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Adelaide’s Private and Public golf courses

Many years ago I made a short, exploratory pilgrimage to South Australia. En route I sampled four courses around the South Australia / Victorian border. I did reach Adelaide, but left my footprint only on Royal Adelaide (I was there to watch the 1998 Australian Open).

With this minor exception, South Australia and Adelaide in particular, has been my golfing black hole - until now!

With a relatively small population the South Australian State capital has fewer courses than Melbourne or Sydney, with just over 20 in the city proper almost 30 if we include the Adelaide Hills. This review, intended mainly for visitors to Adelaide, concentrates on the metropolitan courses to provide a golfer a few hours relief from the sightseeing, work or the family.

The Private courses

At the top of the list is Royal Adelaide (#10 in Golf Diget’s 2002 Top 100), the Kooyonga (#20), Glenelg (#35), The Grange (West #44, East #56).

These courses are definitely not public access, however for a heafty fee (maybe $200+) you can gain access with a member OR as an interstate visitor with an introduction from your home course.

Royal Adelaide

It is impossible in a few words to do full justice to Royal Adelaide, the best I can hope is to give some hint of the calibre and character of this world-class links.

The earliest course at Seaton was credited to Cargie Rymill, but it was the contribution from the great Alistair Mackenzie after a visit in 1926, which, bringing the sand dunes within the course, elevated Royal Adelaide to international fame. At the time Mackenzie wrote “a delightful combination of sand dunes and fir trees, most unusual. No seaside course I have seen has such magnificent sand craters as those at Royal Adelaide.”

royal adelaide

First-time visitors may be surprised to find a railway line running through the course. On the great British links it is not uncommon for the inland boundary to be delineated by a railway track, but here the frequent trains run close to the clubhouse and within a few meters of the 13th green. The authentic golfing distinction comes from the abundance of outstanding individual holes and the re-occurring opportunities for creative adventurous shot making. Is there a more attractive, memorable whole than the 350 m par 4/11, with its lovely amphitheatre green? Or the short (266 m) par for third, nominated in the world top 100 golf holes, and the simile nominated short par five 445 m 14th? These and many others will delight and exhilarate you ensuring that you leave hoping to return for further experience of one of Mackenzie’s great golf courses.

Kooyonga

To its members, Kooyonga is second only to its royal neighbour among South Australian golf courses. The course was first laid out in the early 1920s, again by Rymill. Testimony to its quality, that design survives today with only minor changes. With abundant trees and narrow, undulating fairways, Kooyonga is a stern examination, perhaps appealing to long hitting the low markers more than those of us with a shorter range. Although there are no par fours above 400 meters, there are several close to this mark and with a par 5/500 meters and a past three of 210 meters, there is no shortage of length. The signature hole is the 14th, the classic links hole, only 145 meters, but to a green encircled by sand, a hole where a firm middle iron will be either memorably successful or a disaster, with little margin in between. This is the prelude to a strong finish, with the long par 3/15 and the monster par 5/16 to follow and then the 17th with water covering the entire right side approach. And then there was no let up at the closing hole a tight sharp dogleg left, heavily bunkered at the corner, with a blind approach to severely sand trapped green. Kooyonga is not for the faint hearted!

Glenelg

This palindromic named course is a personal favourite. Its original designer was Vern Morcom, among the most influential and prolific of Australian golf course architects. Morcom’s characteristic style almost guarantees enjoyable golf, with short but sharp doglegs, often close to 90°, and beautifully sculptured greens and bunker complexes. The courses been updated by Crafter and Tuohy. To their credit they have preserved the essential flavour of Morcom, in a course which is fun to play, rewards good strategic shot making, and still has an appropriate quotient and of holes requiring long hitting. We quickly realise, as we play the second hole, that this is true links golf, with a long, swinging left-hand dogleg around a huge sand dune.

