been a concerted effort by longtime course superintendent Bruce Coleman and his team to provide greater definition as the fairway cut transitions to light rough then the longer stuff and eventually the real ball-swallowing scrub.

Links Kennedy Bay is a slice of links terrain in an antipodean location. Pot bunkers dot the layout and the landform has an uncanny and infuriating knack of pushing bounding balls towards these circles of doom. And they are difficult to escape. Having driven into a tiny pot bunker on the right side of the 18th fairway, I struggled to escape even with a lob wedge. Only after four swipes then a throw could I extricate my ball from this demonic pot, although my golf dignity remained buried within its sandy confines.

An ability to conquer strong breezes and a fervent imagination are essential to posting a good number at Kennedy Bay. There are ample opportunities to score, however most holes are about survival of the scorecard. Two of the best holes are short par 4s, the seventh and 12th. The former shares a green with the fifth and demands pinpoint distance control, while the latter offers more user-friendly slopes and swales but this voluptuous terrain obscures the green from view on the approach, making judgement difficult. One of the two is generally driveable for big hitters regardless of the wind direction, but both are permanently intriguing.

Collier Park is one of the most popular courses in Perth.
Collier Park is one of the most popular courses in Perth.

A short drive south is Secret Harbour Golf Links, an underrated Graham Marsh design offering contrasting nines. For golfers who’ve been to ‘Secrets’ before but not for a while, the club switched the two nines a few years ago in a bid to improve the pace of play – and the move dropped playing times by eight minutes. The flip also placed one of the best holes at the business end of the round, with the 173m par-3 17th now a white-knuckle moment late in the game. Featuring a broad green that pushes into a lake in peninsular fashion, the downhill tee shot needs to be on point to find the pointy right-side portion of the putting surface.

Elsewhere, the close to what is now the front nine is exceptional. Beginning with the 377m sixth hole, the final four holes provide a resounding crescendo to the outward half. A little like the 17th hole later in the round, the approach to the eighth needs to be exact to avoid the water short and right of the green, while pars are difficult to prise from Secret Harbour at what is now the ninth, a 386m par 4 with trouble throughout and usually played into the wind. Overall, Secrets is a blend of links-style terrain with mostly expansive features and a guile all its own. Leaving it off your to-play list is a mistake.

Linked to Joondalup is the state’s other Robert Trent Jones Jnr-designed layout, Meadow Springs Golf & Country Club. There are Joondalup-like traits at RTJ Jnr’s southern design, although Meadow Springs is a more restrained expression of his architectural nous. Still, this is hardly a sedate layout. The architect loves to frame his holes in a variety of ways and the bunkering, use of water hazards and array of huge tuart trees perform the task expertly across the 18 holes.

The opening nine, Meadow, is flatter but with narrower playing corridors and more water and more prevalent bunkering. The inward half, Tuart, uses the eponymous trees to define the path towards the green. While shortish by modern standards at 6,189m from the back tees, Meadow Springs ‘hides’ some of its length in its four par 3s. Each is lengthy – and taxing. The fourth is the least demanding but does feature a large ramp at the front of the green that will reject any shot trying to run onto the green or anything not making the distance. The eighth is an all-water carry from 160m to an hourglass-shaped green with a hidden bowl-shaped area at the back of the putting surface. The 11th is similar, although the green is smaller and water fronts only the left half of the green. The 16th is the one hole at Meadow Springs to receive some redesign treatment in recent years. The growth of the surrounding housing estate necessitated a road be built between the 16th green and 17th tee. Both areas had to be tweaked with the 16th green affected most. At first glance, the hole looks shorter but in fact remains 186m long, just as it was previously. The new backdrop must give the impression of the green appearing shorter in a clever optical illusion.

And that’s Meadow Springs and Trent Jones Jnr’s work in a nutshell: many things that appear one way are actually not. It’s an infuriating but absorbing quality for a golf course to have and keeps golfers returning again and again.

The par-3 11th captures the essence of Meadow Springs.
The par-3 11th captures the essence of Meadow Springs.

