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Australia’s Top Public Access Courses

The GOLF Course Guide has featured a list of courses available for Green Fee Play for two decades, and coined the term 'public access' to describe these courses.

The GCG list for 2018 was released late last year; Golf Australia Magazine and Golf Digest have since published their respective Top 100 rankings, from which we are able to extract the Public Access courses - see table below.

The Criteria

GCG Criteria: 40% Design, 40% Conditions, 20% Aesthetics

GA Criteria: 60% Design, 20% Conditions, 20% Visual - but see comment below

GD Criteria (Updated this year): 25% Shot Values, 12.5% each - Resistance to Scoring, Design Variety, Memorability, Aesthetics, Conditioning, Ambience.

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. Even more strangely, Golf Australia mentions a second method of ranking that appears to us quite unscientific - they state that each judge's top course is given 100 points, second course 99 and so on, and then the final rankings are the number of points awarded divided by the number of judges scoring that course!

2018 Public Access Rankings Compared

PUBLIC ACCESS COURSE GCG GA GD
CAPE WICKHAM 1 2 1
BARNBOUGLE DUNES 2 1 2
BARNBOUGLE LOST FARM 3 3 3
THE DUNES 4 10 5
ST ANDREWS BEACH 5 5 9
KENNEDY BAY 6 8 11
JOONDALUP - QUARRY/DUNES 7 12 7
BARWON HEADS 8 6 12
THIRTEENTH BEACH - BEACH 9 7 14
BONVILLE   10 19 16
MOONAH LINKS - LEGENDS 11 13 15
OCEAN DUNES 12 4 4
MAGENTA SHORES 13 14 8
NEWCASTLE 14 9 6
HAMILTON ISLAND 15 18 13
LINKS HOPE ISLAND 16 26 19
MOONAH LINKS - OPEN 17 25 18
GLADES 18 40 23
THE CUT 19 20 17
KALGOORLIE 20 31 29
BROOKWATER 21 11 10
PACIFIC DUNES 22 39 22
PACIFIC HARBOUR 23 36 31
PORTSEA 24 15 25
SANCTUARY COVE - PINES 25 35 21
THIRTEENTH BEACH - CREEK 26 23 44
ARUNDEL 27   43
KOORALBYN 28    
PORT FAIRY 29 17 34
LAKELANDS 30 45 24
PELICAN WATERS 31 27 28
MEADOW SPRINGS 32 22 36
CAPRICORN  33   32
CAPE SCHANCK 34    
NOOSA SPRINGS 35 66 54
STONECUTTERS RIDGE 36 21 35
SANCTUARY COVE - PALMS 37 50 26
CLUB MANDALAY 38 70  
SETTLERS RUN 39 29 37
HERITAGE - ST JOHN 40 58 51
SANCTUARY LAKES 41 28 42
ROYAL PINES - GREEN/GOLD 42 37 52
ALICE SPRINGS 43    
MURRAY DOWNS 44 46 49
ST MICHAEL'S 45 44 33
THE VINTAGE 46 16 20
TWIN WATERS 47 52  
THE VINES - LAKES 48 42 50
TASMANIA 49 43  
LINKS LADY BAY 50 34 27
CRANBOURNE 51 30  
BALLARAT 52    
RANFURLIE 53 33 40
SANDHURST - CHAMPIONS 54 57  
HORSHAM 55    
PARADISE PALMS 56 56 55
NAROOMA 57 48 47
EYNESBURY 58 49 48
MT COMPASS (FLEURIEU) 59 60  
PALMER GOLD COAST (ROBINA)  60    
RIVERSIDE OAKS - BUNGOOL 61 24 30
KOOINDAH WATERS 62 67 53
BLACK BULL 63 41 38
SECRET HARBOUR   64 59 41
MURWILLUMBAH 65 65  
HERITAGE - HENLEY 66 61  
FEDERAL 67    
LONG REEF 68    
ROSEBUD - NORTH 69    
PALMER SEA REEF 70 62  
PALMER COOLUM 71 71  
FLINDERS 72    
SANDHURST - NORTH 73 54  
CURLEWIS 74 32 39
ARALUEN 75    
CAMDEN LAKESIDE 76    
SHEPPARTON 77    
PORTARLINGTON 78    
PALM MEADOWS 79 63  
SANDS TORQUAY 80    
EAGLE RIDGE 81    
ROYAL HOBART 82 53  
YERING MEADOWS - NURSERY 83 69  
HORIZONS 84    
MONA VALE 85    
WIRRINA COVE 86    
WARRNAMBOOL 87 47  
YARRAWONGA - MURRAY 88 51  
COBRAM BAROOGA - OLD 89    
GARDINERS RUN 90    
OCEAN SHORES 91    
FORSTER-TUNCURRY - TUNCURRY 92    
PATTERSON RIVER 93    
COPPERCLUB at the DUNES 94    
SUN CITY 95 38 46
GROWLING FROG 96    
LEONGATHA 97 64  
THE VINES - ELLENBROOK 98    
ULVERSTONE 99    
WOLLONGONG 100    

