Part 6 - How to Plan a Golf Trip to Australia

My blogs about my Australia adventure led to a flurry of emails (OK, at least half a dozen) from readers asking about the logistics and costs of putting together a similar trip. So, here goes:

The good news is you can play pretty much every golf course in Australia (only Ellerston is truly private). However, organising a trip isn’t as straightforward as visitors from the UK might be used to.

You can basically split the courses into two types - public courses that offer some of the very best value in the world (Barnbougle, St Andrew’s Beach, Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes) and the private Melbourne clubs that are, at times, breathtakingly expensive. Royal Melbourne is the most expensive ‘regular’ visitor tee time of any golf club anywhere in the world! And while the welcome we got everywhere was warm, the private Melbourne clubs didn’t make it easy to get a game!

In this itinerary I have put more emphasis on the public courses, as well as the ‘must sees’. However, if you can find a member to get you on the private courses then you could increase the number of those you play. ‘Thousand Greens’ would be a great way to meet some locals who could take you on and the private Melbourne courses are pretty well represented. If you haven’t discovered Thousand Greens yet, I wrote about it here a few months ago and is well worth investigating.

When to go?
I did quite a lot of research into the Melbourne climate and spoke to some locals and the consensus was that the end of summer was probably the best time - we went in early March. The summer in Melbourne can be quite something. A few weeks before we went, the temperature was in the high 30s centigrade and some courses were closed because it was so hot! In March, the chance of extreme heat reduces, and it is after the fly season which I am told are best avoided.

How do I book?
Barnbougle is nice and easy - online booking. The rest require an email or phone call. Click on the links below for details.

For the private courses, a letter of introduction from your current club is sometimes required (although you don’t need to be a master forger to produce such a document!). I don't want to sound churlish, but it is quite a palaver and frankly means everything takes much longer to organise than it should. If you don’t need one for St Andrews or Muirfield…

When can I play?
Brace, brace - this is complicated. Most of the private courses have very defined times for guests and there is little obvious flexibility.

In Melbourne, most private courses have only a couple of hours available for visitors, around the middle of the day, two or three times a week. Weekend play without a member is pretty much impossible. So, the weekend is the perfect time to head to Tasmania and King Island where you can play whenever you want.

Maybe my biggest gripe is for Royal Melbourne. They have 2 of the most amazing courses in the country and when I asked if there was a way to play 36 holes in one day I was met with a flat out 'no'. What a terrible shame that people travelling the globe to experience these fine courses cannot do so on one glorious day.

Clearly I found some aspects of organising my trip quite frustrating. I wasn't expecting it to be as hard, or as expensive, to plan my trip to Australia. However, it was without doubt, worth the effort. The whole experience was simply one of the very best I have ever had in the world. The people we met over there were ridiculously friendly - all delighted we had made the trip and wanting us to get the most from our experience. The quality of the courses was amazingly high. Sandbelt golf needs to be seen to be believed. 

So, given most of my requests came from UK based readers, here is a possible schedule, starting in the UK, for a trip next March. I have based the costs on 4 people travelling, with 2 to a room.

Monday morning - depart UK - fly to Melbourne with Emirates. £610. 
There are even cheaper flights (£400 with Air China) but the Middle East airlines are fantastic and the times work out well.

Tuesday evening - arrive in Australian and stay in downtown hotel. $70 a night
I preferred to stay downtown to see a bit of the nightlife. The QT Hotel was great, but around $170 a night per person. If you go for one of the may three star hotels you can do it for $70 and there are plenty of Aparthotels out there too.

You’ll need to hire a car for your trip but they were really good value. You can get something pretty big and decent for around $90 per person.

Wednesday - Play Victoria (click for my review). $400 
After a leisurely breakfast, head half an hour south from the city centre. Recently renovated by the talented people from OCCM, Victoria will give you a great first taste of Sandbelt golf.

Victoria has been lovingly restored and is a pure Sandbelt experience

Victoria has been lovingly restored and is a pure Sandbelt experience

Thursday - Play St Andrews Beach ($59) & The National, Moonah ($300)
It’s about 75 minutes drive south to Cape Schanck, so make an early start to beat the traffic. St Andrews Beach is a fun and challenging Tom Doak creation that provides phenomenal value. Have lunch and a drink at St Andrews Beach Brewery before heading to The National where you will have the choice of 3 courses. We played the Moonah which was a high quality test. The redesigned Ocean course, now the Gunnamatta, from Tom Doak has opened recently and is garnering much praise so you may want to try that out instead.

The Moonah course at The National is well worth the trip south from Melbourne

The Moonah course at The National is well worth the trip south from Melbourne

Friday - Royal Melbourne ($830 inc mandatory caddie). Fly to King Island ($150). Accommodation in Currie ($90)
After a round at Royal Melbourne you’re heading to King Island and Tasmania for a few days. I would recommend leaving most of your stuff in the hotel storage as you need to travel light for the flights in and out of the island.

Royal Melbourne is the most famous Australian golf course and its reputation for brilliant architecture is richly deserved. It is absurdly expensive to play without a member. International visitors need to take a caddie (!) and the cost here includes 1 caddie who will carry two bags. The price is clearly ridiculous but you can’t come to Melbourne without playing here. Given the expense I’ve just included one round on the West course but, if you can befriend a member, then you may want to play the East as well.

After the round, head to the airport and grab the Sharp Airlines flight to King Island. It’s only a 45 minute hop and then hire a car on the island for a couple of days ($25 per person). It’s only 10 minutes drive to the Ocean Dunes hotel in downtown Currie. More details on my King Island blog here.

Royal Melbourne is one of the world’s great golf architecture treasures

Royal Melbourne is one of the world’s great golf architecture treasures

Saturday - Cape Wickham *2 ($260 for 2 rounds)
Drive the 45 minutes to incredible Cape Wickham. This may just be the best golf course built in the last 50 years anywhere on the planet. It is simply magnificent. Read my review to understand just why I rate it so highly but make sure you have time for 36 holes at this wonder of the golfing world.

Then back to Currie to see how the locals live it up on a Saturday night. You are likely to make it to bed by 11!!

Cape Wickham is an amazing creation and you have to see it to believe it!

Cape Wickham is an amazing creation and you have to see it to believe it!

Sunday - Ocean Dunes ($230). Fly to Launceston ($220). Accommodation at Barnbougle ($117.50)

Ocean Dunes is just a few minutes drive from Currie. It’s worth seeing as you’ll be driving right past the front door. Of course, it is overshadowed by Cape Wickham but you should have 18 holes here before getting on a plane to Tasmania proper to experience the delights of Barnbougle.

We flew directly to the golf course itself, but a more cost effective option is to fly to Launceston and then get a 90 minute transfer ($50 each way) to Barnbougle. The accommodation is functional but perfectly acceptable at Barnbougle and you are right on the property.

Monday - Barnbougle Dunes *2 ($155)

Michael Clayton (who designed the course with Tom Doak) calls this out as the best value green fee in the whole world of golf and I think he’s spot on. Its $124 for one round but if you play the same course twice in a day it’s only $155. The course is a triumph. Play it twice and try to keep the smile off your face!

Barnbougle Dunes feels like true links golf on the other side of the world from the Home of Golf

Barnbougle Dunes feels like true links golf on the other side of the world from the Home of Golf

Tuesday - Lost Farm ($124). Fly to Melbourne ($60)

If you get up early you can squeeze in 2 rounds at the Lost Farm at Barnbougle course. I have budgeted for just 1 though because as you may be feeling a little tired by now! This Bill Coore course is a little more resorty than Barnbougle Dunes but for many it is at least an equal to its neighbour.

Transfer back to Launceston which has plenty of connections to Melbourne at really reasonable prices. on your return to Melbourne, head back to your hotel to be reunited with your bag for the last couple of nights.

The Lost Farm at Barnbougle

The Lost Farm at Barnbougle

Wednesday - Metropolitan ($350)

Metro probably doesn’t quite count as a ‘must play’ but it is one of the most famous courses in the area and I was really glad we had it on the schedule. If you are pressed for time you could skip this day, but you will miss one of the best conditioned courses in the world, with the most distinctive bunkers. 

The bunkers at Metro need to be seen to be believed

The bunkers at Metro need to be seen to be believed

Thursday - Kingston Heath ($400). Fly back to London.

Kingston Heath was my favourite Sandbelt course. It’s a magical place which you absolutely must play. I’ve never seen a better par 3 than the 15th. The staff were really friendly and you will enjoy being an honorary member for a day. It’s a perfect place to finish your trip before heading off to the airport for a late night flight. The magic of time zones means you will be back in London for lunch on Friday!

Honorary membership for the day at Kingston Heath

Honorary membership for the day at Kingston Heath

So total costs for this trip would look like this in £ -

Flights - £900
Accomodation - £390
Car Hire/Transfers - £125
Golf - £1700

Total - £3,115

If you can find members to host you at any of the Melbourne courses you will find the visitors’ fees far kinder on the pocket. At around $125 per round you could cut the price of golf to £900, reducing your total to £2,315. One member of a Melbourne club said he would be more than happy to be put in contact with anyone who would like to be hosted, so drop me a line if you would like an intro!

It’s clearly a lot of money, but I would thoroughly recommend saving up to do it if you can. You won’t get a warmer welcome anywhere, and the golf will thrill you from beginning to end.

You can read more detail about my trip in my blog:

Part 1 - From Edinburgh to King Island, and something very special
Part 2 - Barnbougle - Two Modern Classics
Part 3 - Sandbelt Golf and a podcast debut
Part 4 - A day trip to the Mornington Peninsula
Part 5 - Metropolitan and Victoria















An Open Experience - Playing Portrush

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I’ve been going to The Open since I was 12, my first was Turnberry in 1986. My Dad was entertaining clients from the motor trade in the corporate hospitality for the week and I tagged along. He dropped me off at 7am and left to spend the day walking around Turnberry in the pouring rain, absolutely drenched but incredibly happy. The weather was so bad that there was no problem getting a plum seat at the 18th as Greg Norman came down the last on that Sunday afternoon. I was hooked.

Fast forward 33 years and I’ve been to every Open venue since then, both to play and watch. The only one I hadn’t spectated at was Royal St Georges, although it was one of my favourites to play. So when it was announced that The Open was returning to Portrush after all of these years I was keen to make it along to see how the course fared, and how the fans reacted to the greatest of all of golf’s tournaments.

I had big intentions of visiting Portrush before The Open to see how the new holes they had created for the event had bedded in, but before I had anything organised, I received an email that led to a change of plan.

The Open has turned into quite a commercial beast and they are always looking for new ways to make money and drive revenues up. ‘The Open Experience’ is one such way. With this special ticket you get not only the usual, high-class hospitality but also a range of ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences, which you can buy, if you have the money… They were offering the the chance to play the course the day after The Open, with the pins in the same places and the stands all around. I was suckered.

In my haste to book the trip I had failed miserably to check the family calendar and had a horrible clash with the 40th birthday celebrations of two close friends (not golf fans clearly, having booked a party for Open weekend). Between that and rescheduled Easyjet flights it meant a 5am start from Edinburgh to get to Glasgow airport, finally making it onto the course around lunchtime on the Sunday. 

There were about 60 guests in the hospitality by the 1st fairway, most of them had been there for at least one day before and some of them for the whole week. The clientele was mainly American, with a few other nationalities sprinkled in. British voices were fairly thin on the ground.

The package promised behind the scenes experiences, however my late arrival and the R&A’s rather odd decision to push up tee times by an hour meant I got a slightly truncated version. First stop was a trip to the Golf Channel’s studio half way down the 18th fairway. We got there about 30 minutes before the leaders teed off and walked into a rather small, makeshift studio to see Jaime Diaz, Rich Lerner and Brandon Chamblee giving their final thoughts to the American TV audience before the leaders headed out. 

It wasn’t as frantic as I had anticipated from watching Aaron Sorkin-eqsue TV dramas. In fact it was incredibly laid back (one of the crew was reading a book!) and it was just like 3 guys having a chat. I thought it was very trusting of them to let in half a dozen complete strangers and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to have 15 minutes of fame with a quick ‘hello Mum’ moment. However, I managed to contain myself and made do with a quick chat and a photograph before heading out to see Lowry and Fleetwood come down the first.

Another really nice part of the package was the reserved seats at the 1st tee and 18th Green. The 1st tee stand was pretty small and people were queuing at the 18th grandstand for several hours to get a seat.

Great seats on the 1st tee

Great seats on the 1st tee

Normally I come to an Open fully equipped for a day’s viewing. Firstly, you need to have a radio with you that doesn’t rely on network coverage (i.e. not a phone based one). Secondly, the periscope I bought from Phil Mickelson’s dad a few years ago is vital if you want to have a clue what’s going on. Unfortunately, today I had neither. I followed Lowry and Fleetwood to the 5th but then the heavens absolutely opened and it turned in to one of the wettest days I’d ever seen on a golf course. So I decided to do something 12 year old me would have thought very strange, and returned to the tent to watch a couple of hours play on the TV and to take advantage of a couple more of the ‘experiences’.

Firstly, there was a trip inside the iconic yellow scoreboard behind the 18th green. We clambered up the ladder and were able to see at first hand the military-style operation run by the pupils of Cranleigh School to ensure that the fans at the 18th are kept up to date. Having seen this board pretty much all my life, it was great to get the chance to view it in this unusual way!

Inside the iconic yellow scoreboard on 18

Inside the iconic yellow scoreboard on 18

The it was back to the hospitality tent to hear from an ex-major champion talk about the Championship. We had been promised David Duval and Darren Clarke (Watson and Player had been there earlier in the week) but got the slightly less historic Rich Beem instead. While he may not have had the most celebrated career, he was an entertaining speaker and helped set the scene as the leaders headed into the back 9.

By this time Lowry had pretty much wrapped the whole thing up and there was something of a party mood about the place. I had had vague intentions of trying to walk out to the 14th and follow them in, but several tens of thousands of others had had a similar idea and, without my periscope or radio, I wouldn’t have had much idea what was happening, so I headed instead to the 18th. The R&A have put some wifi in various spots on the course and it was pretty good at the 18th so I was able to watch Sky’s coverage while waiting for the final groups.

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Much has been made of the atmosphere at Royal Portrush and as Lowry came over the hill from the 17th and swept down the 18th you could sense the massive sea of support carrying him along.

This felt to me much more like the Opens of my youth than those of the last few years. I remember being at St Andrews in 1990 when my hero, Nick Faldo, came down the last. We jumped over the barriers of the 18th fairway and ran fast to get all the way up to the green. It took quite an effort for Faldo to make it through to the green and there was a real sense of euphoria in the crowd. 

In recent years the whole affair has become a little more solemn. The marshalls have been more fastidious and the whole thing more regimented. Geoff Shackelford talked about this on the State of the Game Open review. It definitely seemed that everyone was allowed to have more fun in Portrush.

It was a wonderful Open, and while I had only been there for a few hours I could tell that it had been a little bit special. There has been much discussion about when the Open will be back, and whether other courses might be chopped from the rota to accommodate it. I’m not sure whether it is true that the merchandise tent hit its daily sales targets by 10:30am every day, but the queue to get in was huge when I walked past, and no other Open will have ever generated as much in ticket money as this one. That alone would be enough to guarantee a place ahead of some other rota courses but the fans’ exuberance will surely boost its appeal even more. I suspect that the R&A will do nothing too hasty, but without a doubt we will be back sooner rather than later.

I’d had great fun watching, but I couldn’t wait to see what the course was like to play. All through the week there had been tales of thick rough, impossible lies and all kinds of weather to contend with.

I had only been to Portrush once before - 10 years previously on a slightly ridiculous itinerary that took in Lytham, Hoylake and County Down, and far too many bars en route. County Down is ranked a scarcely believable 3rd versus Portrush’s 12 in the Ultimate Top 100 list - but I came away from that trip with a very clear view that Portrush was my favourite by some distance. It suited my game more. County Down’s blind shots and heavy gorse did for me whereas Portrush was accessible and fun.

On the Monday after The Open the course is reserved for the R&A and sponsors and we were pretty much the last out, with a 3:40pm tee time. We were lucky with the conditions as although the wind was up (we started in a 2 or 3 club wind) the sun was shining and there were none of the biblical downpours of the previous day.

I had done a little poll on Twitter to see what people though my stableford score for the 18 holes would be. The average came in at around 23 points and gave me something to aim for!

There was quite a range in the predictions!

There was quite a range in the predictions!

We were to play off a mixture of tees. Where the tees had been moved up on the last round we were off of the same box and I think the course was playing about 6,700 yards for us. Longer that my normal ‘comfort zone’ of 6,500 but I was happy to go with it in the circumstances!

Our fourball had a rather mixed range of abilities. We had a British student on a golf scholarship in the US playing off +4, another middle aged 12 handicapper like me and a lady from Holland who can’t possibly have had a handicap under 36. 54 would have been pushing it. 

