Controversy over a proposal to re-design the golf course has done nothing to ruin a day out on the majestic fairways of Royal Adelaide.
I remember the first time I saw the Old Course at St.Andrews on TV.
“Oh, they’ve got a road crossing the 18th like Royal Adelaide”, I naively though to myself. This was the sort of opinion one had of Royal Adelaide if you grew up in the City of Churches. It was the holy grail of golf courses, and all others were compared to it, including the oldest.
Nowadays I know better than to utter such sacrilegious remarks, but after getting an opportunity to play Royal Adelaide it is easy to see why it is still considered one of the world’s best.
While not strictly a links golf course, Royal Adelaide sits a kilometre from the beach on converted swampland, surrounded by large dunes and fir trees. The course originally skirted the huge dune formation that sits in the middle of the property, but after a visit and advice from Dr. Alistair McKenzine, the course was re-routed to include the dunes in the layout.
Since then the course has undergone many changes and a recent proposed re-design by the team lead by Mike Clayton and Geoff Ogilvy has created a great deal of controversy at Royal Adelaide. But more of that later.
The most obvious aspect of Royal Adelaide is the train line. It bisects the course in two, running alongside the opening holes and the clubhouse. Founding members used to catch the train to the course and disembark at the clubhouse doors.
Aside from the train line, it is a subtle start. There is no fancy path to take you to the first hole and in true links tradition, the first tee could easily be missed in the wide expanses of the opening nine holes which features some incredible golf holes.
|The short par-4 3rd hole at Royal Adelaide. Note, no bunkers.|
They come no finer than the short, bunkerless third hole. It is one of the few holes that is still exactly as McKenzie intended with the hole measuring a mere 266 metres. An iron to the top of the ridge leaves a short wedge to a tight green. No bunkers, no tricks. A ridge on the left, a small hill on the right. How many great courses have holes without bunkers these days?
Incidentally, Monty had a snowman here in 1989. But he’s done that on a few courses I suppose.
The view back towards the clubhouse from the the highest point on the course is a special one. It is here where you will possibly be wondering just how you made double-bogey on the most difficult hole on the course. The 420m par-4, 6th looks harmless enough but the prevailing winds can whip your ball around like a ping-pong ball in a blender, and the front-to-back sloping green is a tough one.
|The iconic par-3 7th hole at Royal Adelaide.|
It gets no easier at the iconic par-3, 7th. The small bunkers that completely surround the green are as unmistakeable as they are daunting. Nothing but a straight shot will bring safety.
The back nine winds it way around the back section of the property, and brings with it one of Australia’s best golf holes; the 353m par-4 11th.
Although I’ve seen conflicting reports, the 11th apparently plays as Mackenzie intended. The tee shot needs care, before you are met with an approach shot over scrub to a green set into a sand crater. It is the sort of golf hole you can enjoy even when you are playing poorly.
|The par-4 11th hole at Royal Adelaide.|
The golf course ends with some spectacular golf holes.
The 14th requires some thoughtful positioning off the tee, vital for a shot at the green through a gap in the trees. The 15th hole is a fantastic, risk-reward par-5, and I was fortunate enough to see Nick Price play the par-3 16th hole on his way to winning the South Australian Open in 1989. Some of the best weekend golf I’ve seen to this day.
|The approach shot to the par-4 14th at Royal Adelaide.|
I had not paid much attention to the plans to re-design Royal Adelaide, but it was obvious upon reaching the 17th hole where the re-design has begun.
Initially I thought I was back at Lost Farm. An expansive fairway is split down the middle by large bunkers that can be cleared with a decent hit, but the left and right options are probably the percentage ones. The multi-tiered green that completes the hole is tricky. Depending on where the pin is, three and four putts are not out of the question here.
The 17th is a fantastic golf hole but it is drastically different to the old one, and is incongruous in the current Royal Adelaide layout. But does it really matter if it is a great golf hole and fun to play?
|The newly constructed 17th hole at Royal Adelaide.|
Most golfers would say it does, and go on to mention something about an ‘overall experience’, which I tend to agree with. But as the first in a potentially long line of redevelopments, it is a question that the Royal Adelaide members ultimately have to answer.
The 18th returns the course to more familiar surroundings. It was here where nine Australian Open’s have concluded. Gary Player won here and Greg Chalmers won his first by beating Nick Faldo, Fred Couples and Greg Norman.
Like some of the best, long-lasting golf courses, Royal Adelaide can take a while to grow on you. I’ve heard many people wonder what all the fuss is about and I can kind of see where they are coming from. But when you’ve played it a few times and see the potential dangers for choosing the wrong club or errant approach shot, you start to understand why it is always rated in Australia’s best golf courses.
Royal Adelaide has undergone many changes from the original Mackenzie design but it still feels like a wonderful old-school golf course that stands up to today’s modern game.