Not only does South Australia boast some of the nation’s best golf courses, the state is also responsible for half the wine production in the country. Which makes it most enticing for wine-loving golfers to consider as a prime golf destination.
Photography by Gary Lisbon
The likes of Royal Melbourne, New South Wales and the recent insurgence of Cape Wickham into world rankings have put Australia firmly on the global golf map. But ignoring regions further afield from these popular areas would do travelling golfers a great disservice.
Adelaide, for one, deserves every bit of attention by the travelling golfer, particularly if you enjoy a nice vintage with your game. South Australia, after all, is the largest wine-producing state in the country.
With a compact population of less than 1.5 million people, Adelaide offers a vibrant cosmopolitan setting without the disadvantages of congestion. Its many festivals stamp the South Australian capital’s position as a champion of the arts, and indeed, walking through the beautiful city, you will be privy to displays that hint at this inclination.
Adelaide is also a great place to make your base if you’re planning a golf excursion. With its many restaurant options, and range of places to stay, the city allows for great gastronomical and retail experiences to go along with the ones on the courses.
In this modern age of course design, golf courses can be created with any element an architect can conjure in his head. But the desire of golfers looking for unique places to play is really only met by the charm and character of courses that use the natural landscape of their location. In this regard, golf courses in and around the city allow visitors to enjoy the special flavour of the Australian landscape that is not easily found in other parts of the world.
The courses around Adelaide may not boast jaw-dropping ocean views, or pulse-racing mountain backdrops, but in their gentle meandering through the serene South Australian outback, they more than hold their own against the face of artificial design manifestations.
Royal Adelaide Golf Club, a short 20-minute drive (most of the Adelaide courses are that close to the central business district) from the centre of the city, needs no introduction. As a course on the Golf Digest World Top 100 Greatest rankings, and a high-up fixture on our national list, the Alister MacKenzie design still reigns supreme, incorporating the flowing dunes into a layout that can thrill as much as it can welcome any manner of golfer.
Having been built nearly a century ago, in 1926, Royal Adelaide does have its quirks. A railway track runs through the par-72, 6,552-metre course, separating some of the holes. It is certainly a charming moment when play halts as a train runs through, reminding golfers that this was the only way people could get to the club back in the day.
During the past three decades, MacKenzie’s links design has been tweaked to give the course its present look. Australian Mike Clayton lent his hands to a 17th-hole renovation some years ago, but Tom Doak was eventually engaged in 2017 to help bring the course back to its former glory.
Through these efforts, the original character of MacKenzie’s intentions remains more or less intact. The combination of visual challenges together with giving golfers exit routes from danger remain one of Royal Adelaide’s many remarkable features.
The combination of visual challenges together with giving golfers exit routes from danger remain one of Royal Adelaide’s many remarkable features.
Though links in nature, Royal Adelaide – like many of the links-style courses in the area – offers indigenous trees that frame the holes. The verdant backdrop idyllically breaks the vertically challenged course and, on a few holes – like the par-4 11th – seem to coddle the green complex in its ‘arms’. The course is relatively flat, but undulation does exist, occasionally raising putting surfaces that provoke thought when balls miss the greens.
The bunkers are quintessentially MacKenzie, yawningly obvious at times with their flashings warning you of their presence. Thankfully, their positioning only comes into play on the most errant of shots, and, deservedly, if you have the wrong club in your hand.
Remarkably, Royal Adelaide has been very progressive with its acceptance of members. Lady members were admitted as early as 1897, and the club is one of the founding members of the previous Australian Golf Union, and is supportive of Golf Australia, the current governing body for the sport.
During the years, Royal Adelaide has hosted nine Australian Opens, 16 Amateur Championships, plus the Australian Ladies Amateur and, once again, will stage this month’s Women’s Australian Open. It currently ranks 80th in the 2020 Golf Digest World Top 100 Greatest Courses rankings.
Ask any Adelaide golfer where you should play on your visit, other than Royal Adelaide of course, and Kooyonga Golf Club inevitably comes up. The course, ranked 25th in the country by Australian Golf Digest, was designed by founder Herbert Lockett Rymill and offers a classic layout that showcases the splendour of Adelaide’s sandbelt terrain.