We were each supplied with a caddy. Now, I have written before about my aversion to caddies but these ones were very good. Mine was a schoolboy from Belfast who spent his summer holidays in Portrush mainly caddying for rich Americans. He proffered no swing tips the whole way around, no judgement was offered when I decided to hit 2 wedges on occasion from 200ish yards - he just seemed keen that I had a good day. The only thing that I questioned was his future career choice. To be aspiring to a career in corporate banking at the age of 16 was slightly depressing I felt, but good luck to him!

Only a sight hint of nerves on the first tee!

Only a sight hint of nerves on the first tee!

I wasn’t as nervous on the first tee as I had expected. I think I was helped by the fact that our expectations were all pretty low having seen so many of the pros struggle over the last few days. My first shot was a little scuffy left, but well away from the OB that had caused McIlroy such heartache (internal OB is one of my pet peeves but that one really is quite a long way to the left!). My second pulled up short of the bunkers but a pitch to 10 foot and a good read from my caddy got me away with a par. Happy days!

Don’t worry, I won’t go through a blow by blow of every shot out there but here are some general observations and thoughts:

Firstly, the course was a lot more playable than I had expected. While some of the fairways were pinched in, I didn’t feel particularly intimidated off the tee and the trouble tended to come the closer you got to the greens which meant there were plenty of options for a mid handicapper like me.

However, the rough was definitely a major factor. It has been a wet summer all over the UK. Around Gullane, where I live, the rough has been at higher levels than we have seen for years. This Portrush rough was really brutal though and if you were in some of the thick stuff then the chances of finding the ball were low. If you did find it, getting it out was even tougher. I asked the caddies whether the course was playing particularly different from normal and they said that the rough was fairly typical of all courses in the area given the rain.

As for the greens, I suspect they hadn’t been cut that morning but they were an absolute pleasure to play on - not too fast and just enough movement to make you think a little. We holed quite a few feet between us and it confirmed the point that you don’t need to have greens that play like a snooker table to enjoy the experience.

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The fairway bunkers caused me more trouble than pretty much anything else on the course. On several occasions I hit what I thought was a pretty good tee shot just to see it gobbled up by the sand. Then, in my efforts to escape, I found myself clipping the top of the bunker and the ball returning to my feet.

Playing with the stands up was pretty special, but it was amazing to think that just 24 hours previously there had been 40,000 people clambering all over the course. We didn’t have a single lie between us all day that was impacted by the stands or traffic from the previous week. 

This course was a delight to play. Even in these conditions and set-up it isn’t a brute like Carnoustie or a slog like Lytham. This was lovely links golf in a magical setting. The first third sets the bar incredibly high and with the wind behind these are holes to make your score on. The short, par 4 5th was a particular delight. This hole is one of my favourite anywhere in the world - it gives both a test of nerve and a spectacular view.

The 5th at Portrush is one of the most beautiful spots anywhere in the world

The 5th at Portrush is one of the most beautiful spots anywhere in the world

It would be fair to say though that I was lulled into a bit of a false sense of security over these opening holes. I was scoring pretty well and the course wasn’t proving too difficult. At the 6th we turned into the wind - still 3 clubs probably - and things were to take a turn. 

The 7th and the 8th are two new holes and they fit seamlessly into the routing. 7 is a par 5 on a huge scale. The dunes are massive - the hole would fit very well into Trump International at Aberdeen. While the pros were able to get onto this 592 yard monster in 2, this is where the difference between pro and amateur starts to bite. It took my quite a while to wind my way up and I only managed to scrape a point.

9, 10 and 11 ruined my ambitions of getting to 30 points as the course really showed its teeth but I was keen to make sure that they didn’t spoil my day. A friend of mine recalls a time when he was getting mad on the course and his playing partner turned to him and said ‘why are you getting angry, you’re not good enough to get angry’. Wise words I always try to remember when scoring isn’t going my way!

I got through my bad patch with spirits still high and the holes from 13 in were just one delight after another. We played off the slightly forward Sunday tees at the par 3 16th, Calamity Corner, and even then I managed to come up short which is clearly not the place to be. In hindsight I should have smashed a driver into the stands at the back in a real pro move! 

Calamity by name…..

Calamity by name…..

While I didn’t make it down the slope at the par 4 17th it was a really lovely hole to play and then the 18th was made all the more special with the light splitting the stands as we came down the hole.

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I ended up coming home with 24 points which wasn’t devastating. Had we been off the back tees all the way round though I am sure 20 would have proved elusive. I wasn’t striking it brilliantly and the combination of bunkers and rough cost me dearly but this is a course you can score on if you plot your way around. There are more elevated greens here than you will find on many Scottish links so scoring can be a bit tougher if you’re not dialled in with your approach shots but if you have a bit of a short game you’ll be OK. 

I can only imagine how hard I would find it to score on a US Open course or Augusta the day after championship play had finished. This Open course doesn’t need to be tricked up too horribly for the pros to find it a challenge, but yet is still playable for mere mortals

It was a great thrill to play the course set up like this and the quality really shone through. While I had always rated it highly the new holes and tweaks made mean that I have bumped it up to a 19 now in my scoring system - putting it into a truly elite bracket.

The Open Experience made the trip a bit extra special, but getting a game at Portrush under normal circumstances is pretty straightforward. You can play it 7 days a week, with fewer restrictions than most Open rota courses. Green fees of £90 in the winter and £220 in the summer make it great value.

Bring on Royal St Georges in 2020!

Tom Doak on the Scottish Open at The Renaissance

Tom Doak is without a doubt one of the pre-eminent golf course architects of his generation. Five of the ultimate top 100 courses in the world are his original designs and he has had a hand in restoring and nurturing many other top 100 courses, all around the world.

However, when the Scottish Open visits his Renaissance Club design in East Lothian next week, this will be a first for Doak. He explains, ‘It's an entirely new experience for me; my courses have hosted amateur events and also the US Women's Open, but not a Tour event.’

The Renaissance Club - host to the 2019 Scottish Open. Pics - www.trcaa.com

The Renaissance Club - host to the 2019 Scottish Open. Pics - www.trcaa.com

Building a new course, sandwiched in between Muirfield and North Berwick, wasn’t a job for the faint-hearted. So where did Tom get his inspiration from?

‘I spent a year in the UK and Ireland after college and that's where my affinity for links golf started, it is always an inspiration for my work. The only feature I can think of which is a direct homage to something in Scotland though is the shallow shelf in the 8th green - I think it's the 14th or 15th as played for the Scottish Open - which is based on the 12th green on The Old Course at St. Andrews.’ 

It would be fair to say that the course the world will see for the Scottish Open isn’t a typical Doak creation. Accessibility and playability for golfers of all levels are key Doak hallmarks but features which aren’t particularly prevalent here. Why the difference? Doak explains, ‘My client was always interested in hosting a big professional event, so I had to respect that and change my design philosophy a bit, since I normally don't care at all about that.’

 ‘One feature I incorporated was having a couple of long par-4 holes (8 and 18 normally, 2 and 18 for the tournament) with very difficult greens. That's normally frowned on by American designers who think it's unfair, but I noticed several of them in my year abroad (like the 13th at Prestwick or the Road Hole at St Andrews) and was determined to incorporate one to test the players, both physically and mentally. If you're trying to test a plus-6 handicap you have to have a couple of features that a scratch player will struggle with.’

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The Renaissance has a reputation as a tough driving course – and that has been exacerbated by some set-up decisions made by the club. ‘The course is now about half as wide as when I built it. They stopped mowing large portions of fairway a few years ago to prove that the course was a tough test, though I thought the length and difficulties around the greens would take care of most of that.’

Doak is phlegmatic about what happens when a course is picked to host a top event like the Scottish Open. ‘Mr. Sarvadi still asks my opinion of things, but for example it was not my idea to renumber the holes and put the most compelling part of the golf course right at the start (and likely not on TV).  Once the Tour takes over, even the owner doesn't get a say, and the architect surely doesn't.’

What they won’t have banked on is the recent conditions in East Lothian. Doak believes that the wet year in Scotland so far means that ‘the rough could be pretty brutal for the Scottish Open’. It has been the wettest June in the East of Scotland for many years and the rough on all the local courses is high. Forget the wispy grass of last year’s Scottish Open at Gullane, this is deep, succulent, cloying rough that will gobble balls up and make them hard to get out.

But this isn’t just a long, tight course, the green complexes are dramatic at times too. Tom thinks you will need to be an all-round player, at the top of his game, to thrive. ‘The winner will have to drive it well and/or be strong enough not to care. But the hole locations on those greens really matter in terms of where you don't want to miss each day, so it will take a player who can think his way around the course and avoid bad errors.’

The greens at the Renaissance Club will force players to be at their very best with their short game

The world won’t see a typical Doak course when they turn on their TVs in a couple of weeks time. But we will see the players tested to the max over a demanding course. Tom is true to his philosophy on who he wants to see as the winner, ‘I absolutely don't care about the scoring, as long as the best players on the week rise to the top’. Given the quality of the course they are going to face, I suspect he will get his wish.

You can read my reviews of all the Tom Doak courses here -


Shane Bacon's Favourite Courses

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In recent years, the golf media landscape has changed beyond all recognition. A new generation of fans has been introduced to the game through new channels, and Shane Bacon has played a big role in that.

His Clubhouse podcast is one of the best listens out there. He is insightful and happy to give strong opinions, while clearly also having the respect of the raft of top players he hosts. This week he will, once again, be behind the microphone presenting coverage of the US Open on Fox.

Shane always talks from a position of knowledge. He has wide experience in the world of golf - from caddying on the LPGA Tour to interviewing all of the world’s leading players. He even made it all the way to Sectional qualifying for this year’s US Open.

I’m delighted that Shane has shared his favourite courses here. It is a great list that covers the world!

ST ANDREWS - THE OLD COURSE
The Old Course has a special place in my heart for a number of reasons (I caddied there for a summer), it’s the most pure golf experience in the world.
UK Golf Guy Review

BRORA
Of all the courses in Scotland, Brora is the one I most look forward to returning to.
Brora Golf Club, National Club Golfer

CYPRESS POINT
It’s three golf courses in one, and the most anticipated walk in all of golf when you leave 14 and head across 17-mile to 15, 16 and 17.
Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100

BANDON DUNES
The debate for best golf course at Bandon is the most fun, post-round pint conversation in the game, and for me the original is the one I most look forward to playing. What an unreal back nine.
Graylyn Loomis, Plugged-in Golf, Golf Advisor

ROYAL MELBOURNE
Courses can let one down at times. Royal Melbourne will never, ever have that problem.
UK Golf Guy Review, No Laying Up Tourist Sauce, Shackelford Golf Channel Analysis

AUBUDON PARK
It would be disingenuous to have a list of 10 private golf courses when places like Audubon park in New Orleans exist. My favorite course in my favorite city in America.
Aubudon Park website, YouTube drone footage

YEAMANS HALL
A place where time stands still on a golf course that remains one of the true hidden gems of an American architecture legend.
Top100golfcourses.com, Playing the Top 100

FISHERS ISLAND
How can you not include a golf course that requires a car to a ferry to a taxi to another boat? A stretch of golf that cannot be touched by another course in the US.
Fishers Island Club,  Youtube video by air

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA
I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be the richest billionaire in a room full of billionaires. I bet it feels a lot like NGLA does on Long Island. 
UK Golf Guy Review, NGLA website, 1968 Sports Illustrated Article

PEBBLE BEACH
I stand by the fact that Pebble remains one of the most underrated courses in America. The first hole is a perfect starting off point. The holes away from the ocean (like 12) are fantastic designs with just enough trouble to throw off even the best in the world. And the finish ... that turn back to 17 and 18. What a venue. 
UK Golf Guy Review, Monterey Herald History, Youtube - Tiger Wood 2000

Thanks a lot Shane, you can see the favourite course choices from some other names in modern golf here.


Part 5 - Metropolitan and Victoria

DAY 8 - MELBOURNE

ROUND 11 - THE METROPOLITAN GOLF CLUB

All good things must come to an end and, after just a week in Australia, we were packing our bags at the QT hotel for our last day of golf before heading home. We had a tee time at Metropolitan at 9:30am, which would allow us to fit in a round in the afternoon if we felt our bodies could cope!

A couple of months before heading out to Australia I had received an email from a Metropolitan member, Don. Don has been a member there for many years and had reached out to offer any help we needed in planning our trip. Once again, here was someone who had a passion for the game, who just wanted to do what he could to make sure we had an enjoyable experience. There will be many aspects of this trip that will stick in my mind for a long time, but the kindness of strangers will definitely be one if them!

Alas, we had already booked our tee time directly with the club (for $400...) so we couldn’t avail ourselves of a cheaper visitor’s rate, but we absolutely could get the advantage of Don’s local knowledge, anecdotes and experience to help us round. We hadn’t organised it intentionally, but travelling as a three had been a real advantage on the trip - we were able to meet some great characters who could make up a 4 and show us the ropes on the way.

There’s nothing quaint about the clubhouse at Metropolitan. The current building opened a few years ago and it provides a really sleek, polished, top-end experience (although be warned, they don’t serve breakfast beyond a coffee and banana bread!).

Even a cursory bit of research about the course will set your expectations high about two things - the quality of the conditioning and the unusual look of the greenside bunkers. Neither will disappoint.

Firstly, the conditioning was truly exceptional. The fairways (couch grass for those interested in such things - most Australians were!) and greens (bentgrass) were among the very best I have played anywhere in the world. The greens were phenomenally slick, and often a good size as well, so putting the ball in the right place with your approach was key. We had a lot of three-putts, but we didn’t stop smiling!

While the look of the greenside bunkers was something I was prepared for, they were still hypnotising. They are cut right into the green, which is mown to the edge, creating a line on the top that looks like it has been carved with a samurai blade.

A classic Metro bunker

A classic Metro bunker

The logos of Metropolitan and Royal Melbourne look like they were separated at birth and there is a reason for this. Metro was formed when a group of Royal Melbourne members chose not to move with the club when it relocated away from the city in 1901. A few years later though they did move south and built the bones of the course we see today. Alister MacKenzie’s visit to these parts brought some modifications to the bunkers and other changes to the course. However, the course changed dramatically in the 1960s when much of the land for the back 9 was lost to a local school expansion and new holes were constructed on adjoining land.

The first 2 holes are a fantastic start - an accessible par 4, before a wonderful mid-length par 3 when you will really notice those Metro bunkers. Another call-out hole would be the par 4 5th where placement from the tee to allow the right approach to the sloping green is key. The impressive opening concludes with the winding par 5 6th - another world-class hole that would grace any top course.

It is fair to say that the front 9 is stronger than the back where the land is a little flatter and less interesting. However, I wouldn’t want to exaggerate that too much. Despite a bit of awkward routing there are some lovely holes - the par 3 13th comes particularly to mind.

While I have majored on the quality of the presentation of the course, you will still get an authentic Sandbelt experience. Away from the fairways you will see the exposed sand and, if you miss the fairway, your lie is going to be a bit of a lottery - just as golf should be!

I would definitely recommend adding Metropolitan to a Melbourne itinerary. It oozes quality and as Mike Clayton has said, you’ll never get a bad lie on the fairway (although, that’s not necessarily to his pleasure!).

It was great to share a pint with Don on the terrace in the early Autumn sun. He has a great outlook on the game, and I thought an email he sent me really encapsulated what makes a good day on the golf course: ‘It is a combination of so many factors - course architecture, weather on the day you played, how well you played, whether one lucky/unlucky bounce changed everything and lastly - but probably most important - who did you play with and what was the mood/vibe like. Did you have any fun? For isn’t that really what it’s all about?’.

Well put Don, well put.

I’ll be honest, my golf was beginning to suffer a wee bit at this stage and a score above 30 points was beyond me, but I was one point clear of Glendo and so we decided to head out for just one more round before our evening flight home.

It had been a toss-up between the newly-renovated Victoria or the newly-renovated Peninsula Kingswood. In the end it was a pretty easy decision. I phoned them both up and Peninsula said they didn’t take visitors that day. Victoria said ‘no problem, head over’ - decision made!

ROUND 12 - THE VICTORIA GOLF CLUB

Victoria golf club.jpg

When we were planning our trip, we weren’t sure we were going to be able to play Victoria as it was undergoing extensive renovations led by Australia’s top design firm, Ogilvy, Cocking, Clayton & Mead (OCCM).

There had been some criticism that the greens at Victoria were its Achilles heel. Mike Cocking, in this Golf Course Architecture article, explains their work - ‘The club brought OCCM in to complete a greens replacement project – converting greens that had largely become poa annua and were inconsistent and difficult to manage, to a new variety of creeping bentgrass – Pure Distinction……Like many greens built in an era when seven or eight on the stimpmeter was considered fast; greens six, eleven and thirteen were so steeply contoured that they would need to be adjusted to allow a reasonable number of pins and general playability with a modern bentgrass’.

