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Golf Course Reviews - Australia

Royal Adelaide Golf Club

Name: Royal Adelaide Golf Club
Location: Seaton, SA, Australia
Par: 73
Length: 6603m
Holes: 18

The Royal Adelaide Golf Club

The Adelaide Golf Club (in 1923 it became The Royal Adelaide Golf Club) was founded in 1892. In its early years it played in the north Parklands of Adelaide and later in North Glenelg. It purchased its present links at Seaton in 1904, and the current layout was officially opened on 30th June 1906.

Cargie Rymill was the driving force in preparing the links for the first Open Australian Championship at Seaton in 1910. Nine Australian Opens have been decided at Royal Adelaide, the latest in 1998. In 1926 Dr Alister Mackenzie visited Royal Adelaide to advise on its design and his initial reaction to the links was:-

"One finds a most delightful combination of sand dunes and fir trees, a most unusual combination even at the best seaside courses. No seaside courses that I have seen possess such magnificent sand craters as those at Royal Adelaide."

A combination of testing short holes with ball catching bunkering along with a number of testing longer holes ensures that all shots must be carefully thought out to register a good score for the 18 holes. From the back markers it now measures 6,619 metres and the "open spaces" have been gently contoured and bunkered to provide an intellectual and physical challenge to all players whether from the more friendly Members' tees or the more demanding Championship markers.

For a course so famous and highly rated the first impression of Royal Adelaide is usually one of bemusement. How could such a seemingly flat piece of ground with a railway line running right past the clubhouse as well as the first tee, second green and third tee accommodate a course of such high reputation?

Alister Mackenzie had an influence here and some of his suggestions were adopted some ignored. Local legend Cargie Rymill laid out the original layout twenty years before Mackenzie's 1926 visit and the combination of the work of these brilliant men left golf holes of uncommon quality.

The initial impression of a dull piece of land is soon dispelled when the player gets to the fine second hole after playing the somewhat pedestrian opener that turns left around the mounds on the corner of the dogleg.

The second is a long five bunkered strategically to punish those taking an unwise gamble with a long second shot and those who lay up with a second must pitch to a large but well guarded green. The Third hole is one of the great short par fours. It is just less than three hundred meters and the green is reachable with a perfect tee shot but the whole of the right side of the fairway is protected by a fearsome sand dune. The sensible play is to punch a long iron through the saddle at the top of the hill and then pitch the long narrow green.

Nick Price won a South Australian Open here in the late eighties when he holed a wedge for a two on the final afternoon but forty years earlier in an Australian Open Norman von Nida made a ten here, taking a risk in a vain attempt to catch Ossie Pickworth.
The Royal Adelaide Golf Club
"That week was unquestionably the best golf Ossie ever played", Von Nida told me years later.

Melbourne has an abundance of wonderful short fours but this one in Adelaide is the equal of the best of them and almost by definition that makes it one of the finest holes of its genre in the world of golf.

The tee shot at the fourth completes a run of spectacular shots early in the round. Played blind, the drive is fired out over a huge sandy waste sure to intimidate the high markers but it makes for a wonderful looking shot. The hole doglegs to the left over the hill and the tumbling fairway ensures there is the possibility of an odd stance to add to the puzzle.

The two other fine holes on the front nine are the sixth, a long two shot hole playing up to a green at the top of the big dune around which the best holes on the front nine play and the par five ninth.

The famous shot on the back nine comes at the 11th, "Crater Hole", a medium length par four where long play is somewhat confined from the tee because of the sandy crater that crosses the fairway at the two hundred and thirty meter mark. From the top of the hill the second is fired down to the green at the base of a huge dune covered in pine trees. Ironically Mackenzie wanted to build a new hole from the tenth green around a hill to the current eleventh green but the members rejected this proposal. The current tenth is one of the weaker holes on the course and my suspicion the Scottish architect could have done something spectacular here. He was rarely associated with a poor hole and we will always wonder what he could have achieved across this wonderful stretch of ground.

The best hole on the back nine is the long par four fourteenth turning to the right around a number of fairway bunkers guarding the inside corner of the dogleg. It has undulation, strategy a wonderful greensite and it demands two of the golfers absolute best shots.

The final hole of real class is the par three sixteenth with a tiny green that accepts only the finest of iron shots. As such it always seems to be the hole most vulnerable to the almost constant seaside winds of Adelaide.

Royal Adelaide is a course of unmistakable quality and it has hosted some of the countries biggest tournaments for many years. The most controversial was the 1998 Australian Open won by West Australian, Greg Chalmers.

Organizers seemed determined to subdue the entire field by providing only narrow bands of fairway lined by long and thick penal rough. Had they read Mackenzies book, they may had better understood his argument that type of set-up promoted negative play. He wrote in the early thirties that, "Narrow fairways bordered by long grass make bad golfers. They do so by destroying the harmony and continuity of the game and in causing a stilted and a cramped style, destroying all freedom of play."

It was an Open of bad tempers, high scores, it was a distortion of the intended dimensions of the holes and my assumption is Mackenzie and Rymill would have been astounded at the set-up of the course.

Royal Adelaide is such a fine course it is easily capable of defending itself without those who set courses up resorting to such tactics.

Visit the Royal Adelaide Golf Club's website: Royal Adelaide Golf Club

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