In this area pinched by the city and the ocean, Kooyonga offers its members and visitors easy access to a course that shares similar elements to MacKenzie’s Royal Adelaide. Rymill (affectionately nicknamed “Cargie”), and a native from the city, arguably had more impact on golf courses in the region than any other. His travels through Britain in the early 20th century influenced some of his thinking, and it was through sure providence that he founded Kooyonga.
Kooyonga’s members can thank a train strike in 1922 for this. The strike forced Rymill to take a tram from the city back to Henley Beach where he lived. Along the way, he chanced upon a track of land for sale known as May’s Paddocks. On seeing the sand dunes, and ideal soil, Rymill knew he had the canvas for an excellent course and Kooyonga was born.
On seeing the sand dunes, and ideal soil, Rymill knew he had the canvas for an excellent course and Kooyonga was born.
One feature of Rymill’s is that he always believed in providing variety in holes. Those at Kooyonga reflect this approach to a T. Holes like the par-5 second are wrapped by bushy trees on both sides of the tight fairway. Conversely, the wide landing area at the ninth gives your driver room to breathe. The par-4 13th is a straightaway, while the difficult 10th presents a dogleg right that is a challenge to play even though there is not a single bunker in sight until you reach the green.
Rymill’s high and prominent lips to his bunkers are a key feature, serving as a warning of the presence of these hazards. The local, reddish-coloured sand gives it a typically Aussie feel, and the firm consistency makes them a delight from which to play. These hazards come up front and centre at the 14th where four large examples square off the short hole’s defence against par.
Adelaide-based course architect Neil Crafter has renovated several of Kooyonga’s holes in recent years, partly to remove superfluous vegetation but also to return the site to the look it had when Rymill first weaved his magic. The latest unveiling came in October with a redesigned 17th green, which famously sits flush against a cheeky pond.
In many ways, Kooyonga offers its members the best of all worlds. Its clubhouse is a fine combination of modernity and the game’s best traditions. Kooyonga boasts an indoor and all-weather golf academy that it professes is the first of its kind in South Australia. A full-size driving range with integrated teaching technology, target greens and three practice putting greens give aspiring golfers everything they need to get better.
Certainly, with Kooyonga’s membership pillars of Respect, Inclusiveness, Friendliness and Excellence as its guide, the club is well positioned to progress into the future.
The Roaring Twenties was a golden era in Adelaide golf and Glenelg Golf Club opened in 1927 to join the fray of high-quality layouts. Rymill also put his indelible touch on its 18 holes, building on his legacy as the architect of choice for courses in the area.
Located in the suburb of Novar Gardens between the airport and Glenelg Beach, Glenelg Golf Club saw several renovations throughout last century, but it was not until the work done by Neil Crafter and Bob Tuohy in 2004 that it rose to prominence. As such, it took time for Glenelg to truly shine in the national golf consciousness, but today it is firmly in the must-play category for golfers in Adelaide. A prominent focus in Crafter and Tuohy’s work was the bunkering and bringing the distinctive, riveted-face look to the Glenelg pots. This style combined with the orange hue of the sand gave the course its signature look.
The layout is a compact gem. It moves artfully within its small confines and uses the natural features with aplomb. What few elevation changes the land possesses are incorporated astutely, such as at the 11th hole, which is a strong uphill par 3.
Like most of Adelaide’s courses, rolling, low-slung dunes and sandy outlying areas highlight the terrain at Glenelg, as do trees that line the fairways and frame the greens. Of the five top-tier courses in Adelaide, it is probably the most generous, allowing golfers to get around relatively quickly (at the time of my visit, I could barely keep up with a group of three sexagenarian lady golfers walking the course with push buggies) or to shoot to their handicap.
That’s not to say that the course is easy. Rymill’s method of angling the fairways off-kilter from the tees means that you’d better shape your shots accordingly if you don’t want to leave yourself in awkward positions. And the many bunkers seem like they’re always in a spot to catch your shots, especially if it’s the first time you’re playing here. But with a course guide or rangefinder in hand, and keeping your pride and bravado where they belong (preferably in a drawer back home), a conservative approach can reap vast benefits on this most enjoyable of courses.
The air within the club is one of cordiality, homeliness and warmth. Members smile at you even though they’ve never seen you before. And the service you receive from the pro shop to the café is as inviting as they come. During my visit, the Japanese national team was in attendance, playing one of their practice rounds. This obviously speaks volumes of Glenelg’s position among the Adelaide golf elite.
