Our biennial ranking of the Top-100 Public Access Courses in the nation is here. With international travel off the table for the foreseeable future, here is a feast of fine courses everyone can play … right here at home.
There has never been a better time to hit the road and explore this big, brown land with a set of golf clubs slung over your shoulder.
Dreams of global golfing odysseys are going to have to wait as international travel goes on hold because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. There is plenty of quality golf to be discovered in our own backyard, which makes this presentation of Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses arguably the most important ranking Golf Australia magazine has ever published.
If there is a positive to be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the shot in the arm it has given Australian golf. According to figures from Golf Australia, there have been more rounds of golf played across the country in the past 12 months than at any other time in the past 20 years.
Australian golfers are keen to play. But where?
If you’re looking for a course to play where you don’t need to know a member to get a game, or a place where the golf is interesting and fun … a place that will hopefully provide you with a memorable golfing experience. You’ve come to the right place.
It hasn’t been easy pulling this ranking together, especially during the past 10 months with several state borders being closed for most of that time and, at various stages, courses being closed for extended periods due to the pandemic.
Normally, guidelines to our Public Access Courses ranking panel of judges have been to only consider courses they have played during the past two years, or from the voting deadline for the previous ranking. For the purposes of this ranking, the rolling voting period was extended to three years, while an additional 13 judges – taking the total number to 45 from across the country – were added to the panel. Each of our judges volunteered to provide their opinions and insights about courses they have seen, and it is a task they tackled enthusiastically.
“Significant periods of the past 10 months have proven challenging in terms of judges seeing courses, particularly outside of their own states,” Golf Australia magazine Editor Brendan James said. “But I have to applaud the panel for getting out to look at as many courses as they could within the confines of the government-imposed travel restrictions of their state.
“They played courses, mostly covertly, paying green fees and then noting any significant changes to the design as well as the conditioning of each course they saw.
“I cannot thank them enough for the effort they have put in.”
The vast majority of Australia’s 1,500-plus courses welcome visiting golfers – they are public accessible. By our definition, a public access course is one that offers tee times for visiting golfers at least five days a week. Courses attached to resorts, where non-member tee times are primarily set aside for hotel guests, were not considered for this ranking.
Despite the hurdles presented by COVID-19 along the way, 187 courses received votes from our judges. Here, we showcase the Top-100 of those courses, as well as an additional 30 that received votes but narrowly missed inclusion among the centurions.
However, there are two courses you won’t find on the list – Lonsdale Links, on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, and the newest addition to the Melbourne Sandbelt, Sandy Links.
At the time of going to press, Sandy Links – a major redesign of the Sandringham public course by Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Cocking and Ashley Mead (OCM) – had just opened its remaining holes. At Lonsdale, the finishing touches were being made to the course for an early 2021 opening. Both layouts will be strong contenders in this ranking in 2023.
Please enjoy our 2021 Top-100 Public Access Courses ranking, and we hope it comes in handy as a reference to plan your next golfing adventure at home … Enjoy!
100. MOORE PARK GC
Moore Park, NSW.
Judge’s Comment: “As a golfer I hope Moore Park gets a stay of execution as the axe hangs over cutting the layout to just nine holes. No other course in this country can offer fun, interesting golf on well-presented playing surfaces, just five minutes’ cab ride from the CBD, like Moore Park can.” – Julian Allen.
99. GARDINERS RUN
Judge’s Comment: “Gardiners Run was a revelation to me. There was plenty of variety in terms of shots the course asks of your game. The bunkering was dynamic, while the greens were pretty large and often dramatic. I started 2019 having not heard of Gardiners Run and have since played it five times, I was that impressed with it.” – Sam Brooking.
98. DUNTRYLEAGUE GC
Judge’s Comment: “Duntryleague is a beautiful place to play, especially in the spring, when the course is alive with colour. The first time I played there a few years back the playing surfaces were very good. When I returned in 2020, my expectations were for much the same, but they were exceeded.” – Jodie Ewart.
97. CLUB MANDALAY
Judge’s Comment: “This Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett-designed layout looked like it might fall out of the Top-100 after finishing 99th two years ago. But it has edged up two spots for this list, which I think can be attributed to the improved conditioning right across the entire layout.” – Graham Brady.
96. THE KOORALBYN VALLEY
Judge’s Comment: “This is the first time Kooralbyn Valley has appeared in a Golf Australia magazine ranking for more than 20 years. After a decade of gradual decline under a series of different owners, Kooralbyn closed in 2008. Current owner, Peter Huang, reopened the resort and adjoining course in 2016 and the significant multi-million dollar investment made to recapture the glory of the original Desmond Muirhead design is certainly evident.” – Brendan James.
95. RIVERSIDE OAKS RESORT (Gangurru Course)
Judge’s Comment: “I always enjoy playing the original Riverside Oaks course because there are plenty of memorable holes. My only ongoing criticism is the placement of cart paths alongside water hazards, especially on several back nine holes like 12, 17 and 18, which make for some unfair bounces.” – Scott Matthews.