Taking stock – the best of the last 3 years
My favourite list of all
From 3 years on the road & 220 courses, I’ve listed my views on best courses and my favourite unheralded holes. The list on this page though, is absolutely at the heart of what I’m about, the hidden gems. I tried to define what makes a hidden gem, and it is tricky. I settled on ‘where my golfing experience exceeded my expectations by the greatest margins’. And as you will see from the list, my experience is more heavily influenced by layout and structure, than it is by pristine condition.
I’ve gone on about these first five quite a few times, but going back through my reviews to produce 10 Hidden Gems has enabled me to relive some great recent discoveries.
An 18 hole, tree-lined course 90 minutes SW of Canberra with a simple and clever layout. Set on undulating terrain within the town limits, it uses the hills well to give some magnificent views of the surrounding area and incorporates the slopes into the strategic design. Contains a number of standout holes, with the short par4 6th (final photo below) reminding me very much of 10 at Royal Melbourne West. Some risk/ reward is on offer, which is typically more around shape than carry. Refer blog 35 for my full review
Situated in NSW’s Riverina region, this unpretentious country track does a fantastic job of using its natural assets (undulations, gullies, rocks). After a bland opening hole, you still remain oblivious to its charm. It then gradually exposes itself with a steep uphill 150m par3, before a long, beautiful sweeping par5 to an elevated green gives you a hint. By the time you get to the par3 8th (1st photo below) over the gully, you know you have found something a little special. The variation of holes and clever use of the land continues to unfold as your round progresses, and it peaks with one of my favourite par4s in NSW (the 17th, final photo below) that doglegs right around a pile of rocks, moving downhill to an offset green with drop-offs to the right. I did revisit Junee a few times! Refer blog 32 for my full review
Whilst it does take some holes to realise you’ve stumbled onto a hidden gem in some instances, it’s not the case here. The exhilaration is present and rawness of this place is evident as soon as you get out of the car at this 9 hole course in mining country amongst Tassie’s western wilderness. The course is spectacularly set amongst massive timber in a cool-climate rainforest which doesn’t provide very good conditions for growing grass, but the layout is clever and strategic. The aesthetic doesn’t let up, and it provides an authentic golfing challenge, without any gimmicks. Each hole is unique, with its own distinguishable features and you’ll know you’ve played 18 holes if you walk around here twice. Oh, and the green fee is A$10 by the way. Refer blog 162 for my full review
With some similar traits to its mining-town cousin in Rosebery, this 9 hole course in an old hydro town that now has a resident population of zero, is set in spectacular, wooded surrounds. It was cut out of a gum-forest by hydro workers in the 1930’s, who added some pines as well. Again, condition is not its lure, but the volunteers do a great job in keeping surfaces in good nick. The aesthetic and the clever design is what rings your bell here. Those volunteers do also understand the nuances of the design, with a great example being the par4 7th (2nd photo below) that has a tree in the middle of the fairway, where they let the rough grow taller down the bail-out side to reward the tighter line off the tee. While it does get a bit narrow on a couple of occasions (the 9th tee has a chute about 1/2 as wide as Augusta’s 18th, per the last photo below), there is good variety with plenty of opportunity to let the driver fly also. Refer blog 164 for my full review
Sandstone, lagoons, some thick snarling rough and brilliantly routed holes around sparsely populated pines define this 9-hole gem in Tassie’s midlands that dates as far back as any course in Australia. It goes well back in to the 19th century and but for a change in routing may have upstaged Greg Ramsay’s Ratho Farm. Greg is a big Oatlands fan but this track gets no pubilicity or fanfare. Check out the photos, pity I didn’t have any sun. Refer blog 178 for my full review
Grafton is located 600km NE of Sydney, on the Clarence River. The town’s 18 hole course has a classic Australian bush setting, dominated by gums and ‘roos. The strength in the layout is its variation (a bit of everything in length, shape and undulation) and its consistency, without any glaring weak holes. The high quality of the 328 Bermuda greens was noticeable on my 2020 visit, especially as they were coming off severe drought in 2020. A super, Aussie, golfer’s golf course. Refer blog 62 for my full review
This 18 hole course, situated on the outskirts of the Sapphire City of Inverell, on the western slopes of NSW’s Northern Tablelands, was also recovering from severe impacts of the drought on my visit. It wasn’t far away though, and I suspect would be excellent as I write this in early 2023. It appears so natural, and incorporates a number of naturally occurring features into the layout. I would call the front side the ‘Gully 9’ as 6 of the holes involve either crossing or playing from 1 of 3 grass gullies. The back side is the ‘Creek 9’ and the layout on this side is super, with some excellent elevation changes and brilliant design, incorporating a snaking waterway. The 388m par4 14th (last 2 photos below) is a great example, culminating in a shallow green sitting in a spectacular ampitheatre between the stream and a tree in the middle of the fairway on approach. Refer blog 67 for my full review
Wow, I haven’t experienced anything like this in Australia, let alone in Tassie. Its a 9-hole track set in a magnificent old estate which is a great mix of the old and meticulously maintained. The course is characterised by generous fairways, multiple large-tree varieties, lots of water hazards, large prominent bunkering, and large true Pentcross Bent greens. Its a serious test (the 400m 4th, final photo below, is an absolute beast) in a spectacular setting. My only similar taste to this was of Mt Juliet Estate in Ireland, which has hosted multiple Irish Opens. And this place is less than 100km from Barnbougle – its well worth the drive! Refer blog 197 for my full review
At 750m above sea level in FNQ, there are a few characteristics to acclimatise to up here. The 18 hole course is in an idyllic setting, surrounded by bush. The firm surfaces, extra carry and smallish greens make hitting greens a challenge, with up and downs quite tricky. This places a premium on accurate iron-play here. The layout has real variety too: from wide open tee shots to a couple of tight chutes; from 3 drivable 4s to 2 of them over 415m, a smattering of bunkers, and a range of water hazards, from ponds to creeks to large dams. There are some unique, quirky things going on here too – the yarn-bombing on the palms per the final photo below, and strangely the 2 longest 4s having the narrowest fairway and smallest green on the course. Its a super fun course to play up in the far north’s tablelands. Refer blog 215 for my full review
Sandy Creek, SA
Having lived most of my life within a couple of hours of this course, I was kicking myself for not making the effort earlier. Aesthetically top shelf, there’s a real natural feel about the place bordering the Barossa Valley; with scattered gums, rows of pines, gentle undulations amongst steeper hills, rustic old OB fences, a number of water hazards and super, varied, well bunkered & contoured green complexes. The start is the course’s strength, the first 5 really strong, attractive and testing holes, before the strategic highlight of the mid-length par4 7th, which has a lot going on. You must take on OB off the tee, to avoid having to work one off the water with your 2nd to a well-contoured green nestled among gums. The Bentgrass green surfaces were pure, capping off the experience at what was another golfer’s golf course in my books. Refer blog 142 for my full review