With towering pine trees, revetted bunkers, undulating land and wetland areas that are both scenic and hold a purpose, Glenelg is an established golf club with a modern feel and a progressive outlook.
WORDS: STEVE KEIPERT PHOTOGRAPHY: BRENDAN JAMES
Most golfers from outside the South Australian capital think they know all that Adelaide has to offer on the golf front because they’ve seen a couple of courses on television or know these clubs have hosted elite events. Mention that Glenelg Golf Club sits firmly among the ‘Big Four’ Adelaide clubs and in response you often receive quizzical looks with raised eyebrows.
While Royal Adelaide, Kooyonga and the twin Grange layouts might receive more attention, the quiet achiever of the group is Glenelg, which has undergone several gradual refinements in recent years after a major transformation either side of the change in millennium. In short, it most definitely belongs in the top echelon of Adelaide golf and is part of the conversation about underrated courses on a national scope.
Glenelg stands out from the crowd in several distinct ways. The course sits south of the city’s airport, rather than on the north side like the other three top clubs do. It also occupies the smallest parcel of land among the ‘Big Four’ clubs and it has the only revetted bunkers in the state, a feature of the huge redesign project undertaken by Neil Crafter and Bob Tuohy at a pace of three holes per year from 1998 to 2004.
The pair are essentially South Australian golf royalty and renovated a tight, parkland, bush-strewn layout with kikuyu fairways and poa annua greens into something quite the opposite. The site is still compact at 49 hectares but it gives the illusion of space through its open playing corridors that in most instances remain framed by pine trees that reflect the landscape.
The bunkering is a highlight, as the imposing walls of almost all the fairway bunkers provide little option but to blast out sideways or nominally forward as position becomes paramount. The revetted look is as attractive as it is strategic with these pots providing a true penalty. The playing surfaces are supreme and the club has a plentiful water supply thanks to a dozen wetlands that disperse water between ponds, recycling it for irrigation and to replenish the underground aquifer. The 1.4-hectare wetlands also contain more than 50,000 native plants.
Glenelg is a quintessential ‘golfers’ club’ in the sense that most of its members are active. Competitions run seven days a week and the course logs more than 55,000 rounds annually, which is an impressive number for a private club. The high rates of play can be attributed at least partially to the calibre of the layout, which is playable for all levels of golfer yet highly engaging throughout. It is a course an enthusiastic golfer could play daily and never grow tired of.
While the major redesign work of the late 1990s and early 2000s saw the major changes, more tweaks have taken place in the past three winters. Crafter and course superintendent Daryl Sellar have overseen the conversion of several larger bunkers into pods of smaller pots. The changes are subtle – perhaps only members and regular visitors would detect them – but were done to limit the effects of ‘blowouts’ in windy weather. The left-hand fairway bunker at the short par-4 4th hole, for instance, looks almost identical to its former guise standing on the tee. Yet instead of being larger with a tongue of rough sliding towards the sand, the trap was separated into two distinct sandy hazards.
This methodology has been duplicated on several holes across the course in a bid to reduce maintenance requirements without compromising the integrity of the design. At the rear of the par-3 3rd and to the right of the par-4 17th green are two revetted swales constructed in the same manner as the bunkers but sans sand. These were created partly to provide access points and to ease the flow of a full field but also as points of difference.
The 93 bunkers retain a unique character in more ways than look alone. The texture of the sand is quite fine but gives the appearance of being loamier. This has the effect of letting the ball sit atop the sand rather than nestling into it while remaining fine enough for sand and lob wedges to pass through unimpeded. The year-round playability is another asset of Glenelg’s bunkers, which is a bonus for a design that relies on its sand from a strategic point of view.
Glenelg is blessed with naturally sandy soil and modest undulations that are most evident on the 10th to 12th holes. The layout changes directions constantly, to the point that no two consecutive holes are played in the same direction. The course keeps you on your toes and has the golfer constantly thinking and looking for a clever strategy.
The 1st is a good ‘loosener’ hole – a layup and pitch for most players – before the formidable 2nd and 3rd combine to awaken golfers in a hurry. The 2nd is a dogleg-left par-4 of 418 metres where the ability to shape shots from right to left is an asset. The 3rd is the first of Glenelg’s short holes but stretches up to 202 metres to a green asking for the opposite shape to the previous hole with bunkers ready to swallow any misfire.
