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A NEW ERA OF AUSTRALIAN GOLF COURSES

by Paul Daley

Australian golf, it seems, has gone 'links-like' mad. In Australia we have no genuine links - they of course being the sole preserve of Great Britain & Ireland. But this fact hasn't deterred architects setting about the task of recreating a similar sort of seaside golfing challenge.

And they're doing a good job, particularly in our southern states with their cooler climes, as they attempt to exploit a conducive range of pre-existing conditions. The Dunes Golf Links was the first to really shine through.

The Mornington Peninsula is abuzz with golfing development, and if you believe that a course is either the victim or beneficiary of its soil, then this is the place to golf. The National Golf Club, through the agencies of Peter Thomson and Greg Norman, is adding two new 'links-like' courses to complement the original Robert Trent-Jones layout. Both are situated amidst glorious rolling farmland, known locally as the 'Cups Country'.

The Australian Golf Union has announced its ambitious plan for a two-course development among territory close by The National Golf Club expansion. It is envisaged that the complex will be home to the Australian Golf Academy and Australian Institute of Sport Golf Program. Professional tournaments will follow. These courses are well advanced in the planning stage, but at least two others from Duncan Andrews and David Inglis are also speculated upon. Rumour has it they will occupy Mornington Peninsula locations and be fashioned as 'links-like'. With this activity in store, what a haven for advocates of the fast-running British style of golf.

In South Australia enthusiasts speak in glowing terms of the Newton, Grant & Spencer layout - The Links Lady Bay, whilst in Western Australia Ian Baker-Finch has created a touch of 'links-like' magic with The Links at Kennedy Bay.


The Links at Port Douglas

One of the boldest of moves has come from Michael Wolveridge with his unique project at Port Douglas. Set by a pristine rain forest, the course lies upon an ancient seabed, and, following sea recession, nature has endowed gently undulating terrain. The aim has been to foster an integrated golfing community with on-site accommodation, a recreational club, tennis courts and other trimmings to entice membership. The Far North Queensland club is known as The Links, Port Douglas.

The emergence of 'links-like' courses is surely no co-incidence. After the architectural excesses of the 1980s and first half of this decade, golfers have repudiated what was becoming an alarming global trend towards artificial golf - excessive water that is overly penal in frequency and placement, an obsession with length, diabolically large greens that are costly to maintain, and which, in turn, lead to miserable putting rounds. Links style golf signals a welcome return to golf in its primitive form, where naturally occurring landforms and the elements are the golfer’s main adversaries, rather than an architect’s sadistic thought pattern. Links style golf is the natural antidote for the tedium of stadium-type US courses, and the poorer examples of resort golf courses. I'm certainly not against resorts per se, for they serve a useful purpose. But really there are some dreadful ones. On some of them we see embedded 'dead elephants' in the greens plus multi-swaled and triple-tiered contours. These features do little to alleviate the universal golfer's sin of slow play. And yet, at the venerable West Links at North Berwick, Scotland, you are greeted by a sign at the starters hut…"A round of golf should take no longer than three hours". This is good etiquette all right, but also necessary to prevent your blood from icing over in the advent of coastal squalls.

Australia is being targeted for 'links-like' expansion for another reason. In Scotland there has been a prohibition against building links, forcing architects to look further afield. Government authorities have applied conservation and preservation orders upon coastal linksland. As Irish architect Pat Ruddy says…"The environmentalists have moved in". In 1992, eminent English architect Donald Steel was the last person to design a links in Scotland. He accomplished this at Skibo Castle, far north in the Highlands. But his task to win over authorities was no easy matter. Among other things, he flew the decision-makers over the tract of linksland to convince them he wasn't embarking upon building a new links, merely resurrecting an old one. The original Carnegie Links had lain fallow for many years. From the air sufficient evidence of old teeing grounds and nestling greens could be sighted to make the argument stick.

True linksland is rare, and in 1947 when the Scottish links at Southerness came into being officials pronounced that it would be the last great links built in Scotland. How nearly right they were. England and Wales have both experienced a 'close-out' situation, but Ireland has kept the tradition alive. One of the most recent Irish links is Carne Golf Club, built in 1995. The clubs resides in the highly remote area of Belmullet Bay, County Mayo, and was it not such a high quality links its remoteness could easily make it an appendage. The sandhills through which golfers negotiate their rounds are simply colossal in size. To reach this links outpost, you drive through the largest, living, breathing bog in all Europe. Not long after Carne was completed a stunning links was opened at 'Old Head' Kinsale, just south of Cork. The views, which incorporate elevated headland, will capture the imagination of even the dullest of golfers.

Golf in Ireland owes a debt of thanks to the deeply religious architect, Eddie Hackett. On shoe-string budgets he travelled up and down the West Coast of Ireland discussing the possibilities of converting linksland into links, and ultimately the formation of clubs. In one stretch alone in the early 1970s he brought Waterville, Ceann Sibeal, Donegal, Connemara and Enniscrone into being. Eddie Hackett has since passed away, and today this revered architect is commonly referred to as 'Saint Eddie' for his contribution to links golf.

One of the prime movers on the Irish golf scene is Pat Ruddy. Currently, he is working towards completion of the links at Rosapenna and Ballyliffin's second links. His main claim to fame was being the mastermind behind a high octane links project - The European Club, Brittas Bay. As designer, owner and president he exerts considerable influence over golfing matters.

There are only 160 true links in existence, and the ongoing problem of coastal erosion continually threatens their survival. At times this tyranny has devoured entire greens and fairways, making links golf precious in the extreme. One tragic example of misfortune was the famous 7th green at Ballybunion 'Old', which was consumed by the Atlantic Ocean during a crazed storm in 1973. A new green has kept a reasonable challenge intact, but a classic was lost in the process. Sadly, such cases are commonplace.

*Paul Daley is a Melbourne golf addict, golf historian, collector of golf literature and writer.


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