The course had just been open for a couple of week to visitors but the greens were in tremendous nick. If this was a problem previously, I don’t think they will have any such concerns in the future.

Geoff Shackelford visited the Sandbelt in 2011 and proclaimed Victoria the most artfully presented of the premier Sandbelt courses. That article itself was said to have jolted Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath into action and all three have taken the Sandbelt experience up another notch.

The whole package at Victoria works beautifully. You are welcomed in an inviting clubhouse, packed with memorabilia and home to one of the best club sandwiches man has ever made. The pro shop team were friendly and welcoming and the first tee puts a big smile on your face. You will see everything here you would expect of a Sandbelt course - exposed sand, rather than rough, and exquisite bunkering.

That’s a club sandwich...

That’s a club sandwich...

This is a course that definitely has a few quirks, but none of them detracted from the experience. I doubt there is a shorter par 4 opening hole on any top 100 course on the world - 229 meters, and downhill. However, even this benign opening asks strategic questions of the sort you will get used to as you plot your way around Victoria. Another well-documented quirk is that both 9s end with back-to-back par 5s. Unusual? For sure. A problem? Not at all.

Particularly worth noting are the par 3s - one of the best collections we saw on the trip and the par 4 10th which is a great little dogleg hole which swoops up to an elevated green.

Our round was something of a rollercoaster of emotions. Glendo started really well and built up quite a lead over me. He needed to win the point for this round to tie me over the 12 rounds we’d played (alas Greig had fallen by the wayside some holes before!). Unfortunately, on about the 8th hole his body and swing just deserted him and it became a war of attrition over the back 9.

In the end, Glendo very generously conceded me a (very miss-able) two footer on the last to halve the game and give me victory over the 12 match rubber by a single point. Peter Thomson looked down as I was presented with the (somewhat modest) trophy). We had a beer on the terrace as the sun set and reflected on a trip of a lifetime.

All that effort for such a small trophy!

All that effort for such a small trophy!

We picked a host of stereotypical Australian songs (a Kylie/Natalie Imbruglia/John Farnham medley) for the car as we set off for the airport and our evening flight back to Europe.

You couldn’t get the smiles off our faces! It had been a hell of a long way to go for one week’s golf, and we packed in a lot, but we had made new friends and found new places that will live with us forever.

Reflecting on Don’s words, he nailed what makes a great golf memory. I was lucky to have spent a week with two of my best friends seeing some of the best golf courses man has ever built. You can’t ask much more than that!

Victoria (19).jpg

I’ve got one blog left on the subject of our Australian adventure where I’ll give a few tips on planning a trip like this, an idea of how much it would be likely to cost you, as well as some thoughts on how the Melbourne clubs could make things even better for out of town visitors. But for now you can see how I scored all the courses and their full reviews here.

Part 1 - From Edinburgh to King Island, and something very special
Part 2 - Barnbougle - Two Modern Classics
Part 3 - Sandbelt Golf and a podcast debut
Part 4 - A day trip to the Mornington Peninsula

Part 4 - A day trip to the Mornington Peninsula

DAY 7 - MORNINGTON PENINSULA

Melbourne has many great golf courses and we only scratched the surface on our trip. However, we decided to take the trip south to the Mornington Peninsula to see two of Australia’s best courses and see a little of life outside the Sandbelt.

ROUND 9 - ST ANDREW’S BEACH

We left central Melbourne at 7am and before 8:30 we were at St Andrew’s Beach. Watch out for the speed cameras which are subtle - and prolific - all the way down.

Glorious St Andrew’s Beach

St Andrew’s Beach is a Tom Doak course (there is a LOT of love for Doak in these parts) and he says that, of his creations, this is the one he would like to play every day. Originally it was going to be the centrepiece of a high-end private club, but the money didn’t work out. Rather than being left to go to rack and ruin, the course is now managed as a wonderfully good value pay and play course.

The skies were grey when we arrived and we sheltered in the slightly makeshift-looking cabin/cafe/shop as the wind rattled around us. The guy at the desk was really pleasant and happily heated up a few sausage rolls. It turns out this is not something to be taken for granted in Australia.  In the UK you will always get a bacon roll or the like before you head out in the morning. In Melbourne, we discovered, this wasn’t a racing certainty. Metropolitan - I’m looking at you!

I should mention here that this was a ridiculously good value tee time. We paid a mere $59 (just over £30) for our midweek, morning round. People, quite rightly, rave about the good value at Barnbougle but I think St Andrew’s Beach beats it. When I emailed, a couple of months out, to inquire about a tee time the answer was immediate and they were really friendly and welcoming.

Doak says that there was virtually no earth-moving required here and the course was just waiting to be laid out. Others say there was more earth moving than he might lead you to believe, but it is definitely wonderful land for building a golf course on. You really feel that greens were just mown a bit shorter than the fairways and the bunkers were simply made by scooping them out with a digger. This is one of the most natural-feeling ‘new’ courses I have seen.

If you want to read a little more about the course then this article from Golf Club Atlas does a great job 

The course has delicious variety in hole length, with many ‘½’ holes to enjoy, like the short 2nd and 14th. While the overall yardage is only 6,200 yards from the white tees, it is a par 70 so definitely provides a good test and it didn’t feel like a short course.

Like most of Doak’s other work, this isn’t a course where you have to be too fearful from the tee. You’ll be able to find the short stuff relatively easily but the second shots will often require imagination into well protected, and often small, greens.

I found this a really accessible course. You didn’t have to be a low handicap to get a few birdie opportunities and, while you never see the sea, the views of the golf course are wonderful at times.

The weather did clear up a little, but we were playing in far from perfect conditions and it says a lot that we were still raving about the course long after we came off, despite the weather.

I’m glad to say I managed to get another point on the board at St Andrew’s Beach and so, with a spring in my step at least, we jumped in the car for the 10 minute drive to the nearby National Golf Club.

ROUND 10 - THE NATIONAL GOLF CLUB (MOONAH)

The National Golf Club is quite a place. On the property you’ll three find golf courses and one of the most impressive modern clubhouses I’ve seen. Given our extensive warm-up at St Andrew’s Beach we didn’t use the practice facilities but they looked fantastic, including a putting green on the roof!

We received a great welcome in the clubhouse - the staff were attentive, full of information and keen to ensure we had a good experience.

I have talked a lot about the warmth of the locals we met on this trip. We had another great example of this at The National. A member, Brian, had seen my tweet about our trip and sent me a note asking if he could join us at The National. Brian knows the course intimately, having been a member since it opened, and wanted to make sure we had a great experience there. I was just blown away by his thoughtfulness. Golf is a great game for meet like-minded people and making new friends, but I experienced that in unusual abundance in Australia.

With another great host, Brian, at the National Golf Club

With another great host, Brian, at the National Golf Club

The Moonah course is consistently ranked as one of the top dozen courses in Australia and, in the recent Confidential Guide, Masa Nishijima and Darius Oliver had it on the verge of the world top 100.

Had we been there a few weeks later, we would probably have tried to get on to the newly renovated Ocean Course as well. As the name implies, the course lies closer to the Ocean and has been completely redone by Doak and his team in the last year. Previously, the course was a Peter Thomson design and it would be fair to say that some felt more could have been done with the property. We got to see a few of the new holes on our way round, and a breathtaking view of the opening and closing holes from the clubhouse. The work Doak has done will surely elevate it to one of the top courses in the country. The course is being renamed the Gunnamatta - not to be confused with the other Tom Doak Gunnamatta course a 10 minute drive away! Some things in this world make little sense!

It was a windy day when we arrived and our host assured us that we would find the Moonah a little more forgiving than the Old Course - and he was right. The course names Norman and Harrison as the designers but, from what we have heard, Bob Harrison should take most of the credit. He apparently spent an inordinate amount of time on the premises trying to determine the best routing. When you see the property you will understand why. You could comfortably build another 3 courses in the land adjacent to the course and the choices he had were pretty much endless.

The land at The National is on a breathtaking scale

The land at The National is on a breathtaking scale

So, what to expect?

Firstly, I had read some comments on the top100golfcourse.com site saying that this course was just too difficult for the average golfer in the wind, from even the forward tees. Given that we were in a crazy run of 36 hole days (the arms were getting heavy) and the wind was up, I was a little nervous. But there was no need for fear. Yes, it was a test, but it isn’t a course that will destroy you.

Secondly, you get plenty of width from the fairways so you don’t need to be too intimidated. However, there are spines galore which will take your ball to the ‘good’ side or the ‘bad side’ which may then prevent you shooting the lights out. But it won’t impede your fun. The grass plays with some pace but it will never get as fiery as a Scottish links course.

Next, conventional wisdom says you should make your score on the first 11 holes as the final stretch, into the wind, will definitely have you reaching for a few long clubs. Conventional wisdom is correct!

The course has been very cleverly designed, with subtlety and nuance that will force you to think. The bunkering is superb and scoring around the greens will require a great deal of imagination. If you can score well over the traditional links of Scotland and Ireland then I suspect you will do well here.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to The National and the Moonah course. The whole set-up in the clubhouse was great. Sure, it’s a far cry from the tradition and history of Royal Melbourne or Kingston Heath, but you get the impression that this is a place for people who want golf, golf and more golf. They have a love and passion for the game and, by the looks of what Doak is creating, a desire to make things even better.

We could have stayed and talked to Brian all evening but we had to head back to Melbourne for our last meal and to get packed up. The drive back was easy and by 8:30 we were out in the fantastic Movida restaurant for some incredibly high quality, tasty tapas and Spanish fare. We ate very well in Melbourne and we felt very comfortable walking around the city.

This trip was always going to be purely about the golf, but Melbourne felt like it would be a great city to live in. Friendly people, lovely restaurants and plenty of things to do to keep you occupied.

Alas though, our week was almost up. We were able to squeeze in rounds at two of the most famous Melbourne course en route to the airport. Would be do justice to the bunkers at Metropolitan? Would we still be able to walk at Victoria? All will be revealed!!

Part 1 - From Edinburgh to King Island, and something very special
Part 2 - Barnbougle - Two Modern Classics
Part 3 - Sandbelt Golf and a podcast debut



Part 3 - Sandbelt golf and a podcast debut

After 3 days of island hopping and some of the best golf we had ever seen, we returned to the mainland and the Melbourne sandbelt courses to see what all the fuss was about.

I had spent quite a lot of time thinking about where to stay. All of our golf would be to the south of the city, but we were keen to see a bit of Melbourne’s nightlife and get a sense of the city, so we stayed in the CBD. In the end I think it was the right call. We had some great food and the hotel was fantastic (although were too tired at night to hit the clubs, oh – and, of course, we’re far too old now!). We stayed in the QT hotel which was very central and within walking distance of everything we needed.

The hotel really looked after us well and had a very cool rooftop bar where the beautiful people were all hanging out. We fitted in very well, obviously! Feeling a few aches and pains by now, and having walked 100,000 steps in the previous 3 days, we had an early night and the luxury of a lie in on the Sunday morning before seeing the Southern Hemisphere’s premier golf course.

DAY 5, ROUND 7 - ROYAL MELBOURNE

Royal Melbourne Golf Club

I think I can safely say I had been looking forward to Royal Melbourne more than any other course on the trip. In my Ultimate Top 100 ranking the West course comes in at number 7 and everything I had read about it told me we were in for a real treat.

Visitor play is limited and very expensive. Here’s a fact for you – this is the most expensive ‘regular’ tee time of any of the top 100 courses in the world. If you are visiting from abroad you will pay A$750 for your tee time and then there is a compulsory caddy at another $140. That means 18 holes will set you back a cool A$890. That’s almost £500 or over $600 in American money.

Now, of course you can actually book a tee time here – you can’t do that at the vast majority of the US courses in the top 100 – but boy oh boy, this is one expensive tee time.

We were very fortunate though in that we had a gentleman, who may be the most wonderful host in the world, looking after us for the day. I had met Matt through Twitter and he was keen to show us around his home course. Matt is a tremendous font of knowledge when it comes to Sandbelt golf in general, and Royal Melbourne in particular. He has an infectious enthusiasm for the game and the course that made our day one of the most memorable I have spent on a golf course.

Matt played with the No Laying Up guys when they visited and narrated the course introduction you can see on their YouTube spot. You will also see him playing with hickories and he had them out again when we played with him too. And goodness me, could he play with them. He was hitting the ball as far as we were off the tee on occasions and his ability to get it up and down around the green was phenomenal.

We met many great people on our trip to Australia and one of the unifying characteristics was a real pride in their golf courses and their desire to give us he best possible experience. I don’t think the UK would give such a warm a welcome to visitors from the other side of the world, and this is one of the memories of this trip that will stay with me for the longest time.

After a very pleasant lunch we had a tour of the clubhouse. The place was packed with history, from original sketches from MacKenzie, through to the clubs Adam Scott used to win the Masters. The President’s Cup was also on show. It was a veritable treasure trove of Melbourne golf memorabilia and if you find yourself there make sure you take the time to explore it. I’ve written a little more about the history of the course on my main review and it really is a fascinating tale.

The wind was blowing hard and the skies overcast when we headed to the practice putting green. I had heard Mike Clayton talking on a podcast the previous week about how the greens at Royal Melbourne were running incredibly fast at the moment, verging on crazy. Indeed the practice green was pretty pacey and I got a little worried about whether the combination of wind and green speeds would prove unplayable.

As it was though, this wasn’t a concern. The wind dropped after the first few holes and the greens weren’t too fast. Without any doubt you would benefit from knowing which side of the hole to be on on pretty much every green. The ball seemed to run forever coming downhill but you could have a bit of a rap at it up the way. The slopes and contours really got the mind working overtime but they were incredibly true and a real delight, if slightly scary at times, to putt on.

I’m not sure why, but I had got in in my mind that this was going to be quite a tough test from the tee. The whole thing is on a grand scale but you will rarely be intimidated from the tee, with wide fairways in front of you. However, you will soon realise that you need to be in the right spot if you want to give yourself a chance of being the right side of the pin with your next shots.

There was so much to enjoy at Royal Melbourne, but two features worthy of mention were the superb bunkering and conditioning of the course. It takes a while to get used to the thin layers of slightly greyish sand but the positioning and shaping are tremendous. Conditioning-wise there wasn’t a bad lie on the golf course (some might say it was a little too perfect!) . The ball sat up perfectly on the fairways and those oh-so-smooth greens.

Royal Melbourne.jpg

The West course is clearly one of the very best in the world. I found it fun, challenging but playable, and clever. We all agreed this was a very high 18 in the scoring system I use to rate courses (see here for more on that). It didn’t quite soar for us to the very, very best courses we had played, but it was still wonderful. Maybe I am not well versed enough in golf architecture to really ‘get it’ as much as others do. People who are far better positioned to comment on these things say it may be the best golf course in the world (well, after St Andrews of course!). When I make it back to Melbourne I will try and get straight back to Royal Melbourne to see if I can discover a little more of the magic that has it ranked so incredibly highly.

That being said, we had a wonderful day and our host had a huge part to play in that. Matt kindly gave us a lift back to the hotel, stopping off at what may be one of the very best burger joints I have ever experienced.

I would like to tell you that we then hit the nightclubs until 3am and give you a review of them. However, it was a quick drink in the bar before an early night. I needed to be with-it for my Monday morning.

DAY 6 - A PODCAST AND KINGSTON HEATH

A couple of weeks before I left home I received a message from Rod Morri asking if I would be interested in appearing on his iseekgolf podcast when I was over, to talk about my trip and experiences. I was pretty flattered by this as I am a huge fan of Rod and his work. Rod started hosting the State of the Game podcast some 7 years ago  and I think he is the best in the business. I have previously waxed lyrical about his output, you can see a little of that here and here.

I was a little nervous replying to Rod’s message. I wasn’t sure that I would have a much of interest to say and, not being a professional broadcaster, I was worried I might just dry up altogether and make a bit of a fool of myself if truth be told.

Rod came to pick me up from the hotel and drove to Metropolitan Golf Club who had kindly lent us a room to record in. It was quite a surreal drive. I normally listen to podcasts on my daily commute and this was like having a live podcast, with Rod’s distinctive tones actually responding to my words!

It was fascinating talking to Rod about the changing golf media landscape and what business models may emerge in the future. He recently addressed that on a podcast you can listen to here. I really hope that whatever landscape develops, that it finds a place for people like Rod to thrive – his contribution to the golf debate is vital.

Rod Morri - the man behind the mike!

Rod Morri - the man behind the mike!

We were joined at Metro by Rod’s co-host, Adrian Logue. Adrian acts as the straight man to Rod on a regular basis. He’s a real gentleman who clearly has a deep knowledge of the game and shares with Rod a view of how it should develop for the better.