Among the newer additions to WA golf is The Cut Golf Course at Dawesville, south of Mandurah. Another past PGA Tour of Australasia venue, the 12-year-old layout is highlighted by an outstanding stretch of holes flanking the Indian Ocean. A section of the front nine meanders through a housing estate, but outside these holes is a series of mighty challenges amid spectacular landforms.

Any discussion about The Cut needs to include the 400m 12th hole. If ever a golfer trying to manage a good score needs a straight blow from the tee, it’s at No.12. Played from an elevated tee and generally into the wind, there’s little more than 25m of safe passage between the scrubby dunes on either side of the rippled fairway below. Then, having navigated the first shot, the hole turns right and rises steeply towards a green perched atop a dune with more trouble to the right. A minimum of two excellent shots is needed to make a par, while birdies require a little divine intervention.

While susceptible to the coastal winds and visually daunting at many points across the course, in anything less than a moderate breeze the James Wilcher design is a little easier than first glances indicate – providing golfers play from the appropriate set of tees. Yes, on occasion there is simply no respite for anything less than an ideal shot, but elsewhere there is room to manoeuvre for golfers who are content to set aside their ego and play smart.

Busselton Golf Club taught Stephen Leaney how to navigate tight courses.
Busselton Golf Club taught Stephen Leaney how to navigate tight courses.

Southern Charm

If you like good, honest country golf tracks, numerous courses line the edge of Geographe Bay as the WA coastline wraps around the ocean on its journey south. Farthest down this route is Dunsborough Lakes Golf Club, a spacious windswept layout winding through a housing estate. Characterised by broad fairways and shapely bunkers, the home stretch of holes is where the place takes its name. The inward journey at Dunsborough features a run of five holes starting from the 11th without a par 4, which is a feature of very few golf courses. Things really ramp up from the 15th, a 463m par 5 with water in play on every shot en route to a two-tiered green. Strong par 4s at the 16th and 18th are a slicer’s nightmare with water running the right-side edge on both, with the huge lake crossing in front of the final green in a thrilling conclusion to the round. It sounds daunting, although in reality there is football field of space left of the aqua.

When you hear the name ‘Busselton’, golfers in the know automatically think of Stephen Leaney. The former US Open runner-up honed his game at Busselton Golf Club and it’s not surprising to picture how Leaney grooved his technique to focus on accuracy. What is surprising, perhaps, is that Leaney only once won the club championship at Busselton, in 1987. One might expect to see his name countless times on the honour boards but it appears just the single time. These days, the Leaney Cup, held every November, signifies his connection to the club.

The design is completely different to Dunsborough Lakes. Where it is wide open and largely treeless, Busselton’s fairways weave between huge gum trees and pine forests. The alleys are narrow but not anorexic and the bunkering is clean, tidy and strategic. One unique aspect to Busselton’s bunkers is the rakes are stood upright in tubes, therefore adding another option to the eternal ‘in or out’ rake debate.

The back nine holds the more interesting holes at Busselton, with the 11th one of the best. The 290m par 4 bends sharply right while the fairway at the corner slopes in the opposite direction. The long green is narrow with a bunker on either side. With sand, slopes and tall timber in play, No.11 captures the essence of the layout in less than 300m.

In a similar vein is Capel Golf Club, which classifies as a true hidden gem. “We’d just like to get rid of the ‘hidden’ part,” says general manager Paul Campaner. He’s right, as Capel is somewhat hidden in plain sight. Situated 14 kilometres north of the town of Capel and an easy drive from either Bunbury or Busselton, the club is directly off the highway in a 110km/h zone. As such, people often miss it on their way past even though the fairways are just a short distance from the road.

Capel is everything a country golf course should be: uncomplicated but interesting with plenty of variety and great conditioning. Campaner tells a story about a gathering of WA golf club general managers in which the GM of one top-notch Perth club pointed to him and said, “You’ve got the best greens of anyone.” It’s difficult to argue against. Despite a number of large gum trees lining the fairways, the putting surfaces see plenty of sunlight and are thriving.

