40 minutes south of Perth lies the still largely unheralded The Links Kennedy Bay, an authentic links style course beautifully designed and built in the manner of the most traditional British courses.
Located among the charming sand hills of Port Kennedy and alongside the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, the site is not dissimilar to many of the classic links and is defined by a series of dune ridges and valleys that were formed over a period of eight thousand years. Designer Michael Coate explains that the composition of the land and the surrounding sand dunes ‘lent itself to the creation of a true British style links course, utilising the alignments of the ridges and valleys and ‘hanging’ the greens and tees off the natural formations.’ Coate was initially the sole designer with the developer calling in professional golfer Roger Mackay to help shape the character of the design and Ian Baker-Finch to advise during the course’s construction.
The routing at Kennedy Bay sensibly follows the natural flow of the land as holes weave in and around the wonderful dunes. Lined by coastal scrub and fescue roughs, the fast fairways offer tight lies and promote the use of running approach shots into large, undulating greens which are protected by swales and steep mounds. More than 100 small pot bunkers are used throughout the course without a single trap being wasted. Traditionally shaped and built with revetted faces those not in play because of wind conditions either act as sighters from the tee or are positioned simply to encourage the gamble.
The purity of this ancient links experience and collective strength of the design can be overwhelming and upon further reflection it is actually surprising just how many first-class holes the course boasts.
There are highlights everywhere with the most outstanding being the attractive double act at the 15th and 16th holes. The par four 15th moves slightly right with its fairway set across the tee presenting an awesome risk/reward driving challenge over sand or scrub depending on the wind and your level of bravado. The 16th is a gorgeous hole and the pick of an excellent set of par threes. Referred to as ‘Wee Tap’ and measuring little more than 130 metres, the hole can play anything from a wedge to four iron depending on the sea breezes. Protected by front and back pot bunkers the delicious green is elevated, titled across the hole and less than ten metres deep.
The short par fours are superb especially the driveable 7th with its raised target guarded by sharp contouring and an ingenious trap that eats into the left side of the enormous green to catch those who get ‘too cute’ with their pitch. Also exceptional are the longer par fours with most cleverly named to invoke a sense for the challenge they present. The ‘Coate Hanger’ 9th is a great example with a ring of pot bunkers in the corner of the dogleg forcing the timid to drive wide on the fairway and further from the green. The ‘split decision’ 11th is another well named hole with its ideal driving line down a tight left side flanked by bunkers while the safer right side is more open but leaves an approach over sand and slopes.
Like any truly great links the regions coastal breeze, known as the ‘Fremantle Doctor’, is the courses’ greatest defence as it swings around and strengthens in the afternoons. Indeed to fully appreciate the Kennedy Bay experience you need to spend a full day here tackling the links in the relative calm of an early morning and then heading out again in the stiff evening winds to fight desperately for the pars which had earlier been birdies.
Although the course lacks the real dirty weather, its design, dunes, undulation, tight surfaces and constant buffeting from the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ give an authentic Scottish feel with only the temperate climate to remind you this is in fact Western Australia.
Unfortunately Kennedy Bay has been dogged by management problems that date back to its opening in May 1999. The course was closed within a month and stayed shut for more than a year, before reopening in early 2001 to belated acclaim. Despite the quality of the product a string of companies have been unable to make the operations profitable as strangely the Perth golfing public have failed to support a course they should feel immensely proud of. The links is now managed by Prime Golf and reopened in November of 2008, much to the delight of all those who recognise Kennedy Bay as the most incredible hidden gem we have in this country.
Those who have played Kennedy Bay do not need to be told how good it is, but for those who are yet to make the trip our advice is to do so quickly, before the locals realise how good it is and take all the tee times.