The front nine is challenging the second over 400 meters, the third 200 m past three and the sixth and other par 4/400 meters. Holes 78 and nine merely a whisker under that distance. And all these are measured not from the Tiger tees from the everyday markers. In contrast, the back nine will send you home singing the praise of the dramatic dogleg 13th two green at the foot of the huge sand dune. The par 3/14 to a green marooned by sand and the 16th and other part three the greedy encircled by wetland areas. Water is a persistent element here (unlike the other sand belt courses) featuring on six holes. Above all, Glenelg is not boring! It is packed with variety and enjoyment. A course to quicken the pulse and gladdened the heart.

The Grange

With two 18-hole courses of international championship quality, over 20 green keeping staff and a membership heading towards 3000, the Grange is a golf colossus, and not only within South Australia. How many golf clubs with two courses already highly rated would have the commitment and financial capability to embark on a remodelling of both courses? The Grange did, Michael Clayton completing the redesign of the West course in 2007 with 18 new tees and greens and several revamped fairways, followed in 2012 with the relaunch of the east course after a major overhaul under the guidance of Greg Norman.

West course. The original West course, constructed in 1926 by members from reclaimed swamp land, was comprehensively redesigned by Vern Morcom in the mid-1950s. In this format it was always well regarded, but its latest incarnation is longer and more testing, off the black teas, there are three PAR four holes over 400 meters and three others close to this mark. Paradoxically, two of the best holes are a short par five and a short par four. The opening hole, 457 m par five, has a sandy waste area along the right flank, it offers a birdie prospect to the low handicapper and a par possibility for the higher handicap player. With a well bunkered green, a real risk reward challenge awaits. The seventh, a 304 m par for, offers similar inducements, provided you avoid the 40 m long fairway bunker which awaits your drive. The concluding holes 15 to 17 are simply tough par fours of 374, 384 and 415 meters respectively, straight or almost straight and beset with well-placed bunkers.

East course. The east course was another Vern Morcom Project, commissioned while he was working on the West course and completed in 1967. Although featuring in the Australian top 100, the used was regarded as the poor relation, distinctly second-best to its sister. With Greg Norman’s recent overhaul, the course now has the undulating fairways expected of a links course and much more difficult approach shots. At present, the new course is still maturing, although attracting much favourable comment for the quality of its fairways and greens. The Greg Norman design has produced imaginative, stimulating course, with some sharp doglegs and a variety of hazards, including water, waste land and chains of bunkers on nine and 18 (a tribute to Mackenzie?) The fifth, par three of 187 meters off the blue teas, is almost all carryover water and the sixth a medium length par four has water along the right flank. Norman’s course is no shortage of excitement and I cannot omit mention of the short 15th with its hourglass greens set at an angle to the tea and seriously bunkered – a gem!

As you would expect from Norman, the course offers plenty of opportunity and encouragement to those who like to really go for their shots, taking a gamble in the hope of reward.
Home of the first Australian LIV event in April 2023 with the same event scheduled for 2024.

The upmarket public access courses of Adelaide

Our next group of courses will appeal to those whose golfing appetites require good layouts but without the need to do a crypto exchange to access a round. Again we have a quintet. Where the private clubs are clustered around the CBD and airport Central metro area, these more accessible courses are in suburbia. Blackwood 15 km due south, Reynella slightly further south, Tea Tree Gully 15 km north-east and Flagstaff Hill on the fringe of Adelaide Hills. Only West Lakes, slightly north of the Grange, is really city centre. Typically a weekend round these courses will separate you of roughly $50-$100 of your hard earned, it would be unrealistic to expect the same standard of design or presentation as the elite courses, but you can expect a good welcome, some stern challenges and plenty of enjoyment.

Blackwood

Depending on your viewpoint, Blackwood could be regarded as progressively liberal or dangerously radical as it was (in 1986) the first Australian golf club to admit ladies as full members! The course has a reputation for fine fairways and good if smallish greens, frequently dined, in attractive parkland setting. It is well enough bunkered with the added hazard of water on five holes. There are some tough holes the 12th 410 m par for played over a bridge then sloping down to the green with water on the right flank, or the 16th, a sweeping 398 m dogleg left, water left and a well trapped green. The back nine offers a challenging finish with two full length par five and two demanding par for holes. You may wish to play the front is your second nine, possibly more interesting and varied, less severe, and the prospect of going home pleased with your game at the last few holes.

