For local golfing fans this past summer was truly one to remember. Aside from Adam Scott’s masterful play and the euphoria of his celebratory Green Jacket tour around Australia, we had a string of terrific events, some world-class visitors, the comeback of Jarrod Lyle and the unique bonus of back-to-back major tournaments at Royal Melbourne. It will come as no surprise to those who watched either the Talisker Masters or the World Cup that the West Course at Royal Melbourne has once again been confirmed as Australia’s number 1 golf course. Its holes played superbly during both events, and in 2014 the course separated itself further from the rest of the Australian Golf Digest Top 100 field.
For several years now we have been answering questions about the volatility in our Top 100 with data on the scoring differences between those toward the top of the ranking and those toward the bottom. Almost 10 points (out of 50) separate Royal Melbourne (West) (1) from WA Golf Club (50) this year, yet only two and a half points separate Pacific Harbour (51) from Macquarie Links (100). Clearly there are more opportunities for big jumps or drops down in the bottom half of the list than there are nearer to the top. This is especially true now, with Royal Melbourne and the other Top 10-14 courses opening up a commanding lead over the rest of the list. It’s become more difficult than ever for those courses on the outside to jump back into this elite group. Royal Melbourne (West) itself is now a point and a half clear of Kingston Heath at number 2, and two points clear of Ellerston (3) and Barnbougle Dunes (4).
As has been the case for many years, Australian Golf Digest collates its Top 100 ranking by assembling a large and active panel of golf connoisseurs and industry insiders. These keen and passionate golfers then visit courses across the country and rate them all according to separate design, memorability and conditioning criteria. The scores are tallied and an average across the panel established. What was pleasing in 2014 was the number of established courses who improved their average rating from 2012. Some, like Metropolitan, National (Moonah) and Barwon Heads, actually went backwards despite scoring higher, because of improvements made at competing clubs.
While we naturally look to the top and celebrate the excellence of Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Ellerston, New South Wales and the two Barnbougle courses, there are great stories across the Top 100 this year. On the Mornington Peninsula each of St Andrews Beach and The National (Old) and The National (Ocean) courses have achieved their highest ever ranking. The St Andrews Beach (21) result will please those who regard this as the Peninsula’s finest course, and lambast us for its relatively poor showing in the past. Sorrento also improved 13 places in 2014, rounding out a good year in general for Mornington Peninsula golf.
On the other side of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, the Creek Course at Thirteenth Beach, which made its first appearance on the list last ranking, climbed 18 places to 77th. Of the other 2012 newcomers, pleasingly each of the brand new courses took strides forward this year. Both Kalgoorlie (60) and Sanctuary Cove (Palms) (63) enjoyed double-digit gains after solid debuts, while Hamilton Island improved 2 places to a very credible 37th in Australia.
New arrivals in 2014 include just one brand new golf course, Stonecutters Ridge (67), as well as the completely redesigned East Course at The Grange Golf Club (40) in Adelaide, both designed by Greg Norman’s company. Despite inferior terrain and a tight site, Norman’s large, flashy bunkers at The Grange made their mark and our panel preferred this redesign work to his original design in the west of Sydney. Perhaps it was the private club ambience trumping the estate course feel, but either way both Stonecutters and The Grange should be pleased with a solid ranking debut. As should the RACV Club in Victoria, whose Healesville Country Club (80) was recognised several years after its Michael Clayton/Michael Cocking redesign. Waiting even longer, the Fleurieu golf course (99) in South Australia makes its first appearance on the Top 100, 16 years after opening.
Of course whenever there are winners there are losers as well, and this year’s list is headed by a pair of prestigious private clubs, Yarra Yarra (down 14 to 48) and Royal Canberra (down 12 to 49), who have fallen to new historic lows. Portsea’s fall (down 10 to 54) will have been less unexpected but no less painful for a club now banking on revitalised amenities to attract new members. St Michael’s (down 14 to 75), Paradise Palms (down 19 to 85), the Henley Course at The Heritage (down 23 to 94) and Riversdale (down 15 to 95) are other courses to take a big tumble in 2014.
Over the past 20 years there have been a number of high ranking courses that have dropped completely off our Top 100 and this year the Lakes Course at The Vines Resort in WA came dangerously close to joining them. When ranked previously as a tournament Composite Course, The Vines was a regular in the Top 30, but since the decision in 2010 to rank individual courses separately the Lakes has crashed from 50th to 69th and now down to 93rd.
While The Vines is in danger of missing the list entirely next time, as with any course in the bottom 20 some minor improvements could lead to a sharp rise back up the list. Equally, those on the fringe and outside the Top 100 should take comfort in the knowledge that similar improvements to their course would lead to inclusion in 2016.
Those nearest the Top 100 and unlucky to miss in 2014 were Arundel Hills, Pymble, Sandhurst Club (Champions), The Sands Torquay, Royal Perth, Palm Meadows, Long Reef, Yering Meadows, North Lakes, Royal Hobart, Flinders, Albany and Tallwoods. The message to these clubs, and others in Australia, is that the 2016 ranking cycle has begun and our panelists are already on the lookout for the next Top 100 golf course. Perhaps it could be yours.
Looking ahead to 2016
Comments about the difficulty of breaking into Australia’s elite Top 10 are sure to be tested in 2016, with the likely inclusion of the Cape Wickham golf course on King Island. Cape Wickham is being built upon the most extraordinary coastal site imaginable, and unless a design disaster is sure to debut very high. There is a second course on King Island under consideration as well, Graeme Grant’s Ocean Dunes. Located closer to the island’s airport, Ocean Dunes has a nice site and the potential to become a fine golf course.
Other courses expected to open in the next two years and likely to be considered for the 2016 Top 100 include the relocating Eastern (VIC) and Horton Park (QLD) Golf Clubs. Eastern, in particular, carries plenty of interest given the Greg Norman design connection and an attractive Yarra Valley site across the road from Yering Meadows. Both clubs have high expectations, and would be disappointed to miss out on the list.
Eyes will also be on Bonnie Doon in Sydney as it progresses its course masterplan and rebuilds additional holes. Some expected a return to the Top 100 in 2014, but as numerous judges commented the current layout is totally incoherent, and some of the new holes/rough areas have struggled to establish properly. There is no question that the new holes are very good, and when fully redeveloped we would expect Bonnie Doon somewhere up in the top half of the list. For now though, six or seven finished holes, a few more under construction and half a poor course with too many trees and dated greens and bunkers keeps it on the periphery.
Darius Oliver, Architecture Editor Australian Golf Digest
Australia's Top 100 Golf Courses 2014
1. Royal Melbourne (West)
2. Kingston Heath
4. Barnbougle Dunes
5. New South Wales
6. Barnbougle - Lost Farm
7. Royal Melbourne (East)
8. The National (Moonah)
9. Lake Karrinyup
10. The National (Old)
12. Royal Adelaide
14. The Lakes
15. The Australian
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