The Vintage, NSW
Greg Norman is a great golfer. So he designs courses for great golfers. Yet hackers love them: all over the planet you’ll see them line up to play. Case in point: The Vintage Golf Club in the Hunter Valley, one of the only public-access Greg Norman-designed courses in Australia. The golfing great would steer his tee-offs between endless bunkers and bush; you won’t. You’ll lose your ball. But you’ll love it. Just like his golf, Mr Norman’s courses blow minds. Oh, and there’s wine after.
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Hamilton Island, Whitsundays, Qld
Experts call this the most spectacular golf course on Earth – though take note: they also call it the most difficult course on Earth. Take a short boat ride from Hamilton Island to Dent Island – before you cry foul (whaatt… it’s not on Hamilton Island), consider this: the course has its own private island. You’ll play 18 holes designed by Peter Thomson which work their way across spectacular ridgelines and valleys above the Coral Sea. When the trade winds blow hard, even a single figure handicapper mightn’t break 100.
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It’s as if Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams came to life … in northern Tassie. In 2005, the golfing world thought farmer Richard Sattler was insane creating what was to soon become Australia’s best public golf course on 6000 hectares of farmland in the middle of nowhere. Now there are two courses, The Dunes and Lost Farm, on the site and both rate in the world’s top 50. When the wind blows hard off Bass Strait consider using your putter off the tee. But you’ll be in heaven; the links-style courses play out beside the water amongst sand dunes in a setting you won’t beat in Scotland.
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St Michael’s, NSW
Sydney’s most under-rated course … by far. What’s more, you can play it (Sydney’s other premium courses are for members). With New South Wales Golf Club right next door, St Michael’s has flown under the radar since it was established in 1938. But it shares the same hallowed real estate – the high sea cliffs of Little Bay (near La Perouse). You’ll have many obstacles to avoid – slicers and hookers, beware. Tee off from high in the dunes looking across the sea. The third hole is a favourite: a par three whose green is cut into a steep hill on the other side of the valley. Take an extra club.
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Cape Wickham, King Island, Tasmania
Like Barnbougle, Cape Wickham Golf Links came out of nowhere. King Island (a short flight from Melbourne) is a sleepy, dairy-farming island. Then Cape Wickham came along and became the 24th best course on Earth (and Australia’s number one public course) within a year of opening. It’s built within the coastline – not beside it (on the island’s remote north-west coast). On the 18th hole, you can hit above surfers on your drive, while the 11th green is swamped by water during big seas. All 18 holes involve the sea: eight run right alongside it, two have greens on it and three have tees beside the water. Bring balls that float.
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Bonville Golf Resort – 11 kilometres south of Coffs Harbour – was designed with the intention of imitating Augusta National’s feeling of isolation and privacy on every hole – but they added kangaroos to this one. It was listed for 16 years running as mainland Australia’s most beautiful golf course (by The Golf Course Guide). You should see the view hitting to the 18th green, with the grand clubhouse behind. They’ve widened the fairways and removed some trees, but this is still a tricky course from the tee. But at least you’ll be hitting into darn pretty trees.
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Sanctuary Cove, Qld
Sanctuary Cove was opened in 1987 by Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston. A place for white pants and rolled-up sports jackets worn by super-yacht owners (pass me the Cristal, darling), it was the ’80s epitomised. These days the village and resort have toned down, but the two courses on site (including Arnold Palmer’s only Australian course) are just as eye-catching as an ’80s denim ensemble. There’s water on almost every hole – and every single tee shot requires plenty of thought. For anyone who ever thought golf was a dull game: play here.
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Alice Springs, NT
It’s billed as the hottest golf course on Earth – surviving 18 holes is a feat in itself – but don’t let the temperatures deter you, the Alice Springs Golf Club has one of the world’s top 10 desert golf courses. Its surprisingly lush green fairways and greens look towards the MacDonnell Ranges. Play it safe: wayward shots will strike rocky outcrops lining every fairway and disappear into the desert. And, as you might’ve guessed, there are more bunkers here than at any other course in the country.
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Long Reef, NSW
Who’d have thought: with all of Sydney’s fancy, private ocean-side members’ courses, it’s actually a humble little green you can get on at any time for $75 or less that’s the best situated course in the city. From Long Reef Golf Club on the Northern Beaches you can see all the way to the Central Coast and back to Manly from nearly every hole. Built in 1921, it’s long been an every-person’s course; though these days you’ll need a collar. The clubhouse is the best place for a decent-value cold beer in Sydney.
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Magnetic Island, Qld
They don’t all have to be championship courses bathed in golden sunshine, right? Magnetic Island Country Club’s nine-hole course will never rate in Golf Digest’s greatest courses, but it’s as quintessentially Far North Queensland as XXXX Gold and saltwater crocs (you might find both on the course). And it was once famous for Chook-Chook, the rooster who took over the sixth green. Grab an esky of cold beer – even play in your thongs – and carve your way through the Aussie bush.
Explore more: magneticislandgolf.com.au