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