Golf: King’s Land

  • James Y. Bartlett

As every Adelaide resident will remind you at the outset of any conversation, their city was founded by genteel freemen, not the convicts and ne’er-do-wells who first settled Sydney. Perhaps this helps explain Adelaide’s affinity for the gentleman’s game of golf.

Washed by the breezes of the Gulf of St. Vincent in South Australia, Adelaide enjoys a dry, Mediterranean-like climate. The city is best known for its cricket oval and for the bounties of nearby vineyards (the Barossa Valley is just an hour north), but Adelaide also boasts a rich golfing tradition. Royal Adelaide, designed by Alister Mackenzie, has hosted the Australian Open nine times; Queens land native Greg Norman won his first professional tournament at the Grange; and the Kooyonga Golf Club hosts the annual Jacob’s Creek Open, a joint event of the Australasian Tour and the U.S. Nationwide Tour.

Located just south and west of the city center, all three of Adelaide’s top courses take advantage of the rolling, sandy terrain and the weathered coastal pines, often abuzz with the chatter of white cockatoos. The Grange is probably the gentlest of the three, despite its tight fairways and small, wildly undulating greens. For some, the highlight of a round on the course comes after the 18th hole: The clubhouse sommelier stocks several vintages of Penfolds Grange Shiraz, which, to borrow the Jacob’s Creek winery slogan, is truly Australia’s “top drop.”

While its partnership with Jacob’s Creek may not be as prestigious as a Penfolds affiliation, the Kooyonga Golf Club has no apologies to make. Its fairways are wider than those at the Grange, but Kooyonga is closer to the sea, and so wind is always a factor. Many of its greens are elevated above the fairways and surrounded by unfriendly bunkers. Add some troublesome rough and the occasional small burn, and Kooyonga presents an endlessly challenging round of golf.

Royal Adelaide, however, is the region’s finest golf course. The track stretches through an open meadow from a one-story brick clubhouse, and the hand of Mackenzie, the designer of Cypress Point and Augusta National, is apparent on almost every hole. His bunkering is sublime–he placed sand everywhere on the course where a ball is supposed to land–and his green complexes are diverse, each demanding that the golfer have a plan A and a plan B for the approach.

Royal Adelaide’s third hole, seemingly a pushover at 300 yards, features a layup area the size of a lunch napkin, and a green protected by grassy mounds, bunkers, and thick rough. Norm Van Nida, one of Australia’s top professionals, once had a four-stroke lead in the Australian Open coming into the third. Seven strokes later, he was trailing by two.

The 11th is another of Royal’s jewels. The drive must be threaded between a Scylla and Charybdis of mounds, leaving a short-iron approach to an oblique green sitting in a natural bowl and surrounded by bunkers. Suffice it to say that, whether in Adelaide or Arizona, they just don’t make golf holes–or courses–like this anymore.

The Grange Golf Club, +61.8.8355.7100, www.grangegolf.com.au
Kooyonga Golf Club, +61.8.8352.5444
Royal Adelaide Golf Club, +61.8.8356.5511, www.royaladelaidegolf.com.au

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