The GOLF Course Guide has featured a list of courses available for Green Fee Play for over two decades, and coined the term 'public access' to describe these courses.
Although other publications publish rankings that include all the best Private Golf Clubs, we think it's important to focus on those layouts where everyone can get a game. Golf Australia Magazine now also publishes their list of Public Access Rankings, and the criteria (this year) are very similar to The GOLF Course Guide's, allowing direct comparison.
Latest Public Access Rankings Compared
Here we compare the Public Access Rankings from The GOLF Course Guide 2023 with Golf Australia Magazine Jan 2023 and Golf Digest May 2022 Top 100 rankings for ALL courses, from which we are able to extract the Public Access courses - see table below.
The Criteria - also see Comments below
GCG Criteria: 40% Design, 40% Conditions, 20% Aesthetics
Golf Australia Criteria: 50% Design, 40% Conditions, 10% Aesthetics
Golf Digest Criteria (Updated 2022): 20 points Shot Options, 10 points each each - Challenge, Layout Variety, Distinctiveness, Aesthetics, Conditioning, Character. Total score out of 80.
The Guide process always adjusts for a particular judge's harshness/leniency and also discards 'spurious' numbers that are well out of line with the consensus. There is no mention of these factors in either magazine.
rpa = In 2023 Golf Australia Magazine excluded these courses that had reduced their Public Access tee times
nr = not ranked. NB for Golf Digest this is in overall Top 100 (including Private courses) hence their list of Public Access rankings is shorter.
Golf Australia Magazine previously ranked all courses by asking each judge to award 100 points to the top course, 99 to the next, etc. and to place primary importance on design, followed by conditioning and visual appeal. We were critical of the unscientific nature of this method. Their new criteria for public access courses aligns well with the GOLF Course Guide, but their definition of CONDITION includes:
- "The overall condition of playing surfaces. Take into consideration elements out of control of course staff like drought, bushfire and flood." The Guide does not suggest this to judges, we ask them to judge on what they see, and hope to present a fair assessment of year-round conditions since our judges visit throughout the year.
- "Are the fairways cut to be well-defined from semi-rough and rough?" The Guide does not consider this a desirable feature at all. We dont believe in 'prescriptive' mowing patterns. We like the fairways to blend naturally into the roughs, and feel that a distinct 'first cut' is often penal for the golfer who 'just misses' the closely mown fairway edge.
All three publications named the same top 3 - all new Tasmanian links. There is little significant difference in the top 20 courses, with GA Mag favouring ST ANDREWS BEACH and LONSDALE LINKS more than Digest or The Guide – allowing for the fact that GA Mag excluded some top tracks based on reduced public tee times. PORT FAIRY and CURLEWIS are also GA Mag favourites. The Guide marks BROOKWATER down a little as we find it penal for many public players. We remain baffled that our #38 KOORALBYN, the re-opened Gold Coast Icon has yet to be ranked by either magazine. NAROOMA jumped into #15 spot for GA Mag whilst others rank this seaside course in the 40s. We were a little baffled to find courses such as THE VINES - LAKES, CLUB MANDALAY, QUEENSCLIFF, CAPRICORN, LAKESIDE CAMDEN and SHEPPARTON missing from the GA Mag list, whilst MEADOW SPRINGS, SANCTUARY LAKES, ROSEBUD – NORTH, LONG REEF and WARRNAMBOOL fared better. There are another 22 courses from MORNINGTON #47 to TOOWOOMBA #99 on the above list that were ranked by GA Mag but not by The Guide.
We’ll be sure to have our judges check out all these courses before the GOLF Course Guide for 2024 is published.
Sadly, ARUNDEL HILLS on the Gold Coast closed its doors last year. PELICAN WATERS and KENNEDY BAY were not considered due to ongoing reconstruction works. HERITAGE Golf and Country Club elected not to offer Public Access to its HENLEY and ST JOHN courses so these are not listed. Both courses at RIVERSIDE OAKS were closed due to the floods until mid-July 2022, preventing many of our panel from visiting.