The 315-metre 4th hole is characterised by a central fairway bunker that asks golfers to either fly it or veer to one side with their tee shot before focusing on an angled green with bunkers at either edge. The 5th features a sneaky little wetland pond on the outside corner of the dogleg-left par-5 that isn’t obvious from the tee (although keen eyes will spot it while playing the 4th hole). The undulating green is one of the most challenging on the course if you get out of position.
A quartet of strong par-4s completes the front nine. Each one places an emphasis on confident driving, perhaps best illustrated by the 8th hole. The fairway bends right and, depending on how far you drive, the line for the tee shot is actually further right than is apparent. Long hitters will have to challenge the right treeline to reach safety with a driver or risk finding a deep fairway bunker and wetlands to the left.
The back nine begins on undulating terrain with the par-4 10th scaling then descending a ridge on its way to a two-tiered green. The par-3 11th is a good club or more uphill, making its 168 metres play more like 185. The par-5 12th begins from the highest point on the course and quickly descends to the fairway far below. It’s another hole where a powerful right-to-left drive will be rewarded, perhaps with a look at the green for the second shot on this 460-metre par-5.
I’ve always liked the 13th hole, a dogleg-right par-4 with a magnificent green complex tucked amid pines at the base of “Pine Hill”, the course’s major sand dune. There’s also a wetland just left of the putting surface, which gets your attention standing back in the fairway.
The closing stretch brings play into the hub of the wetlands region, with this hazard the main feature of the short par-3 16th hole. The water wraps around the front and back of the green but is most in play to the right, while the bailout option on the left is a chipping swale from where up-and-downs are tough. The 17th is a big par-4 of 386 metres, wrapping around a yawning bunker on the left of the fairway to a green that will accept running approaches before a par-5 to close where water lurks right off the tee and left of the green.
Glenelg beautifully straddles that finest of fine lines in course architecture of testing every facet of the game for a variety of ability levels while remaining inherently playable. There are shots to tempt the daring player and avenues for the more timid throughout. Chances are you’ll walk off the 18th green eager to do it all again.
LOCATION: James Melrose Rd, Novar Gardens, South Australia.
CONTACT: (08) 8295 3793.
DESIGNERS: Herbert L. Rymill (1927); Vern Morcom (1955); Neil Crafter & Bob Tuohy (2004).
SLOPE RATINGS: Men: 139/138/134/128; women: 139/132.
PLAYING SURFACES: Bentgrass (greens), Santa Ana couch (tees and fairways), native couch and fescues (rough).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Daryl Sellar.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Shane Robinson (head pro), Gareth Jones (head teaching pro).
GREEN FEES: $170.
MEMBERSHIPS: Provisional membership, considered the first step towards full membership, is $3,176 annually with a $7,500 joining fee. Multiple other membership categories are also available, including intermediate and junior, as well as several more flexible categories, such as casual, introductory and even twilight memberships. See the club’s website for full details.
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: Bonnie Doon, Concord, Newcastle, Pymble, St Michael’s (NSW); Ballarat, The Dunes, Horsham, Huntingdale, Murray Downs, The National, Sorrento, Southern, Thirteenth Beach, Woodlands (Vic); Indooroopilly, Links Hope Island, Palmer Gold Coast, Sanctuary Cove, Twin Waters (Qld); Joondalup, Lake Karrinyup, Mount Lawley, The Vines, Western Australian (WA); Royal Hobart, Tasmania (Tas); Yowani (ACT); Alice Springs (NT); plus several international courses.
FACILITIES: Equipped with a practice fairway and short-game practice facilities, Glenelg is terrific club at which to hone your game. The Glenelg clubhouse is also an ideal location for conferences, seminars and functions – including weddings. The dining room caters for as many as 300 guests (cocktail style) or 180 (seated).
CORPORATE GOLF: Glenelg hosts more than 40 corporate golf events each year, primarily on Mondays and Fridays. A variety of options, such as 18-hole full-day events and nine-hole half-day outings, are available.