One added feather in the club’s hat is its proactive attention to the ecology of the area. The club’s ASR Wetland Scheme has given rise to man-made wetlands that recycle stormwater. Completed in 2010, its aim is to achieve a 100 per cent recycled water rating for the club. This scheme is environmentally responsible and affords the club the luxury of sustainable irrigation water year-round. The 1.4-hectare wetlands system is also home to more than 50,000 native plants.
Glenelg is currently ranked 36th by Australian Golf Digest in the 2018 Top 100 Courses rankings, proving that the combination of playability, quality and conservation efforts have been greatly successful in making the club one of the best in the country.
There’s a twin-course offering across town with both tracks ranked inside Australia’s top-50. The Grange Golf Club’s duo completes the five-course bonanza most visiting golfers aim to tour when in Adelaide – and both layouts provide something special.
Think about how few golf holes allow you to see the flag while standing on the tee. Doglegs, treelines, spurs in the land – anything might obscure the view. And aside from par 3s, how necessary is it to see the target from the outset given that multiple strokes are required to reach it? Yet that was the mindset of Mike Clayton when he came to redesign Grange’s West course. Years of growth had seen treelines choke some holes, effectively narrowing the playing corridors. Clayton opened the course right up, gave golfers width but asked them to avoid bunkers and choose a defined path towards the flag. And, in most cases, the flag was now in full view from the tee.
Co-hosting the 2008 World Amateur Team Championships and with two Women’s Australian Opens in the past four years, the West course is an excellent example of taking something good and making it great. The Grange’s other layout was also subject to a recent redesign, this time at the hands of the man who won his first professional tournament on the Adelaide course: Greg Norman. The post-2012 incarnation of the East course contrasts nicely with the West. The redesigned layout is a shade longer, a little tighter in places and features a different bunkering style. And for several holes on the front nine, it also touches the club’s wetlands area, which doubles as a vital water source. The East didn’t need a radical overhaul when it came to routing. Indeed, many of the ‘old’ holes remained in place. Of more pressing importance was establishing a point of difference to the West. The two layouts share comparable terrain and subtle but slight undulation, and they are of similar length, so the distinction had to be made through the bunkering and green complexes. Some greens slope mildly while others feature steep tiers, collection bowls or drop-offs.
And if you’re after a change of pace but don’t want to drift too far from the CBD, North Adelaide Golf Course offers 36 holes plus an 18-hole par-3 course. Huge gum trees line the fairways and the city is a backdrop on many holes. The South course is longer, nudging 5,900 metres, while the North is more petite at 4,500. Holes on the par-3 course, meanwhile, vary from 56 to 140 metres to give novice golfers a place to nurture their game and expert golfers a facility to hone theirs. Nestled against the River Torrens, North Adelaide Golf Course is a slice of golf goodness on the edge of the city.
Conversely, Links Lady Bay offers an ideal reason to meander down the coastline south of Adelaide. The golf course was imposed upon the landscape alongside Gulf St Vincent without being an imposition. The design trio of Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and the late John Spencer craftily wrapped the 18 holes across a mildly undulating parcel of land overlooking the sea but bisected by a huge spur. Most of the holes sit on the seaside portion of the site, although several holes on the back nine meander around the back of the spine and create a neat point of difference.
Notable for Grant’s ambitious yet artistic green complexes, Lady Bay wears a different dress depending on the elements. It is a different golf course when firm and fast versus lush or when the winds switch with the seasons. Among the highlights are the approach shot over a burn to the fourth green, the decision over how much club to take off the tee at the downhill, bunker-laden 11th hole and simply surviving the long par-3 17th in par figures.
With commanding views across the gulf and a layout where some of the contouring can be wild and conditions even wilder, Lady Bay is well worth the day trip or perhaps an extended stay. Like most things in Adelaide, you can’t go wrong whichever way you choose.
Things to do in and around Adelaide
Adelaide and its surrounding areas offer a wealth of activities to keep you occupied outside your golf game. Here is a selection to consider.
If you don’t want to travel too far to get to one of Adelaide’s famous wineries (the Barossa Valley is about an hour away), then a visit to the McLaren Vale area is just the thing. D’Arenberg is one of the more high-profile vineyards in the area, and is noted – for better or worse – for its “cubist” visitor centre. Quality wine notwithstanding, visitors can entertain themselves with the whimsical artwork found in this avant-garde building, ending up at the wine-tasting salon where you can sample and purchase the vineyard’s best, award-winning vintages.
