Famed golf course designer Dr Alister MacKenzie once wrote: “A pleasurable golf course is not necessarily one that appeals at first sight, but rather one that grows on a player like good music, good painting, or good anything else”.

The man, who designed Augusta National and Royal Melbourne, went on to add: “there are many bad golf courses made in an attempt to eliminate the element of luck – a mistake surely. Luck is the zest of life, as well as of golf.”

The Links Lady Bay certainly doesn’t fall into MacKenzie’s category of bad courses. In fact, if MacKenzie were still with us today he would probably cast a wry smile as he looked out over the layout and be moved to say “what a pleasurable course this is.”

And I would have to agree.

The design team of Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and John Spencer created a wonderful links course that heads out from the clubhouse/resort in two loops of nine holes. 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.

The par-4 4th hole lies at the foot of a range, which provides a spectacular backdrop. PHOTO: Brendan James

Strategic mounding and bunkering on each hole introduces 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. For this reason, as MacKenzie quite rightly points out, The Links Lady Bay is an enjoyable course that calls for a full repertoire of shots from a variety of lies. Put simply, I don’t think a round at Lady Bay could ever be called boring.

Located 70km south of Adelaide at Normanville on the Fleurieu Peninsula, The Links Lady Bay is a testing 6,400 metres from the Tournament course (Blue) markers. The white markers offer a shorter 6,020 metres and is more suited to the longer marker.

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) back in 1994. The Links Lady Bay Unit Trust purchased more than 135 hectares of the dairy farming land later that year.

 It was no coincidence either as every judge on the Golf Australia Top-100 Courses panel that voted for Links Lady Bay commented positively about the improved presentation and its positive effect on the design and how the course played.

The land provided an ideal canvas for Newton, Grant and Spencer to make their 18-hole design debut two years later. The first nine opened in 1998 while the second nine took a further 18 months to complete and is now played as the outward half.

I really like the opening hole. I’m a great fan of a golf course that eases you into your game. At 356 metres, there is nothing overwhelming or tough about the par-4 1st. There is ample area down the dogleg right fairway to land your drive but the best line is from the slightly higher plateau in the left half of the fairway. This will give you the best view for the approach into the green, which is set in an amphitheatre created by sand dunes.

There is very little margin for error when approaching the green on the par-4 12th hole. PHOTO: Brendan James

The 339-metre par-4 4th is one of my favourites on the front nine. Flanked by a steep range to the left and beyond the green, this hole runs across the highest section of the front nine and offers nice 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. In my opinion, the green is a little too dramatically shaped but it does place a premium on club selection and accuracy.

The placement of pins on the green will certainly effect 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 as the green is wedged between a small creek and a bunker that is in the corner of the L-shaped putting surface. Don’t do as I did and leave your approach in the wrong section of the green.

While length is always a bonus to any golfer on any golf course, it certainly pays to stay straight around Lady Bay. The design team created several good short par-4s, like the 4th, where the drive MUST find the fairway 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 mounding to the right of the fairway, the green is cut near the top of a gentle rise. A short iron is all that is needed to reach the green from the valley 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 incredible touch to walk away with less than three putts.

The driving zone on the par-4 10th gets narrower the further you hit from the tee. PHOTO: Brendan James

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 more than 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 The Links Lady Bay is the 197-metre 17th. It is a beautiful hole. With the coastline off in the distance and deep fescue shimmering between tee and green, it offers a real touch of what you will find on the north-west coast of Ireland.

Played into a westerly, a full-blooded drive might be needed 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 and hats off to the designers for leaving the entry to the green wide open so players of all standards have a shot at making par. But trouble is never far away if you’re off line with eight bunkers surrounding the putting surface, with several semi-hidden to the right.

The greens at The Links Lady Bay have always impressed. The Bent grass putting surfaces were faultless and in excellent condition during my visit. They were quick, without being silly, and rolled as true as the bentgrass greens you might find up the road at Royal Adelaide or Kooyonga.

If there was one criticism of The Links Lady Bay I had for many years it was the conditioning of all the playing surfaces, with the exception of the greens. The bunkers had inconsistent amounts of sand and the fairways didn’t match the high standard of the putting surfaces.

Wispy fescues and golden rough suggest a taste of Ireland to be found in South Australia. PHOTO: Brendan James

The Links Lady Bay has improved dramatically in the past few years. During my visit to compile this review, I had never seen the course looking better. It was no coincidence either as every judge on the Golf Australia Top-100 Courses panel that voted for Links Lady Bay commented positively about the improved presentation and its positive effect on the design and how the course played.

I loved The Links at Lady Bay. Sure, I had a good score but at the end of the round I found my thoughts drifting to the holes I’d played, not the way I had played the holes. I had my fair share of lucky bounces and a few bad ones as well but it had been an absolute pleasure to play. But that’s golf and that’s the way the great designers, like MacKenzie, believed it should be played.  

THE COURSE

LOCATION: St Andrews Boulevard, Normanville, South Australia, 5204

CONTACT: (08) 8558 0600. (08) 8558 0650 (pro shop).

WEBSITE: www.linksladybay.com.au

DESIGNERS: Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and John Spencer (1998).

SLOPE RATINGS: 140 (blue), 139 (white), 123 (yellow), 131 (red women), 138 (yellow women).

PLAYING SURFACES: Couch fairways, bentgrass greens.

GREEN FEES: $48.

PGA PROFESSIONALS: Simon Pope, Sarah Douglass Norris.

THE CLUB

MEMBERSHIP: Links Lady Bay offers seven-day full memberships and Pay-As-You-Go memberships, available from $380.

THE RESORT: Links Lady Bay Resort offers 28 spacious and luxurious one bedroom spa suites with large corner spas and private balconies. Each room is designed to embrace the natural space and surroundings that is the Fleurieu Peninsula, balconies offering 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.

The resort also has a gym and a day spa,where guests can escape their daily routine and indulge in treatments that are relaxing, refreshing and revitalising.

PLAY & STAY PACKAGES: Stay overnight in a King spa suite and enjoy a continental breakfast delivered to your room while overlooking the course. After your round, you can enjoy a light lunch in the Peninsular Café with a glass of wine, beer or champagne. The package is $389 per night twin share (Friday or Saturday night stay), or $339 twin share per night (Sunday to Thursday). To book, call (08) 8558 0600 or email bookings@linksladybay.com.au