Date: February 16, 2016
Author: Mike Clayton

Clayton: The lure of short grass

It has been too long since Adelaide hosted any first-class professional golf.

Way back in 1965 Gary Player shot 62 twice in the Australian Open, left Jack Nicklaus in his wake and won the fourth of his seven Opens. Seven years later Peter Thomson won an 18- hole playoff against a tightly wound twenty-five year old, David Graham who learned a lesson and went on to achieve things of great importance including being the first Australian to with the US Open.

In 1972 Greg Norman had barely taken up the game but four years later the most physically gifted player Australia has ever produced announced himself when, on the East Course at The Grange, he opened the West Lakes Classic with 64 and followed it with 67 and 66. A final 74 was only a nervous formality.

From then the men’s tour came at least once a year to Adelaide but the demise of Norman’s powers and interest coincided with the loss of both the commercially run and sponsored events but also the South Australian Open.

The city has five tremendous courses headed by Royal Adelaide a brilliant course touched by the hand of the great architect Alister MacKenzie. Kooyonga, Glenelg and the East and West Courses at The Grange are the supporting cast but all are made on ideal undulating sandy land at least as good as the land MacKenzie had found in Melbourne where he had such an influence over the famed sandbelt courses.

This week The Handa Australian Women’s Open is in Adelaide for the first time since Annika Sorenstam won at Royal Adelaide in 1994.

Sorenstam, who in time would ascend to the top of the rankings, wasn’t the best player in world in 1994 but this year the Championship does have the number one ranked player in the game.

Lydia Ko, the defending champion, is the class of the field this week and she will find a golf course suited to her clinically accurate play. Last summer at Royal Melbourne she was brilliant on a course where hitting straight is not the major question of the week.

Driving along wide fairways is a seemingly easy task at Melbourne but only those who drive accurately to a particular point on the fairway thrive on MacKenzie’s masterpiece and whilst the West Course at Grange isn’t Royal Melbourne the questions it asks from the tee are related. Like Royal Melbourne and The Old Course at St Andrews it is best played from the green backwards.

The greens are all orientated to be approached from a particular place and whilst its hardly rocket science players to do well this week will consider carefully the question the architect is asking them. Those questions are quite obvious but any course worth its salt asks for well thought out and well executed answers.

If her play last summer in Melbourne is any guide Ko not only an extraordinarily reliable hitter of a golf ball but one with a fine brain for understanding the questions worthwhile courses ask.

When the design company with my name on it redesigned the course a decade ago many members apparently thought we had somehow made it ‘too easy’.

Perhaps it appeared to be easier because of the wide expanses of short grass but those who play well this week will come to understand space from the tee is something used to lure the unaware into playing to places from where a winning score is unattainable.

Ko is unlikely to make that mistake and observation of the way she goes about it will be interesting, not least of all for the golf starved fans of South Australia.