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.
One of the memorable aspects of a round at Lady Bay is the strength of its quartet of par-3s. Arguably the best of the one-shotters is its longest – the 197-metre 17th. It is a beautiful hole. With the coastline off in the distance and tufted grasses swaying in the breeze and shimmering between tee and green, you feel immediately transported to the great links of Ireland. The green sits slightly above the tee, so the eight bunkers surrounding three sides of the putting surface are partially obscured from view. That said, the green opening is wide and receptive to tee shots landing short and running on.
Little more than 10 minutes’ drive down the coast is the New Terry Hotel and Golf Resort, formerly known as the Wirrina Cove Resort.
New owners took over the course in 2018 and immediately invested in improving the course. Irrigation and drainage was upgraded, while all the bunkers and some greens were remodelled. It is now presents a vastly improved golfing experience to what was offered before the change of ownership.
Not unlike Lady Bay, New Terry possesses a varied and quality set of par-3s. Many have a preference for the opening one-shotter—the 148-metre downhill 4th hole – because it boasts a look that pays homage to Augusta National’s famous 12th hole.
But for a tough challenge, I like the penultimate hole – a 186-metre journey across one of the highest points of the course, which makes its susceptible to the wind blowing off the sea in the distance beyond the putting surface. When the prevailing wind really blows here some may need a driver to reach the green, which is protected by two bunkers left and another short right. If you find the green and have a shot at making a birdie or par, take a minute to soak in the view of the ocean through the rolling hills.
Talking of views, there are few better than you will find from the 1st tee of the Victor Harbor Golf Club –a scenic 40-minute drive east to the other side of the peninsula.
Golf has been played on the current site for nearly 96 years and each golfer that has teed it up has been greeted by an uninterrupted view of Granite Island and Encounter Bay off in the distance beyond the 1st green below. The opening drive here is one of the most picturesque in Australian golf. This is not just a pretty hole either. At 402 metres, this par-4 is heavily tree-lined on both sides of the fairway. While the hole plays considerably shorter because of the highly elevated tee, the breeze here is also a factor on your length and accuracy.
One of the most memorable holes at Victor Harbor comes early in the round and is a fine example of nature dictating the design of a hole. The 150-metre par-3 3rd features a tee, surrounded by trees and shrubs, perched on one side of a deep gully and the green on the other side. A water hazard at the bottom of the gully doesn’t come into play for most players but the five bunkers surrounding the angled green certainly do.
Bunkers are even more plentiful at Victor Harbor’s second course, just 10 minutes’ drive away, at McCracken Country Club and Resort.
McCracken covers more dramatic terrain than its neighbour. The modern and spacious clubhouse and resort occupy the highest point of the layout. From here you can enjoy views of the course and in particular the three holes – the 1st, 10th and 18th – that lead to and from the resort hub.
The opening hole sets the scene for the remainder of the journey on this Tony Cashmore design, which weaves past more than 70 bunkers and a dozen lakes spread throughout layout. The 482-metre par-5 1st hole is a steep downward journey from the front of the resort, past fairway bunkers left and right, a lake left and onto a green that is tucked in behind a second lake that cuts into the fairway from the right. The hole, courtesy of the downhill grade, plays much shorter than the meterage on the scorecard and this brings the lake into play for the golfer looking to find the putting surface with their second shot.
Longer hitters will have similar goals when playing the 494-metre par-5 8th, which also plays downhill from an elevated tee. The first half of the excursion to the green is gradually downhill, before the fairway makes a steep drop to a lower level. The final 50 metres to the green features the most impressive bunker scheme on the course with a clover-shaped trap cutting in from the left and a long deep bunker lining the right of the fairway. This really narrows the opening into the large putting surface, which presents a real risk for players taking aim at the green in two shots.
Cashmore’s green complexes here are very good, with some imaginative shaping and contouring, while they are complemented by the quality of the Creeping bentgrass putting surfaces.
If you have a game at McCracken and have time to spare, plan a stay at the McCracken Country Club Resort and one more game in the area; this time at South Lakes Golf Club, just 20 minutes’ drive away at Goolwa, and nestled between the Southern Ocean and the mouth of the Murray River.
South Lakes is an easy-walking links-style course with wide Santa Anna couch fairways and the bunkering found throughout the layout has simply been carved from the sandy soil below.
I really liked the back nine holes with the quartet starting at the long par-4 14th being a highlight of the round for me.
The 381-metre 14th is rated the second hardest on the course and certainly doesn’t give up pars easily. The dogleg right is lined by out-of-bounds well to the right of the fairway that climbs over the crest of a small hill and creates a blind second shot for short hitters. Long hitters will still have an obscured view of the green and might be able to see just the top of the flag in the middle of a smallish green, which slopes from front-to-back.
From Goolwa, the drive south east to Kingston S.E is a beautiful one that takes in the edge of Lake Alexandrina and on through Coorong National Park. It is a three-hour trek but worth every moment.
The small seaside town of Kingston S.E (south east) is home of the Big Lobster, the historic Cape Jaffa lighthouse and another enjoyable par-72 layout.
The Kingston S.E Golf Club has a small membership and just one full-time greenkeeper but the quality of the course belies the numbers. In recent years, teams of volunteer workers have assisted in the redevelopment of the layout, guided by a masterplan outlined by Adelaide club professional Allan Telford.
