A decade on from the most turbulent time in its history, this West Australian links layout is cemented among the best public access layouts in the nation.
It started with whispers on the golfers’ grapevine and ended with the gates being locked. Ten years and six months ago, Australian golf had seemingly lost one of the best courses built in this country since 2000.
The eight-year-old Kennedy Bay was abandoned after its then owners, Golf Club Properties, was placed into administration leaving the future of the links uncertain. When the gates closed, many were eulogising the end of Western Australia’s No.1 ranked public access course.
Weeds shot up through the dozens of bunkers, greens became shaggy and the defining line between fairway and rough became non-existent. The once manicured playing surfaces were ripped up by vandalising four-wheel drivers and motorbike riders.
A new owner was found after a two-month search and the clean-up began. On November 8, 2008, The Links Kennedy Bay reopened for play and a decade on, the layout is the best it has ever been – pre or post closure. It was ranked No.7 in this magazine’s list of Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses in 2017 and is likely to remain in that elite top-10 when the 2019 ranking is published next month.
Gently rolling, fast-running fairways are routed through sand dunes covered with western coastal wattle, grevillea, sedges and lilies. It’s a special tract of sandy links land, which is amazingly less than 50 minutes’ drive south of Perth’s CBD.
Designed by Michael Coate and Roger Mackay in collaboration with Open Champion Ian Baker-Finch, Kennedy Bay does what many links courses outside of the UK aspire to do – it gives you the impression you are playing one of the great links of Britain or Ireland.
The opening stretch from the 1st to the tempting 285-metre par-4 7th will have you enthralled. Holes dubbed ‘Hell’ – the superb 520-metre par-5 4th – and the demanding 419-metre 5th, known as ‘Thread The Needle’, throw down the challenge early in the round.
And then there is the brilliantly designed 7th hole, called (for good reason), ‘Temptation’. In favourable conditions, longer hitters can back themselves here to reach the green with their tee shot but it is a gamble to avoid the staggered pot bunkers left and right, as well as the deep trap cut into the front of the putting surface. I was tempted and while I passed the first test and kept my ball away from the sand, a lazy pitch to the wrong side of the hole resulted in an easy three-putt bogey when a birdie was there for the offing.
Such fine lines between birdies and bogies can be found right throughout the course. Even the shortest of Kennedy Bay’s holes, the 138-metre 16th hole, can be a devil to make par on. Called ‘Wee Tap’, the innocuous looking par-3 demands precise club selection and shot execution … usually in some sort of breeze. The mid-section of the green is wedged between one deep bunker in the front and a pair through the back, which had me wondering whether the design team might have drawn some inspiration from Augusta National’s famous ‘Golden Bell’ 12th hole. You can be less than a metre from hitting a good shot, find the sand or roll down a steep drop-off and be faced with one of those chip shots you have probably chunked a hundred times before.
Kennedy Bay offers a great variety of holes demanding a wide range of shots, which makes any round here a lot of fun. The constants are the bunkering and the wind.
While you can’t see the ocean, you can hear the breaking surf at times when the ever-present wind blows in the right direction. A rare northerly breeze here is a killer, while the more common (and usually stronger) south-westerly also has its challenges, especially as you wind your way across the closing five holes.
But it is the bunkering that makes Kennedy Bay a memorable golfing excursion. The many pot bunkers, of varying depths and diameters, are particularly penal. The shaping of the surrounds of each these sandy hazards dictates that a near miss will usually result in the ball finishing in the sand, just like you would experience on some of the famous links courses in Britain and Ireland.
Finding a trap along any of the fairways will not only cost you a stroke to get out but distance remaining to the hole. That said, if you take your chances and successfully skirt these bunkers with your tee shot you can be generously rewarded with a shorter or more direct approach to a green.
Complementing all of this is the quality of the playing surfaces and the set-up of the course by the grounds staff. There’s lots of short grass and the first cut of rough is trimmed to not only make it playable but you won’t lose any balls just off the fairway. The beautifully manicured greens’ surrounds allow you to play a variety of short game shots from a low chip-and-run with a 4-iron to a high, spinning lob wedge. Having been scarred by my wedges for far too long, my preference was the putter, which rolled smoothly across the fringes.
LOCATION: Port Kennedy Drive, Port Kennedy, Western Australia, 6172.
CONTACT: (08) 9524 6660.
DESIGNERS: Michael Coate, Roger Mackay in collaboration with Ian Baker-Finch (2000).
SLOPE RATINGS: Men – 128 (yellow tees), 131 (blue), 132 (black); Women – 126 (red), 128 (white).
PLAYING SURFACES: Bentgrass (greens), Windsor green Bermuda (tees and fairways).
GREEN FEES: $50 (18 Holes, midweek), $60 (weekend). Carts: $50.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Bruce Coleman.
PGA PROFESSIONAL: Chris Gray.
CORPORATE GOLF: The Links Kennedy Bay is a popular destination for the corporate and social markets alike. The club caters for a wide range of field sizes within both markets, also offering several menu options.
ACCOLADES: The Links Kennedy Bay was ranked the No.7 Public Access Course in Australia by Golf Australia magazine in 2017. It was the fourth consecutive appearance in the Top-10 for the course.