As we settled down to record, Rod was very clear with me that we would do this in one take and there would be no edits. With that, off we went! You can hear the podcast here if you are so inclined. I really enjoyed doing it and Rod and Adrian’s style helped me to relax into the conversation and hopefully provide a little insight into our trip so far.

These guys, like everyone we met on this trip, were hugely proud of Australian golf and delighted to meet people who could help spread the word. The Victoria tourist board should be putting them on the payroll!

Me, Adrian and Rod

Me, Adrian and Rod

ROUND 8 - KINGSTON HEATH

After my brief brush with celebrity, its was off to Kingston Heath. In the weeks before my trip this course had been rising up my ‘most anticipated’ list as it had been selected in my ‘Favourite Courses’ series by both renowned Australian architect Mike Cocking and journalist Graylyn Loomis, both putting it ahead of Royal Melbourne. Everything I had read about it said we were in for a real treat and gosh, were they right.

We found friendly welcomes everywhere we went, but Kingston Heath stood out. The guys in the pro shop were very friendly and we were given ‘Honorary Membership’ status for the afternoon. It was a little touch that cost nothing on the part of the club but set the tone for the welcome we would get.

Kingston Heath Golf Club

There are some days on the golf course that just seem utterly magical -the company, the course, the atmosphere, your game. Our day at Kingston Heath was one of those very special days. This place entranced me in a way that few courses have before and I came away having been totally seduced by it.

Kingston Heath was exactly what I had expected in a sandbelt course and maybe even a bit more ‘sandbelty’ than Royal Melbourne. The fairways bleed into the scrubby sand with some of the most amazing bunkering all around. If you missed the fairways then there was no 2 inch collar rough here, normally just scrub sand or light vegetation. The look is unique in world golf, but works perfectly here. Geoff Ogilvy is not only a Melbourne native but also one of the best thinkers when it comes to golf course design and if you want to understand more about what sandbelt golf is, this article by him should do the trick.

Kingston Heath eptiomises Sandbelt golf

Kingston Heath eptiomises Sandbelt golf

There is no choice of 5 tees to suit your game here, just white and red markers and nothing in between. The white tees when we played were pretty pushed back and as such it probably played a good 6,800 yards but it didn’t feel terribly long. The ball will run when it hits the turf, and with the scrubby sand alongside the fairways rather than deep rough you won’t spend long looking for balls. Like at Royal Melbourne, we barely lost a ball between us.

This a small, flat property and is oft compared with Merion because of the way t the course fits so adeptly into a small property, 50 acres in this case. There is a fascinating read here from Golf Course Architecture about the history and evolution of the course. The work of the last 30 years in taking out trees, exposing the sand and restoring the bunkers has meant that this course really is now one of the very best in the world.

Like Royal Melbourne, the bunkering here was great and the conditioning wonderful. The other thing I would call out is the set of par 3s. There were only three of them but boy, were they great. The 15th is the standout par 3. It’s a 160 yard, uphill par 3 which is superbly bunkered all around. I thought the 7th at Barnbougle was close to perfection, but this gives it a run for its money. When we played it the tee was at the front and if you went for the pin, unless you landed it on a spot the size of beach towel you were going to end in the deep bunkers left and right. From there it would take a very skilled golfer to get up and down. The play was very clearly another club or two to the vast green behind but we didn’t know that at the time…

While the 15th is a wonderful hole, the other 2 par 3s are almost as compelling. Again, they are not long holes (which I like - there’s a reason there are very few long par 3s that people rave about) but the bunkering is phenomenal on them all. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better set of par 3s.

The 15th at Kingston Heath, possibly the best par 3 anywhere

The 15th at Kingston Heath, possibly the best par 3 anywhere

Like Royal Melbourne, this is an accessible course and was probably a little more playable from different angles. My game clicked quite well and I played close to handicap, putting me into the lead with only 4 rounds to go.

As you can tell I adored Kingston Heath. I thought it was one of the very best golf courses I had ever seen and we all agreed it thoroughly deserved a ‘19’ in my slightly esoteric scoring system. This puts it in a very elite group, up there with St Andrews, Cape Wickham, Muirfield, Shinnecock, Turnberry, Birkdale, Royal St George’s, Royal Dornoch and Friar’s Head. I had no doubt it thoroughly deserved its place there.

Back in Melbourne after the round we headed up to a great Thai restaurant, Chin Chin. The food was fantastic and it was a really fun atmosphere too. It also had the advantage of only being a 5 minute walk from the hotel. Glendo’s feet were not doing well after 8 rounds and we did some googling to work out whether he would be able to take a buggy for the 36 holes at St Andrew’s Beach and The National tomorrow. It was going to be an early start for our penultimate day Down Under.

Part 1 - From Edinburgh to King Island, and something very special
Part 2 - Barnbougle - 2 Modern Classics

 

Part 2 - Barnbougle, Two Modern Classics

For full course reviews, green fee details, booking info etc. click on the course title heading

DAYS 3 & 4 - BARNBOUGLE

BARNBOUGLE

We arrived in Barnbougle as the sun was setting on day 2 of our trip, pretty excited about what we were going to find. While golf in Australia is generally not that well known in the UK, there were a few flickers of recognition from my regular fourball companions at home when I mentioned Barnbougle. From those into their golf course architecture there was some envy.

Landing in Barnbgoule as the sun sets was an unforgettable experience

Landing in Barnbgoule as the sun sets was an unforgettable experience

The tale of Barnbougle’s creation is well told. Amazing dune land, not fit for potato growing, became the home to two wonderful golf courses on the back of Mike Keiser and Tom Doak’s enthusiasm, and owner Richard Sattler’s money.

The two courses - Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm are ranked at 36 and 61 in my Ultimate Golf Rankings. A pretty impressive achievement for sure, and I was excited to see whether they lived up to my high hopes.

We stayed at the Lost Farm hotel. Your other on-site option is the Barnbougle Dunes lodges. We decided on the hotel on the basis that it had a sports bar. However, there is a bus that goes between the two, so it would be perfectly possible to stay at one and enjoy the facilities of the other.

To set expectations about the hotel accommodation, think solid 3 star - it is modelled on the Bandon Dunes experience. It is probably a little up on the Ocean Dunes Lodge hotel but luxury it isn’t. The rooms were a good size, with a nice wee balcony, but more functional than I had maybe expected. They were also a little cold and the heater didn’t seem to make much of a difference. However, for the price (A$185 for the night for a twin room) it’s really not something to complain about and we were barely in the rooms.

The restaurant was fairly packed with the local Women’s Institute from Launceston who were having a not-too-wild night out, and a few other groups of guys. Unfortunately, due to a delayed pick-up from the plane we didn’t get to see the sun set from the restaurant, but I hear it’s worth seeing! A bit like the rooms, the restaurant felt more functional than beautiful, and the food was good but not great.

The sports bar at Barnbougle

The sports bar at Barnbougle

After the meal we headed down to the sports bar which I had heard lots about pre-trip. It had plenty of screens up with sports on, and a good selection of beers, but it wasn’t exactly the most cozy bar in the world.

I guess I’m just trying to set expectations for what to expect. Again, if you have seen Bandon, I’m told you will know what to expect. The only similar place I had been to before was Streamsong and that definitely has a higher quality finish, although is not any more soulful. Barnbougle facilities are perfectly serviceable but, as it should be, this place is all about the golf and the company. And that’s just fine.

ROUND 4 - LOST FARM

It was with a spring in our step that we got up the next morning to see what Lost Farm had to offer.

I made a slightly earlier start than the others since I had pretty much lost my swing during the back 9 at Cape Wickham the previous day. Everything was going incredibly low off the club and violently left. It really was not a shot I relished trying to nurse around the next 9 or 10 rounds!

We had decided to get caddies for our 36 hole day at Barnbougle, partly to help with the fatigue but also because we had thought they would save us a few shots and give us a few tips.

Even though I was in the Pro Shop an hour early for my tee time, the first caddie was already there. He, like the other caddies here, was a local who pitched up when a visitor wanted someone to carry their bags and give some help. He only not gets a few bucks, but he and his family were able to play the courses free in return. That’s a hell of a good deal!

My man cheerily said he would come down to the range with me. The poor guy, he must have been seriously worried with what he saw. The duck hooks were still there and I could do nothing to shake them. He tried to be encouraging but that only served to put more pressure on me and things didn’t improve. Ah well…!

The first tee at Lost Farm is one of the widest first tees you will ever see, possibly a hundred yards in width and incredibly inviting. That helped, and I managed to get it off the tee but the first few holes were a bit of a struggle for me.

The 1st Fairway at Lost Farm is 100 yards wide!

The 1st Fairway at Lost Farm is 100 yards wide!

After 5 holes, I only had a few stableford points and at that stage the other 2 caddies started betting between themselves on Greig and Dave’s performance over 18 holes. My guy sensibly stayed out of it!

I am glad to say though that golf once again proved the funniest of all games. A switch flicked on my swing on the 6th tee, confidence oozed into my very being and my scoring over the next 48 holes at Barnbougle was among the best I have had for years. A funny game indeed…

This is a course with great width from the tee and beyond. However, if you miss the fairway then you are normally dead. It had a very unusual look. The rough is more like a wall of grass surrounding the whole course and an ‘The Irish Drop’ is played where you take a lateral drop, for a one shot penalty. Sure, there are snakes in there, but you wouldn’t find the ball anyway even if you went looking. At Ocean Dunes this really annoyed me. Here it was of little consequence because the width of the course meant you really had to be wild to be punished by the rough, and the greens have great run-off areas to help you before you get to the thick stuff.

Trolleys on the green was a new experience for me!

Trolleys on the green was a new experience for me!

As you would expect from a Bill Coore course there are many glorious features to enjoy. Around the greens, the best route to the pin is rarely the direct one and we greatly benefited from having caddies to show us some of the lines.

Without a doubt, this is a course that will unfold itself on multiple plays. When I suggested on Twitter that the Barnbougle Dunes course was ahead of Lost Farm in terms of quality, I was castigated by some.  Michael Clayton said he would split his rounds 50:50, saying that Lost Farm copes better in higher winds due to the frequent direction changes the property allows.

The turf itself ran fast, and the greens were very true. However, I would say that the ground didn’t play or run quite as linksy as the next door Barnbougle Dunes. The ground is generally flatter - set between huge dunes - and I found it a little less spectacular. For me, there were fewer memorable holes. I can remember every hole at the Dunes and will for some time. Lost Farm is more of a struggle.

However, there is much to like about the course. The par 3s are a real strength - and you are generally going in with a short club to keep it fun. Do try and keep out of the bunkers though. The sand on both courses just seems to go down forever and at times it felt like I was sinking - not conducive to getting the ball out!

Searching for a ball in a bunker at Barnbougle Dunes

Searching for a ball in a bunker at Barnbougle Dunes

As I said, my golf picked up and I walked off the course thinking I had played a really good, pleasant course. I was though a little nervous about what to expect at Barnbougle Dunes. Some, including the NoLayingUp team preferred Lost Farm. I shouldn’t have been worried.

ROUNDS 5 AND 6 - BARNBOUGLE DUNES

We headed out after a very good lunch in the Barnbougle Dunes clubhouse (I thought the food here was better than at Lost Farm for the gastronomically-minded among you!).

My caddie, emboldened by my form of the morning, had decided to put some money on me for the afternoon. If truth be told I did find this a little bit of a pain, I put enough pressure on myself anyway without other people heaping on any more!

Having said that, he was quite possibly the best caddie I have ever had. He didn’t berate me for my bad shots (cf. Threewood at NGLA) and was good company, with lots of titbits about the development of the courses.

Barnbougle Dunes was the first course on the property, the creation of Tom Doak and Mike Clayton, and opened in 2004. They have created something very special here - a links course that would feel at home at any seaside resort in the UK. And I would actually go a bit further than that. They have created a fantasy links golf course, in a land where none other exists. That’s quite an achievement.

I have played most of the great links courses in the United Kingdom and Barnbougle Dunes would hold its own with virtually any of them, and surpass most. It is a phenomenal achievement and one that golfers from around the world should flock to.

Barnbougle Dunes feels like a great British links course

Barnbougle Dunes feels like a great British links course

This is a celebration of all things that make up great links golf - all turned up a notch. The ground really does run like a links course - something we hadn’t seen at Ocean Dunes, Cape Wickham or Lost Farm. Here the ball would run for miles if you caught the right slopes. However, the ground is more undulating than pretty much any links course I can think of back in the UK. If you get your line wrong then you likely to find a steep up-slope or side-slope funneling your ball away from the intended target as it hits the ground.

You can read a fuller description of some of the joys in my full review here. However, I would particularly highlight the wonderful par 3 7th. At the time this may well have been the best par 3 I had ever played. (The 15th at Kingston Heath was still to come though!)

The 7th hole at Barnbougle - one of the finest par 3s anywhere in the world

The 7th hole at Barnbougle - one of the finest par 3s anywhere in the world

The front 9 is played more in the dunes and the course then opens up on the back 9 to be a really expansive links experience. In some way though it reminded me of Shinnecock, you could stand on summits and look across most of the property - here though you could also see the sea beyond.

As you can tell, I just loved Barnbougle Dunes. It really was several notches above Lost Farm for me. If I was there for 10 rounds I think I would split them 7:3 but both are wonderful places.

If I lived in Australia I would be on the plane to Barnbougle every year for my fix of links golf. For Australians it’s 22 hours closer than visiting the UK, and the experience on Barnbougle Dunes is virtually identical to the UK.

We spent under 48 hours here but the memories will live long. Having said that, we were beginning to feel the pace a little bit now. We had played 6 rounds in 72 hours and our limbs were getting a bit weary. Greig couldn’t straighten out his arm properly and was beginning to worry about Royal Melbourne the next day, while Dave’s feet were beginning to wilt under the 30,000 steps a day. My higher levels of basic fitness (!) were standing me in good stead, and I had won a few points on Tasmania, but I was still looking forward to a warm bath back on the mainland.

We had a final trip to make in our little Vortex Air plane, back to Melbourne. Given how tired we were feeling, it really was great to be able to go from walking out of the clubhouse to arriving in our hotel in Melbourne in just over a couple of hours. Tomorrow was going to be something special. Royal Melbourne here we come!!

Packing up at the Barnbougle airstrip

Packing up at the Barnbougle airstrip

Part I - From Edinburgh to King Island, and something very special

For full course reviews, green fee details, booking info etc click on the course title heading

‘I’m sorry sir, we are going to have to offload you from the flight - you won’t be travelling today’. The words of the Qatar airlines check-in agent at Edinburgh airport didn’t make for the most auspicious start to my much-planned, once in a lifetime (etc etc) golf trip to Australia.

The problem was that my assumption that I had applied online and been granted a visa for my trip was flawed. I had applied, but for the wrong visa, and it hadn’t been processed yet. The check-in team at Edinburgh had hoped they would get an automated approval if they submitted the correct form, but because I share the same name as a person of interest to the Australian authorities, I was being offloaded.

There followed a rather concerning few hours before Australian officials decided I posed no threat to the good people of Australia and I managed to get myself booked on an Emirates flight via Dubai to Melbourne from Edinburgh that evening.

The plan had been to arrive in Melbourne early evening and then have a bite to eat before getting a good night’s sleep and onto the right timezone. That was all gone to pot. I arrived in to Melbourne airport at 5am and had to hotfoot it to meet up with my two friends (Greig and Dave) who had already arrived, before heading to a little airfield to go straight over to King Island.

A word on the jetlag. Going over, none of us really suffered that badly. Sure, I was tired the first couple of nights, but it wasn’t too bad and in no way impaired our ability to play golf. On the way back it took a few days for us all to get over though. It seems that is not unusual experience..

As I was leaving Edinburgh I posted on Twitter, detailing our itinerary. Rather overwhelmingly this got more engagement that anything I had previously posted and the warmth (and advice) from Australian golf fans was tremendous. I was pretty sure we were in for something special!

DAY 1 - KING ISLAND
King Island is small island, officially part of Tasmania, just under an hour’s flight south of Melbourne. It has a population of 2,000 and until recently the only reason visitors came was because of its cheese. That all changed with the arrival to the island of two very high quality golf courses.

I had heard great things about Cape Wickham, and the other course, Ocean Dunes, had received pretty good reviews too so we had decided to add a stop here on the way to Barnbougle Dunes in ‘mainland’ Tasmania.

The only way to get to King Island is by plane. There are scheduled flights on Rex and Sharp Airlines from Melbourne and then onto Launceston in Tasmania. However, we opted for the more bespoke charter flight with Vortex Air as we could choose our flight times and also land directly at Barnbougle Dunes’s airstrip which helped to maximise the time we could spend on the golf course.

vortex air cape wickham

It was quite a luxury for us as there were only three of us, but if you were a party of 8 this would not be much more expensive that taking one of the scheduled airlines, and massively more convenient.

