When you drive through the gates at Sandy Creek Golf Club, stop the car and step out to admire the panoramic views, the first thing you’ll probably say to yourself is ‘gee, it’s colder than I thought it was going to be’.
Situated at the gateway to the gorgeous Barossa Valley, just an hour north of Adelaide via the newly-opened Northern Connector/Northern Expressway, it’s understandable that ‘Sandy’ – as it’s known to the locals – is often swept by that trademark Barossa chill that wakes you right up.
But that shouldn’t stop you heading out there for nine or 18 holes, because this is without doubt one of the best courses in the region.
Established in 1904, Sandy Creek was formerly called Gawler Golf Club until a rebranding in 2015 saw it change its logo and undertake redevelopment of its clubhouse and driving range area.
As a result, it was named SA’s best Small Regional Club of the Year in both 2016 and 2017 and as early as 2019 there were plans to build a multi-million-dollar hotel and mini golf course at the site – however, at this stage that development has stalled.
Since those highs, the club has seen the departure of its club manager and teaching professional to greener pastures, meaning it is now without a pro shop and entirely run by volunteers who do an excellent job in maintaining the course to a good standard.
The club is also in the process of reconfiguring the course, changing some of the hole numbers and extending certain tee blocks to create an even better playing experience for visiting golfers and members alike.
It caters for both the serious golfer and the weekend warrior who wants to have a bash, while still playing a quality golf course – you’ll just have to share it with the native wildlife, as it’s not unusual to see a few kangaroos spectate while you complete your round.
The club is aptly named Sandy Creek for a reason, because as soon as you depart the nicely-kept fairways – which can be a bit patchy and dry on certain holes – you’ll typically find yourself in some very sandy lies.
This, coupled with the tall pine trees that line many of the fairways are two of the golf course’s biggest defences.
The trees are short enough that an errant drive will clear them and land safely on an adjacent runway, but unless you’re a player with a high ball flight you’ll often find yourself needing to play a low punch shot to return to the hole you’re supposed to be playing.
And if you come up short, you’ll likely be hitting off – yes, you guessed it – a sandy lie. This is how you begin to rack up shots during a round, sometimes without even realising.
At a shade over 6000m the Par 72 course isn’t overly long, but it’s not short either.
You have the option of taking iron off a lot of tees, or pulling driver in pursuit of hitting a good shot and leaving yourself a wedge or short iron into the green.
There’s definitely plenty of risk versus reward, and long, accurate hitters are certainly at an advantage.
Speaking of greens, the ones at Sandy Creek can be lightning quick in summer, albeit a little patchy on certain holes, and have plenty of subtle undulations that require full concentration.
Additionally, the course comprises four Par 3s – all of which present their own challenges, are visually pleasing and, in my opinion, set this track apart from others – plus 10 Par 4s and four Par 5s.
The front nine is substantially shorter than the back at Sandy Creek – a Par 35 compared to a Par 37 – and can really set up your round if you play well throughout the early stretch of holes.
Out of bounds is always lurking, particularly on the run home where the stretch between holes 14-18 – which I refer to as ‘The Devil’s Elbow’ because of how it loops down a hill and then back up it – can truly make or break your day and leave you either wanting to head straight to the clubhouse and contemplate life over a cold beer, or to the range to correct what went wrong.
Having played this course many times, it was hard to narrow down the three best holes on the course simply because so many of them are great.
But without question, these are the most memorable and the most likely to see you make a return trip to Sandy Creek.
I absolutely love the layout of this short 114m Par 3.
Hitting down to the wide green from an elevated tee block 10m above the hole – which gives you some fantastic views of the surrounding country scenery – it’s no surprise that this is rated the easiest on the course.
Due to the hole’s short length, players can often be sucked in to trying to stiff their wedge to three-feet rather than aiming for safety in the middle of the green and, as a result, find themselves in one of the two bunkers guarding the front.
From there, depending on the pin location, getting up and down can be a challenge.
Be smart, hit the green in one and move on to the next hole happy with par – anything higher will leave you very frustrated and no doubt have you wanting to return another day for redemption.
Simply put, this 168m Par 3 is equally breathtaking as it is daunting for the average golfer – as you’re required to hit straight over a pond to a two-tiered green protected by bunkers at the front and left.
In reality, the water should never come into play – but the presence of H2O does funny things to golfers, and I’ve seen many balls (usually due to topped shots) find a watery grave. Myself included.
If you’re looking for a place to miss, aim short and left – there’s a big landing area that will give you the chance to get up and down for par. If you go long and find yourself putting down the slope to a front pin location, bogey is well and truly on the cards.
This is certainly a hole that you’ll tell your friends about.
There’s nothing like a short Par 5 to inject a bit of excitement into your round – and the opportunity to score an eagle will certainly do that.
At barely 450m, a long, straight drive will leave you a mid-iron or less into the tucked green, which is guarded by four bunkers.
