Australia has long held a reputation as a country full of great golf courses, but it is something of a myth. The United States and Britain have many more top-level courses than us, but our repute is earned in part because of the willingness of the best clubs to hold major tournaments. This is in stark contrast to America and Britain, where many of the finest courses are unwilling, too short — or both — to consider entertaining the professional circus. It’s also disruptive, spectators damage the course and so many clubs end up disinclined to invite the scrutiny that comes with big golf.
The Melbourne sandbelt is the centre of fine architecture in Australia thanks to the influence of Alister MacKenzie and the legacy of his 1926 trip here to redesign Royal Melbourne. His visit was only three short months but he, along with his design partner Alex Russell transformed golf in the southern part of the country.
MacKenzie also visited Adelaide where he found Royal Adelaide, a sand-based dune course designed by local man Cargie Rymill. He altered Rymill’s course quite significantly, most notably when he added the short par four third hole. As he had done with his par three 15th hole at Kingston Heath, (formerly a short par four he described as a ‘blot’ on the course) he added a hole of national significance and both are, in the opinion of most critics, amongst the top 18 holes in the country.
This week the Women's Australian Open comes to Royal Adelaide and it’s unlikely the LPGA Tour will play a better course all season. Many will focus on the condition with the perfect fairways contrasting beautifully with the yellow, burned off roughs so characteristic of the look of the country's best courses in summer, but it is the quality of the architecture which is the real star at Royal Adelaide. The routing transitions perfectly from the flat land into the dunes and back out again and one is never confronted with monotonous or burdensome holes. There is fun and interest in abundance as well as quirk with the train line to the nearby beaches running between the clubhouse and the third tee as well as between the 13th green and 14th tee.
At just over 6000 metres, the course is not long if the measure is the length the top players drive the ball in this era when modern drivers with lighter and longer shafts have helped the best women drive significantly further than any managed with heavier steel shafts and smaller persimmon heads.
The consequence this week is the test from tee to green will be in three distinct parts.
The first is the near certainly the wind will be an influence at least one of the rounds and the exposed Royal Adelaide holes demand players control both flight and shape. This is the antithesis of playing golf under a roof on a mindless golf course just asking you to hit straight and putt well.
The second is the longest drivers will have many short irons into the greens and accuracy with those clubs will be critical to shooting a winning score.
The third will be at the three short holes. Unusually for a MacKenzie influenced course the par threes at Adelaide are not stand-out holes, although that undersells the 7th with its steeply tilted green surrounded by bunkers. But the 12th and 16th are plain by comparison to the best Melbourne sandbelt par threes.
What they are, however, is demanding and it was Nick Faldo who said: ‘All the great holes in the world are the twitchy ones.’ The 16th, especially with its tiny upturned green comes at a perfect time in the round to test the surety of someone playing a good round or with a winning opportunity at the end of the week.
Playing the par threes well will be critical because many will not and hitting the greens with regularity will surely mean a player is at the top of her game and only players at the top of their games will have a chance this week on what is one of the very best courses in Australia.