The GOLF Course Guide presents the most comprehensive assessment of where to play golf in Australia – with separate lists showing how our judges ranked the candidates in each of three key criteria: Design, Conditions and Aesthetics. "As always, courses must be available for green fee players most of the year. The list includes all Public Courses; all Resort Courses (with accommodation on site - ranked separately), and many Private Members Clubs.
Overall Rankings - see below
Editorial by Selwyn Berg (Editor - The GOLF Course Guide)
Our front cover features the spectacular Cape Wickham links on King Island, Tasmania. Three of our judges were privileged and excited to preview this dramatic cliff- and beachside layout in March 2015 before the course was closed to play over winter whilst the new surfaces established. Our collective view was that Cape Wickham provides both the best design and the best aesthetics of all the courses we rank, but given the immature fairways and greens, the fact that the course was not available for play over the majority of our assessment period (Sep 2014 to Sep 2015) and the fact that only three of us had seen it we felt it unreasonable to include it in this list. See our review CLICK HERE
Thus Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm on Tasmania’s Bass Strait coastline retain the top two spots in our latest rankings, clearly on notice from yet another Tasmanian candidate for next year. Designed by international architects (ranked #1 and #2 for design), the Barnbougle pair also benefit from stunningly beautiful coastal views (ranked #1 and #3 for aesthetics). We also awarded the top two scores for course conditioning to the Barnbougle twins. The firm, bouncy fescue fairways and greens are ideally suited to links golf, and it is this sporty style of game which continues to delight players across Australia.
Despite a small drop in score for Conditions, The Dunes on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, a perennial favourite, took out the #3 spot, followed by The Links Kennedy Bay in the West at #4 – also #3 and #4 for Design respectively, and fine examples of the recent high quality “pay for play” links-like layouts that have been created over the past two decades.
The only non-linksy course in our Top 10 is once again Joondalup WA at #5, and the only traditional course is Barwon Heads at #7. The same ten courses shuffled positions at the top of our list. All are tremendous fun to play, with exhilarating and beautiful holes that can be handled by every golfer from an appropriate tee, these courses are typically presented in immaculate condition.
Bonville – Australia’s answer to Augusta – edged between the Barnbougle twins to carry off the #2 spot for aesthetics, and move up the overall rankings to #12. Attention to little details of presentation was rewarded with an improved conditions score, and our judges regard Bonville as a wonderful place to relax and enjoy golf.
Our emphasis in ranking courses is that they should be enjoyable and interesting to play for golfers of all abilities, rather than just difficult and challenging to elite golfers.
With increasingly competitive times for all Golf Clubs, it is becoming easier for green fee players to get a game on hitherto exclusively private courses, albeit with some restrictions. Hence we are pleased to welcome Newcastle Golf Club to this list at #11. This 1935 design by Eric Apperly has long been highly regarded as a classic links style layout in an Australian bush setting.
Graham Marsh designed Kalgoorlie Golf Course made a move up our rankings to #18 courtesy of a significant jump in how our panel viewed its aesthetics which leapt significantly from #40 to #19. In a similar move a more favourable view of Marsh’s former design partner Ross Watson’s work at Sanctuary Cove saw his Palms course rank ahead of its more famous neighbour The Pines at #28 courtesy of a significant jump in aesthetics score. As with Bonville, there is still hope for inland courses to be considered favourably in this regard!
We noted improved course conditioning with new owners at Paradise Palms resulting in an overall move from 48 to #37, and also at Cape Schanck #51 to 38. A similar story with new owners gradually returning Palm Meadows to its former glory and we are pleased to see this Gold Coast icon return to our rankings at #53. In fact scores for conditions across most courses were a little higher this year, perhaps reflecting less traumatic weather patterns, so that in order to just retain last year’s rank in this department some improvement in playing conditions was a prerequisite.
Always well regarded for its coastal setting, Long Reef was judged inside the Top 50 for design and accordingly took a leap up the overall list to #57.
Courses to enter our Top 100 for the first time include Murwillumbah at #80, Portarlington #83, Mona Vale #92, Black Bull #94, Byron Bay #96 and Vines Ellenbrook #98. Waterford Valley just missed out last year and sneaks back at #91.
We elected not to include the new Bungool course at Riverside Oaks in overall rankings since it closed for part of the year to focus on improvements to playing surfaces, but we liked what we saw (#39 Design) and look forward to a return in 2017.
Previously ranked courses to drop from this year’s list include Mandurah, Horizons, Tocumwal Captains, Tallwoods, Kingston Beach, Bribie Island and Cypress Lakes. Settlers Run elected to restrict access.
As usual, the scoring was incredibly tight, with each Barnbougle course ahead by just over a whole point (out of 100), but then less than one point separated #3 from #10. Minor changes to our judging panel, the courses they visited through the year or the timing of their visits all affect the outcome, so as always we recommend that our readers use these lists for guidance only.