Flagstaff Hill

The original course was constructed in the 1960s as a part of a major residential development, and was purchased by the club in 1978. Despite the “Hill” in its name, the golf course is predominantly flat, well presented, with three creeks and a dam contributing to the problems posed by 34 bunkers and several threatening out of bounds. Reflecting its origins, the course is bounded by housing development lining one side of most fairways. There are half a dozen distinctly good holes-two are exceptional-the seventh (only 144 meters with a 130 m carryover water to a narrow strongly bunkered green with water lapping at its right edge and running behind) unforgettable! Also the 16th, a sharp dogleg left, only 299 meters and you can take on the outer bounds area left to fly the corner, the epitome of a risk reward.

Tea Tree Gully

Regarded by many as one of the better metropolitan courses outside the big four, the course sits in the north-east suburbs. The first tea tree Gully golf course opened in the 1920s with nine holes, extended by members of volunteer labour to 18 holes in 1952. The present site was acquired in 1958 and again through members working bees, had 18 holes ready to play a year later. Although the course has no par 4/400 meters, it does have 11 genuine two shot par fours, the shortest 326 meters, the longest 379 meters, the two best holes of the second part three, 204 meters over a galley to a narrow three tiered green, and the par for 15th, a gentle downhill, dogleg right with a memorable approach directly over a dam to the green.

The Vines of Reynella

Located at the edge of the wineries district, 30 minutes south of the CBD, and originally known as Marino golf club, the vines is an attractive parkland course said to be the longest par 71 layout in South Australia. Off the blue tees (6100 meters) the course is fairly tight, with eight doglegs, several hilly sections and a few water hazards. Despite like bunkering, it is a tough challenge, by way of illustration, /index 17 is a 482 m par five and index 16 par four of 372 meters. Add in three PAR four holes over 400 meters and you realise this is not a course designed to short hitters. It does provide solid golf my advice is to play from the white tees.

West Lakes (formerly Riverside)

A near neighbour of the Grange, West Lakes is an attractive metropolitan sand belt course. It is short, par 70, ACR 68 and around 5600 meters, with predominantly straight holes and gentle slopes. Narrow fairways, 72 bunkers and three water hazards ensure that it is challenging. West Lakes is tight and tricky, rather than long and intimidating. You walk off several greens filling that somehow you should have done better! The best holders the ninth, par five with a fairway narrowing for long drives, water hazard left, dog leg left then write to a strongly bunkered green. Even from the back tees, there are few truly long holes, so this is a place with a shorter but straight hitter can enjoy testing their skills.

Mainstream public access courses

This category includes 18-hole courses readily accessible to green fee golfers. For around $40-$80 (weekends) and accessible by the casual visitor to Adelaide, without all the planning and prior arrangements stipulated by the elite clubs. We include the true public courses managed by Adelaide city council (city of Adelaide two courses), Adelaide Shores (controlled by the West Beach trust) and one member’s club, Thaxted Park. We give pride of place first off the rank to the city of Adelaide courses in recognition of the overt commitment to providing good but economical golf facilities to the general public.

City of Adelaide

Only a few minutes’ walk from the city centre, located in Adelaide’s North Park, the complex encompasses the South course par 75,880 meters, hilly and a good test for experienced golfers. The North course, par 66, 4532 meters, and par three course with nine holes floodlit in summer. These links are also home to the North Adelaide golf club.

South course

The course is bordered by the river Torrens, reasonably easy walking, with exceptional views over the city and the hills, especially from the third tea. Holes are mostly straight with smallish greens, compensated by having relatively few bunkers. An unusual feature is that after hole 2 the course does not return to the clubhouse until the 18th green. The best hole is probably 16, a longish par four from elevated tee to a three tier green, but the uphill past six and the 90° dogleg right 17th are also very good, the latter 398 meters with a downhill approach to the green from the turn at around 230 meters.

