A new owner, a new name, a new course superintendent and this South Australian gem is starting to sparkle again.
THE highway between Adelaide and Victor Harbor is one of the most travelled roads in South Australia. It feeds the McLaren Vale wine region, the popular Fleurieu Peninsula and tourist spots along the south coast.
In the heart of the region is Mt Compass, about 45 minutes’ drive south of the Adelaide CBD, which has been a sand-mining town for decades. So it should be of little surprise that the local golf course lies on what was, up until the early 1990s, a sand mine owned by A.G. Bennetts Pty Ltd. The company decided to turn the mined land into a golf course. On a visit to the property, course designer and golf commentator, the late Brian Crafter, told the owners: “This would be a nice place to build a golf course.”
He was then commissioned to do the job. Crafter died before construction of the front nine holes started. His son, Neil, took over the project and the front nine was completed in 1995. When it was decided a second nine holes should be added Neil was commissioned to design it. Holes 10 through 18 were opened in 1998.
But, by 2013, the course, then known as Fleurieu Golf Club, was struggling and the evidence of that was out on the course. This fabulous design was in a poor state and word spread pretty quickly that the layout’s condition was in rapid decline. A big part of the problem was few knew the layout existed.
With so many attractions along this stretch of road, it used to be commonplace for golfers to miss one of the two signs leading them to the course. Even the current owner, Adelaide-based Stephen Connor, missed the turn off when he ventured down the highway in 2016 to inspect the course after hearing it was on the market.
“The place was struggling,” says Connor, who bought the course a few months after that initial inspection. “It needed a significant amount of capital injected into it. It had been unloved for a number of years and needed a lot of attention. But we’re investing in the course, making changes along the way and the benefits are out there for all to see.”
Connors’ first point of business was to change the name to Mt Compass Golf Course, to better reflect its location, and to organise better signage out on the main road.
He then enticed Philip Tripodi to head down the highway from Royal Adelaide Golf Club to become the course superintendent. Connor also contacted Neil Crafter to come back and look at what changes needed to be made to fix his design.
Vast areas of overgrown vegetation were removed, trees with limbs encroaching on playing lines were cut down and most of the 89 bunkers at Mt Compass were renovated. When I returned to Mt Compass recently to compile this story it felt like I had travelled back in time to 1999 when I first laid eyes on Crafter’s creation. Back then it felt like you were walking onto a sandbelt course, which was a little rough around the edges but wonderfully presented. I had that same feeling just a few months back when I visited, except the condition of the playing surfaces are now even better.
As you might imagine, the sand base gave Crafter ‘carte blanche’ when it came to designing bunkers at Mt Compass. And what a great job he did in not overdoing the task. Of the 89 bunkers scattered throughout the course, some have the rough, natural edge associated with some of the great links courses of Scotland and are often copied, without success. That isn’t the case here. Some of the large, natural bunkering – like that found down the right of the 1st fairway and behind the 6th green – is superb.
Other sand traps are of the smaller pot bunker style. They are, in most cases, deep with a seemingly endless supply of fresh sand beneath your feet. Each of these sandy hazards is very well placed to catch the overzealous or misdirected drive and errant approach shot.
The bunkers aside, there are two other great qualities Mt Compass possesses – superb greens and well-designed risk and reward holes. The large greens have a great covering of Pennlinks bentgrass and Crafter has shaped them to make the most of greenside bunkers and offer a wide variety of pin positions. Some of the greens also sit at a diagonal to the fairway or are wider than they are deep, placing a premium on club selection.
When pundits talk about the ‘risk and reward holes’ of a golf course, it is usually in reference to par-5s. However, Mt Compass offers risk and reward par-4 holes, especially on the front nine.
Perhaps my favourite hole of the front nine is the dogleg left par-4 6th. It measures 358-metres from the back tee, which is surrounded by long grass and has a small lake in front. You are also immediately aware of a swamp to the right of fairway. Now you have an option here. You can play safe toward the 150-metre marker visible down the fairway, or you can take your driver and hit straight over the swamp, on a line right of the fairway pot off in the distance. It is a carry of about 180 metres to a tongue of fairway that shoots off the right side of the bending fairway. Find the ‘tongue’ and a wedge to the green is all that is required.
Mt Compass does possess a fabulous risk and reward par-5 and it opens the back nine in spectacular fashion. At 442 metres, long hitters will be licking their lips in anticipation of making the green in two shots. 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. It is 290 metres to the end of the first stretch of fairway and, from there, it is 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 wild hitting is severely penalised.
Connor is hoping to put Mt Compass on the golfing map, here and overseas. If the dramatic improvement shown in the course during the past 20 months is any indication of what lies ahead, he’s well on his way.
LOCATION: George Francis Dve, Mt Compass, South Australia, 5210.
CONTACT: (08) 8556 8022; (08) 8556 8500 (pro shop).
DESIGNERS: Neil and Brian Crafter (1995); Neil Crafter (1998 and ongoing).
PLAYING SURFACES: Couch (fairways); Pennlinks bentgrass (greens).
GREEN FEES: $35 (weekdays); $45 (weekends and public holidays). Discount rates available for junior golfers.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Philip Tripodi.
MEMBERSHIP: Mt Compass offers Playing Rights contracts, which stand for 12 months and are designated to individual golfers. Playing Rights are offered in the following categories – Seven Day ($1,350 per annum inc $100 clubhouse levy); Five Day ($850 per annum inc $100 clubhouse levy); PayPlay ($450 per annum inc $100 clubhouse levy plus discounted green fees) and Junior ($100 per annum for under 18 year old applicants). Application forms are available via the website.
LAND SALE: Mt Compass’ first release (Stage 1) includes only seven allotments, all of which have direct frontage to the golf course. With areas ranging from 800m2 to 940m2 the allotments all enjoy north facing frontages to George Francis Drive and sweeping southern views across the course and hills beyond.