While I’m not a nervous flyer it wasn’t without trepidation that we set off from Moorabin airport, home to seemingly hundreds of small aircraft, about 30 minutes south of Melbourne city centre.

Some people have asked what the experience on the plane was like, as it had put them off making the trip. Firstly, it is great being able to load your clubs directly into the wings of the plane and have no anxiety as to whether or not they are going to make it with you. We were also able to use our phones all the way and there was plenty of room for us to stretch out, given there was only 3 of us on board.

One of our party, Greig, is a somewhat nervous flyer but the pilot was very reassuring. We could see a lot of heavy rain showers around us and there was quite a wind, so the flight was a little bumpy but it really wasn’t a bad experience at all. For those who are put off making the trip by the transport I would really encourage you to give it a go. What awaits you there definitely makes it worthwhile!

King Siland Tasmania

On arrival at King Island we picked up a hire car from the very helpful lady at King Island Car Rentals. It was A$100 a day (just over £50) for a perfectly serviceable Mitsubishi Overlander. Before we were allowed out of the airport we had to have our golf clubs and shoes inspected and were sent to do a bit of cleaning up before making it through. They are keen to keep the native grasses unsullied.

ROUND 1 - OCEAN DUNES

The 1st at Ocean Dunes

First stop was Ocean Dunes - just 5 minutes from the airport. Ocean Dunes was opened in 2015 and is already ranked in the top 10 courses in Australia. The clubhouse is still a temporary building but we got a warm welcome from the staff there, although they were slightly trepidatious about the weather.

It was a very windy day for sure and the temperature was hovering around 10-12 degrees celsius. The showers that we had navigated around on the way over were now hitting the island with some force. While we were waiting for a shower to pass, before heading out, a group of ladies came in to say that they had had enough after 9. The only other two groups booked into play in the afternoon called to cancel. However, when you are aiming to play 12 rounds in 8 days you don’t really have the option of cancelling a round, so off we went.

The helpful gentleman checking us in had very strongly suggested that we take buggies. This wasn’t really what I had in mind when planning the first round of our trip - I am definitely more of a walking golfer - but he explained there were some very long walks from green to tee (over 500 yards in one case). And there was a 30mph wind. And I had just come off a flight from the other side of the world without much sleep. So we decided to put our principles to one side and use motorised transport. Thank goodness we did..

The course starts with 4 great holes along the water - for many, the highlight of the course. The storm really had got up by the time we got to the 4th and this may have been the windiest conditions I have ever seen on a golf course, and it can get pretty blowy at the top of Gullane Hill! We did have a couple of wet and cold holes but fortunately that passed and, while the wind didn’t drop, the sun did make an appearance for most of the rest of the round.

Ocean Dunes was definitely a good golf course, and we enjoyed it a lot, but there are a couple of flaws. Firstly, the routing has it really stretch out over the large property and some of those walks from tee to green are just crazily long for the walking golfer which is a real shame. If there is ever a course to take a buggy (cross reference Monte Rei and PGA Centenary Gleneagles) this is it.

Secondly, they need to do something about the rough here. It is punishing in the extreme - if the ball is in it, it’s lost. The official line is you get a drop out because of the snakes (and I have no doubt there’s something in that!) but you wouldn’t be able to find a ball anyway.

I don’t want to be too harsh on the course. We still rated it a 17 which puts it in great company and there are some lovely holes, but it is a tough course that, in a wind like we had, verges on the unwalkable/playable.

Overnight in Currie
We headed into the hotbed of nightlife in King Island Currie. Our accommodation was the Ocean Dunes Hotel in the centre of the town. It is a perfectly serviceable pub/motel accomodation. Think pretty much an own label version of Holiday Inn or Premier Inn. The room was a perfectly fine kind of 2 or 3 star standard. But for A$180 a night (about £100) and given the amount of time we were spending there it was perfect.

We had planned to play 9 holes at the King Island Golf and Bowling Club in the evening, a 9 hole course which comes with many accolades. However, we were just too windswept and jetlagged to take the clubs out of the car. I was slightly ashamed of my falling at the second hurdle of my Twitter itinerary so kept the decision to myself! We had a wander up to the club and had a glass of wine in the clubhouse, overlooking the course. It definitely looked like the kind of place that warranted a game if you had longer. There were plenty of trees and bushes around (something we didn’t see much of elsewhere on the trip) but it looked in good nick and good fun to play.

The view from the clubhouse at King Island Golf and Bowling Club

The view from the clubhouse at King Island Golf and Bowling Club

We had a drink in the Social Club and John at the bar regaled us with stories of life on King Island. John was a guy in his early 50s who had been away from the island over the years but kept coming back - ‘it’s just that kind of place’. It is hard to imagine what a life would be like on an island of 2,000 people which is frequently battered by the elements and where the only way in and out is by plane. The pace of life is slower than many of us can comprehend, but John was clearly very happy with his lot and you could see why. The views were phenomenal and the people so friendly.

Apparently there were some mixed emotions when golf came to the island. It has brought plenty of visitors to the island and with them plenty of jobs. However, the rhythm of people’s lives has changed too. On balance, those we spoke to thought it was a good thing. We were told occasionally when a group of golf tourists have got out of hand they are quickly reminded that they are guests on the island and brought back in line!

After a stroll around the town (10 minutes max required) we headed for another drink in the pub/bookies at the hotel and then next door to Oleada for a lovely meal. Tripadvisor rarely lets me down and this place got the nod for the best food around. Fresh seafood, great steak, nice Tasmanian wine - all was good. By 10pm we were pretty beat (I had wisely lost touch with how many hours I had been awake for now and what the time was in Gullane) so headed to bed for the night. It was to be an early start the next day.

DAY 2/ROUNDS 2 & 3 - CAPE WICKHAM
The drive from Currie to Cape Wickham took us about 40 minutes and we had our first sightings of wallabies and kangaroos as we headed north to the top of the island. A bit like seeing an antelope on a safari in Africa, the first one was exciting but by the end of the trip we were taking these curious animals a little for granted. In many ways Australia seemed very familiar to our British eyes but these fellows gave us a good reminder we were a long way from home.

Welcome to Cape Wickham

I had heard and read quite a lot about Cape Wickham. Darius Oliver, the golf course enthusiast and co-architect of the course, had contributed to my Top 10 Favourite Course series and I knew he believed that he had created something truly special. Others who had made the journey had also given me clues about what to expect but it is hard sometimes to see through the PR and puffery for the reality of what is to come.

Pictures and videos online can flatter many courses and I am sometimes skeptical about what to expect. However, we discovered one of the truly amazing places in golf. I will always smile when I think of Cape Wickham and can only talk about it with some awe in my voice. It is a truly phenomenal golfing experience.

As you walk down from the car park to the clubhouse the view is breathtaking. Before you, the 1st and 18th holes sweep around the cove. I am not sure I have ever seen a more spectacular setting for a clubhouse in golf.

Like Ocean Dunes, there is still no permanent clubhouse structure at Cape Wickham but, again like Ocean Dunes, the welcome was very warm. The manager, Rick, was a pleasure to talk to and his enthusiasm for the place shone through

We breakfasted very well indeed, read the warning about the snakes and strode up to the first hole. We were off at 8:30 and there were only a couple more groups out in the morning so we knew we would be able to get around at a good pace. Darius had strongly suggested that we played 36 holes here and already we were sure that was a good choice.

Warnings about snakes from the clubhouse at Cape Wickham!

Warnings about snakes from the clubhouse at Cape Wickham!

Almost everything about Cape Wickham was wonderful, and I can genuinely think of no criticism. The first tee has a literal cliff edge on the right but plenty of room too and it isn’t a scary shot. This is a classic course for being playable from the tee, but to really score you will need to put it in the right place. As a 14 handicapper, I love this. It means that I will get a few pars, plenty of bogies and few disasters. Having said that, the last 3 holes will test you off the tee for sure, with the water coming into play if you don’t hit it pretty straight!

The turf on the course is wonderful - it’s fescue from tee to green and while the ball doesn’t roll as a true links, the ball sits up beautifully and you can run the ball up the the greens. If you are in any doubt by now - this place is a joy to play.

I would find it very hard to pick out either a favourite hole or highlight of the round, such is the consistency. Tom Doak, in The Confidential Guide, says the 1st and 18th are two candidates for the strongest opening and closing holes in golf. The 9th is also a fantastic risk and reward par 5. Short enough to tempt many golfers into trying to get there in 2, but with a potential horror awaiting if you miss the narrow green, with tangly rough in the front and a cavernous drop through the back.

The finish along the coastline will take your breath away and the walk back from the hill to the clubhouse after 18 may be steep but you will have plenty to talk about.

One of my partners, Dave,  made a really great comment as we walked off the course. He said ‘It’s everything Pebble Beach should be’ and that’s so true. Pebble has the drama and views at a handful of holes; here they are ever-present. If you were to get 100 people who had never heard of either course to play them both (this will not be easy to do!) I reckon Cape Wickham would be the overwhelming favourite.

I have awarded Cape Wickham a score of 19 on my ratings and (and I know this will be quite a controversial call) am putting it second, only behind St Andrews on my course rankings. I know, I know. Crazy talk. But go and have a look first before disagreeing!

The walk back to the clubhouse after the 18th at Cape Wickham is the stuff of dreams

The walk back to the clubhouse after the 18th at Cape Wickham is the stuff of dreams

After 18 glorious holes we came back for a lovely lunch. So high was I on the experience that I had a couple of glasses of wine. The combination of that and the jetlag meant that unfortunately my afternoon score dipped below my morning round. If you are coming here you simply must do 36 holes - especially as it’s only another $30 for the second round. This is a course you can score on (32 points for me in the morning) and you will feel challenged but not beaten up.

They have big plans at Cape Wickham. The course is under new ownership - a Vietnamese property conglomerate - and they are willing to invest. There are three main prongs to the future plans. Firstly, the clubhouse will be replaced with a permanent structure, the owners have been to Barnbougle for inspiration. Secondly, the accommodation on site (which has spectacular views but is fairly rudimentary) will be replaced with something more upmarket with the current structures re-purposed for staff accommodation. Thirdly, and most excitingly, the owners have bought a lot of land to the north and are looking at a potential second course.

The land there is apparently even more spectacular than the current course and many of the leading architects in the world (Doak and Hanse associates) have been to look at it. There are very few places left in the world that could compete with this real estate and the mind boggles if a course of the same quality as Cape Wickham could be constructed here.

The unspoken question though, is how on earth can they make it financially viable? This is a small island and the airport only allows for small aircraft from Melbourne to land. You would think that the surrounding infrastructure would need to expand to make it economically viable. Mike Keiser has shown what is possible with remote locations, and Barnbougle has thrived, but this would be testing the concept to the extreme.

I really hope that it does work out OK. Cape Wickham is a thing of wonder that needs to be seen and this isn’t a high-end US golf course, inaccessible to most. This is a public golf course which anyone can enjoy, 7 days a week.

I do worry about Ocean Dunes though. The owners have a very good golf course, but Cape Wickham just blows it out of the water. Conventional wisdom says if you are coming to the island it makes sense to play both. Given what they are up against though that may not be a given, and if Cape Wickham adds a second course then it may be an even harder call.

I hadn’t even been in the country for 36 hours but we had played 3 rounds and had some of the most amazing experiences ever on a golf course. Expectations of Barnbougle were high, but King Island was going to take some beating!

Onward from King Island
After our second round we got back in the car and headed to the airport. The joy of the charter flight was really apparent now. We were able to fly to Barnbougle Dunes as the sun was setting. The scheduled flight would have taken us to Launceston, an hour and a bit drive away from Barnbougle. Instead we landed on the property and in time for dinner looking over another bucket list course.

The flight was much smoother this time and the views over Barnbougle as we came into land whetted the appetite. Our initial impression of the resort was a little sullied by having to wait 45 minutes for the courtesy bus to find us on landing and take us to the hotel, but that was a minor irritation (and very first world problem, I know!). Tomorrow promised to be another special day!

Top 10 tips for a visit to Augusta

I have been lucky enough to attend The Masters twice, and both times had a truly tremendous experience. I've been to Opens, Ryder Cups, the US Open and many national tournaments but, as you would probably imagine, Augusta National was something quite different. So, if you are lucky enough to be planning a trip, I have a few tips which may help you get the most out of it.

augusta viewing

1. Consider staying in Augusta - it's cheaper than you think.  
A lot of the tours from the UK will have you staying in places like or Columbia or Athens. These are up to a couple of hours outside of Augusta and, as such, your days will be very long and the time you have to spend on the course will be dependent on your organiser's transport schedules.

On my first visit, we rented a house 20 minutes walk from the first tee. The second time, we stayed in a motel nearby. It was a fantastic feeling to wake up knowing that we were a mere stroll from the Masters.

The Friday evening in 2014 was the most magical experience. Rory Mcilroy was one of the very last out and battling to make the cut. The course really emptied for the last hour or so and my friend and I walked around with just a handful of people - including Rory's Dad and tennis-playing girlfriend from the time. They were more than happy to chat to us as the sun set. Had we been scrabbling to get out of the car park or find our bus, we would have missed out.

Hotels can be expensive but check out Airbnb or the official rental service for some options.

2. You’ll always get a ticket on the day - but at a price
Getting tickets is sure to be one of your top challenges for the Masters. The powers that be are making it even harder for you to get your hands on them, driving the price up. This year you are only allowed 2 ‘re-entries’ per day which will suppress the second hand market more.

To give you an idea what you’re in for expect to pay around $2,000 - $2,500 a day if you are trying to get tickets at the last minute. Gulp. As I write this at the beginning of Masters Week, tickets for the final round on Sunday are changing hands at $2,300 - last year at the same time they were $1,500, and $1,200 in 2017. That’s quite some inflation.

There are two main ways you can get them. Firstly, Stubhub has tickets available. The prices change daily - normally rising as the event gets closer. However, if the weather looks like it may be bad (or the leaderboard is less than stellar) the price may fall. Although, that could go the other way if Tiger looks like he’s going to go head-to-head with Rory in the baking sun.

If you do go with Stubhub then you will pick the tickets up on the day from their rented accommodation. This will likely be a weekly pass though and you will have to pony up quite a large deposit in case you don’t return it.

The other option is to go for a scalper on the street. This may sound a little dodgy but you should be fine if you choose wisely. Firstly, you need to be further away than 2,700 feet from the venue. Doing otherwise risks arrest and incarceration! There’s a good article here which explains it all. It is not illegal to purchase a ticket this way, but it is against the club’s own terms and conditions.

I bought a ticket last time from Jimmy D (quoted in this article) who has set up outside of T-Bonz for over 20 years. He’s a very straight-up guy and probably a little cheaper than Stubhub, without the need to return the badges at the end of the day. Buyer beware and all that, but I would recommend him.

3. If you go on a practice day, don't forget your camera.  
Cameras are forbidden on every day of the tournament - this is the only event that holds out against them. However, on a practice day you are allowed to snap away to your heart's content - the pictures sure make a nice screensaver! 

masters practice.jpg

4. Don't just stay in one place - walk the course.
One of the great things about the Masters is that the course is not busy. They don't say how many patrons/punters are on the course on any given day, but we never felt we couldn't see the action. Indeed, at times, it was slightly surreal just how close we could get to the action. Last year I saw every single shot that Garcia and Rose hit - until the 18th hole when I only missed their tee shots.

The other fantastic thing, which you don't really appreciate on the TV, is that only the players, caddies and a scorer are allowed inside the ropes - that means that you don't risk having a C list celebrity blocking your view.

There are stands/bleachers on several holes on the course and, again, these are really accessible. I have spent days at the Open, finding myself stuck behind a stand, hearing the cheers going up trying to work out what is going on. No such concern here. On the Sunday, with a couple of groups still to come through, we had no problem wandering down to the stand behind the 12th tee which overlooks the 11th green, before nipping over to the stand behind the 13th.

Also, there are fantastic vantage points to stand on all over the course. You have probably heard from some of the commentators that the course is more hilly than it looks on TV (!) and that really lends itself to finding a great spot to watch a few groups coming through.

DSC_0169 (1).jpg

5. Get the most from the green seats
This takes a bit of getting used to. Most patrons will have a green folding seat clutched in their hand as they enter the gates. If you don't have one, you can buy one inside. It's best to put an identifier on your seat (there is a little place at the back for a business card, how quaint!). Then, you simply go and put your seat down anywhere you want on the course (we did manage to get by the 18th green on Sunday but it was an early start...) and then you are free to either sit in it or just leave it until you want to use it. It will be there, unmoved, and waiting for you to claim it when you return.

When you get back to your seat you may well find someone else sitting in it. That's the done thing. You just politely let them know that's your seat and they will move on with a smile and find the next empty seat. This is very useful information because it obviously works both ways. When you are out on the course and you fancy a sit down, you are welcome to sit in any available green seat.  

