As far as northern Adelaide suburbs golf courses go, Playford Lakes Golf Club would arguably be the most well-known, if not the most frequented.
Formerly called North Lakes Golf Club until a recent rebranding, the nine-hole course – located around 45 minutes from the CBD in the blue-collar suburb of Munno Para – is the happy haven for weekend hackers in the Gawler and surrounding areas.
With Sandy Creek, Barossa Valley and Tanunda Pines golf clubs seen as the more ‘upper class’ offerings in Adelaide’s outer rim, Playford Lakes – which can be found on Stebonheath Road –provides the ideal alternative for the casual player or beginner looking to enjoy a quick, stress-free round.
The club has been servicing the area’s golfing population since it was opened in 1993, often in the face of adversity – it has, in recent years, had to deal with vandals coming in and tearing up the greens on motorbikes, infuriating the members and locals who love playing there.
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But despite such challenges, Playford Lakes has always bounced back and never shut its gates to the public, thanks to its committed staff and volunteers who give their all to make this golf course the best it can be.
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It may have an uppity name in ‘Playford Lakes’, but in all honesty, there is nothing uppity about this golf course.
It’s pretty basic in terms of layout – the nine holes total 5730m in length for a Par 70 – while its conditioning can be hit-and-miss depending on which hole you’re playing.
During the winter, the fairways can get quite boggy due to water pooling in some of the low-lying areas that traverse the course – meaning the preferred lie rule is often in play during those colder months.
The reverse effect of that is in the summer, the course becomes quite bare and hard as the muddy fairways dry out.
Sometimes you’ll get an extra 30m of run-out from your tee shot, but feel like you’re hitting off a rock-hard fairway lie for your second shot instead of what’s meant to be a fluffy one.
So, those are either pros and cons depending on which way you look at it.
The greens are reasonably manicured, however during the warmer months the course is a notorious target for the dreaded Little Corella – a pest cockatoo-like bird that enjoys using its beak to shred the putting surfaces to pieces.
Because of this, the quality of the greens can vary, but for the most part – when they aren’t being attacked by feral motorcyclists or feathered foe – they run fast and true.
For all its flaws, however, there are plenty of reasons why Playford Lakes is an enjoyable place to spend a few hours.
The green fees are modest – 18 holes will cost you no more than $26 – while the course’s short and compacted layout means you can blaze away with driver with the comfort of knowing your bad shot will probably land on an adjacent fairway.
The nine holes are made up of two Par 3s, six Par 4s and an attackable Par 5, giving players enough variation to keep them entertained throughout the round.
Similarly, Playford Lakes truly is a no-fuss, no-ego kind of course.
While the club does have a loyal members base, visiting players of all abilities are welcome to bash there way around the course outside of the traditional Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning competition times – and don’t have to get dressed up in full golf attire while doing so.
In summer, it’s not unusual to see blokes carving up the fairways in little more than a singlet and footy shorts.
While it may not be what the golfing purists like to see on the course, it’s these small things that makes Playford Lakes such a popular hit with many of the locals.
Playford Lakes doesn’t really market any specific hole as a ‘feature’ drawcard to the course, but there are without doubt some that stand out above the pack.
Once you make your way past the opening hole – hopefully without losing your ball in the lake that lines the right side of the fairway – the course does have some hidden highlights that will likely have you making a return trip at some point in the future.
This 145m Par 3 is arguably one of the hardest at Playford Lakes – it may only have an index rating of six, but it feels a lot more difficult than that when standing over your tee shot.
The reason for this is because players are required to fire their ball at an elevated green, which can make distance – and therefore club selection – a difficult one.
Anything short will leave a tricky uphill chip, while anything long will also make getting up and down a tough task.
Whatever you do, don’t go right into the greenside bunker – hitting out of the hard sand makes controlling spin, launch and distance virtually impossible – while a sprayed shot to the left could easily disappear down the hill and into the thick rough, or potentially out of bounds.
Par is an excellent score – and once you sink your putt, take a second to look out over the lake.
It’s the best, and really only, scenic view you’re going to get around Playford Lakes.
As the only Par 5 on the course, it’s only natural this 447m hole makes the featured list.
Players will be confronted with a sharp dogleg right when teeing up their ball, and need to decide whether they’re laying up to the corner or going over the trees before playing their shot.
If you choose the conservative option and land your ball on the corner, this hole suddenly becomes a genuine three-shotter and you can kiss goodbye to any chance at an eagle.