The redesign included the replacement of all 18 greens, seven new fairways were developed including the radical change of two, 27 new teeing areas were built, ageing Cypress pine trees were removed and the irrigation system was upgraded.
The result of this spirited club and community work is a fun layout that is complemented by very good conditioning. The couch fairways have a well-groomed cover, while the bentgrass putting surfaces are smooth and run at a good speed.
The holes are routed across rippled land created by ancient dunes. This has given rise to some memorable holes the 358-metre par-4 9th. It is a very good driving hole with a wide fairway that features a rolling dune running diagonally across it. This can block the view of the green for the shorter hitters because the putting surface is set down in a dish with a small mound in front. That said, the shape of the land at the front and right of the putting surface will feed most shots onto the large green and, hopefully, near the pin.
Dunes are also a new feature of a round at Robe Golf Club, 30 minutes’ drive south via the Southern Ports highway.
While golf has been played at Robe since the mid-1920s, a major turning point in its history came in 2011 when the club took its first steps to expanding to an 18-hole course. The course, which was originally 14 holes, closed two holes and had the land sub-divided, which – along with a Federal Government grant – helped fund the club’s vision.
Course design team Neil Crafter and Paul Mogford (Golf Strategies) was commissioned to create six new holes starting west of the clubhouse and heading off into duneland behind West Beach. The new holes – from the 7th to the 12th – officially opened for play in November last year and are already gaining wide acclaim on social media from those players who have already sampled this sextet of holes.
The new holes follow the natural contouring of the dunes, along the coast. The par-4 7th plays directly to the west and the green lies in a natural amphitheatre among the dunes. Two radar huts from World War II, once secreted deep in the scrub-covered dunes, were restored and are a feature of the hole.
The short climb to the next tee slowly reveals a wonderful par-3, played across the top of a dune and usually into the teeth of the prevailing south-westerly, which brings a lone bunker front left of the putting surface into play. Crafter and Mogford’s work among the dunes at Robe is outstanding and the par-3 8th is the cream of the crop.
The golfing topography is equally impressive at Mt Gambier Golf Club, about 90 minutes’ drive south east and midway between Melbourne and Adelaide, just off the Princes Highway.
It is an undulating course that is widely regarded as being the best conditioned layout in the region.
The conditioning is complemented by plenty of holes where the elevation change from tee-to-green adds to the challenge. For example, the slightly uphill 500-metre par-5 7th offers a wide fairway but the ideal playing line from tee is to the right side before laying up to the left half of the short grass, to safely avoid bunkers short right of the small putting surface.
Having climbed the hill, the next tee looks down upon a kidney-shaped green 150-metres away. The green lies at a slight diagonal to any approaching tee shot, with a bunker left and right catching mis-hits. It’s the best of a fine collection of one-shot holes to be found at Mt Gambier.
The internationally renowned Coonawarra wine region can be found north of Mt Gambier. Lying at the heart of the region is Naracoorte, about 70 minutes’ drive via the Riddoch Highway.
The town is famous for its caves and being the home of South Australia’s only world heritage listed fossil site. Both are found on the south side of town en route to the wineries of the Coonawarra. To the north is the Naracoorte Golf Club, which was carved out of wild, thick scrub, wattles and bracken using horse and dray more than 80 years ago.
Much of the Limestone Coast region was inundated by sea about two million years ago, leaving the plains of today lined by low sand hills.
This left beautiful rolling terrain for golf and the deep sandy soil ensures the layout is not only playable all year round it is ideal for growing high quality turf. All of this combined to see Naracoorte crack a spot in Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses in 2017.
Elements of the design and set-up of the layout have obviously been influenced by the great courses of the Melbourne Sandbelt, particularly on holes that have had some remodelling in recent times.
For example, the 458-metre par-5 8th presents a blind drive to a generously wide fairway but if your aim is to go for the green in two hits your tee shot needs to be in the left half of the fairway. The same can be said for any shot laid-up short of the green because the angle of the green – front left to back right – with deep bunkers short right and long left, the easiest approach is to be played straight up the green. Club selection is also vital as the putting surface is trimmed right up to the lip of the back bunker – just like you might find at Royal Melbourne or Kingston Heath – so even the slightly over-clubbed shot will find the sand.
WHERE TO STAY
LINKS LADY BAY RESORT
Enjoy an overnight stay in a Links Lady Bay (pictured) superior King Spa Suite, have a continental breakfast delivered to your room to eat while overlooking the course from your balcony. Then you can head for a round in a cart, with a friend, before dining on some lunch.
A midweek (Monday to Thursday) play and stay package costs $375 per night, while the weekend package (Friday to Sunday inclusive) costs $425 per night.
NEW TERRY GOLF & HOTEL RESORT
Enjoy this picturesque part of the Fleurieu Peninsula at the New Terry Golf and Hotel Resort.
The resort offers a play and stay package with one night accommodation, a round of golf for two in a cart as well as a cooked or continental breakfast for two, starting from $219 (twin share).
New Terry also has a $299 package for two people playing a round at New Terry and Links Lady Bay in a motorised cart. One night accommodation with breakfast will be provided by New Terry Hotel.