For most of this century, Australian golfers seeking a wide range of high-quality public access play have been able to travel to all corners of the nation to get their fix.
South-east Queensland has long been a haven for resort-style public access play and so too the south-west of Western Australia and Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
Even Sydney – which is best known for its inner-city private courses – has some quality public golf options scattered across the city’s northern beaches and outer suburbs.
Though, in my opinion, Australia only became a true mecca for public golf with the opening of four world-class courses in Tasmania: Barnbougle (2004) and Lost Farm (2010) on the state’s mainland and Cape Wickham Links (2015) and Ocean Dunes Golf Course (2015) on the isolated, and notoriously windy, King Island in the middle of Bass Strait.
Tasmania – alongside Melbourne’s famed sandbelt region – has become a must-visit for international golfers though it’s worth visiting some of the lesser-known courses listed in this article.
Before you read my list of 10 favourite public access courses in Australia, it’s important to make the distinction between best courses and favourite courses.
For example, I consider Royal Melbourne Golf Club’s composite course used during the President’s Cup to be the best golf course in Australia based on course design and the inherent strategy required to play it, but it might not be my favourite course.
Port Fairy Golf Club in western Victoria is probably my favourite course anywhere because it serves as a reminder of summer holidays as a child playing golf with friends and loved ones, and where my vast improvements were made as a golfer.
Below is my unordered list of 10 favourite public access courses in Australia.
Table of contents
Port Fairy Golf Club – Port Fairy, Victoria
More than three hours’ drive west of Melbourne and past the regional city of Warrnambool lies the beautiful seaside links of Port Fairy Golf Club.
Port Fairy’s back nine has one of the best stretches of links golf holes in Australia.
It starts at the 12th hole – a straight-away par-five flanked to the right by sand dunes, out of bounds and the Southern Ocean below.
The downhill par-four 14th is another standout golf hole with an especially dramatic and blind approach.
Out of bounds again features along the right-hand side and the ocean wraps around behind the green. A large pole behind the green helps shorter hitters who can’t see the green after their tee shot.
The par-three 15th hole was improved dramatically earlier this century when it was re-routed by moving the tee about 100 metres to be closer to the water.
Cape Wickham Links – King Island, Tasmania
Cape Wickham is without doubt the most spectacular golf course in Australia and the nation’s highest ranked public golf course.
The course opened in late 2015 and, a few months later, was ranked the 24th best golf course in the world by Golf Digest magazine.
The round starts with a bang – the first tee is actually on the edge of the putting green and you’re forced to drive across a cliff to a fairway slightly below.
The middle section of holes from the par-five 9th to the treacherous dogleg left par-four 12th is as good of a four-hole stretch as you’re likely to find almost anywhere and it’s not even the best stretch of holes on the course!
The last three holes are unforgettable.
They start at the north-eastern tip of the course with the par-four 16th framed all along the right-hand by a rocky ocean shoreline.
The par-three 17th plays across a rocky cove to a green protected by a series of pot bunkers to the right.
Finally, the closing hole is a medium-length par-four which bends to the right, wrapping around the beach at Victoria Cove.
Barnbougle Dunes – Bridport, Tasmania
Barnbougle Dunes put Tasmania on the world golf map. Designed by US golf course architect Tom Doak and Australian Mike Clayton, the Dunes’ layout – as its name suggested – weaves between tall sandy dunes.
This writer would argue that the best holes are on the opening nine.
The short par-four fourth hole can easily be reached from the tee by long hitters if there is no wind but a giant bunker about 40 metres short of the green can lead to disaster.
The fifth hole is an endlessly fun par-three which is slightly downhill with a large swale left of the green that allows a low, slicing approach to run onto the putting surface.
And the short par-three seventh is barely more than 110 metres but plays to a tiny green protected left by sand and right by a steep slope which can repel tee shots further offline.
The finish at Barnbougle can be brutal into the wind because the last three holes all play in a similar direction.
The par-four 17th is bordered to the right by sand and Bass Strait and is among the best holes at Barnbougle Dunes.
St Andrews Beach Golf Course – St Andrews Beach, Victoria
Designed by Tom Doak, St Andrews Beach values fun golf over brutal golf.
Set in rolling dunes on the Mornington Peninsula, its fairways are generous to give golfers a chance to recover after a wayward tee shot.
Several of the greens have steep embankments which can be used to roll shots in from left, right or long.
Like all great courses, there are numerous risk-reward holes which can be played in vastly different ways.
The course tempts you into playing closer to bunkers or tea-tree to have the best approach into the greens.
There is a no-fuss approach to golf at St Andrews.
Around the time the course opened in the mid-2000s, a small temporary clubhouse was built and that same basic structure remains today.
Portsea Golf Club – Portsea, Victoria
Situated at the far end of the Mornington Peninsula, Portsea Golf Club is a highly undulating course carved out of tea-tree and, at less than 5800 metres, is short by modern standard.
