een fee golf courses in this country.
Barnbougle Dunes (No. 1) is widely acknowledged as a world class golf links by Designers Tom Doak and Mike Clayton, and to have Lost Farm (No. 2 - pictured) by Coore and Crenshaw right next door has established the sleepy town of Bridport on Tasmania’s North Coast as a real golf destination.
Not only do we consider these courses to be design masterpieces (ranked No. 1 and 2 Design) but they possess outstanding visuals (ranked No. 1 and No. 3 Aesthetics), and our judges loved the playing surfaces at Barnbougle Dunes (Ranked No. 2 for Conditions) – even though the fairways are not lush and green in the style of Joondalup (No. 1 conditions again this year) or Moonah Links.
It’s all about how enjoyable the course is to play, and how the conditions complement the golf. For links golf we judge firm bouncy fairways and greens to be highly desirable.
All these elements – design, conditions, aesthetics - contributed to our ongoing love affair with The Dunes (No. 3) the course that Duncan Andrews and Architect Tony Cashmore gave us two decades ago on the Mornington Peninsula to set a new benchmark for daily fee golf courses in this country and establish the ‘new links style’ of layout.
Joondalup (No 4 overall) is always a thrilling place to play golf, especially on the ‘Quarry Nine’ as is The Legends Course at Moonah Links (No 5) and Kennedy Bay (No 6) WA’s best links layout. Joondalup is the only non-linksy course in our top dozen, and Barwon Heads (No. 7 pictured right) is the only traditional (classic) layout until Portsea at No. 19 – down a couple of places as construction work continues.
St Andrews Beach, Tom Doak’s design on the Mornington Peninsula, just across Bass Strait from his Tasmanian masterpiece, slipped slightly to No. 10 this year, as a couple of our panel found course conditioning and maintenance marginally wanting. Yet other judges actually increased their points awarded in this category – demonstrating just how close the scoring is. It is unfortunate that much can depend on the timing of our course visits, as we know that the owners and managers are determined to present the course near its peak as many days as possible.
Peter Thomson’s Hamilton Island improved its ranking again to No. 11 with its stunning ocean views now supported by mature surfaces.
Bonville (No. 13 pictured) just inland from Coffs Harbour improved its standing by a couple of places. This wonderful golfing setting was judged No. 2 for aesthetics again. Bonville, Joondalup and Brookwater (No. 16) are the only non-coastal courses in the top 20. Our high regard for Bonville highlights the key difference between our rankings and those of other publications – we are particularly concerned to reward a design that provides an interesting and enjoyable challenge for average golfers rather than being playable only by low markers. We find designs such as Brookwater and Moonah Links Open a tad too penal.
Port Fairy, No. 23 last year, slipped to No. 34 with a lower score for conditioning. The sporty golf there is highly enjoyable, and part of the charm is the low key approach to course maintenance, so that our score may be ‘unfair’ when compared to the big budgets available elsewhere – but then, that’s golf!
The greater availability of green fee times at several private clubs this year sees Heritage St John Course enter our list at No. 24 with the Henley Course at 41. Other new entrants are Stonecutters Ridge (a new course for Ashlar Golf Club in Sydney) Sanctuary Lakes, Sandhurst North and Champions courses, Twin Creeks and Settlers Run.
With more contenders this year, some unlucky courses missed out, including Lynwood, Bribie Island, Gold Creek, Rosebud South, Keperra, Mandurah, Palmer Colonial, The Coast, Mt Broughton, Lonsdale, Tura Beach, Cobram Barooga West and Mirage.
It really does emphasize just how blessed we are with Australia’s depth of Golf, and how tiny are some of the margins in our rankings.
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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” 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.
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.
We recognize the subjective nature of our rankings, and suggest their use as a guide only.
George Begg is Secretary/Treasurer of the Australian Golf Writers Association and a member of a World Golf Hall of Fame sub-committee. Handicap 19 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 of 14 at Commonwealth.
Graeme Bond has reported golf on Fairfax Radio for 17 years. A member at the National, handicap 8, he plays over 200 rounds annually.
Graham Holmes is a member at Commonwealth and Royal Hobart, handicap 7. He travels the world extensively playing golf.
Loren Justins plays off 8 at Royal Queensland and has played at many international courses during extensive work travel.
Steve Keipert has worked in golf media for 12 years. He is the deputy editor of Golf Australia magazine. His handicap is 6 at Stonecutters Ridge.
Garry Kennedy edits Hacker Magazine, is GM of The Golf Course Guide and plays off 15.
Peter Nolan is a keen golfer who plays off 9 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 10.
Leon Wiegard OAM is a member at Commonwealth, handicap 14. Ambassador for Heritage and Moonah Links, Hon Life member Portsea and Patron at Clifton Springs. Former single figure player, his handicap has slipped to 16. Leon organises golf events and tours and is President of Community Clubs Association of Victoria, which looks after many golf clubs.
David Worley is a member at Commonwealth, Sorrento and Moonah Links who plays off 11. Author of comprehensive books on British Links.
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