(Pictured left) - The stunning Hamilton Island GC rises to #11 in the 2015 list)
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Overall Rankings (Click on any course name to see full Guide listing and Green Fee Savings)
Editorial by Selwyn Berg (Editor - The GOLF Course Guide)
Barnbougle Dunes (pictured left) and Lost Farm near Bridport on Tasmania’s Bass Strait coastline remain entrenched in the top two spots in our latest rankings. Both highly respected designs by world class architects (ranked #1 and #2 for design), the pair also benefit from stunningly beautiful coastal views (ranked #1 and #4 for aesthetics). This year, for the first time, our panel awarded the top score for course conditioning to Barnbougle Dunes, with Lost Farm at #3. The firm, bouncy fescue fairways and greens at Barnbougle are ideally suited to links golf, and it is this sporty style of game which continues to delight ordinary golfers across Australia as it has during the 20 year history of The GOLF Course Guide. We’ve seen a number of quality links style layouts constructed on our shores over this period. Our emphasis in ranking courses is that they should be enjoyable and interesting to play for golfers of all abilities, rather than just difficult and challenging to elite golfers, and all these new courses fit the mould.
Last year’s best conditioned course – Joondalup WA – switched places with The Dunes on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula to fill the #3 and #4 spots. Both tremendous fun to play, with exhilarating and beautiful holes that can be handled by every golfer from an appropriate tee, these courses are typically presented in immaculate condition.
At #5, up an impressive jump of 5 places is St Andrews Beach (pictured right), courtesy of improved conditions encountered by our judges over this period compared with possibly atypical problems seen previously at this Tom Doak design triumph. Nearby, Ross Perrett’s Legends Course at Moonah Links #6 completes the trio of Mornington Peninsula courses in our Top 10, and with Moonah Links Open at #14, and Portsea retaining #18 spot despite a small slip in Design score following recent changes making a total of five great public access options in this golfing Mecca.
With Kennedy Bay (pictured left) #7 in WA, Barwon Heads #8 and Thirteenth Beach - Beach #9 both Bellarine Peninsula, and Magenta Shores #10 on the NSW Pacific Coast every Top 10 course bar Joondalup is a coastal links style layout, and only Barwon Heads existed 25 years ago.
There were few significant changes to our list over the year, but Greg Norman’s work was a significant beneficiary. Stonecutters Ridge, a new Norman signature layout in Sydney’s west jumped to #19 after its debut last year, as fairways and greens matured and more judges recognized the course. Settlers Run, a beautiful Norman-Harrison design on the Southeastern outskirts of Melbourne jumped from #68 to #33, and the Team’s earlier work at Sanctuary Lakes in Melbourne’s West scored a similar leap into 36th spot - a very creditable performance for a tract of land that was once a salt flat. Clearly our panel this year viewed these tough, strategically bunkered designs a lot more favourably than we have in the past. The Creek Course at Thirteenth Beach moved up 7 spots to #26 largely due to higher scores for its aesthetics. Over in the West, our judges gave slightly higher scores on Design and Conditions to Graham Marsh designed Secret Harbour, resulting in a lift from #66 to #44.
New entrants on this year’s list are: Club Mandalay, a newly constructed Peter Thomson design on a residential development just north of Melbourne at #56; Fleurieu, #63, a beautiful Neil Crafter course in South Australia that has been just outside our Top 100 for several years now; Wirrina Cove #65, also on the SA Fleurieu Peninsula and boasting lovely views and improved playing conditions; Gardiners Run, #74, the new home for Chirnside Park Country Club in the Yarra Valley; The Springs, #78 on the NSW Central Coast; Port Macquarie, #81 and The Ridge, #87, Southwest of Sydney.
Top 100 courses from 2014 that fell just outside this year’s list include Creswick Forest, Waterford Valley, The Vines – Ellenbrook, Kingston Links, Launceston and Capricorn – Resort Course.
Previously ranked, but now with more restricted green fee access, Sorrento, Twin Creeks and Sandhurst disappear from this year’s Guide, along with Palm Meadows.
As always, the scoring was incredibly tight, and although Barnbougle Dunes was clearly ahead by more than a whole point (out of 100), only 2 points separated #2 from #10. Minor changes to our judging panel, the courses they visited through the year or the timing of their visits all affect the outcome, so as always we recommend that our readers use these lists for guidance only.
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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” 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.
The Judges - We recognize 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
George Begg is Secretary/Treasurer of the Australian Golf Writers Association. Handicap 15, member 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 11, member at Commonwealth.
Graeme Bond has reported golf on Fairfax Radio for 17 years. A member at the National, handicap 8.
Graham Holmes is a member at Commonwealth and Royal Hobart, handicap 7. He travels the world extensively playing golf.
Loren Justins handicap 8, member at Royal Queensland and has played at many international courses during extensive work travel.
Steve Keipert has worked in golf media for 14 years. He is the deputy editor of Golf Australia magazine. His handicap is 5, member at Stonecutters Ridge.
Garry Kennedy is the General Manager of the GOLF Course Guide, maintaining a handicap of 14 despite not playing to it for a number of years.
Peter Nolan is a keen golfer handicap 9, member 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 12.
Bill Willetts was a former senior assessor for Golf Monthly’s Top 120 British courses, now living in Victoria where he is a member of the VVGA Council and Vice-Captain of Central District Vets Assoc. Current handicap of 16 but he most enjoys playing high slope courses where he receives bonus strokes.
David Worley is a member at Commonwealth, Sorrento and Moonah Links handicap 11. Author of comprehensive books on British Links.
We gratefully acknowledge the input of all judges.
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