For the first time since Australian Golf Digest started it's Top 100 rankings in the 1980s, Royal Melbourne does not occupy top spot on the 2010 list. That honour goes to Kingston Heath, with the West Course at Royal Melbourne bumped down to number 3. Elsewhere there were plenty of big movers on this list years list, the full Top 100 is listed below.
Read further comments from Architecture Editor Darius Oliver by clicking here.
Enjoy this years list, always a great source of healthy debate and controversy, and please send any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|COURSE NAME||2010 RANK||Fall/Rise|
|New South Wales||2|
|Royal Melbourne (West)||3||-2|
|The National (Moonah)||6||+2|
|Royal Melbourne (East)||8||-7|
|Moonah Links (Legends)||13||+1|
|The National (Old)||16||-4|
|Golf Club at Kennedy Bay||20|
|Moonah Links (Open)||26||-9|
|Thirteenth Beach (Beach)||29||+4|
|The Cut, Port Bouvard||31||-15|
|St Andrews Beach (G'matta)||32||-2|
|The National (Ocean)||37||+10|
|Coolum (Hyatt Regency)||40||-2|
|The Vines (Lakes)||50||-11|
|Sanctuary Cove (Pines)||51||-16|
|The Heritage (St John)||55||-12|
|Links Lady Bay||57||-5|
|Western Australia GC||61||+9|
|The Heritage (Henley)||72||+4|
|The Vines (Ellenbrook)||91||-52|
Top 100 Golf Courses - Commentary from Darius Oliver, March 2010
When the Essendon Football Club dumped Kevin Sheedy as coach at the end of 2007 one had a feeling this was going to be an era of great change. From the end of Sheedy’s 27-season tenure at Windy Hill came the rise of the other Kevin, ‘07’ Rudd along with Barack Obama and his historic campaign for the US Presidency. In golf we have seen the unprecedented fall from grace of Tiger Woods, the emergence of China, the near-collapse of the LPGA schedule and now, trumping them all, a brand new number 1 in Australian Golf Digest’s biennial ranking of our Top 100 courses.
Largely on the back of its successful staging of November’s Australian Masters tournament, Kingston Heath has replaced Royal Melbourne as Australia’s premier golf course, the first change at the top of our list since we started these rankings back in 1986. In truth, Royal Melbourne’s grip on number 1 in 2010 was always going to be perilous, due to both severe conditioning issues experienced at the club over the past half-decade and because of our decision to finally remove composite rankings and instead judge the East and West courses separately. There was also stiff competition from two of the world’s grandest old layouts, Kingston Heath and New South Wales each presented in tip-top shape over summer and moving past Royal Melbourne after hosting significant professional championships.
For a few years now, the members at Royal Melbourne could only dream of fairways like those at Kingston Heath, and although some would regard Royal Melbourne West as the best track in Australia regardless of its conditioning, the overwhelming view of our panel was that it couldn’t be held up as the country’s ideal course while in such a neglected state. Naturally the club is trying to overcome its problems, last year they appointed a new superintendent and his team is currently converting the West Course fairways to the more robust Legends Couch. This change should result in more attractive playing surfaces, although the character of the fairways will surely be altered, as they become denser and less bouncy.
With our 2012 ranking due to be released in the wake of the 2011 President’s Cup at Royal Melbourne, it wouldn’t surprise to see the club make a swift return to the top spot. Jumping from three to one won’t be easy, however, as The Heath is a popular layout and a most deserving number one. It doesn’t have anywhere the scale or undulation of Royal Melbourne West and didn’t win the award on a straight hole-for-hole comparison, but it’s ultra-consistent and scores well in the criteria used by the Australian Golf Digest panel. Interestingly, this year we altered our definition for conditioning, to emphasise firm, fast turf conditions over courses that are lush and green. This was done in concert with our American affiliate, who also experienced change at the top as Augusta National toppled Pine Valley for the first time in that magazine’s history. Judges are supposed to look beyond green grass when reviewing a golf course but clearly nice fairways leave an impression.
