When you think of golf in Australia, what comes to mind? The long trip? The hassle of getting there? Having recently returned from a three-week road trip playing the best courses Australia has to offer, I can assure you it is well worth the trip. Australia boasts 12 of the Top 100 golf courses in world, and many more among the Top 100 Public Courses in the world. This is a true bucket list trip and you will stock up on memories for many years to come.
Where to Play Golf in Australia
The problem with golf in Australia is certainly not a shortage of great courses – but it is the distance between them that can create logistical challenges. The Land Down Under is the sixth largest continent, but 98% of its population lives close to the beach. As a result, links courses abound. The good news? There are no Top 100 courses in the outback! Narrowing down your travel time to maximize your golf takes a little work, but I have done it for you here.
What You Need to Know About Golf in Australia
If you are like most of our readers, you want to maximize your golf time, minimize your travel time, and play as many Top 100 Courses as possible in short period of time. Based on our experience, that means starting in Melbourne and then playing “The Bass Strait Triangle” by flying short hops to King Island and Bridport, Tasmania.
The Bass Strait Triangle is one of the hottest new venue for golf travel. A natural question might be: Why would you want to fly 30-year-old puddle jumpers with twenty-something year old pilots over shark infested waters named after the Bermuda Triangle just to play golf? Simple, because you will be playing nine courses – all ranked in the Top 100 Public and Private Courses in the World – that’s why.
In Melbourne, you can generally arrange to play Victoria (#11 in Top 100 Public), Royal Melbourne West (#6 World) and East (#16 World), and Kingston Heath (#13 World) with a few phone calls and an introduction or two. It is a bit tougher to get on The National – Moonah (ranked #98 World) but well worth it if you can arrange it through your club pro. These five courses in Melbourne reside in the Sandbelt region of Australia, and tend to be more heathland style rather than links style courses. You will find a lot of sand similar to a links course, but plenty of trees as well. Of the four, the sleeper is definitely Kingston Heath. Designed by the great Alister Mackenzie, Kingston has hosted the Australian Open seven times. The members at Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath trade good-natured barbs over who deserves the higher ranking in the Top 100. (While Royal Melbourne has that distinction, I give the nod to Kingston Heath for playability and overall technical layout.) Be sure and leave time to share a pint or two with the members, who are most happy to spin yarns about the storied history of their tracks with visitors.
Next, you will head to Moorabbin Airport to catch a short charter flight on Vortex Air to remote King Island. (Limited commercial flights are also available, but if you have a group going, a charter is more flexible and frankly only slightly more expensive.) While it may sound daunting, our flights were perfectly comfortable, professional, and uneventful. I do suggest bringing along a snack (and a flask, perhaps) for the short flight, as there is no in-flight service.
King Island is an enigma. Situated 45 minutes off the southern coast of Australia, it boasts 1,600 full time residents and 1.2 million wallabies. Accommodations are bare bones and restaurants are few and far between. But, the chance to play Ocean Dunes (ranked #4 for Top 100 Public Courses) and Cape Wickham Links (#24 in the World) makes roughing it well worth it. Both offer remarkable views of the coastline and are as purely links-like golf as you will find anywhere. It is simply spectacular! But be careful! Australia boasts some of the most venomous snakes in the world. We encountered one tiger snake and one very fat copperhead meandering around the course. Just keep it in the fairway and you’ll be fine. The pro’s advice to us was amusing, “It takes about 45 minutes to get you to the hospital so if you’re gonna get bit, please get bit near the clubhouse,” he said. Be sure to stock up on provisions for late night cocktails upon arrival, as this is as close to camping and golf as you will find.
After two days on King Island, head back to the King Island Airport (I’m being generous here by calling it such), and re-board your charter for Bridport, Tasmania. Another one-hour flight across the Tasman Sea and you will land – get this – on a grass runway – near Barnbougle. Barnbougle’s two courses – the Dunes (#11 in the World) and Lost Farm (#23) are simply spectacular. Carved out of an old potato farm and still owned by farmer Richard Sattler, the Dunes was Tom Doak’s brainchild while Lost Farm is a Coore/Crenshaw design. Both wind along the northern shoreline of the Tasman Sea and provide as good of a links-like experience as you will find down under. You are likely to find Richard milling about at the clubhouse and he’ll be happy to regale you with the story of his vision to transform his farmland to a world-class golf facility… for the price of a pint of local ale, of course.
The Bag Drop – Where to Stay
Start off by checking into the Langham Hotel in downtown Melbourne. Situated close to great restaurants and nightlife, the Langham offers a bit of luxury before you start roughing it at King Island.
If you are up for a late night, stroll down to the Crown Melbourne Casino – a massive four-story casino in the heart of downtown. Here, you can gamble your golf winnings away with people from all over the world.
On King Island, your accommodation choices are quite limited. While the golf is awesome, the tourism hasn’t quite caught up yet. We stayed at the Island Breeze Motel. A quirky throwback to the 50’s style motels in the U.S, the owner Lisa is on site and very helpful and accommodating. The rooms are clean and comfortable. As for Barnbougle, you’ll definitely want to stay at the Lost Farm Lodge on property for an unforgettable experience and great Tassie hospitality.
The 19th Hole – Where to Eat & Drink
Melbourne is a city rich in both restaurants and nightlife. You can decompress from your long journey by walking the Yarra River walk, where you will discover a host of fine restaurants and watering holes. I suggest hoisting an ale or two at Ponyfish Island to get started. Built on the river, it’s also excellent for people watching. Two must-experience dining opportunities are on Flinders Street in the Central Business District – a trendy area with a busy bar scene as well. Coda and ChinChin offer a progressive dining experience and are musts while in Melbourne. Both are edgy and fun, and they have a varied menu from two excellent chefs. You will hear great music and see some great art while dining. And of course you will find Australia’s best wines on the menu. Make reservations well in advance.
As for dining on King Island, a must-do is Wild Harvest for dinner. Enjoy a fantastic menu of local seafood and beef, along with an extensive wine list and very friendly owners. The King Island Bakery is a great place to stop-in for fresh baked goods, coffee, and smoothies on the way to the golf course. While both courses are still in temporary clubhouses, the food is quite good at both venues, and makes for a suitable lunch before or after golf.
At Barnbougle, you’ll never need to leave the grounds for find great food for all your meals. Clubhouse dining is casual dress, but top shelf cuisine. And the bar and lounge are open late. It’s a welcome respite after roughing it on King Island. Make sure to sample the local Tassie wines – they are excellent.
Getting from Here to There
Several major airlines fly into Melbourne from the West Coast of the U.S. To get to King Island and Bridport, call Vortex Air for a group charter that you can customize. It’s not much more expensive than the three commercial options available, and it will make travel planning much easier. For transport on King Island, arrange for Benns’ Golf Transfers to ferry you around. Jim and Sharon Benn will ensure you are well covered and provide color commentary on the history of the Island. In Bridport, Barnbougle will arrange for your transportation to and from the airstrip.