South Australia is home to some of the world’s great wineries. If you have a penchant for a good drop of red, and you love playing golf, here’s how you can combine the two pursuits into a terrific (responsible) driving holiday.
Adelaide is a fine golfing city. The likes of Royal Adelaide, Kooyonga, The Grange and Glenelg are world-class clubs and layouts that attract the lion’s share of visiting golfers to South Australia.
But beyond the city limits are a selection of terrific courses and underrated golfing destinations, especially if you point the car south and take in the scenic and culinary delights of the Fleurieu Peninsula before venturing on to the natural wonders of the Limestone Coast.
A 60-minute drive from the CBD via the M2 will put you in the heart of the Fleurieu region, which extends from Willunga through to Cape Jervis – where you can catch a ferry to Kangaroo Island – and east to Goolwa where the Murray River meets the sea.
The Fleurieu has long been acclaimed for the quality of its wine growing at McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the southern Fleurieu. It is also renowned for its natural beauty with a mix of rolling hills, rugged coastline, national parks and beaches, while historic towns like Victor Harbor, Goolwa, Yankalilla and Willunga afford visitors a touch of old world charm.
It should come as no surprise then that the peninsula has become a holiday playground, perfect for day trips, weekends away and, of course, golf holidays.
In recent years, golf has emerged as a star attraction of the Fleurieu with quality courses drawing serious numbers of golfers to the region.
Willunga, the second-oldest town in South Australia, is nestled into the lower end of the Adelaide ranges midway between the seaside town of Victor Harbour and the state capital. It also marks the northern gateway into the Fleurieu and the first opportunity to get the golf clubs out of the car and head out for a hit.
Willunga Golf Club was formed in 1973 with the intention to develop a nine-hole course. Extra holes were added over the years and in 1991 the layout was designed to incorporate a residential zone within the course precinct.
Willunga opens strongly with a 391-metre par-4 dogleg right. The fairway is heavily tree-lined, which makes up for the fact there are no bunkers to be found on this hole.
What the opener lacks in sand, the short par-4 2nd makes up for with five bunkers, and a lake, protecting the large green, which lies just 260 metres from back markers. Long hitters might like their chance of reaching the green from the tee, in the right conditions, but the shot must be very precise to avoid trouble.
As you might expect from a layout that only measures 5,553 metres from the tips, there are plenty of shorter holes including five par-3s and six par-4s under 340 metres. But don’t underestimate the quality of some of these holes as they will challenge players of all standards. Even the 112-metre 5th can prove a stumbling block if you’re caught with the wrong club in hand when the wind really blows across the course. A creek cuts in front and skirts the right edge and back of the green, which slopes markedly from left-to-right.
Heading south, out of historic Willunga, via Victor Harbor Road and you can be on the 1st tee of the Mt Compass Golf Course within 20 minutes.
The layout lies across land that was once used for sand mining, making it idyllic to grow high quality turf and shape an enjoyable as well as challenging course.
The course has flourished under new ownership in the past four years, which has been reflected in its surge in the national rankings. In January 2016, the par-72 finished 148th out of 150-odd courses that received votes from judges for Golf Australia’s Top-100 Courses ranking. Two years later, Mt Compass edged closer to cracking the century. In January this year it burst into the Top-100 at No.81 and, based on its continued improvement, the Neil Crafter design is destined for a higher standing.
Mt Compass boasts some very good risk-and-reward holes and one of the best of them is the par-5 10th. Two long and straight blows here can set up an eagle or easy birdie to open the back nine. 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. However, it is 290 metres to the end of the first stretch of fairway and, from here, 150 metres up to the elevated green, which sits diagonally to your approach. Bunkers, 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 a miscued approach shot will be punished.
One hole you will be certain to remember is the 173-metre par-3 12th hole. An elevated tee leaves nothing to the imagination – a lake stretches out below, in front and to the right of the wide green. A large bunker short and two smaller pits to the left are best avoided. If you’re a right-hander, who hits with a gentle fade you’ll love this hole (I did).
It is a picturesque 45-minute country drive from Mt Compass to the Links Lady Bay Resort, which opened for play in 1998.
The design team of Jack Newton, Graeme Grant and John Spencer successfully transformed grazing land into a links layout that has been entrenched among the nation’s Top-100 ranked courses for more than two decades. Earlier this year it was No.70 in Golf Australia’s biennial ranking.
The course covers a coastal plain wedged between rolling hills and the waters of the Gulf of St Vincent and is routed in two loops of nine holes that head out from the resort, which overlooks the front nine. Each hole runs in a different direction to the previous, which challenges the golfer to become a keen judge of the ever-present breeze.