A pair of debutants, multiple entries and exits, plus the return of some old friends highlight the most comprehensive ranking of Australia’s Top 100 Golf Courses.
Not much sits idle in this game or in this world, and so it is once again for Australian Golf Digest’s biennial ranking of Australia’s Top 100 Golf Courses.
For 2018, the Australian publication added three new criteria to its judging criteria to give judges more benchmarks against which to appraise courses and also to fall into line with the global Golf Digest network.
This is the first year the Resistance to Scoring, Aesthetics and Ambience criteria have been included. (More of the Golf Digest global affiliates using the same methodology improves the accuracy of the world lists.)
Overall, the Australian judging panel lodged scores for nearly 200 different courses across Australia. It scored courses on seven criteria:
Shot Values (score out of 20):
How well do the holes pose a variety of risks and rewards and equally test length, accuracy and finesse?
Resistance to Scoring (out of 10):
How difficult, while still being fair, is the course for a scratch player from the back tees?
Design Variety (out of 10):
How varied are the holes in differing lengths, configurations, hazard placements, green shapes and green contours?
Memorability (out of 10):
How well do the design features provide individuality to each hole yet a collective continuity to the entire 18?
Aesthetics (out of 10):
How well do the scenic values of the course add to the pleasure of a round?
Conditioning (out of 10):
How firm, fast and rolling were the fairways, how firm yet receptive were the greens and how true were the roll of putts on the day you played the course?
Ambience (out of 10):
How well does the overall feel and atmosphere of the course reflect or uphold the traditional values of the game?
To arrive at a course’s final score, total its averages in the seven categories, doubling Shot Values to create a score out of 80.
In the 16 editions of Australia’s Top 100 Courses since publishing the first list in 1986, a total of 219 courses have at one time or another been included. Only 24 courses have featured on the list each time.
With either its Composite or West courses, Royal Melbourne has sat atop every ranking bar one. However, as scores filtered in from judges, it appeared the great dame’s place upon her throne is not without challenge.
Perennial bridesmaid Kingston Heath and King Island’s Cape Wickham are breathing down its neck and, based on the average points they accrued this year and last time, either one could usurp mighty Royal Melbourne in the future.
Such a potential overthrow has trickle-down effects. With the calibre of courses now sitting just outside testament to that. It’s likewise with the coveted top-10. The fact that former top-10 staples Victoria, Metropolitan, The Australian and The National’s Moonah course are now on the outside looking in would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
But hand it to the newcomers of recent times, because architecturally they’ve been stunning – and made an instant impact. Hence, an obvious talking point is where on the list the new courses land. Ocean Dunes’ first ranking was always going to spark attention. And it is a similar situation for the ultra-private Cathedral Lodge and the ultra-public Black Bull.
This time, however, there’s a little more to the ins and outs of the list. Royal Canberra makes its return after an overhaul, while enough work is complete at the partially redesigned Sun City to see it return. Curlewis appears for the first time, while four courses made returns after absences of varying durations: Arundel Hills, Cypress Lakes, Mount Compass and Noosa Springs.
Of the courses ranked in 2016, Brisbane Golf Club enjoyed the biggest move by leaping 15 places to 81st. In the other direction, the St John course at The Heritage fell 14 places to 94th amid mixed feedback from judges. Eight courses dropped out of the Top 100. Bidding farewell for now are: Alice Springs, Araluen, Cranbourne, Horsham, Monash, Palmer Resort Coolum, Riversdale and Tasmania, a course that leaves for the first time ever.
A trio of courses were intentionally omitted from the ranking due to significant works rendering them unrateable: the North and South courses at Peninsula-Kingswood in Melbourne and Concord in Sydney.
Conversely, 15 courses are presently occupying their highest ranking, not including the three brand new entrants. Overall there was less movement than in previous rankings, with 34 courses shifting by five places or more. That figure was 43 in 2016, 39 in 2014 and 42 in 2012.
Numbers, numerics, and narrow outcomes – it all adds up to Australian Golf Digest’s 16th ranking of Australia’s Top 100 Courses and the final list for this decade.
With various new courses in the pipeline in places as diverse as Sydney’s south-western fringe, Brisbane, Hobart, Wollongong, in coastal South Australia and on Kangaroo Island (and perhaps even more for King Island), this exercise will only become more intriguing into the future.
5. New South Wales
Down 1 Place
Highest ranking: 2 (2006, ’08, ’10)
Ranked fifth in three of the past four lists, New South Wales has bounced between the two Barnbougle courses for several years but has retained that top-five position throughout. Once a potential challenger for the top spot, the course today consistently gathers scores that make it a comfortable leader in its state as judges continue to applaud the timeless charm of the grand ol’ dame.
4. Barnbougle Dunes
Up 1 Place
Highest ranking: 4 (2010, ’12, ’14, ’18)
Now ranked fourth in four of its seven rankings, there are some on the panel who regard it as a genuine top-two threat. Time will tell if that ever eventuates, but for now Barnbougle Dunes can revel in an array of strong scores across the board. Despite its northern Tasmanian location, the original Barnbougle layout was one of the most-played courses by judges this ranking period.
3. Cape Wickham
Highest ranking: 3 (2016, ’18)
Cape Wickham managed to rocket into third spot on debut two years ago despite a weak result for Conditioning, leaving the impression it had the potential to perhaps take over top spot. It didn’t happen this time, but an overall points gap of just 0.42 (out of 80) from the top-ranked course suggests the King Island gem has what it takes.
2. Kingston Heath
Highest ranking: 1 (2010)
A mere 0.03 points separates the top pair, yet neither changed positions for the fourth consecutive occasion. The one-time No.1 closed the gap this year by edging the top-ranked course in three of the seven scoring criteria, as the closeness of the outcome illustrates how many ardent Kingston Heath fans are on the panel. The upset of 2010 could repeat itself one day.
1. Royal Melbourne (West)
Highest ranking: 1 (1986, ’89, ’91, ’94, ’96, ’98, 2000, ’02, ’04, ’06, ’08, ’12, ’14, ’16, ’18)
Still the one. Royal Melbourne’s West course averaged 72.06 points out of 80 to keep its nose in front of its fellow Sandbelt denizen this time around. However, no lead is safe as Kingston Heath gains ground and the Tasmanian four narrow the gap. For now, at least, the queen of Australian golf keeps her throne.