With the tenth fairway to the right, there’s very little risk in hitting driver – especially when the reward is so high – and any blocked or sliced tee shots will usually land safely on the adjacent short grass, without too much hassle of getting the ball back in play.
The only place you can really get yourself in trouble is left, but it would take a pretty severe hook for a right-handed player to blaze one over the fence.
This hole is hugely enjoyable, so get out there and play it while you can – there are talks among members that it will soon be converted into a long Par 4 (which won’t be anywhere near as fun).
Pace of play/tee time availability
I’ve never found pace of play to be an issue at Sandy Creek.
On competition days, the course layout enables groups to tee off on the front and back nines simultaneously, meaning you very rarely get a log jam of golfers waiting to hit.
This is definitely what puts Sandy Creek above other courses in Adelaide – such as Mount Osmond or North Adelaide – where groups can only venture off from the first tee, creating frustrating pace of play issues.
Sandy gets a big thumbs up in this department.
Similarly, it’s usually pretty easy for visitors to get a tee time.
Like most courses, the club reserves spots for members on Thursdays and Saturdays until around midday, but outside of that you should have no problem booking a round.
I would advise calling the club to check availability, however, as Sandy Creek does welcome social groups which can wipe out big chunks of available tee times in one hit.
More often than not, outside of competition times, you’ll likely have the course to yourself.
How welcome are visitors?
Visitors are more than welcome to come and play Sandy Creek Golf Club.
As mentioned earlier, the upkeep and running of the club and course is now predominantly done so by volunteers, who will always greet you with a smile and get your round underway with no fuss.
Only once did I have a bad experience on the golf course, when during a Saturday competition round an older member marched across two fairways to have a go at me for being in his eye-line 200m down the fairway while I was searching for my ball in the adjacent rough.
Apparently, it caused him to spray his tee shot.
In a huge testament to the club’s push for inclusiveness for golfers of all abilities – I had only just taken up the game at the time, and was still learning the etiquette involved – I found out a week later that said member had been expelled from the club. Apparently, he was a serial offender.
But this was a rare incident – in fact, out of the dozens of rounds I’ve played at Sandy Creek, this was the only negative experience.
Every other time, the members and staff have been very welcoming, making it an enjoyable place to place golf.
Is there a dress code?
The club state that players will not be permitted onto the course without a collared shirt or blouse, and shorts, trousers, slacks and skirts must be tailored. So, essentially neat casual.
While this may be enforced during competition days on Thursdays and Saturdays, I’ve found the dress code to be far more relaxed almost every other time of the day.
I’ve seen people wear T-shirts without collars, and I’ve even rocked track pants during quiet mid-week times.
But leave your thongs at home. In the words of Shooter McGavin, “this is golf, not a rock concert”.
Are there practice facilities?
Sandy Creek has some of the best practice facilities in the Gawler/Barossa region.
The club completely redid its driving range a few years back, and it now stretches 320m long – so yes, you can absolutely hit driver – and you can purchase buckets of balls from inside the clubhouse.
Similarly, there are two putting and chipping greens, and a bunker, to practice your short game before a round.
There’s everything you need to fine-tune your swing before a round.
Can I buy food/drinks after the round?
The answer to this question depends on what time you play.
The bar is typically closed to visitors on Monday, but open to members and non-members between 8am and 3.30pm from Tuesday to Sunday.
During these times you’re able to grab a beer or soft drink, and some light snacks.
The kitchen is open from 11am till 3pm on Thursdays and Saturdays – perfect for those playing in the competition – and has some delicious pizzas to choose from.
Don’t expect to sit down for a chicken parmigiana, however – the hot food is pretty basic, but the pizzas are well worth a crack.
Price for 18 holes:
- Monday-Friday: $40
- Saturday: $50
- Sunday: $45
- Juniors (12-18): $20
- Juniors (under 12): Free
Price for 9 holes:
- Monday-Friday: $25
- Saturday: $30
- Sunday: $30
- Juniors (12-18): $10
- Juniors (under 12): Free
- Member’s guests: $30 (18 holes), $20 (9 holes) any day
Discounted green frees available for groups of 12 or more. Contact the club for details.
For less than $50, Sandy Creek Golf Club is a Barossa Valley bargain.
You’ll be met with a course that is visually aesthetic, challenging for golfers of all abilities, but won’t take you six hours to play or cost you an arm and a leg – nor is it too far from Adelaide’s CBD.
Most importantly, it is a course for all players.
Whether you play off scratch or 36, Sandy Creek is a place where you can enjoy the game without the glaring eyes off uppity members who are more concerned with how deep your divots are than their own game.
There are plenty of memorable holes that will plant the seed for you to make a return trip, and being so close to South Australia’s world-famous Barossa Valley wine region you can even make a day of it and continue further north to check out some of the state’s best cellar doors (if that’s your thing).
Enjoy a round at Sandy Creek – you will not be disappointed.
For more details about Sandy Creek Golf Club, visit their website.
Leave your own review in the comments section below!
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