Comment

Right at the top of the list it is noteworthy that GA have Barnbougle Dunes ahead of Cape Wickham whilst the other publications have the latter a clear winner, as did GA in 2017.

GA ranks The Dunes lower than the others, and The Guide judges looked more favourably on Kennedy Bay and Bonville.  Both magazines ranked the new Ocean Dunes at #4 and perhaps the small number of GCG judges able to visit in time for our rankings and the earlier conditioning issues worked against the course. The Guide traditionally penalises tough layouts such as Brookwater and Newcastle. With criteria geared towards green fee players, the Guide judges ranked Arundel, Kooralbyn, Cape Schanck and Noosa Springs more favourably than the magazines. By contrast, Guide judges were harsh or failed to note improvements at Links Lady Bay, Riverside Oaks - Bungool, Black Bull, Curlewis and Sun City.

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2017 Comparisons

Recently, Golf Australia Magazine has published a bi-annual Top 100 ranking of its own, based largely on readers' input and using very similar criteria:

GCG Criteria: 40% Design, 40% Conditions, 20% Aesthetics
GA Criteria: 50% Design, 40% Conditions, 10% Visuals

Interestingly, GA include 'memorability' under Design, whereas GCG would consider this aesthetic. Importantly, for golfers who do not necessarily agree with the above weightings, The GOLF Course Guide publishes separate lists for each criteria.

Here are the recent lists with our comments below:

