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 - Ranking period October 2022 to September 2023
Top 100 2023* from the 2024 GOLF Course Guide
(* Courses judged Oct 2022 to Sept 2023)
As always, to be ranked, courses must be available for green fee play most of the year. We include all Public Courses (whether Council or privately owned); all Resort Courses, and many Private Clubs which offer access to green fee players. Some Clubs may require an overnight stay in their accommodation in order to access the course.
We present the most comprehensive assessment of these courses – our judges’ separate rankings for Design, Conditions and Aesthetics.
CAPE WICKHAM (pictured below) links on King Island, Tasmania has now topped our list since first appearing in 2017. This stunning cliff top and seaside design by Mike DeVries and Darius Oliver presents a world class layout that is fun and challenging for all. The course also took out best design and best aesthetics awards with most judges placing it first in both these lists, but by a far narrower margin than previously.
BARNBOUGLE DUNES #2 and BARNBOUGLE LOST FARM #3 remained on top of the Conditions list, with the fun BOUGLE RUN, 14 short holes by Architect Bill Coore amongst towering sand dunes between Lost Farm’s two nines at Barnbougle now ranked third for Conditioning and #13 overall (#18 last year). They are certainly a fun challenge with exceptional conditioning and aesthetics, but we marked them down a little in the design category due to their lack of number, variety and length, with 12 par 3s. (Although there are some fine 9-hole courses throughout Australia, we haven’t considered them in these rankings, partly because we think 18 holes are more fun, and difficult to compare with only nine. We also try not to reward Lost Farm just because it boasts 20 holes.)
OCEAN DUNES on King Island remains at #4 (third in design) with another small improvement in turf conditioning, with scope for even more – ranked #14 this time. Ranked #3 for aesthetics, gives Tasmania our top 4 public access courses and the top 3 in each category, our judges continuing to enjoy the fun golf provided by the architecture, the firm, fast running fescue surfaces and stunning coastal views.
BARWON HEADS on Melbourne’s Bellarine Peninsula ranked next at #5, followed by THE DUNES #6 across Port Philip Bay on the Mornington Peninsula – no changes in the top 6 - and nearby ST ANDREWS BEACH regained #7, giving Tom Doak two of our highest ranked layouts (Barnbougle Dunes and St Andrews Beach).
JOONDALUP #8 (pictured above) was again the highest ranking inland course where we select the QUARRY/DUNES combination as being the best. The only other non-coastal course in our top 20 is the stunning BONVILLE Resort #12 near Coffs Harbour which continues to reign as our ‘most beautiful mainland course’.
NEWCASTLE #9, the classic Eric Apperly designed links on the central NSW Coast gained three places with improved scores for both conditioning and aesthetics from our panel. As with Barwon Heads, this is essentially a private members golf club that welcomes green fee players.
We are delighted to include the newly re-opened 9 holes at KENNEDY BAY at #15 with scope to move further up our list as the authentic links redesign and vegetation matures and the work on the second nine is completed towards the end of 2024. Kennedy Bay was #1 in 2003 and #4 in our 2010 lists with its dramatic sod revetted pot bunkers and a real feel of Scotland. When the course first opened in 2000 a local golf Pro told me “they could hold the British Open here tomorrow”. I look forward to a re-acquaintance soon.
LONSDALE LINKS which debuted at #14 last year is now ranked #16, an endorsement for team Ogilvy Cocking Mead on the Bellarine Peninsula - a fun layout that requires some delicate shot making amongst several “template” holes that borrow from architectural greats of a previous era.
Once again our Top 20 courses are dominated by seaside links styles, both traditional and newly constructed.
KALGOORLIE has bounced back five places to #22 and NAROOMA makes a huge jump from #47 to #25 with better rankings for both conditioning and aesthetics. MEADOW SPRINGS improved 12 spots to #32, largely the result of its fine conditioning, this mellow example of Robert Trent Jones’ work contrasts beautifully with his dramatic Joondalup execution, both fine WA courses.
SANCTUARY LAKES (pictured below), Greg Norman’s design on the western fringe of Melbourne jumped 19 places to #36, this year’s panel recognising the quality of design (ranked #21) as well as markedly better conditioning.
LAKELANDS the Jack Nicklaus signature course on the Gold Coast gained 9 spots to #37, reflecting a recent improvement in attention to little details, and the potential for further gains.
MURRAY DOWNS on the Vic/NSW border jumps 11 places to #41 whilst on the Mornington Peninsula our judges rewarded improvements at ROSEBUD NORTH which leapt from #58 to #42.
Back in WA, SECRET HARBOUR gained 20 spots to #46 with a huge jump in conditioning rank from #57 to #24. Nearby ARALUEN (pictured below) was the year’s biggest improver, moving from #92 to #53 very largely due to the improvements in course conditioning and attention to details.
WARRNAMBOOL, perhaps overlooked for some years, moved from #73 to #54 with better scores in all three categories. HORSHAM #56 gained 11 spots on the back of a better conditioning score. BELMONT, maybe another under-rated course, moved up 15 places to #63 after its jump of 20 spots last year, with judges considering its design merits more, and slightly improved conditioning.
MOLLYMOOK HILLTOP course #70 has now improved its position every year for the past five years, with solid scores in all three categories despite not appearing in any of the three Top 50 lists.
MORNINGTON makes its debut at #90 with an impressive ranking of #37 in the aesthetics category thanks to splendid views across Port Philip Bay to the city. The other newcomers are BRIGHTON LAKES #93 and NUDGEE #98.
This years unlucky ‘next twenty’ (in alphabetic order) were:
PELICAN WATERS only re-opened in August 2023 and was not considered since too few of our judges were able to visit. Likewise RIVERSIDE OAKS, devastated by flooding wasn’t accessed again due to lack of input and too little time for the course to rebound to its original conditioning in the judging period.
HOW THE LISTS WERE COMPILED
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, interesting 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. How well the course exploits the ‘best’ set and sequence of holes the land offers, and how well the routing takes the golfer on a journey of discovery. The strategic design of each hole - where hazards come into play, reward for risk takers of an easier subsequent shot, with a more difficult shot or possibly an additional stroke for those who choose to play safely.
Courses that offer higher handicappers a manageable test (from appropriate tees) will find themselves ranked 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” 18 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.
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. The judging period was from October 2021 to September 2022.
Where we really deliver on our 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 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.
We recognise 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
Currently a member of the The Vines and the Perth Golf Network. He has had the opportunity to play on a diverse range of courses in Australia, New Zealand, and beyond. Whenever he travels, his golf clubs accompany him, and from time to time, he manages to play to his handicap of 9.
Our sincere thanks to all our judges; to Peter Nolan who served many years on our panel before his resignation this year; to Leon Wiegard who has been with us from our initial Victorian GOLF Course Guide rankings; to Chris Parry and to Ian Urquhart who has been away injured – we hope to see these last three return next year.