If you choose the bold option, and take your ball over the trees, you’ll likely have a chance at hitting the green – which is guarded by two right bunkers – in two, bringing birdie or better into play.
Personally, I like the second approach, purely because an over-sliced tee shot up and over the trees will likely come to rest in the adjacent fifth fairway, and will actually leave you a shorter shot into the dancefloor than if you’d played the hole ‘properly’.
Once you reach the putting surface, you’ll find the green has little undulation in it – pick your line, put a good roll on it and you’re every chance of sinking it.
It’s rare you get two of the best holes back-to-back, but that’s exactly the case at Playford Lakes.
At 342m the fifth isn’t overly long, but the layout has been cleverly designed to test your decision-making and execution off the tee.
With a sharp dogleg left – and a sizeable pond ready to gobble up your ball should you stray too far from the fairway – you have two options to choose from.
They are: layup well right of the corner to avoid the water, but leave yourself a longer shot into the green; or cut the corner with driver and give yourself a wedge into the dancefloor.
A shallow bunker to the right of the green adds another layer of difficulty should your approach shot veer right off the club face.
It’s very much a risk versus reward hole, and one that can make or break your round.
Pace of play/tee time availability
Playford Lakes Golf Club reserves tee times for members on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 7am and 11am, meaning visitors won’t be allowed onto the course during those periods.
Outside of that though, you should have no problems getting a round in.
The pro shop doesn’t take bookings, so it’s a matter of rocking up and finding a spot – although, it’s advisable to ring ahead to check how busy the course is.
You shouldn’t be held up much if you’re teeing off during the early afternoon on weekdays, but you’ll find heaps of people frequent the course from 4pm onwards almost daily after knocking off work.
This can slow things down from a pace of play perspective.
The busiest times are without doubt Saturday afternoons and Sundays, so expect to be held up at some point during your round if you’re having a hit in either of those timeslots.
How welcome are visitors?
Playford Lakes relies on visitors – in addition to its members – to keep the gates open, and as such encourages players of all abilities to grab a round.
The staff in the pro shop are always friendly and greet you when you arrive, and will get your round under way with minimal fuss.
Is there a dress code?
During midweek and weekend competition days, players are expected to wear a collared shirt.
Outside of those times, dress code is seemingly a free-for-all.
As I mentioned earlier, a singlet and footy shorts wouldn’t look out of place in summer, while track pants and hoodies are also the clothing choice for many casual players during the winter.
Just make sure you’re wearing closed shoes.
Are there practice facilities?
Playford Lakes is pretty scant in terms of practice facilities.
There is a putting green in front of the pro shop, where you can hone your stroke before hitting the first tee, while the practice nets are reserved for Saturday competitions only.
The latter is frustrating as a visitor because if you pay your green fees, you should have access to all facilities at the course – and be allowed to hit some balls into the nets before your round, especially in the absence of a driving range.
In terms of what’s on offer, other nine-hole courses such as Mawson Lakes and Penfield golf courses far outshine Playford Lakes in terms of practice facilities.
Can I buy food/drinks after the round?
If you’re looking for something more than the odd Snickers bar and some cold drinks – or perhaps the occasional barbeque on Saturday competition days – then Playford Lakes will leave you wanting.
The pro shop has your basics – snacks, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages – but if you’re looking for a sit-down meal, the main street of Gawler is only a 10-minute drive farther north from the course and has plenty of great pubs to choose from.
You can’t go wrong with The Exchange of Golden Fleece hotels.
Price for 18 holes:
- Weekdays: Adults $23
- Weekends/Public Holidays: Adults $26
- Juniors: $17
Price for 9 holes:
- Weekdays: Adults $17
- Weekends/Public Holidays: $19
- Juniors: $12
- Monday/Wednesday: 9/18 holes $12 (all day)
If you’re looking for a reasonably cheap round on a golf course where you can relax, and not worry about tucking your shirt in, Playford Lakes Golf Club will certainly tick both those boxes.
While it’s not an ‘elite’ track by any stretch of the imagination, it doesn’t claim to be.
It knows its target audience – casual golfers – extremely well, and in turn delivers a course that is easy enough for weekend warriors to enjoy, but difficult enough for more serious golfers to challenge themselves.
If you’re expecting to walk perfectly manicured, lush fairways then Playford Lakes will leave you disappointed.
But if you head to the course knowing full-well what it offers, and embrace its rough-around-the-edges charm, you’ll likely have yourself an enjoyable time.
For more details about Playford Lakes Golf Club, visit their website.
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