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.
Regarded as Adelaide’s playground, the Fleurieu Peninsula is a picturesque region with natural wonders like sandy beaches, rugged cliff-scapes and sheltered coves. It’s also home to the McLaren Vale wine-growing region and if you’re looking for great food, you won’t have to search too hard.
In recent years, golf has emerged as a star attraction of the Fleurieu with courses including Mt Compass and Links Lady Bay being ranked among the nation’s Top-100 Courses as judged by Golf Australia magazine.
Mt Compass Golf Course covers ideal land for a golf course – the terrain offers nice changes in elevation but, more importantly, it lies upon a thick layer of sand.
This left original designer Brian Crafter and, later, his son, Neil, the perfect canvas to create some memorable and fun holes.
After more than 18 years of play, the course was in rapid decline by 2013 despite the quality of the design. The course was sold three years later and, under the new ownership, Mt Compass has been improving year-on-year ever since.
Crafter created some very good risk-and-reward holes with the best of them being the par-5 10th. Two long and straight blows here can set up an eagle or easy birdie to open the back nine. Most of the 10th fairway can be seen from the elevated tee. The fairway is cut in two at the bottom of the hill in front of the tee. However, it is 290 metres to the end of the first stretch of fairway and, from here, 150-metres up to the elevated green, which sits diagonally to your approach. Seven bunkers, some impenetrable long felt grass and native banksias line the final approach. Any player looking for the green in two had better be on their game as a wild approach shot will be heavily punished.
Before moving on to your next round of golf be sure to explore McLaren Vale, which is famous for fine food created by world-class chefs as well as incredible wines, in particular Shiraz as well as Grenache and Cabernet.
From the hills to the sea, it is a leisurely 45-minute drive from Mt Compass to the Links Lady Bay Resort, just south of Yankalilla – home to one of the best country bakeries you will find anywhere.
Originally established as a sheep and cattle farm, the land the links layout now covers was transformed in 1998 by owner and visionary Mike Hill, who commissioned the design team of Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and John Spencer to create the course.
The 6,400-metre par-72 layout opened for play in 2000 and today it is entrenched in Golf Australia magazine’s list of the Top-100 Courses in the country.
Links Lady Bay covers a coastal plain wedged between rolling hills and the waters of the Gulf of St Vincent and is routed in two loops of nine holes that head out from the resort, which overlooks the front nine. Each hole runs in a different direction to the previous, which challenges the golfer to become a keen judge of the ever-present breeze.
The 339-metre par-4 4th is one of my favourites at Lady Bay. Flanked by surrounding hills to the left and beyond the green, this hole runs across the highest section of the outward half and offers views of the course, an adjoining vineyard and the gulf.
After playing a blind drive over a gentle rise, you are faced with an interesting approach shot to an L-shaped green. For mine, the green is a little too dramatically shaped but it does place a premium on club selection and accuracy. The pin placement on the green will certainly affect your approach. When the hole is towards the back, accuracy is so important as the green narrows considerably. When the pin is forward, club selection is paramount with a small creek and a bunker coming into play at the front of the putting surface. Leaving your approach in the wrong section of the green is a major blunder here.
Links Lady Bay is not the only resort in this part of the Fleurieu Peninsula. The New Terry Hotel and Golf Resort, formerly known as the Wirrina Cove Resort, is just 10km south of Lady Bay and is set between rolling hills and overlooks the blue waters of the gulf.
After a chequered past dating back nearly 30 years, and several years of declining presentation, a Chinese investor purchased the property last year and has plans to develop a residential estate surrounding the course.
The course has improved markedly during the past 12 months with the new owners investing wisely in irrigation and drainage upgrades. All of the bunkers have been remodelled and the greens are in the best shape this writer has seen them in more than a decade and are now complimentary of the challenging design.
Perth-based course architect Michael Coate designed the layout in the late 1990s on what was the site of the Wirrina Cove Golf Club layout, which was often criticised for being too hard and unfair. Coate addressed those problems by widening, and flattening, some of the fairways, while all the greens were completely rebuilt to USGA standards.
One of the highlights of a round at New Terry is the quality of its par-3s. The first of them is the downhill par-3 4th hole, which measures 148 metres from the plates and looks remarkably similar to the famous 12th hole at Augusta National.
While the tee is more elevated than it is on ‘Golden Bell’, the green complex is eerily similar. The wide and shallow putting surface lies just beyond a creek with a small deep bunker wedged between the water and the front fringe. Through the back, another bunker awaits. Walking over the wooden bridge to the left of the green, take a moment to imagine you’re crossing Rae’s Creek over Hogan’s Bridge.
The 4th is on one of the lowest points of the layout. The final one-shotter occupies one of the highest points and offers sea views out between the cliffs as you attempt to nail a long iron, hybrid or longer onto the green of the 186-metre 17th. This hole plays into the wind regularly and the angled green is guarded by two bunkers left and another short right, which will probably prevent most golfers from running their ball on to the green. Higher handicappers are advised to hit short of the bunkers and chip on to try and make their par.