Elsewhere in the Top 10
Aside from the jump of Barnbougle Dunes into 4th place and The Moonah Course at The National into 6th, Royal Adelaide’s slip (no. 9) on the back of a deteriorating track is the other notable result among a fairly settled Top 10. Mike Clayton has been employed to create a new par five at Royal Adelaide, and if the hole proves successful he is likely to be retained to start work repairing the rest of this tired and dysfunctional layout. The club should take confidence from the fact that some of Clayton’s earlier clients enjoyed significant moves forward in 2010. In the top half of our list the biggest move was from Royal Queensland, which jumped 27 places to number 30, making it Queensland’s best course. Two years ago it was 10th in the state. Lake Karrinyup (No. 12), The Lakes (No. 17), Peninsula North (No. 25), Peninsula South (No. 39), Grange West (No. 49) and Spring Valley (No. 62) have also headed in the right direction, Lake Karrinyup once again ranked highest in Western Australia and The Lakes back in its rightful place among the nation’s Top 20.
There were a number of other established courses that moved positively up the ranking this year, despite no great improvement to course or conditioning. These include The Dunes (No. 14), Tony Cashmore’s fabulous links layout on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, which is essentially unchanged but jumps from 25 to a thoroughly deserved spot among the Top 15. Respected Sandbelt club Woodlands (No. 22) also enjoyed a nice shift forward, as did Bellarine Peninsula gem Barwon Heads (No. 21), which has been in terrific shape for some time now. Each of these courses were under-rated in our previous list, as was the improving Cottesloe Golf Club in Perth, which proved a panel favourite and improved a staggering 35 places to number 63
Whenever there are big winners there are invariably big losers too, and this year’s biggest fall was Laguna Whitsundays, which dropped an equally stunning 32 places down to 53. Laguna was once entrenched within the first 15, but will struggle to remain anywhere on the list in 2012 if serious maintenance and design issues are not quickly addressed. Similarly the West course at Indooroopilly (down 26 places to No. 99) came in for stinging appraisal, one judge describing work done on the revamped ‘Red’ nine as “disgraceful”. Aside from the Horsham Golf Club (No. 100), which probably pinched itself when ranked in the 70s last time, Indooroopilly West suffered the next biggest fall in 2010.
Nearer the top of our list and the club likely to feel most aggrieved with its new position is Kooyonga (No. 23) in South Australia, which fell ten places on the back of some rather dubious changes made in recent times. Consulting architect Martin Hawtree, who added a 19th hole and rebuilt the short par four 5th, has plans for further revisions here but his work so far has not been good, the busy green and mogul-ridden fairway on the 5th are both unappealing and completely out of sync with the rest of the layout.
Other top-tier tracks to suffer a drop are the Open Course at Moonah Links (No. 26) and Royal Canberra (No. 27), both down 9 places as they are passed by a group of well credentialed courses on the improve. The same could be said of Huntingdale (No. 36), The Heritage (St John) (No. 55), Alice Springs (No. 69), Narooma (No. 85) and Southern (No. 96), each moving in the wrong direction despite little change to their holes over the past two years. Others to fall, such as Sanctuary Cove (Pines) (No. 51), Pacific Dunes (No. 74), Macquarie Links (No. 84) and Horsham, have probably enjoyed inflated rankings in the past and we feel this year’s result better reflects the actual quality of these layouts.
In a marked change from previous rankings, there aren’t any new courses in the top 50 this year, the highest debutant being Settler’s Run in Melbourne’s south-east, which comes in at number 64. The inclusion of Settler’s Run means the recently ended design partnership between Greg Norman and Bob Harrison is now responsible for nine of Australia’s Top 100 courses.