As I say, it does take a bit of getting used to, but when you get in the habit, it's great!  

6. Keep you eyes open and chat to people
Without a doubt, Augusta has a very interesting bunch of spectators and you can have some great conversations. On the very first day we were there, before even going out to the course, we were getting some breakfast and struck up conversation with the couple next to us. I explained that it was my first time and the gentleman explained he had been coming for over 50 years and his father, Claude Harmon, had won the title back in 1948.

In more recent years, if you had been following Lee Westwood, the odds were that Ant, Dec and Alan Shearer would be nearby and more than happy to have a chat. Well Ant and Dec were, Shearer was a bit miserable. (I recognise this will mean more to my UK followers than those outside!).

If you are a golf dweeb then there are plenty of golf journalists to spot and most have been really happy to chat. Alan Shipnuck was particularly animated about his trip to the Scottish Links.

The members stand out because of their green jackets which they wear regardless of the temperature, and are more than happy to tell you some anecdotes about the course. No invitation was forthcoming to join them for a round which was weird.

7. Enjoy the food and hang on to your beer cup.
You will have read about how cheap the food is on the course. This is true, although when you are there for 5 days it does all become a little bit samey! We got through a few beers over the course of the week and collected a fair few of the hard plastics cups they were served in - I think I came home with a dozen. They are quite substantial cups and three years later are still pressed into daily service in my household. Nice and  showy for summer barbecues too...

masters food.jpg

8. Check your shopping into the 'pick up' queue
The merchandise tent is everything you have heard it is and more. The selection of goods is phenomenal and the quality is excellent. It is impossible not to get the credit cards out and spend more than you had intended. However, do not make the mistake of then having to carry a plastic bag around for the whole day, you will grow to hate it. Instead, leave it at a shopping check-in and pick it up at the end of the day. The queues weren't too horrible.

masters merchandise

9. Enjoy being out of contact for the day
There is really no way you can get a mobile phone into the ground. There is airport style security to navigate and even if you did manage to get past that then is no way you would survive a sly check of Twitter. There are cameras in the trees...

It is a strange, but slightly uncomfortable feeling being out of contact with the rest of the world for 12 hours. It is a very unusual position for most of us these days. In fact, the only other time I've managed it in the three years between Masters trips has been on a long haul flight. But it forces you to take stock, contemplate what is unfolding before your eyes and actually smell the roses. Or azaleas in this case.

One frustrating aspect of this policy is that there is no way to stay in touch with anything happening on the course but the group you are watching. There are lots of leaderboards which get updated to oohs and aahs from the crowd, but I think selling a radio with on course coverage, like at the Ryder Cup and The Open, would enhance the experience. It's interesting to see afterwards what was being said on social media compared with how it felt on the course at the time.  

So, hard as it might be, try to enjoy the feeling of isolation from the rest of the world. It's a bit like playing a three club challenge - interesting to do from time to time, but probably not something you'd want to do every day.

Palmetto (1).png

10. Get to Palmetto
While your trip will probably be focussed primarliy on the Masters, I would encourage you to try to play some golf as well, if you can. We played 2 rounds - once at the slightly bizarre Sage Valley and once at Palmetto. Palmetto is an absolute delight. It's a course which Alister MacKenzie had a big hand in creating and there are definitely some hints of the genius that made Augusta here. It's a fun course which is only open to visitors to play during Masters' week every year.
 

Mike Cocking's Favourite Courses

Mike Cocking.jpg

Mike Cocking is the second ‘C’ in the architecture firm OCCM - ‘Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead’. While they may sound like a provincial English solicitors, they could go down as the most influential Antipodean architects for the best part of a hundred years.

Their work has been extensive and widely praised, primarily in Australia but increasingly beyond. They restore, renovate and design from scratch and it’s hard not to enjoy their philosophy when they state ‘Our goal is to make the journey to the hole a more interesting one for the golfer’..

If you are planning a trip to Australia, I thoroughly recommend Mike’s podcast with Andy at the fried egg here. He is also an accomplished watercolour artist and his Golf Renderings site is well worth a visit. Graylyn Loomis spoke to him about his work here. I’m looking forward to using his guides on the course!

Many thanks Mike for your selections. It is a tremendous list!

ST ANDREWS - THE OLD COURSE
Long before anyone thought about design there was the Old Course. The product of centuries of evolution and relatively untouched by man it just might be the most thought-provoking and strategic test of golf on the planet.
UK Golf Guy Review, Scottishgolfhistory.org

SWINLEY FOREST GOLF CLUB
The poster-child for a short, fun, playable course for the average golfer but somehow entirely relevant for the better player. Swinley is all class… understated & elegant, interesting & fun. My favourite of the heathland courses.
UK Golf Guy Review, Swinley Forest Website, Graylyn Loomis

CHICAGO GOLF CLUB
In an age where developers seem obsessed by sand dunes and ocean frontage, Chicago shows us how superb design and construction can make a world-class course over fairly flat terrain and miles from the water. I wonder how many sites like this have been overlooked because they lack drama? 
Fried Egg, Chicagology

THE DUNES CLUB
Long before Pacific Dunes or Sand Valley, Mike Keiser purchased 90 acres of sandy, forested land near his beach home on Lake Michigan, to prevent developers turning it into housing. After some prompting he decided a small private golf course might be a good idea… somewhere where he and his friends could have a casual round in a  beautiful setting and away from the fanfare of the larger country clubs and resorts. It might just be the most enjoyable day of golf I’ve ever had.
The Golf Bucket List, top100golfcourses.com, fried egg

NORTH BERWICK - WEST LINKS
Can golf get any more fun that this? It’s a brilliant design and North Berwick should be a must see for any visitor to Scotland and not just because of the Redan or the Pit.
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf  

KINGSTON HEATH
It may not have the undulation of Royal Melbourne or the ocean views of Barnbougle but few get as much out of their property as Kingston Heath. Whilst Mackenzie seems to get all the credit, the real heroes were Mick and his son Vern Morcom, who helped create interest with some of the best bunkering in Melbourne, adding some elegant contours and a beautiful set of greens on a site that gave them little to work with.
Kingston Heath Website, Planet Golf, Golf Course Architecture  

CYPRESS POINT
If I had a time machine the one course I would love to have seen is Cypress Point just after opening. As good as the course is now those old black and white images show a course that was even better.
Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100   

PRESTWICK
The history buff in me gets all nostalgic at courses like Prestwick. Home of the first Open. Designed and built by Old Tom. The original 12 holes are fun and seriously quirky. And 13 might be the hardest green to hit of any of the championship courses.
Golf Club Atlas feature, Planet Golf

PINE VALLEY GOLF CLUB
An extraordinary golf course and my dream membership.
Golf Digest Flyover, Golf Club Atlas

AUGUSTA NATIONAL
Can you include a course you haven’t played? I had built up my first experience at Augusta to the point where I felt for sure I would be disappointed. I wasn’t.
Masters.com, Planet Golf, GolfClubAtlas.com, Augusta Chronicle

A New Scotland Top 100 Golf Courses List

I wrote earlier in the year about the new Golf Monthly UK and Ireland Top 100 list and some of the methodological flaws it may have. Next up for a critique is the recently released National Club Golfer Top 100 Courses in Scotland 2018/19. I can’t find it anywhere online so I have reproduced the ranking at the bottom of this article..

Like the Golf Monthly list, this is a product of scores from raters and a carefully constructed formula. However, there is more emphasis on the architecture and design than in the Golf Monthly list. 10% of the score goes on conditioning and presentation, 10% on scenery/ambience, 10% on charm and the remaining 70% goes to various architectural/design categories.

Here are some highlights:

Turnberry is once number 1 again.
The top three (1 Turnberry, 2 The Old Course and 3 Muirfield) can only just be split but it’s maybe telling that they come out in the same order as in the Golf Monthly UK list.

Turnberry’s claim to be the number one course in the UK is definitely gathering steam the more people experience the fantastic work that has gone on there in recent years. The most prestigious world lists such as golf.com and planetgolf.com still have Turnberry way down but I imagine if they play it now it will vault up these lists too.

The work at Turnberry has got it to number 1 in the new NCG Scottish ranking

The work at Turnberry has got it to number 1 in the new NCG Scottish ranking

The best course in Scotland few people will have heard of.
This list has a great mixture of the old and new. North Berwick (9) and Cruden Bay (10) are highly ranked but beaten by two more recent courses in Skibo Castle (7) and Loch Lomond (8).

Skibo is a particular stand-out. This is an incredibly high ranking for the course that few will have heard of and fewer still will have played. It is mainly the preserve of members of the exclusive residential Carnegie Club but the 9am tee time is available to visitors. I think that’s a nice touch from the club and I hope they keep it going. Skibo is just a few minutes drive from Royal Dornoch and if the new Coore and Crenshaw course at Coul Links comes to fruition this is sure to be a coveted tee time. I’ve not made it up there to play yet but am hoping to take the trip before too long to see how they have created the 7th best course in Scotland and whether it truly warrants that place.

You can’t get it right all the time.
As with every list, there are some things I could disagree with. I have an almost visceral reaction against the PGA Centenary course and I just can’t see how this Nicklaus abomination can make it to position 43. However, I think they have made a good call not putting the Renaissance too high (31 feels about right). I was expecting The Machrie to chart a little higher than 29 but that’s only on the basis of what I have read elsewhere. I need a visit to decide for myself.

31 for the Renaissance feels about right, despite the new spectacular new water hole

31 for the Renaissance feels about right, despite the new spectacular new water hole

Try and get the your hands on a copy of the magazine.
I managed to get my hands on a print copy of the magazine supplement and it is really great. The course write-ups are nice but the accompanying articles are where the real fun lies. A lot of thought has been put into the publication with some great articles by thoughtful writers. Ed Hodge’s history lesson on the 9 hole courses of Scotland was a particular delight and Mike Keiser gives us an insight into why he wants to develop Coul Links. I would urge you to get your hands on one if you can and hopefully they will make it available digitally - it’s a great loss otherwise.

If you’re planning a trip - go deep!
This list really comes into its own if you are planning a trip to Scotland and don’t just want to ram your schedule with the Open venues and glamour names. Use the map below to come up with an itinerary that will surprise and delight your party and pretend you have all the local knowledge!

So, a huge well done to NCG. I look forward to their future geographical supplements but would urge them to get them put online. Oh, and sort out the PGA at Gleneagles for the next edition…

scotland top 100






Graylyn Loomis' Favourite Courses

Graylyn Loomis.jpg

I’m delighted to share Graylyn Loomis’ favourite courses. Over the last few years I have used Graylyn’s site extensively to help plan golf itineraries and it is a constant source of inspiration for trips. Graylyn has played many of the world’s very best courses and has a great eye for what makes a course special.

Graylyn started his website while studying in St Andrews University (and caddying at Kingsbarns) and has gone on to a career in golf course journalism. He is the Digital Editor of LINKS magazine and also co-hosts the LINKS golf podcast. There is a real practicality to Graylyn’s advice when it comes to planning a golf trip and if you want to get lost in the world of great golf writing then you will be well advised to spend a few hours on graylynloomis.com! Over to Graylyn -

I took “favorite” to mean the courses that I most often think about and those that have shaped my love for the game the most. I’ve been fortunate to play many of the “best” courses according to rankings, but these are my favorites.

The order is chronological based on when I played them first (from earliest to most recent), which may show the progression of my game and tastes (or nothing at all!).

BILTMORE FOREST COUNTRY CLUB
This 1922 Donald Ross design is where I learned to play golf with my father. The hilly course in Asheville, North Carolina taught me all aspects of the game and fostered my love for it.
Biltmore Forest, Graylyn Loomis

MID PINES
Another Donald Ross design in North Carolina, Mid Pines is an intimate course in Pinehurst that embodies my favorite aspects of course design. The routing brilliantly maximizes the land and footprint of the course.
Mid Pines Inn, Graylyn Loomis

ST ANDREWS - THE OLD COURSE
Even after hundreds of rounds on the Old Course during my four years at the University of St Andrews I still learn something new every time I play it. The Old taught me subtlety and nuance in design.
UK Golf Guy Review, Scottishgolfhistory.org

NORTH BERWICK - WEST LINKS
A light bulb went off in my head after playing North Berwick. The course is quirky - and sometimes confusing - and at every turn it reminds you golf is meant to be fun.
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

GOLF HOUSE CLUB - ELIE
If I could ever live on a course and walk a few holes every evening, Elie would be my choice. The short links course has charm, jaw-dropping views, history, tradition, and more (not to mention the submarine periscope to check that the first fairway is clear).
Elie Website, Graylyn Loomis

CRUDEN BAY
As with so many other Scottish courses, Cruden Bay could never be built today. It has blind shots, quirky features, and some of the most creative and beautiful stretches of golf that I’ve seen. It’s another that reminds you that golf is a game and we should all take it a little less seriously.
Golf Club Atlas, Cruden Bay Website

SHINNECOCK HILLS
There are many great historic clubs in the northeast U.S., but Shinnecock is the ultimate. The clubhouse is one of the most iconic and the course perfectly balances major championship-level challenge while still being fun to play.
UK Golf Guy Review, Golf Monthly History, Graylyn Loomis

KINGSTON HEATH
It may be blasphemy, but I think Australian Sandbelt golf combines the best of Scotland with the best of the U.S. to make the best golf in the world. Any of Melbourne’s Sandbelt courses could have filled this spot, but Kingston Heath ticks every box for me from the club’s vibes to the course.
Kingston Heath Website, Planet Golf, Golf Course Architecture

ST ENODOC - CHURCH COURSE
If England has an equivalent of North Berwick or Cruden Bay, it’s St. Enodoc. The course plays along cliffs in rural southwest England complete with stone walls, buried churches (literally), and design elements you’ll never forget. 
St Enodoc Website, Golf Empire, Golf Club Atlas

CALIFORNIA GOLF CLUB OF SAN FRANCISCO
I’ve only played Cal Club once, but it has everything I would ever want in a private club. The course shows off tremendous work by Alister MacKenzie and Robert Hunter (and Kyle Phillips in a recent renovation) everywhere, but especially around the greens.
California Golf Club, the fried egg, LINKS magazine

Derek Duncan's Favourite (Affordable and Public Play) Courses

Derek Duncan.jpg

If golf course architecture is your bag then Derek Duncan’s ‘Feed the Ball’ podcast is a must-listen. In just eighteen months Derek has established himself as one of the very best interviewers on the topic in the world. His style is warm and engaging, but anodyne he is not. He will happily voice his opinion and has the confidence to challenge the views and work of some of the biggest names in the business.

The quality of the guests on Derek’s show is incredible and you will enjoy the conversation with a shaper you have never heard of just as much as one with a big-hitter like Bill Coore or David McLay Kidd. If you are new to Feed the Ball then I would encourage you to listen to this 2018 highlights package to give you a taste of its brilliance.

It won’t surprise anyone that Derek has come up with something a little different for his list and it serve as a reminder that golf courses don’t need to be high-end and private for you to to have a blast. Enjoy!

This could easily be another compilation of star-studded, bright light, world top 50 courses. I’m going a different direction with a list of some of my favorite (mostly) affordable, public-play courses (and anyway, you can read about all those great courses on the other people’s lists).

Public golf remains the heart of the game and there’s always a need to draw special attention to courses that are not just accessible, walkable and economical but also possess that rarest of things: smart, exciting architecture.

These aren’t all 100 point, or even 90 point courses, but they are places that have made an impression on me as being authentic expressions of their location and models of what good public-access golf can and should be. Each is unique in its way and worthy of a round should your path happen to take you nearby.

