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.
Last year’s debutant at #1, Cape Wickham links on King Island, Tasmania has remained atop our rankings list for 2018. The stunning coastal site received top marks for aesthetics from each judge who has seen the course, and all but three judges ranked the design by Mike De Vries and Darius Oliver as their top pick. Course conditioning was assessed to have improved slightly, but still behind Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm which remained at #2 and #3 respectively. So Tasmania retains its grip on our top 3 public access courses.
In fact, there were no changes from the overall 2017 rankings for the top 11 courses, although the individual rankings for Design, Conditioning and Aesthetics changed slightly, with King Island’s newest links, Ocean Dunes entering our list at #12. The spectacular design by Graeme Grant was ranked #6 as were the aesthetics of this dramatic seaside course, however as noted last year the course was badly drought affected for part of the judging period and was scored well down for conditioning by our panel. We feel that conditioning will only improve in coming years.
As we have noted before, the top 6 courses are all modern coastal links constructed purely for green fee play. They are all in fantastic year round condition, and all provide for a fun golfing experience for players of all capabilities – the most important aspect in our consideration of course design. Only two top 10 courses are inland layouts – the immaculately manicured Joondalup Quarry-Dunes course with its heart-stopping challenges off the tee, and the beautiful and tranquil Bonville layout which keeps pampering visitors both on course and off.
Two Queensland layouts join our list for the first time. Arundel Hills Country Club #27 was formerly a strictly private club on the Gold Coast, but now welcomes green fee players to enjoy its beautifully groomed fairways and new TifEagle greens ranked in our top 20 for conditions. Kooralbyn Valley, re-opened last year by a new owner after a decade of sad neglect, is ranked at #28 and with the attention of course staff lead by Jeremy Parry we expect conditioning to improve from current #45. The stunning mountain site (#17 Aesthetics) near Beaudesert in the Gold Coast hinterland was Australia’s first integrated golf resort when it opened in 1973 and we are pleased to include Kooralbyn in our 2018 rankings.
Sandhurst Champions #54 and Sandhurst North #73 return to our list as public access is available. Horizons #84 is receiving attention from new owners and re-enters our listing. Sun City north of Perth debuts at #95 following design work by Mike Clayton’s team.
Courses previously listed that were judged just outside the Top 100 include Duntryleague, Mollymook Hilltop, Tallwoods, The Coast, Tocumwal Presidents and Cypress Lakes.
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.
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, 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 an easier subsequent shot as a reward, and a more difficult shot or possibly an additional stroke for those who choose not to take the risk.
Courses that offer higher handicappers an exciting yet manageable 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 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. 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 an interesting yet manageable 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.
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 is from September 2016 to September 2017.
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 course rankings.
Former long-time Secretary/Treasurer of the Australian Golf Media Association. Handicap 22, member at Sanctuary Lakes and Altona Lakes.
The Managing Editor of ausgolf and the Editor and Publisher of The Golf Course Guide. Handicap 13, member at Commonwealth.
A member at Spring Valley and The National, current handicap is 5. He enjoys golf travel in Australia, New Zealand and internationally.
Reported golf on Fairfax/Macquarie Radio for 20 years, finally finishing up at the end of 2016. He has played a huge amount of golf on courses both here in Australia and overseas – particularly in the USA (Nevada is a favourite destination). A member at the National, handicap 7.
A member at Commonwealth and Royal Hobart, handicap 8. He travels the world extensively playing golf.
Handicap 5, member at Royal Queensland and has played at many international courses during extensive work travel.
Has worked in the golf media for the past 17 years and is the only golf writer to ever work on-staff at both Australian Golf Digest and Golf Australia. Currently the associate editor at Australian Golf Digest, his handicap is 5 at Stonecutters Ridge Golf Club.
The General Manager of The GOLF Course Guide and Editor of Hacker Golf Magazine. Member at Howlong, current handicap 16.
Plays off a handicap of 7. Golfing author, golf course investor and former Riversdale Club captain.
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!
Handicap 13, enjoys playing new and different golf courses and fortunately, has been aided in this by living in every state in Australia. He's also travelled and golfed in over 50 different countries.
A panellist for a number of golfing publications. He is a member at Wollongong Golf Club with a handicap of 12.
Handicap 5, is a member of Brisbane Golf Club and has travelled extensively nationally and internationally playing great golf courses.
A Life member Portsea, Patron Clifton Springs, member Commonwealth, and international golf tour organiser. Handicap has blown to 17 (lowest was 8).
A member at Commonwealth, Sorrento and Moonah Links, handicap 11. Author of comprehensive books on British Links.
The GOLF Course Guide would like to thank long serving judge Bill Parker for all his input over past years. Sadly Bill passed away in early 2017 and he is missed by the team at GOLF Publishing.