The next best newcomer is Eynesbury at 79. Designed by Graham Marsh and located on the north-western outskirts of Melbourne, Eynesbury occupies farmland that is owned by the Baillieu family, who are synonymous with the Myer empire. The remaining debutants are Yering Meadows (No. 90) in Victoria and Kooindah Waters (No. 93) in New South Wales, both tracks designed by Ross Watson who has had some level of involvement with more than ten layouts on our list. A current Watson client hoping that this Midas touch will continue is Bonnie Doon in Sydney, one of nine courses from the class of 2008 to disappear altogether in 2010. After years of inactivity and visible deterioration, Bonnie Doon has finally approved a plan by Watson to reshape part of its front nine to take advantage of a new parcel of available land. Whether the proposed changes fulfill the true potential of the entire site is debatable, but tender revisions are desperately needed here and, done well, the club should reemerge a contender again in 2012.
As will the likes of Horizons (86 in 2008), Pymble (90 in 2008), Robina Woods (96 in 2008), Mollymook (97 in 2008), Brisbane, Cranbourne, Federal, Hartfield, Kew, Kingswood, Monash, Royal Fremantle and Sea Temple which only missed the Top 100 by a small margin this time around.
The remaining courses from 2008 to fall off the list were Camden Lakeside, Royal Pines, Ocean Shores and Kooralbyn Valley, which wasn’t considered for inclusion this year because of its closure. These omitted layouts made way for the four debutants listed above, as well as the addition of a second course at Royal Melbourne and The Vines and the reemergence of Avondale, Long Island and Bunbury, each back on the list after missing out in our most recent ranking. Avondale (no. 75) hasn’t appeared in the Top 100 for more than a decade now, but improvements here were well received by the panel and have enabled the course to finally step from the shadows of better-known neighbours along Sydney’s north shore.
Long Island (No. 80) and Bunbury (No. 86) could have been considered unlucky in 2008, as each had featured prominently on our Top 100 prior to the last survey. Interestingly, if we turn the clock back ten years to 2000 Long Island was actually ranked 39, while Bunbury was positioned at number 60. This same list had Horizons, Camden Lakeside, Capital, Sun City and Yowani all inside the Top 50. None of these courses appear anywhere on our Top 100 this year.
Clearly much has changed since 2000, with more than a quarter of the courses on today’s list opening in the last decade and, crucially, the methodology we employ to compile our rankings also considerably different. Once a state-by-state rating system with little weighting given to the strength of a particular region, the current panel is more active than before and better able to rate and compare every single course across the country. For this particular edition we focused hard on ensuring the judges scores were up-to-date and that our panel was assessing courses in their most current form.
We believe that the role of a magazine like Australian Golf Digest is to inform readers and, where appropriate, to influence change within the industry. While we don’t pretend our system is perfect, it clearly remains the most credible ranking in Australia and also best reflects the actual state of play at our finest courses. The West Course at Royal Melbourne remains one of the grandest layouts in golf, but readers should be aware that, as things presently stand, Dr. Mackenzie’s masterpiece can no longer be declared Australia’s number 1. It remains my personal favourite, but 75% of panellists who scored both felt that it was currently inferior to Kingston Heath. Obviously the time had come for change, and as we welcome in a new golf decade, it’s time to also toast a new golf king – to Kingston Heath.
Flash Forward to 2012
In terms of new entrants near the top of our ranking, 2010 was the first year in a decade that we didn’t have a debutant feature among Australia’s top 30. That’s almost certain to change in 2012, when the Lost Farm course at Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania will be a candidate. Designed by Bill Coore, arguably the best-credentialed architect of the modern era, Lost Farm occupies even heavy dunes than the original Barnbougle course and looks set to challenge its older sibling for top billing at this wonderful golfing getaway. In terms of class, the top six courses in Australia have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and our expectation is for Lost Farm to slot comfortably among that upper echelon when complete.
Another notable newcomer will be Stonecutter’s Ridge in Western Sydney, which was conceived, routed and partly built under the supervision of Bob Harrison prior to his leaving Greg Norman’s design company. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the course takes shape without his involvement, but it should still have strong claims on a berth among our top 100 when opened in 2011. As will Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett’s new Hamilton Island Golf Club, which occupies its own spectacular coral island accessible only by ferry from the adjacent marina. The experience here is unique, from the journey to arrive at the course to its incredible views of the Barrier Reef, this is a layout sure to attract much attention.
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