BLACK CREEK CLUB
Chattanooga, Tennessee – Right off the bat we’re in murky water because Black Creek is a private club. They have been known, however, to be receptive to outside play if approached nicely. Working a good site in a lovely valley, Brian Silva reproduced sharp interpretations of Seth Raynor’s template holes, plus a few originals of his own. Most golfers will never get to Shoreacres or Fishers Island, but at Black Creek they can get the full Raynor treatment, including a reverse Redan, a Biarritz, a Cape and one of the game’s great Punchbowl greens.
Black Creek Club Website, One Golfers Travels

THE DELTONA CLUB
Deltona, Florida – Bobby Weed mainlined an old lifeless course with a dazzling cocktail of visual drama and strategic intrigue by ripping out acres of coarse border rough to expose evocative play-it-as-you-find-it barrens. The property possesses gorgeous running elevations, deep sandy soils, and superb ground contour accented by big greens that bleed off at the edges. Most impressive to public consideration, the remodel work was cost effective as the sand washes demand fewer inputs and maintenance.
The Deltona Club Website, Virginia Golf Guy, Feed the Ball

ESTES PARK
Estes Park, Colorado – Sitting at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes is simple, old-style mountain golf and a wonderful walk through the thin, pine-scented air, far removed from the multi-million dollar “lodges” and international hotel conglomerates found at higher-up elevations. The holes run back and forth across a tilting property with a stimulating run of short par-4s on the second nine that have long players licking their chops, and then licking their wounds when they walk off with 4s and 5s instead of 3s. When I think of rustic, unrushed public golf, I think of Estes Park.
Estes Park Website

FOUR MILE RANCH
Canon City, Colorado – Jim Engh says he wants his designs to give players an endorphin rush. Four Mile Ranch provides a true Rocky Mountain high with climbs up into high desert foothills, opportunities to blast heroic shots over native outcroppings and no formalized bunkering. Perhaps the most underrated volume in the Engh library, this course has everything that’s good: affordability, excessive width, fast running fairways, peek-a-boo greens and topsy-turvy putting contours that feed the ball to the hole if approached with proper imagination.
Four Mile Ranch Website, Top100golfcourses.com

LAHINCH
Ireland – I dream about golf courses located in the middle of towns, where golfers walk with clubs on their shoulder and, after the round, deposit them in a corner of a pub while they sip on a pint. Lahinch is this place. There’s no separation between town and fairways and the golf is one of the game’s most joyous romps. The holes bounce and bob up into the tall, rollicking dunes overlooking the sea before returning to a soft landing at the flatter 17th and 18th holes. Now, about that pint.
UK Golf Guy Review, Graylyn Loomis

LAWSONIA - LINKS COURSE
Green Lake, Wisconsin – The Links Course at Lawsonia is no longer a secret. It is, however, the reigning champion in the awesome, unbelievable, this-is-as-good-as-exclusive-Golden Age-private club-golf-but-at-an-affordable-public-rate division. The 1920’s Langford & Moreau design feels just right roaming around a roomy, mostly treeless site with unique vertical shaping and steep, serious hazards. It’s at once simple and complex, thematic and enigmatic, and worthy of the status of a “must play” in the travels of any serious golfer.
top100golfcourses.com, Lawsonia Website,

MID PINES
Southern Pines, North Carolina – I’d love to put Southern Pines into this spot, that raw but nifty little Donald Ross public course a few miles down the road, but Mid Pines is just too good. It stretches the budget more than the others on the list but Ross’s original design and Kyle Franz’s recent restoration work make it more than worthwhile. This is Ross at the height of his powers, the masterful routing and genius green placements serving as sensuous yin to the muscular yang of nearby (and much pricier) Pinehurst No. 2 (…and go ahead and hit Southern Pines while you’re in the neighborhood). 
Mid Pines Inn, Graylyn Loomis

TOT HILL FARM
Asheboro, North Carolina – Tobacco Road is Mike Strantz’s masterpiece but there’s something almost nobler about the strange, woodsy, “we somehow got this done” aura of Tot Hill Farm. Littered with rocks and boulders and ambitious up and down character, the course is a little troubled and almost doesn’t fit, but the golf is packed with all the Strantzian curlicues that you make the drive for (the par-3 13th!!!). It’s almost unfair how much excitement and bewilderment is packed into forty bucks and 6,500 yards, but how often does public golf give you a good chuckle like this? 
Tot Hill Farm Website, YouTube course feature, threeguysgolf.com, The A Position

WILD HORSE
Gothenburg, Nebraska – Located amid the farmlands and forever horizons of central Nebraska, Wild Horse is the apotheosis of Plains golf. Hand built by Dave Axland and Dan Proctor, the design cuts through the native prairie grasses, hugging the rolling, sandy terrain with exceptionally broad, slick fairways that accommodate a variety of angles and the frequently vicious winds. The game escalates as the round deepens, with an extraordinary run of second nine holes that feature some of the most profound strategic bunkering found on any American public course.
Wild Horse Golf Club, golfcourseranking.com, golfcoursegurus.com

WINTER PARK 9
Winter Park, Florida – It’s no small irony that the course that arguably shares the most in common with Lahinch’s town/golf symbiosis is a flat, nine-hole muni in Orlando. Winter Park’s holes roam without boundaries through a sleepy, tree-lined neighborhood like a pack of boys on bikes, crossing brick-paved streets, skirting a cemetery and nestling close to span of train tracks. The tight turf, rippled fairways and heavily contoured greens actually are reminiscent of links play, but the real charm here comes from the feeling of being at home in a place the oozes pure golf, even if you live 500 miles away.
Winter Park Website, the fried egg, Feed the Ball

Next up we have blogger, podacast host and journalist Graylyn Loomis with his 10 Favourite Courses.

Mark Calcavecchia's Favourite Courses

When I was a young lad my Dad had a week every year schmoozing clients at The Open. He and his colleagues would hire a house and I would tag along and sleep on a mattress on the floor for the week. I’d be dropped off at the gates at 7am every morning and meet my Dad again as the last players were coming off the 18th green, late into the evening. It was heaven.

The 1989 Open at Troon is one of those Opens that particularly sticks in my mind. The weather was great all week, and Sunday afternoon brought us a classic finish. I walked all 18 holes with Norman as he roared through the field, before racing back to watch those who had started the day in the lead come in. Grady and Calcavecchia matched Norman and we were treated to the first four hole playoff in major history. While Norman found sand and OB, Calcavecchia held his nerve at 18 and won by 3 shots. The sight of him on the 18th green in his red top is one of my abiding memories of those early Opens.

I’ve been up in the loft to dig out the photos I took with my trusty disk camera that week - no instagram-type vintage filters needed here. I got a good spot at the 18th!

Mark went on to multiple wins on the PGA Tour, before finding success on the Champion’s Tour. He still comes back to play in The Open Championship and is definitely a much loved American visitor to these shores. Thanks a lot for the picks Mark.

1. SAND HILLS
Loved every hole. Cheap to build. Just perfect.
top100golf.com, YouTube Flyover, Planet Golf

1a. ROYAL TROON
Loved it at first sight, I knew I was gonna play well there.
Planet Golf, UK Golf Guy Review

2. SHINNECOCK HILLS
Except when the US Open is there.
UK Golf Guy Review, Golf Monthly History

3. MERION
Short but insanely hard. Strategy is at a maximum.
NY Times, Philly.com

4. SEMINOLE GOLF CLUB
It’s home. Always loved it.
top100golf.com, Golf Club Atlas

5. RIVIERA COUNTRY CLUB
Best bunkering in the US. Every hole is great.
Riviera Country Club, The Fried Egg

6. BALLYBUNION
Thought it was just great. Amazing holes and beautiful.
UK Golf Guy Review, Graylyn Loomis

7. PEBBLE BEACH
Pebble is Pebble. Never played a course that changes as much as that one.
UK Golf Guy Review, Monterey Herald History, Youtube - Tiger Wood 2000

8. DISMAL RIVER
Love the countryside.
Dismal River Website, Links Magazine, Golf Course Gurus

9. NORTH BERWICK
Just amazing.
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

10. TPC SCOTTSDALE
3 Phoenix Open wins!!!
TPC Scottsdale, Golf Digest

A huge thanks to Mark for his choices. Next up is Derek Duncan, host of the amazing ‘Feed the Ball’ podcast.

Eamon Lynch's Favourite Courses

E

There are a few golf journalists whose articles I immediately click on when I see them pop up on my Twitter timeline and Eamon Lynch is most definitely one of them. His writing has an elegance which is rare to find, no doubt his background writing for publications such as Vanity Fair have helped him stand out from the crowd.

If you are looking for a piece by way of introduction to Lynch’s writing then this one, on playing a round with Donald Trump, will do the trick. You will find his regular golf columns at Golf Week and eamonlynch.com and he is a great Twitter follow @eamonlynch.

Eamon has played some fantastic courses around the world as the list below testifies and has a keen understanding for their place in the game. He also seems to like the same courses I do! Those on his list I have played are among my favourites, and those I haven’t are high up on my bucket list!

THE OLD COURSE, SCOTLAND
To those who get it, no explanation is necessary. To those who don’t, no explanation is possible.
UK Golf Guy Review, Scottishgolfhistory.org

NORTH BERWICK, SCOTLAND
It’s a reminder of what golf should be: sometimes quirky, occasionally maddening, always fun. The last six holes alone might be the most beguiling loop on the planet.
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS, USA
The gene from which every great American course is descended.
UK Golf Guy Review, 1968 Sports Illustrated Article, Golf Course Gurus

PINE VALLEY GOLF CLUB, USA
Relentlessly demanding, as much on the mind as on the swing.
Golf Digest Flyover, Golf Club Atlas

SHOREACRES, USA
I stood in the locker room looking at a routing map and wondering why the course was laid out away from the lake shore. It quickly became clear that Raynor didn’t need the waterfront. Despite flattish land it has tremendous variety and terrific green complexes.
Golf Club Atlas, Fried Egg

SUNNINGDALE (OLD), ENGLAND
Beautifully artful bunkering and the rare inland course that plays like a links.
UK Golf Guy Review, Golf Club Atlas

CYPRESS POINT, USA
The 15th gets my vote as the prettiest little hole in the world.
Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100 

TOBACCO ROAD, USA
I think of it as a thoroughly modern, American version of North Berwick. Flush with stuff you just won’t see anywhere else. Probably the most polarizing course in the country.
Tobacco Road, Graylyn Loomis, Breaking Eighty

SHANQIN BAY, CHINA
The most challenging routing Coore & Crenshaw ever authored, on terrain that is even less hospitable than Kapalua. Wide, rumpled, quirky in places, compromised in others, it’s just a fun round. If only the government would stop screwing with it.
Shanqin Bay, Top100golfcourses, Planet Golf

CABOT CLIFFS, CANADA
The clifftop holes get all the love, but the inland tests are every bit as good. The 2nd is an all-world short four.
Cabot Links, top100golfcourse.com, The Dapper Drive

I know that’s 10 courses, but every golfer’s favorite 10 should exceed the limit, so…

MERION, USA
Short par 4s stir me, and there are bushel of them here. As Lee Trevino said, ‘Merion I love you, and I don’t even know your last name.’

SEMINOLE, USA
If there’s a better routing in golf I haven’t seen it.

PACIFIC DUNES, USA
My favorite destination to play west of St. Andrews, and Tom Doak’s design is the standout in an incredibly strong lineup.

WANNAMOISETT, USA
It’s short and has only one par 5 (at the 17th), but it remains one of golf’s most charming walks.

DIAMANTE DUNES, MEXICO
The rapid construction of homes and a hotel has robbed Diamante of the remote charm it had in the early years of my visits, but there are a bunch of hugely entertaining holes.

CAPE KIDNAPPERS, NEW ZEALAND
I played it months before it opened, with Doak. We used borrowed clubs and we didn’t even have a tee, so we perched the ball on rough at the front of the tee boxes. It feels like golf at the end of the world

ROYAL COUNTY DOWN, NORTHERN IRELAND
He who complains about blind shots has no imagination. RCD exposes such a fool and saves us having to spend time in their company to realize that.

Many thanks to Eamon for his picks. Next up is Mark Calcavecchia. Without giving away too much, Royal Troon may feature!

Tony Dear's Favourite Golf Courses

history golf 50 holes.jpg

It was through the power of Twitter that I became aware of Tony Dear and his work, and I can safely say my golfing knowledge has been improved as a result of making his golfing acquaintance. Tony was formerly a senior editor at Today’s Golfer magazine and has had his work published in over 40 publications across the world. I recently discovered his book ‘The History of Golf in 50 holes’ which is a fascinating look at how golf and golf course architecture has evolved. It is acutely observed and has real humour. I thoroughly recommend it!

If you aren’t already following Tony on Twitter (@tonyjdear) I would urge you to do so.

Here are his favourite courses:

It's so easy to overthink this. You feel dirty for leaving out certain courses, obligated to get a good geographical spread, and compelled to have an appropriate breakdown of types - links, heathland, parkland, etc. You think about places you believe 'deserve' a mention for whatever reason, and even those you think people expect you to include. And do you owe anyone a favour, or feel the need to be different, quirky, edgy?

Nah, screw that. These are the ten courses I enjoy(ed) playing the most and which I most want to play tomorrow.

ST ENODOC
Any course where you play a number of memorable rounds with your dad is going to be special. Combine those moments with amazing views of the Cornish coast, and ground that never fails to amuse and entertain and you have an unbeatable recipe. The sun always shines on St. Enodoc.
St Enodoc Website, Golf Empire, Golf Club Atlas

EDEN COURSE, ST ANDREWS
I’d never say I preferred the Eden over the Old, or the New for that matter, but it was the first course I played in town and my first trip round a proper links. I loved it from first to last and sincerely hope to return some day.
St Andrews Website, Graylyn Loomis

WATERVILLE
If ten golfers were asked to name their favourite hole at Waterville, you might get ten different answers. Late summer evenings here are surely a fair approximation of heaven.
Waterville Golf Links, Youtube, Planet Golf

VICTORIA (CANADA)
It’s a cold, jaded, myopic man that isn’t utterly charmed by Victoria. Just a delightful place to play golf.
Victoria Golf Club, Top100golfcourses.com,

GAMBLE SANDS
David McLay Kidd’s central Washington masterpiece is extra special for me because the name was actually my idea, and I got to play it with David, his wife Tara, and perhaps my favourite golf writer – Ron Whitten - on opening day. It’s one of those courses, like Waterville, with numerous candidates for ‘favourite hole’. I could never play Gamble too often.
Gamble Sands, Youtube, golferswest.com

WEST SUSSEX
Twenty years ago, Pulborough’s head professional gave me, my two fellow assistants, and our boss permission to play a fourball. We knew the club was strictly foursomes, but because our boss was one of the most highly-respected PGA pros in Sussex and we’d been given permission by the club’s pro, we assumed we’d be okay. We were halfway down the 1st fairway when the club secretary came thundering out of the clubhouse and, purple-faced, demanded to know what the ‘bloody hell we thought we were doing’. We swiftly picked up two balls and carried on.
I understand the club is a lot friendlier and more welcoming these days, but West Sussex would still be one of the most enjoyable rounds in the world if a fuming secretary approached you on every hole. Heathland magic.
UK Golf Guy review, West Sussex Golf Club

BANDON PRESERVE
Hard to imagine a more enjoyable course. If only every town had something like Bandon Preserve. The world would be a much happier place.
Bandon Dunes, Golf Digest, Breaking Eighty

PRESTWICK
Prestwick makes no sense. It's just a sublime stretch of golf chaos.
Golf Club Atlas feature, Planet Golf

THE MACHRIE
I played 36 or 54 holes a day here for a week with a couple of mates in about 1990, and never stopped laughing. I’ve not seen DJ Russell’s changes, but back then it was just hilarious. So many blind holes and crazy shots. I loved every second.
The Machrie Website, Financial Times, Top100golfcourses.com

ROYAL LIVERPOOL
As a member of the Liverpool University golf team in the early ‘90s, Hoylake was my home course for a while. I’d take the train out to the Wirral most days, and get back to Lime St. late. It's not the most eye-catching links in the British Isles, but it is full of sturdy, exacting holes that grow on you on after a few rounds. I always look forward to going back.
UK Golf Guy review, Planet Golf

A big thanks to Tony for sharing these. Next up, the choices of one of the very best golf journalists in the game today, Eamon Lynch.

Tom Coyne's Favourite Courses

Tom Coyne

I’m delighted that following on from my series last year on ‘favourite golf courses’ I am able to share the choices of some more of the most interesting thinkers in golf.

First up is Tom Coyne. Tom has written two of the most celebrated golf books of recent years in ‘A Course Called Ireland’ and ‘A Course Called Scotland’. These books go far beyond mere golfing travelogues and get to the heart of the part golf can play in your outlook on life. If you haven’t read them yet I would definitely encourage you to do so. Tom also writes for various golf publications - his articles in The Golfer’s Journal are a particular delight.

Many thanks to Tom for his thoughts. Scotland and Ireland dominate, but one famed American course makes its first appearance in a ‘favourite courses’ list!

You can see all of the previous ‘Favourite Courses’ selections here.