Mount Lofty House
Really want to get away from city life and fancy a unique Adelaide experience? Staying at Mount Lofty House in the exclusive, residential Adelaide Hills will certainly tick all your boxes. Apart from the astounding views from the elevated location, Mount Lofty House offers unique, luxurious rooms, a fine-dining restaurant and indulgent spa experiences all located in a refurbished heritage building that is in itself worthy of a visit.
This quaint hamlet is near Mount Lofty House in Adelaide Hills, and is Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement. Needless to say, you can get rich, foamy brews, pretzels and traditional sausages at the many Bavarian-style beer houses. Try the Hahndorf Old Mill Hotel (hahndorfoldmill.com); or Hahndorf Inn (hahndorfinn.com) along Main St, Hahndorf’s major thoroughfare. Or if you are in the mood for some retail therapy, the leather, specialty foods and arts and crafts shops there can easily help you while away an afternoon.
This is the ultimate hub of all things delicious in the city of Adelaide. Apart from fresh produce, meats, seafood and condiments of any conceivable kind from all cuisines, this market has had nearly one-and-a-half centuries of experience in bringing visitors from near and far the best things they can put in their mouths. Eat-in at one of the cafés or eateries inside this heritage building, or takeaway. You certainly won’t want to leave empty handed.
Ba Guo Bu Yi
Not surprisingly, Adelaide is home to many truly authentic Asian restaurants. This crowded establishment located just steps from Central Market offers genuine Sichuan dishes that satisfies as much as it satiates your inclination for fiery food. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying one of the dishes that feature Sichuan’s famous tongue-number chili. I’d recommend the Ma La Fish, a stew of delicate white fish cooked in a spicy, oily stock of Sichuan chilies that will undoubtedly have you perspiring… and applauding at the same time.
One of the wine capitals of the world and famous for its top-shelf reds out of the nearby Barossa Valley, Adelaide could be one of the most underrated golf destinations anywhere. Home to one of the most iconic drops on the planet, Penfolds Grange, and littered with other international best-sellers, including Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz, working your way through the region’s award-winning vineyards will invariably lead you to some equally as impressive golf.
The locals call them the ‘Big Four’ and you’ll soon see why when you take on Royal Adelaide Golf Club, Kooyonga, Glenelg and Grange (East and West courses) – old-school architecture mixed with some modern finishing, right in the heart of the City of Churches. While the golf offering down the road in the Barossa region isn’t trumpeted, there are still two enjoyable layouts to experience. Both Tanunda Pines and Barossa Valley Golf Club offer tranquil settings and convenient access to accommodation and amenities, with tee-times generally available during weekdays. In the Barossa, you really can have your cake and eat it, too.
Food and wine
No wine enthusiast can leave the Barossa Valley off their to-do list. The spiritual home of Australian wine contains a who’s who of vinous royalty. Penfolds, Henschke, Peter Lehmann, Yalumba, Rockford and Jacobs Creek are just a few well-known brands, but the Barossa is also a hotbed for innovative small producers. With more than 150 in the region, there is a wine here to satisfy both the purist and the adventurer. Be sure to seek out the likes of d’Arenberg, Seppeltsfield, St Hugo, The Lane and Wirra Wirra on your travels.
The Barossa is home to a number of outstanding restaurants. FermentAsian delivers both classy Asian-inspired food and a creative wine list, while Vintners Bar & Grill and Appellation continue to over-deliver after many years at the forefront of regional dining.
Adelaide is serving up a new concept in golf, combining four of Australia’s finest courses with four of the world’s best wines. “Four Reds” continues the time-honoured tradition of matching exquisite courses with fine wines. You’ll take on four of the most prestigious private golf courses in Australia: Glenelg, Grange, Kooyonga and Royal Adelaide. At the end of each 18 holes, partakers will enjoy a bottle of specially paired premium wine along with a tasting plate sourced from the gourmet producers of
Four Reds offers holiday packages for three to six nights in Adelaide, including all green fees, transfers, accommodation and paired wine experiences.
Visit fourreds.com.au for more information and bookings
– Additional reporting by Steve Keipert