The GOLF Course Guide established a numerical course ranking system in 1998 and was the first Australian publication to do that. The Guide’s criteria are
Course Design (40% weighting): How each hole presents an enjoyable, even thrilling challenge to golfers of all abilities from scratch markers to high handicappers and shorter hitters. The variety of different holes that make up the course, and the variety of shots that they require to test every facet of your game. The strategic design of each hole - where hazards come into play, reward for risk takers that is in proportion to the degree of risk, with a safer/easier option, maybe with an additional stroke, for those who choose not to take the risk.
Courses that offer higher handicappers an exciting test will find themselves rated better in this Guide, and courses that are really only playable by low markers will be ranked lower. Courses with two separate 18s considered as two courses; where 27 holes available, the “best” selected.
Course Conditions (40% weighting): Year round playing conditions (from best to worst season) and course maintenance of greens (greatest weighting), fairways, tees, roughs and hazards.
In contrast with other lists, this weighting was arrived at by listening to Guide readers – Green Fee players – who dictated that conditioning was important for an enjoyable round.
Mackenzie decreed that “The course should be equally good during winter and summer, the texture of the greens and fairways should be perfect, and the approaches should have the same consistency as the greens”. More than just firm greens and smooth fairways – our players agree with the good Doctor: “There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost balls”, they feel that balls should not plug in a bunker face, or be held up by thick rough on the edge of a bunker.
All these aspects of an enjoyable round are taken into account under Conditions.
Course Aesthetics (20% weighting): The obvious beauty of the setting and also that very subjective quality of ambience and tranquillity that allows the golfer to lose himself in his environment.
Judges scores are mathematically adjusted to account for any particular harshness or leniency and spurious results are eliminated.
Panellists were asked to score only courses they had played. Colleagues who play certain courses frequently were consulted to more accurately assess year round conditions.
Where the Guide really delivers on its objective to ‘guide’ readers to courses they will enjoy is by publishing three distinct lists – rankings by Design, Conditions and Aesthetics – allowing readers effectively to select their own criteria and weightings. For some golfers, the thrill of playing golf in a stunning (eg coastal clifftop) environment can far outweigh lacklustre design strategy, and even mediocre fairway conditions. For these players, our allocation of only 20% weighting will seem inadequate, and they should seek out courses from our Best Aesthetics list, rather than the overall rankings.
The Judges - We recognize the subjective nature of our rankings, and suggest their use as a guide only.
If you’d like to have your say about any of our lists go to www.ausgolf.com.au/course-rankings
We recognize the subjective nature of our rankings, and suggest their use as a guide only.
If you’d like to have your say about any of our lists go to www.ausgolf.com.au/course-rankings
George Begg is Secretary/Treasurer of the Australian Golf Writers Association. Handicap 15, member at Sanctuary Lakes, also a member at Altona Lakes.
Selwyn Berg is the Managing Editor of ausgolf and the Editor and Publisher of The Golf Course Guide. Handicap 10, member at Commonwealth.
Graeme Bond has reported golf on Fairfax Radio for 18 years. A member at the National, handicap 7.
Graham Holmes is a member at Commonwealth and Royal Hobart, handicap 7. He travels the world extensively playing golf.
Loren Justins handicap 5, member at Royal Queensland and has played at many international courses during extensive work travel.
Steve Keipert has worked in golf media for 15 years. He is the deputy editor of Golf Australia magazine. His handicap is 3, member at Stonecutters Ridge.
Garry Kennedy is the non-playing GOLF Course Guide Manager and Editor / Publisher of Hacker Magazine. Handicap 16 at Howlong when he does play.
Jonathan McCleery Handicap 7. Golfing author, golf course investor and former Riversdale Club Captain
Peter Nolan is a keen golfer handicap 9, member at Rosanna. He maintains his love for the game, despite the fact that the game steadfastly refuses to love him back!
Kevin Pallier is a panellist for a number of golfing publications. He is a member at Wollongong Golf Club with a handicap of 12.
Bill Parker struggles to retain a single figure handicap. He travels and plays extensively based and playing socially south of Perth.
Leon Wiegard is a Life member Portsea, Patron Clifton Springs, member Commonwealth, and international golf tour organizer. Handicap has blown to 17, lowest was 8.
Bill Willetts was a senior assessor for Golf Monthly’s Top 120 British courses, now living in Victoria where he is a member of the VVGA Council and Vice-Captain of Central District Vets Assoc. Current handicap of 14 but he most enjoys playing high slope courses where he receives bonus strokes.
David Worley is a member at Commonwealth, Sorrento and Moonah Links handicap 11. Author of comprehensive books on British Links.
We gratefully acknowledge the input of all judges. (GA Handicaps quoted).