CARNE, BELMULLET, IRELAND
Some courses just hit you right in the gut, as soon as you step on the property. Carne does that for me every time. Whether it's the people, the hulking dunes, its remote setting, the genius Eddie Hackett design, it's a place I could go round and round and round. Some courses just feel like home, and Carne is like that for me.
Carne Golf Links Website, Top100golfcourses.com

ASKERNISH, SOUTH UIST, SCOTLAND
Some folks could leave Askernish wondering why they travelled so far to play such an unadorned golf course, and I get that. But Tom Morris's lost course, to me, is a genuinely spiritual experience. It's a time capsule, a trip back in history. It's for the soul-seekers, but if you happen to be one, you won't find another place like it in golf.
Askernish Website, Golf Digest Reader’s Report, The Guardian, GolfClubAtlas Interview

CRUDEN BAY, SCOTLAND
Cruden Bay is total golf joy to me. Maybe the biggest dunes in Scotland, quirky routing, great people. If you don't care for blind shots, it's probably not the course for you. But I've played a lot of links golf, and the courses can tend to look the same. Not Cruden Bay. It's wild, weird, and gorgeous.
Golf Club Atlas, Cruden Bay Website

ARDGLASS, NORTHERN IRELAND
I don't think I get a better welcome anywhere in golf than I do at Ardglass, where the members have become dear friends over the years, so the hospitality certainly has something to do with my opinion here. But the course is a blast as well, with holes hanging off the cliffs and over the ocean. And with a 14th century castle for a clubhouse, what is not to love?
Ardglass Website, Dufferinncoaching

SHISKINE GOLF AND TENNIS CLUB, SCOTLAND
Maybe the perfect golf course - not for its layout, necessarily, but for its number of holes. A dozen feels like the ideal number of holes for a round of golf, and at Shiskine they are twelve stunners played over and around inexplicable rock formations. 
Shiskine Website, Golf Empire

ENNISCRONE, IRELAND
The first course I played in Ireland, and the place where my links love affair began. So there's plenty of nostalgia in this pick, but I also add it here for having the largest dunes in Ireland - or anywhere, perhaps - that you roll through via Eddie Hackett's inspired routing. I love everything Mr. Hackett did, because he did it without moving earth, and he worked for pennies so that the local communities might prosper via golf. And Enniscrone is among his finest work for sure.
Enniscrone Golf Club Website, Top100golfcourses.com

AUGUSTA NATIONAL, USA
I've heard some call Augusta overrated in terms of its design, saying it gets too much credit because of the Masters. Maybe so, but I don't always judge a course by its design metrics; I judge it by the quality of the day I spent there.  And the day I was fortunate to spend at Augusta was an all-timer.
Masters.com, Planet Golf, GolfClubAtlas.com, Augusta Chronicle

CRUIT ISLAND, IRELAND
I love nine-holers with character, and Donegal's Cruit Island easily sets the mark for me; its sixth over cliffs and beach and crashing waves might be the best par-3 I've ever played, and the other holes hug the rocks and water as you smile your way along the quick routing. I love a course that surprises, and stumbling upon Cruit Island in yonder Donegal was the surprise of my golfing life.
Cruit Island Website, theirishgolfblog.com

NORTH BERWICK, SCOTLAND
My first time around North Berwick, all I saw was rain blended with my tears. But I have been back a few times since, and I've learned what all the fuss is about - and I can't agree more. Beyond its architectural significance, the holes at NB are just a pure blast to play. If you don't walk off with a big grin on your face, than you need to get your face fixed.
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

THE OLD COURSE, SCOTLAND
Maybe its a little flat.  Maybe some of the holes are tough to remember on your first go around. Maybe you have to know its history to understand what makes it so great. But no matter - no day in golf feels more special than a day on the Old in St. Andrews. From first tee to final putt, it’s goosebumps all the way around.
UK Golf Guy Review  

A big thanks to Tom for sharing these. Next up will be journalist, author and golf course history aficionado, Tony Dear.

Will Rolex woes hasten a World Golf Tour?

Many have called the Keith Pelley era at the helm of the European Tour a success. A recent poll of tour players saw most of those polled grade the job he’s done as 7/10 or better and Pelley points to the increase in playing opportunities for the Tour’s members as a key metric of his success.

However, it’s not all plain sailing. With characteristic candour, Rory McIlroy has said that the European Tour is just a stepping stone to the US PGA Tour and has dialled back his European outings this year. On top of that, Pelley’s jewel in the crown, The Rolex Series, appears to be floundering.

The Rolex Series was introduced with much hoopla in 2017. It was designed to create a top tier of events in Europe that would help fend off competing demands from the PGA Tour and deliver strong fields to capture the viewers’ imaginations. So, two years in – how’s it doing? Well, not brilliantly if truth be told.

Keith Pelley with Rolex Global Head of Sponsorship and Partnership, Laurent Delanney launching the Rolex Series. Photo from www.europeantour.com

Keith Pelley with Rolex Global Head of Sponsorship and Partnership, Laurent Delanney launching the Rolex Series. Photo from www.europeantour.com

This week’s Abu Dhabi Championship has the weakest field it has seen for the last 6 years. This comes, perversely, at a time when the prize money has doubled and the event is upgraded to Rolex Series status. Only 3 of the top 10 European players in the world have entered this week. Millions will no doubt have been paid to Koepka and Johnson to make the trip across the Atlantic - apparently an understandable source of McIlroy’s ire. But this propping up of the field only serves to highlight the problem.

Abu Dhabi is not alone. I have plotted a chart to illustrate the point. This shows in any given Rolex event since inception how many of the Top 10 ranked European players at that time played in it.  The trend is alarming.

rolex series participation

Last year saw only 2 players ranked in the top 10 European players at the time appearing in each of the Irish, Scottish and Turkish Opens and the Nedbank Challenge. The Italian Open was boosted to Rolex Series status as part of the deal that sees the 2022 Ryder Cup heading to Rome, but only four top 10 players made the trip.

Also, ask yourself what does the ‘Rolex Series’ actually mean? Is it Europe’s Fedex Cup? (Answer, no). Is there a separate order of merit for Rolex Series events with a bonus? (Answer, I don’t think so – not sure really). I suspect it means virtually nothing to any casual follower of European golf. Is this what Rolex were bargaining for when they signed up to their multi-year deal?

Much has been said about how the changes to the US PGA Tour schedule this year may help strengthen the European Tour. I’m not so sure.

The Desert Swing has clearly found it difficult to get many of the US based Europeans over to play. None of McIlroy, Molinari, Rahm, Rose or Casey are teeing it up in Abu Dhabi or Dubai – only the second time that has been the case since 2004.

While the event in Saudi Arabia has bought a strong field from the US (Johnson, Koepka, Reed, deChambeau et al will be pocketing ludicrous sums to turn up in this state-funded PR exercise) this will surely create such controversy that some European Tour sponsors will question the judgement of Pelley dragging the Tour through such a gratuitous act of sportswashing.

(As an aside, the players seem to be falling over each other to see who can make the most ridiculous comments to justify their participation in the Saudi debacle. After Justin Rose’s bizarre  ‘I’ve heard a lot of good things about Saudi Arabia’ quote, Bryson DeChambeau may have trumped it with his ‘I don't think it's a bad decision as long as they want us there. That's what I've heard — they want us there’. Well yes, they do Bryson. They want you there to try to normalise them as a regular state rather than one of the most oppressive regimes in the world.)

Anyway, back to the European Tour schedule. What comes after Saudi? Well, it doesn’t look great. If you take out the WGC events (none of which are in Europe) and the Majors, there isn’t much to lure any of the US-based European stars to the Tour –

February
Vic Open (Victoria, Australia)
Super 6 (Perth, Australia)
Oman Open

March
Qatar Masters
Kenya Open
Maybank Championship (Malaysia)
Indian Open

April
Trophee Hassan II (Morocco)

May
China Open
British Masters
Made in Demark
Belgian Knockout

June
Golf Sixes (Portugal)
BMW International Open (Germany)
Andalucia Valderrama Masters (Spain)

There are a couple of events here that will be interesting – the Vic Open will run men’s and women’s events on the same course at the same time and Tommy Fleetwood is hosting the British Masters at Hillside. The latter is the week before the US PGA though which will impact who we see turn up on England’s Golf Coast. Beyond that these are low level events which will attract few viewers on the TV, and often, on the course.

We then have a couple of great weeks before The Open at the magnificent Royal Portrush. The Irish Open will showcase the wonderful Lahinch the week before the Scottish. Even then, I think the Tour’s decision to move the Scottish event to the relatively unknown Renaissance is a bit of a gamble.

I’ll take any excuse to post a picture of the wonderful Lahinch!

I’ll take any excuse to post a picture of the wonderful Lahinch!

Both of these are Rolex Series events, but the Irish Open really struggled to put together a good field last year and host Paul McGinley must be worried about rumours that Rory McIlroy may not make the trip to Ireland in July. McIlroy was in East Lothian at the end of last year and visited the Renaissance Course, he has already said that he will only play one of these events. While the European stars stayed away from the Scottish Open at Gullane, the event normally gets a strong list of Americans warming up pre-Open at least.

After that, the attention turns back to the US for the lucrative climax to the Fedex Cup before the European Tour packs in a strong finish to the season. It kicks off in the third week of September with the PGA at Wentworth followed by, among others, the Dunhill Links, Italian Open, Turkish Open, Nedbank and the season-ending event at Dubai.

I am sure that we will see some stronger fields in these events but my worry is that it is all a little ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’. For anyone but the hard-core European fan the interesting bit of the golf season takes place over the Majors, with the Ryder Cup extending it by a month every other year.

There is a real risk that these Autumn events will be seen as just a prolonged wheelbarrow season. Beyond the BMW the top players may just pick and choose which events to play based on the scale of the appearance fees on offer.

Justin Rose didn’t turn up to the Tour Final at Dubai in 2018, despite being third in the Race to Dubai rankings at the time, but managed to get on the plane to Indonesia a couple of weeks later. Go figure.

Rather than strengthening the European Tour, there is a real risk that these changes will diminish it further.

McIlroy’s words in Hawaii on the subject must be chilling for the European Tour. He said ‘The European Tour is a stepping stone. That is the truth. It’s so one-sided. You can talk about all these bigger events in Europe but you can go to America and play for more money and more world ranking points. Why would you play over there?’.

In the anonymous survey of European players 70% of of them said they would play the PGA Tour if they could only play one of them. One player said that 99% of players should be aiming to play there.

Keith Pelley said to The Times before Christmas that he was in talks with Jay Monahan, head of the PGA Tour, about the creation of a World Tour. That may be the inevitable place we end up.

For those who are worried that the creation of a World Tour would lead to the European Tour just being a feeder tour for the PGA Tour it’s too late, that’s happened already.

The European Tour could still exist in much the way it does today for the vast majority of players but serve as a formal feeder tour to the ‘World Tour’. Its members could have first dibs on spots at those events where World Tour members don’t want to play. Likewise, the smaller events on the PGA Tour could become a feeder with an amped up Web.com Tour in the States.

This may be some way off though as the PGA Tour have longstanding contracts with sponsors, including Fedex, through to 2027. However, where there’s a will, there’s normally a way and the PGA Tour would love to be the custodians of a World Tour. Whether Pelley will be around to see it though is debatable. There is a natural successor in place in the shape of ex-IMG man Guy Kinnings.

The way things seem to be going, Pelley may protect his legacy best by getting out before the music stops.

The Golf Monthly UK & Ireland top 100 - The Good, the Bad and the Maybe!

The more great golf courses I play, the more I realise the inherent challenge, and potential folly, in trying to rank courses. I think that the approach made famous by Tom Doak (a variation of which I use on this site) of grouping them into categories can work. However, it is only ever going to be a debate starter, not a debate ender.

In the last few weeks there have been 3 new Top 100s of note published. Golf Monthly has released its UK and Ireland Top 100 for 2019/20, National Club Golfer launched its inaugural Scottish Top 100 and Irish Golfer Magazine gave us their top Irish Courses for 2019.

I’ll kick off today with some thoughts about the Golf Monthly list and follow up with the NCG Scottish Top 100 in the next couple of days.

golf monthly uk top 100 golf courses

The biannual Golf Monthly list is made up according to raters’ scores over a range of attributes. Quality of test and design is worth 35% of the overall score, presentation and conditioning 30%, visual appeal 15%, club facilities 10% and overall visitor experience 10%. This definitely skews the list towards well presented, visitor-friendly courses rather than producing a more architecturally-based list.

The 2017/18 incarnation of the list was the first to exclude truly private courses - if you can only play it with a member then the course isn’t included. This means that the likes of Loch Lomond, Wentworth and Queenwood are all knocked out. They also appear to have overlooked Tom Doak’s Renaissance Course even though there you can take advantage of a one-off ‘experience’ and Skibo Castle which is available for very limited green fee play now. I think this undermines the list a little. It should either be re-titled ‘The UK and Ireland Top 100 courses you can play’ or they should include all the courses. Otherwise, the ranking simply doesn’t do what it says it does.

Turnberry has held on to the number 1 slot it took last time. Given the factors they take into account that probably isn’t a massive surprise. It is spectacular, immaculate and has great facilities.

turberry ailsa course

While there was plenty of love for Turnberry, when I asked the question of my Twitter followers Royal County Down was the clear favourite among the 200+ who voted. RCD is down 1 place to position 4 in the Golf Monthly list. Personally, I still think this is too high. I didn’t visit it in the best circumstances (I was young and my hangover was horrendous) but the number of blind shots and punishment for going off line was just too much for me. Maybe I need a return visit?!

There are a couple of real stand-outs on this list compared to other similar efforts. Here are some notable courses which are ranked higher by Golf Monthly than their average position in the equivalent Golf World and top100golfcourses.com list-

Royal Liverpool (Golf Monthly ranks it 14th versus an average of 37th by others)
Old Head (31 v 65)
Hankley Common (33 v 62)
Hillside (34 v 57)
Tralee (48 v 79)
Walton Heath New (51 v 87)
Gleneagles Queen’s (55 v 83)
Druids Glen (77 v NA)

If you want to see the problem that the Golf Monthly rating system can have, then look no further than the ranking of the well-conditioned, spectacularly set, US-visitor-friendly, Old Head. Personally, I struggle with it even having a place in the top 100 because of the quality of the layout.

Old Head - possibly the most over-rated course as a result of the Golf Monthly methodology

Old Head - possibly the most over-rated course as a result of the Golf Monthly methodology

So, what about the other way? Here are the courses Golf Monthly under-rates versus its peers -

North Berwick (Golf Monthly ranks it 29th versus average of 13th by others)
Lahinch (32 v 13)
Swinley Forest (39 v 31)
St Endoch (40 v 25.5)
West Sussex (52 v 30)
Cruden Bay (71 v 24)

I have played four of those courses and three of them would probably make my personal favourite top 10. Lahinch is ranked 29th in the World in my ‘Ultimate Top 10’ and yet much lower in the Golf Monthly list which is just for the UK & Ireland. The latest Irish Golf Magazine rating has it as number 3 in the country and I think that is utterly justified. The course is a sheer delight and a joy to experience. Maybe the exposure (and, no doubt, the love) it will get when the Irish Open is there later this year will give it a boost but it really shouldn’t take that.

Lovely Lahinch - surely a top 20 course in the UK & Ireland

Lovely Lahinch - surely a top 20 course in the UK & Ireland

I have a massive gap in my Scottish CV having not played Cruden Bay, but Golf Monthly seems to be way out of step with the rest of the golfing world with their ranking. It is ranked similarly in Golf Monthly (71) to its ranking in my Ultimate World Top 10 (75). I need to get there to make up my own mind.

Probably the biggest surprise for most people I have spoken to on the subject has been the inclusion of Adare Manor. This redesign of this Irish course by Tom Fazio has debuted as the 25th best golf course in the UK and Ireland. That is an amazing ranking and by that reckoning it would probably make it a world top 100 course now. Very few inland courses in the UK have achieved that status - and none that have been created in the last 100 years.

Without a doubt the press from those who have played it has been great - it is said already to be ‘Ryder Cup ready’ with conditioning second to none on these shores - but can it really justify such a lofty position? Well, the Irish Golfer magazine has just placed it in position 3 in Ireland (above Royal County Down!) so maybe there’s something in it. The marketing impact of such a ranking has definitely paid off as I’m taking Mrs UKGolfGuy to experience the hotel for our wedding anniversary next year - she can hardly wait!

However, this list also corrects some things that I think were a little out of sync in the last outing. Ballybunion has moved down 7 places to 22 (it started in 6th place in 2009) and for me it may have some way to go yet. I simply found parts of it too much of a slog to enjoy. Maybe Martin Ebert’s work, discussed in Golf Monthly, will help in that respect.

Ballybunion may be dramatic but I have no argument with its drop down the Golf Monthly list

Ballybunion may be dramatic but I have no argument with its drop down the Golf Monthly list

I’ve not heard of a golfer yet who doesn’t love Castle Stuart and it continues its ascent up the rankings, to number 19. Another consistent riser has been Royal Dornoch. When the list debuted in 2009 it came in at number 19, but 7th feels a much better position. These are all sensible moves. I still think that placing Sunningdale New above the Old is a little quirky but they both deserve to be ranked as highly as they are.

I should also say the the quality of research in Golf Monthly’s list and the accompanying comments are first class. It’s easy to throw rocks at a ranking list but in this list you can read a good summary of the course (although maybe a little more critique would be welcome in places) as well as comments on what has changed since the last edition and what changes are to come.

I think the list could still be improved significantly by including all UK and Irish courses again and giving greater weighting to the course architecture. That said, having played Turnberry this summer, I can see that it does have a good claim to be the best of the lot. I just hope they sort out the Old Head versus Lahinch issue next time!!