The ordering of the holes changed last decade when a brand new hotel and clubhouse was built on a higher point of the course.
It’s difficult to overpower Portsea which can punish tee shots which are only slightly offline.
The diabolical short par-four 10th hole – named ‘Little Devil’ – plays across a narrow ridgeback fairway to a long and slender green which longer hitters can reach with a three-wood.
Tee shots left will gather down an embankment into bunkers or long rough and if you miss the green left, right or long, the result can ruin your scorecard.
Kennedy Bay Links – Port Kennedy, Western Australia
Kennedy Bay is a genuine links golf course about a 45-minute drive south of Perth’s CBD.
The hallmarks of the course are its vast array of small pot bunkers which sometimes have to be escaped sideways or backwards.
The course originally opened in 1999 but is currently undergoing a major reconstruction by Australian golf course architect Graham Marsh.
Visitors can expect to see kangaroos during a round at Kennedy Bay and even the odd snake slithering down the fairways or curled up on the edge of a bunker.
Some of the greens on the old design were enormous in size and although tea-tree on the sides of the fairways offered some protection, the wind could wreak havoc with shots.
Information about the new design has been limited but with the brand new course expected to open its first nine holes at some stage in 2023, Kennedy Bay will be a course to put back on the bucket list.
Joondalup Resort – Connolly, Western Australia
There are three nine-hole loops at Joondalup in Perth – the Quarry, Lake and Dunes nines – and they were all designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr.
Ideally visitors will have enough time to play 27 holes but if you’ve only got time for 18 holes make sure you include the Quarry nine in your round.
The Quarry nine takes its name from an old quarry which lies between the third and fifth holes and it makes for some seriously spectacular golf.
The par-three third features a scary tee shot with a forced carry to a green perched on the edge of the quarry which in parts is close to 30 feet deep.
At the uphill par-five fourth, the right greenside bunker is among the deepest bunkers anywhere in Australia and the par-four fifth offers a thrilling approach to another green against the quarry’s edge.
Barwon Heads Golf Club – Barwon Heads, Victoria
Barwon Heads is one of the purest links golf experiences in Australia and the club’s old-style clubhouse is a sensational place to stay and play.
A public road divides the first six holes from the rest of the course and the opening stretch is arguably the highlight of the round.
When you reach the par-three fourth, make sure you play from the high tee which offers panoramic views of the course and the local beach, Thirteenth Beach.
Barwon Heads is a short course, measuring 5886 metres from the tips with a par of 70 and trying to overpower it with driver is not advised.
The par-four first hole can be reached from the tee by longer hitters but playing an iron to the bottom of the hill is the smart thing to do.
The ninth hole is a medium length par-four but the fairway is divided by a section of wasteland so its best to lay up short.
And most of the back nine holes leave golfers highly exposed to wind so using a low ball flight is best.
Beach Course at 13th Beach Golf Links – Barwon Heads, Victoria
As the crow flies, the eastern end of the Beach Course at 13th Beach is only a few hundred metres away from the south-western corner of Barwon Heads Golf Club.
13th Beach’s Beach Course opened in 2001 but has really made a name for itself since 2013 as the home of the men’s and women’s Vic Open.
While close to the beach, the Beach Course doesn’t afford ocean views but that barely detracts from the experience.
Some standout holes include the dogleg left par-four fifth which has a creek running down the left of the hole and the collection of par-threes.
The short 16th is the best of the one-shot holes, playing little more than 110 metres from the back tee to a heavily exposed green perched on top of a hill and surrounded by either sand or steep swales.
It’s a birdie hole if you hit the green but can quickly become diabolical if you miss the putting surface.
Brookwater Golf and Country Club – Brookwater, Queensland
One of the most visually stunning courses in Queensland, Brookwater is a Greg Norman design carved out of gum trees in the south-western outskirts of Brisbane.
You need accuracy from the tee with several holes asking you to play through a shoot of very tall eucalyptus trees to fairways often defended by fairway bunkers.
The par-fives at Brookwater stand out.
The long fourth plays steeply downhill from the tee and steeply uphill for the approach which allows for a spectacular view of the entire hole from the tee.
The downhill, long 13th might be the signature hole.
One fairway bunker defends the right side of the fairway which curves gently to the left before reaching a green protected by sand but with a generous bail out area short and right of the green.
The appeal of Brookwater is its tranquillity.
For most of the round, you can only see the particular hole you are playing.
In a time where golf has felt as exclusive and expensive as ever, there are still dozens of courses around Australia that are both affordable and accessible for every golfer.
This list of ten is by no means exhaustive and the courses we have discussed will no doubt stack up against some of the best in the world.
Guest writer Henry Peters is the director of Under the Card Golf, a boutique content creation business that specialises in golf related content. Check out their YouTube channel here.