2017 GCG COURSE 2017
GA
1 CAPE WICKHAM 1
2 BARNBOUGLE DUNES 2
3 BARNBOUGLE LOST FARM 3
4 THE DUNES 11
5 ST ANDREWS BEACH 5
6 KENNEDY BAY 7
7 JOONDALUP - QUARRY/DUNES 10
8 BARWON HEADS 6
9 THIRTEENTH BEACH - BEACH 8
10 BONVILLE   9
11 MOONAH LINKS - LEGENDS 13
12 NEWCASTLE 12
13 MAGENTA SHORES hotel
14 HAMILTON ISLAND 15
15 LINKS HOPE ISLAND 17
16 MOONAH LINKS - OPEN 23
17 THE CUT 16
18 KALGOORLIE 43
19 BROOKWATER 14
20 GLADES 30
21 THIRTEENTH BEACH - CREEK 24
22 PORTSEA 18
23 PACIFIC HARBOUR 28
24 PELICAN WATERS 21
25 PACIFIC DUNES 26
26 SANCTUARY COVE - PINES hotel
27 STONECUTTERS RIDGE 22
28 LAKELANDS 27
29 CAPE SCHANCK 64
30 CAPRICORN - CHAMPIONSHIP 50
31 PORT FAIRY 25
32 MEADOW SPRINGS 20
33 NOOSA SPRINGS 66
34 SANCTUARY COVE - PALMS 44
35 TASMANIA 59
36 LINKS LADY BAY 58
37 THE VINTAGE 19
38 HORSHAM 94
39 ST MICHAEL'S 36
40 CRANBOURNE excluded
41 THE VINES - LAKES 34
42 SETTLERS RUN excluded
43 SANCTUARY LAKES 31
44 MURRAY DOWNS 52
45 CLUB MANDALAY 93
46 ROYAL PINES - GREEN/GOLD 69
47 PARADISE PALMS 63
48 RANFURLIE 47
49 HERITAGE - ST JOHNS hotel
50 TWIN WATERS 39
51 PALMER GOLD COAST (ROBINA)  98
52 RIVERSIDE OAKS - BUNGOOL 35
53 BALLARAT 73
54 ALICE SPRINGS 87
55 EYNESBURY 37
56 BLACK BULL 57
57 NAROOMA 29
58 PALMER COOLUM 53
59 MURWILLUMBAH 79
60 HERITAGE - HENLEY hotel
61 PALMER SEA REEF (SEATEMPLE) 60
62 KOOINDAH WATERS 48
63 FLEURIEU nr
64 CURLEWIS 42
65 LONG REEF 33
66 CAMDEN LAKESIDE nr
67 ROYAL HOBART 90
68 FEDERAL 46
69 SECRET HARBOUR   56
70 ROSEBUD - NORTH 71
71 EAGLE RIDGE 68
72 FLINDERS 84
73 ARALUEN nr
74 PALM MEADOWS 61
75 SANDS TORQUAY hcp reqd
76 SHEPPARTON nr
77 WIRRINA COVE nr
78 YARRAWONGA - MURRAY 55
79 YERING MEADOWS - NURSERY prefer Homestead - 95
80 WARRNAMBOOL 54
81 COBRAM BAROOGA - OLD 88
82 GROWLING FROG 82
83 OCEAN SHORES 86
84 PORTARLINGTON nr
85 GARDINERS RUN nr
86 WOLLONGONG nr
87 DUNTRYLEAGUE 89
88 MOLLYMOOK - HILLTOP 81
89 FORSTER-TUNCURRY - TUNCURRY nr
90 MONA VALE 67
91 TALLWOODS nr
92 ULVERSTONE nr
93 PATTERSON RIVER nr
94 COPPERCLUB at the  DUNES nr
95 LEONGATHA 65
96 TOCUMWAL - PRESIDENTS nr
97 CYPRESS LAKES 97
98 THE VINES - ELLENBROOK 78
99 THE COAST 49
100 NORTH LAKES 83

Whilst the Top three courses are undisputed, the most obvious difference at the top of the lists is that GA ranked Ocean Dunes at #4, whereas the course was not fully playable when the GCG ranking period closed in August 2016.

As with previous comparisons the GCG judges regard THE DUNES more highly, and likewise JOONDALUP, KALGOORLIE, NOOSA SPRINGS,  LINKS LADY BAY and HORSHAM.  GA have excluded MAGENTA SHORES, SANCTUARY COVE and HERITAGE as a hotel stay is required to play, but strangely also CRANBOURNE and SETTLERS RUN where there is plenty of Public Access and SANDS TORQUAY where a handicap is a requirement.

Highly ranked by GA but not included in The Guide's list include SUN CITY (#45), SANDHURST - CHAMPIONS (#62) considered as Private by GCG, BELMONT (#70), WATERFORD VALLEY (#72), INDOOROOPILLY – EAST (#74), EASTLAKE (75), COOLANGATTA – RIVER (76), YARRAWONGA – LAKES (77), BRIBIE ISLAND (80), ALBANY (85), COOLANGATTA – WEST (91), BYRON BAY (92), RIVERSIDE OAKS – GANGURRU (96), SANDRINGHAM (99)