North course

The North course offers a succession of short par for holes. Of 13 par fours, only the second exceeds 350 meters (and at 387 meters it provides a stern enough test). Of the other dozen nine less than 300 meters and some are driveable by even modestly good regular players, including the fifth at 198 meters said to be the shortest par for in the state. However with its limitations, this course is enjoyable. You feel you are playing well and there are some great views and several fun holes. The 10th at 301 meters with a sharp short dogleg to the green; the 13th a delightful 116 m par three; and the 17th 90° dogleg left at 180 meters then up “Heart Attack Hill” the remaining 80 meters to the green. This is a splendid course to play with your game is a little off-colour, it has remarkable healing and therapeutic powers.

Adelaide Shores

The golf course, Patawalonga (par 72) and executive (par 60) are part of a recreational and leisure complex operated by the West Beach trust, a statutory authority whose board includes representatives from three Adelaide city councils as well as independent members. The complex includes a driving range and is home to Westwood Ho golf club. In almost every aspect, the complex and golf courses are managed as true public facilities with a mission statement to match. Including rounds played by Westwood Ho members, the two golf courses are used for over 90,000 rounds a year.

Patawalonga Course

The course lies between the airport and the beach, not far from Glenelg golf club. Predominantly flat, it has a pleasing picturesque layout with wide fairways and very good well-placed greens. By reputation the course is almost invariably in good condition. The front nine has several holes with water hazards most notably the third (par four) and for (par five). The 70s for a public course a substantial par five (485 meters) and the eighth’s 402 m par for played over or around a dominant centre fairway bunker at 300 meters. So there is plenty of golf on this stretch. The back nine was redesigned in the 1990s to accommodate an airport extension. To most observers, the best holes are now on this part of the course commencing with the lovely short par for 10th of only 294 meters with an authentic risk/reward, a slight dogleg left around water to a well-protected green with more water behind. There is scarcely a poor hole anywhere, another 400 m plus par four at 16 second risk reward hole at 15 and a couple of very wordy par five holes. Free enjoyable, challenging golf and great value for money I ventured that Patawalonga would rank high among Australia’s public courses.

Thaxted Park

A private members club, Thaxted Park qualifies for this category because public access is available every day (except Saturday) and green fees are a competitive $30. It is 30 km south of Adelaide on the edge of what might be considered metropolitan. It is worth the journey to discover a course with a rolling terrain, sea views, a creek running through the back nine and a good quality course. The best holes by general consent feature among the back nine, although the ninth hole, a 400 m par four, will test most golfers. Of the back nine the best holes are 14 and 18 the 14th, a huge 512 m par five, has water along its left flank and OOB to the right; mercifully no bunkers, but are typically small green. The 18th is a sharp dogleg left 200 meters just short of a fairway bunker with a creek that crosses the fairway, then another 194 meters to a strongly bunkered green. In comparison, the 13th is a mere teas, only 267 meters, drive over a dam then dogleg left to a shelf green.

The nine holers of Adelaide

Adelaide’s nine hole public access courses are an eclectic mix of private members clubs and community golf facilities, featuring a couple of off the locations and uniquely in my experience, in one case airborne OOB local rules.

There’s Regency Park, considered one of Adelaide’s better nine holers. Penfield is a private members golf club in the northern suburbs. North Haven is a privately owned course managed by BTM, located at the north end of the Le Fevre Peninsula.
North Lakes also managed by BTM’s council owned, and easy walking course in the delightfully named Munna Park West. Marion Park the third BTM managed course has recently completed renovations of its greens and fairways. The Palms, Mawson Lakes is located in the grounds of the University of South Australia and was open to the public in 2005. And it’s here at Mawson Lakes, a tight compact layout which necessitates the local rule invoking airborne OOB.. The rule states that a ball played left of the 2nd/11th hole or right of the 6th/15th hole is deemed OOB while in the air. The object of course, is to protect people playing the adjacent hole.