The world’s best female golfers will descend on the ‘City of Churches’ this month to contest the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide Golf Club. If you’re planning to be there, take your clubs and sample some terrific courses while you’re in town.
It is our smallest mainland state capital but that is all part of the charm that is Adelaide.
A mate who works as a pro at one of the city’s best golf courses perhaps describes this charm best. “It literally is the 20-minute city,” he says. “You can be anywhere you want to be in Adelaide within 20 minutes.”
I’ve tested the theory. He’s right. For golfers it is a fantastic city to visit because you can stay in the heart of the city, eat in fabulous restaurants, stay in a great hotel, soak up the nightlife and when you’re ready to play golf, you are within 20 minutes’ drive of some world-class golf courses.
Of course, you don’t have to be bound to the city. Within a 60-minute drive of the CBD there are the wineries and attractions of the Barossa Valley to the north east, the beautiful Adelaide Hills to the east and the scenic Fleurieu Peninsula to the south.
If you are thinking of visiting Adelaide for the Women’s Australian Open, you can be sure the welcome will be warm and the golf great.
Royal Adelaide Golf Club will host the women’s national championship from February 13 to 16 so unless you’re lucky enough to secure a start in the pro-am you might want to organise your round here for another time. For visitors from interstate or overseas, that’s as simple as getting in touch with the office.
In the ‘City of Churches’, Royal Adelaide is the golfing equivalent of the Vatican and, as the city’s most famous golfing attraction, every visiting golfer should make the pilgrimage to the Dr Alister MacKenzie-designed layout. Its rise to world-class status began with the arrival of ‘The Good Doctor’ during his visit to Australia in 1926.
In recent times, Royal Adelaide has recaptured its past glories through design changes recommended and overseen by acclaimed course architect Tom Doak.
Royal Adelaide is the centrepiece of the Adelaide Sandbelt, which boasts another four courses all ranked in Australia’s Top-100 Courses by Golf Australia magazine.
Royal’s nearest neighbour – The Grange Golf Club – is just two minutes’ drive away and offers something the other Sandbelt clubs don’t: two courses. The twin layouts traverse similar land and share some design traits yet are different enough to provide variety while complementing each other. The Mike Clayton-redesigned West course has enjoyed more than a dozen years play since a major revamp and remains a layout with plenty of space and multiple playing angles.
“The idea wasn’t to make the (West) course (at The Grange) harder, it was to make it more fun.” – Mike Clayton
“The idea wasn’t to make the course harder, it was to make it more fun,” he said. “Like many older courses, they become overgrown with trees through over planting. Then as these trees grow the views of the hole are lost and the ground hazards on the inside corners of doglegs cease to be relevant because of the trees.
“With the trees removed, it has opened up the course to become more strategic than it was because there is certainly more space to drive in to. But you still have to figure out which part of that space you need to hit to leave the best approach to the green.”
The bunkering is a true feature of Grange West, directing golfers either towards or away from the sand depending on their game plan. The bunkers aren’t impossible to escape in many instances but will make pars difficult to save.
Lengthy par-4s mix with shorter options, such as the 294-metre 7th, which tempts golfers to try and drive close to the green on what looks like an open passage to the flag yet offers plenty of obstacles in the form of sand and ground-level bushes. The closing stretch remains a highlight, particularly the 15th to 17th holes, a trio of tough par-4s that don’t give up many birdies.
Across on the East course, the changes conducted by Greg Norman’s design team have settled nicely after being completed in 2012. Norman’s connection to the course is famous as it was the site of his first four round pro victory in the 1976 West Lakes Classic.
The layout uses the club’s wetlands areas to great effect on the 4th to 6th holes and the bunkering is noticeably different to those found on the West Course. Standing alongside the clean edges and distinct shapes are several unkempt waste bunkers that extend far longer than conventional bunkers do.
Most of the East Course greens are large but they play smaller due to the dramatic runoffs and false fronts. One of the finest greenscapes can be found on the shortest hole at The Grange. The 15th hole measures just 118 metres and a significant portion of that length is on the green, with its long, skinny, angled putting surface. It is a demanding short iron shot as the deep greenside bunkers and hollows are difficult to get a second shot close to the hole.
Heading south along Tapley’s Hill Rd, passed Royal Adelaide, it is an easy 12-minute drive to Kooyonga Golf Club, which has also undergone significant changes during the past few years.
Designers Neil Crafter and Paul Mogford, of Golf Course Strategies, have overseen a raft of changes that have enhanced the visual appeal and playability of the layout. Like Clayton’s work at The Grange, Crafter and Mogford have opened up the playing corridors by removing areas of overgrown vegetation as well as redoing the layout’s bunkers to create a consistent look and style across all 18 holes. Part of that process includes redoing one green per year.
In recent times, new bunkers have been added on the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 9th, 11th and 13th holes, which has tightened the landing areas for longer hitters. On the 17th hole, a new green, stonewall edging around the greenside pond and surrounding mounds was recently completed to enhance the beauty of the approach on the par-4.
What hasn’t changed is the impeccable conditioning you will find at Kooyonga, which will host the Women’s Australian Open for a second time in 2021. The bentgrass greens are outstanding, while the Santa Ana couch fairways are close to flawless.
The same can be said for the playing surfaces at Glenelg Golf Club – a further eight-minute drive south via Tapley’s Hill Rd.
The course went through an extensive six-year redesign, overseen by Neil Crafter and Bob Tuohy, which opened for play in 2004. The most dramatic change, which transformed the layout, was the conversion of all the fairways from kikuyu to couch and the greens from Poa Annua to bentgrass. Today, these playing surfaces are a memorable highlight of any round here.
One of the most striking aspects about the Glenelg layout is the collection of ochre-coloured revetted pot bunkers. Few, if any, shots around the layout won’t feature at least one pot in play and their look and strategic positioning both match the architecture of the layout and blend in beautifully with the landscape. Throw in the numerous stands of stunning pine trees and you have a quintessential sandbelt-style golf course.