It’s also a layout that holds its own when the pros come to town. While other pro-ams in the region are won with 63s and 64s, shooting 67 is usually good enough around the 6,106m layout. The members also know a secret to reading the greens. The theory goes that the greens on the front nine, or northern side of the course, all break towards the ocean. Conversely, the back nine greens on the southern side break towards the highway.

However, Bunbury Golf Club remains the pick of the courses south of the Golf Coast. With more undulating land and artistic shapes to its greens and bunkering, the course at Clifton Park is a must-play layout. Because if it’s good enough for Seve, it’s good enough for anyone. Yes, the late, great Severiano Ballesteros played Bunbury in a tournament in 1979 along with an armada of other big names of the day.

The Spanish maestro would have been right at home on the sand-based, treelined layout, which features gently turning rather than overt doglegs. Some greens welcome running shots while others hide behind gaping front bunkers that dominate the eyeline on approach. Occasionally, there’s more ‘dead ground’ between the bunker and the target – anything to trick the golfer.

One oddity to Bunbury is that both nines begin with a par 3. The 163m first is straightforward enough, but the 124m 10th plays even shorter due to its dramatically elevated tee. As such, the naturally short hole plays as many as two clubs shorter courtesy of the descent. After the short openings, both nines unfold into compelling excursions through the established treelines and onto thought-provoking greens. Bunbury, which ranked inside Australia’s Top-100 Courses at the start of this decade, has the foundations to potentially join the biennial list again.

Bunbury’s situation is emblematic of the state of the game right across WA as its brightest lights in golf continue to shine. Blessed with endless natural resources and an agreeable climate, there’s a sense that golfers on the left-hand side of our great country know a little secret the rest of the land is slowly coming to appreciate: west is best.

Where To Play


Collier Park Golf Club
Hayman Rd, Como WA 6152
(08) 9484 1666
Green fees: $31 to $40

Joondalup Resort
Country Club Blvd, Connolly WA 6027
(08) 9400 8888
Green fees: $85 to $110

The Vines Resort
Verdelho Drive, The Vines WA 6069
(08) 9297 3000
Green fees: $64 to $84

Wembley Golf Course
The Blvd, Wembley Downs WA 6019
(08) 9484 2500
Green fees: $24 to $38.50


Meadow Springs Country Club
Meadow Springs Drive, Mandurah WA 6210
(08) 9581 6002
Green fees: $64 to $74

Secret Harbour Golf Links
Secret Harbour Blvd, Secret Harbour WA 6173
(08) 9524 7133
Green fees: $52.50 to $57.50

The Cut Golf Club
Country Club Drive, Dawesville WA 6211
(08) 9582 4444
Green fees: $59 to $69

The Links Kennedy Bay
Port Kennedy Drive, Port Kennedy WA 6172
(08) 9524 5991
Green fees: $50 to $60


Bunbury Golf Club
Lucy Victoria Ave, Clifton Park WA 6233
(08) 9725 1231
Green fees: $47

Busselton Golf Club
Chapman Hill Rd, Busselton WA 6280
(08) 9753 1050
Green fees: $25 to $45

Capel Golf Club
Bussell Hwy, Stratham WA 6237
(08) 9795 7033
Green fees: $25 to $40

Dunsborough Lakes Golf Club
Clubhouse Drive, Dunsborough WA 6281
(08) 9756 8733
Green fees: $45

Western Australia Golf

Where To Stay

Joondalup Resort
With 70 refurbished rooms [pictured] attached to the 27-hole course, Joondalup Resort is an ideal golfers’ haven in Perth’s north. The resort is also offering 20 percent off its Par 3, Par 4 and Par 5 play-and-stay packages. See website for more.

Novotel Vines Resort
With rooms and apartments plus an array of attractive packages on offer, Novotel Vines Resort brings not only the two golf courses within easy reach but also the stunning Swan Valley tourist attractions.

Quest Apartments Bunbury
Modern and neat, Quest Apartments Bunbury is a handy place from where to ‘attack’ the golf courses of the south-west.

Western Australia