A round at Links Lady Bay encapsulates everything that is enjoyable about links golf – the elements, beautifully defined terrain, firm playing surfaces and a little bit of ‘lady’ luck.
To be frank, I didn’t think much of Links Lady Bay the first time I saw it back in 2000, not long after the back nine holes were completed to round out the full 18-hole course.
But I have been back 15 or 16 times during the past two decades and, on each occasion,
I have found something new to like about the course.
I’ve come to appreciate the quality of the green complexes, the placement of the fairway bunkering and the routing, which takes into account the terrain and the wind direction. Combine this with the consistently high standard of presentation of the playing surfaces and it is easy to really enjoy a round at Links Lady Bay.
The one thing I have always liked about Links Lady Bay is the firmness of its presentation, which encourages the ‘luck of the bounce’ and excites every golfer no matter what their ability. You would expect this at a true links course but you might be surprised to learn not all ‘links’ courses play as firm and are sometimes overwatered.
Not Links Lady Bay though. Firm fairways and greens have many benefits, with the greatest being the overall playability of the course for golfers of all standards as length of shot becomes far less important than controlling your golf ball.
The firm playing conditions also extract the best traits of the design by Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and John Spencer, who undoubtedly followed the traditions of the best links layouts of Great Britain and Ireland in crafting Links Lady Bay.
Two loops of nine holes head out in opposite directions from in front of the resort. Each hole runs in a different direction to the previous, which challenges the golfer to become a keen judge of the breeze from all points of the compass. Strategic mounding, bunkering and small bumps and hollows on each hole introduce the element of luck – whether it is good or bad – with the bounce of the ball being heavily dictated by the lie of the land. With a full repertoire of shots from a variety of lies required during any round, Links Lady Bay is one course you could play every day for the rest of your life and never get bored doing so.
Located 70km south of Adelaide at Normanville on the Fleurieu Peninsula, Links Lady Bay is a testing 6,400 metres from the tournament course (blue) markers. The Medal course (white markers) is shorter at 6,020 metres and is more suited to the longer handicapper.
The coastal plain wedged between rolling hills and the waters of the Gulf of St Vincent was rezoned from general farming to residential (golf course) in 1994. The Links Lady Bay Unit Trust purchased more than 135 hectares of the dairy farming land later that year. The land provided an ideal canvas for Newton, Grant and Spencer to make their 18-hole design debut two years later. The first nine was opened in 1998 while the back nine took a further 18 months.
I really like the opening hole. I’m a great fan of a course that eases you into your round. At 356 metres, there is nothing brutal about the par-4 1st. There is ample area down the dogleg right fairway to land your drive but the best approach into the green is from the left half of the fairway. The green is set in a hollow surrounded by large dunes and slopes markedly from right-to-left.
The 339-metre par-4 4th is one of my favourites on the front nine. Flanked by surrounding hills to the left and beyond the green, this hole runs across the highest section of the front nine and offers great views of the course and the Gulf of St Vincent.
After playing a blind drive over a gentle rise, you are faced with an interesting approach shot to an L-shaped green. It is an unusually shaped putting surface, but it does challenge you to get your second shot club selection correct and then to execute the shot with a high degree of accuracy, otherwise your third shot might force you to play away from the flag. The placement of pins on the 4th 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. Don’t do as I have done many times and leave your approach in the wrong section of this green.
The greens at Links Lady Bay will also impress. The bentgrass surfaces have gained a reputation over the years for generally being some of the best in South Australia. On my latest visit a few months ago, they were, again, in excellent condition. The greens were quick, without being silly, and rolled true. Much of this can be attributed to what I mentioned earlier – the firm presentation of the course. When the greens are firm enough not to leave pitch marks, you don’t have to worry about those selfish golfers who sadly do not repair theirs and contribute to bumpy, and sometimes unhealthy, putting surfaces.
While length is always a bonus to any golfer on any golf course, it certainly pays to stay straight around Links Lady Bay.
The design team created several good short par-4s, like the aforementioned 4th, where the drive must be hit into the correct half side of the fairway (relative to the flag position on the day) and the approach must be directed to the best part of the green for stress-free putting. This is no more apparent than on the 330-metre 10th. A picturesque hole with large bunkers left and lots of mounds right of the fairway, the green is cut midway up a gentle rise. A short iron or pitch is all that is needed to reach the elevated green but it is a tough shot to get close. Bunkers lurk short and a ridge runs through the green separating the pin areas at the back. Anyone putting from the wrong side will need deft touch to walk away with less than three putts.
Accuracy aside, long hitters will come to the fore on two back nine holes. The 425-metre par-4 12th is a brute, especially into a tough south-easterly breeze. The drive is through a chute of sand dunes to an open fairway but well below the green. While your approach must be straight it must also be long enough to get back to the flag. The green is over 30 metres long and any approach dribbling on the front of the putting surface could leave a monster putt.
Arguably the best par-3 at Lady Bay is the 197-metre 17th. It is a beautiful hole. With the coastline off in the distance and tufted grasses shimmering between tee and green, you feel immediately transported to Ireland’s west coast. It is one of the most exposed areas of the course – so exposed that during construction local schoolchildren were employed to hand plant veldt grass in the dunes surrounding the 17th green to stop them from blowing away. Played into a strong westerly, some players might need a full-blooded drive to get home. Downwind I suggest bouncing a mid-iron in short and letting it run to the flag. There are no hazards in front of the green, but it is surrounded by sand.
Every time I get back to Links Lady Bay these days, I love it. I’ve learned where to miss, the best playing lines and the breaks on some of the more subtle sloping greens. Now, in amongst the good and bad bounces, I just need to find a swing that can convert all that knowledge and appreciation of the course into a better score.
LOCATION: St Andrews Blvd, Normanville, South Australia, 5204.
CONTACT: (08) 8558 0600; (08) 8558 0650 (pro shop).
DESIGNERS: Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and John Spencer (2000).
PGA PROFESSIONALS: David Galloway, Sarah Douglass Norris.
GREEN FEES: $45 (18 holes, weekdays); $57.50 (weekends, pub. holidays).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Steve Guy.
PLAYING SURFACES: Mixture of Crenshaw 1020 and Pennlinks bentgrass (greens), Santa Ana couch (tees and fairways).
MEMBERSHIP: Links Lady Bay offers a range of memberships including a
seven-day full membership ($1,330) to six- and five-day categories, as well as nine-hole and interstate memberships.
PLAY & STAY: Links Lady Bay Resort offers 28 spacious and luxurious one-bedroom spa suites with large corner spas and private balconies. Each room offers a balcony with golf course and ocean views. All of the Standard and Superior rooms sleep up to four people and are located on levels two and three of the resort.
ACCOLADES: Ranked No.70 in Golf Australia magazine’s Top-100 Courses for 2020; Ranked No.51 in Golf Australia magazine’s Top-100 Public Access Courses for 2021.