Inspired by the principles of Dr Alister MacKenzie, course architect Neil Crafter’s creation at Mt Compass ticks all the boxes when it comes to fun, strategic golf for players of all standards.
MacKenzie is arguably the most revered golf course architect in the history of the game, with his finest creations regarded amongst the best in the world nearly 90 years after his passing.
Legendary layouts like Royal Melbourne West, Augusta National, Crystal Downs, Pasatiempo and, of course, Cypress Point are the greatest examples of his determination to create strategic and fun designs no matter what the land offered him. While his brilliant courses remain a living legacy for all golfers to enjoy, it could be argued that his greatest legacy to the game has been inspiring generations of devotee course architects. Architects like Neil Crafter.
Crafter is not only a course designer but a renowned course architecture historian, specialising in the lives and works of MacKenzie and his Australian-based associate Alex Russell.
A four-time South Australian Amateur Champion and 1984 Australian Eisenhower Cup team representative, Crafter has been designing courses for nearly three decades – firstly alongside his late father, Brian, and in more recent years in partnership with Paul Mogford as the founders of Crafter + Mogford Golf Strategies.
It was while working with his father in the early 1990s that Crafter first saw the property that is now home to the Mt Compass Golf Course, about 45 minutes’ drive south of Adelaide’s CBD on the beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula.
Brian Crafter stumbled across the property in 1992 while scouting for premium bunker sand to supply his various course designs elsewhere. He was so taken by the serene and picturesque setting adjacent to the sand mine site, that he convinced the land owner and quarry operator to transform the rolling landscape into a golf course.
Sadly, Brian died before construction of the front nine holes started so Neil took over the project, with the front nine being completed in 1995 and holes 10 to 18 coming into play three years later.
More than two decades on, Mt Compass has rarely been presented better and fully complements Crafter’s par-72 design that tests patience and acumen as much as it tantalises visually. It is surely no coincidence that its improved conditioning in recent years, which has only enhanced the design, has led to Mt Compass climbing the national ranking lists. In January this year, the South Australian gem soared 17 places to reach No.42 in Golf Australia magazine’s Top-100 Public Access Courses ranking, making it one of the most improved courses in the nation in recent years.
Inspired by MacKenzie’s famous 13 Principles of Golf Course Design, first published in his book Golf Architecture in 1920 – Crafter’s design philosophy is clearly evident at Mt Compass. There is a large portion of good two shot holes, two or three drive and pitch holes and four one-shot holes; every hole should have a different character; there should be a number of heroic carries from the tee, but the course should be arranged so that the weaker golfer shall always have an alternate route and; the course should be so interesting that even the plus man is constantly stimulated to improve his game in attempting shots he has hitherto been unable to play. Based on these selected MacKenzie principles alone, Crafter’s Mt Compass ticks all the boxes.
Mt Compass is not long at 6,116 metres from the tips, but it doesn’t have to be long to be challenging and fun. Without length as a defence, this is a thinker’s course where long isn’t necessarily best and trouble from the tee can mean re-loading. Taking driver, or to play it safe with a trusty hybrid, is the question asked of all players from the tee on the par-4s and 5s. And just as the rewards are on offer for aggressive play, the punishment for an errant hit is as much a companion as the joy in mastering any of the Crafters’ 18 thoughtful offerings.
For example. The 6th hole is a sharp dogleg right par-4 of 353 metres with water and marshes guarding the direct line to the green, and is a classic risk-and-reward dilemma. Take on the hazard with driver and you’ll need to fly the ball a good 200 metres to safety. With bunkers ready to catch anything right, you will also need to hit a precise line for full value. Do that, and you’re rewarded with little more than a wedge or 9-iron to the green. Option B, is to play around the water. The downside with this conservative play is you will be left with a long shot into a slightly elevated putting surface with, possibly, the prevailing breeze into your face. But that’s the beauty of this hole – it switches off the automatic driver selection and, instead, makes you consider the factors of the day, from weather conditions to the quality of your ball-striking.
Though the signature 6th asks plenty of questions, the 3rd hole is the one that will grab your attention early in the round. Again, the common link is the threat of water. A dogleg left; the 3rd is not a long par-4 at 358 metres but it demands precision from tee to green.
Slicers, look out. Right-handers who can’t draw the ball, even slightly, might struggle on this hole. A series of ponds line the right rough, while huge pine trees stand like sentinels to the left. The aggressive play is a daring right-to-left shape that threads the red stakes to the right and the bunkers and out-of-bounds fence on the left. Even from the fairway bunkers the average golfer will still have a 160-metre journey to a shallow, kidney-shaped green with a pot bunker in front and a large ‘Sandbelt-style’ bunker at the back. Any pin position tucked to the far right here sits just beyond the tongue of another lake, leaving a daunting shot view even from the middle of the fairway.
The shortest of the par-5s at Mt Compass is also the most interesting. The 442-metre 10th leads you away from just beneath the clubhouse down to a fairway flanked by easily-reached bunkers left and right of the generous landing zone. The right half of the fairway is preferable to give you a good look beyond the corner of the sharp dogleg left as the fairway climbs steadily toward the angled green. There are seven bunkers, some impenetrable long felt grass and native banksias lining the final approach, so your lay up here needs to be precise.
The par-3s are all gems, ranging in length from the 140-metre 9th to the 201-metre 14th hole. The pick of the short holes, however, is the 12th, which at 173 metres from the tips makes it a tricky par in anyone’s book. The elevated tee – terraced in the shadows of a forest of pines offers panoramic views back towards the clubhouse – has you hitting over water to a wide green protected by three bunkers. Again, the large putting surface means pin positions can either leave you resigned to donating your ball to the watery grave on the right, or seeing nothing but dry land to the left. That said, I once played this hole with an elderly gent whose very best drive was no more than 160-165 metres. He teed up his driver here and hit the most beautiful little fade that saw his ball came back to earth about 20 metres short and left of the green before following the terrain all the way to finish 10 feet shy of a back right flag.
As MacKenzie may or may not have noted, there is more than one way to skin a cat in getting your ball in the hole in the least number of shots. That is a certainly a philosophy which applies throughout a round at Mt Compass.
LOCATION: George Francis Dve, Mt Compass, South Australia, 5210.
DESIGNERS: Neil and Brian Crafter (1995); Neil Crafter (1998 and ongoing).
PLAYING SURFACES: Couch (fairways); Pennlinks bentgrass (greens).
GREEN FEES: $50 (weekdays); $60 (weekends and public holidays). Juniors (Under 18) $25 (weekdays), $30 (weekends). Discount rates available for pensioners.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Matt Overall.
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 ($1,750 per annum inc $75 clubhouse levy); Five Day ($1,250 per annum inc $50 clubhouse levy); and Junior ($275 per annum for under 18 years applicants). Application forms are available via the website, while instalment payment options are available.