Australia is a country blessed with, among many other charms, world-class golf courses. Most golf fans probably know about the historic courses in the Sandbelt region around Melbourne, including Kingston Heath and Royal Melbourne. Golf magazines have given (justifiably) glowing reviews to the new courses at Barnbougle in Tasmania. Students of Alister Mackenzie know well the links at New South Wales. A lesser-known gem that ranks among the top fifty in the world is located in South Australia: The Royal Adelaide Golf Club.
An updated club history for the Royal Adelaide Golf Club
The club has just issued an updated history covering the 25-year period since its initial history. The book has an unusual name: Seaton Bent. Seaton is the Adelaide suburb where the course is located; and the course uses bent grass, thus Seaton Bent. The book is written by a club member, David Black, and delves into both the course’s initial development and more recent ones.
Although a creation of Cargie Rymill and Harry Swift, Alister Mackenzie also influenced the course design when he visited for four days during his trip to Australia. He compared the course to some lofty company: Cypress Point and North Berwick. MacKenzie’s major contribution was to re-route the course through the dunes on the central part of the property. MacKenzie’s re-routing eliminated the back and forth across railroad tracks. Aside from the back tee on the fourteenth, all holes now play on either one side or the other. MacKenzie said, “If the suggestions put forward for the reconstruction of the Royal Adelaide course are acted upon, it will be superior to most, if not all, English championship courses.”
Among the holes that remain Mackenzie originals are the par four third. Many golf books, including Planet Golf, rate the third as one of the world’s great par fours. The small green sits among sand dunes set in a narrow hollow. It is only 265 meters and is potentially drivable, but the shot is blind from the tee. The fairway gets progressively narrower the closer you get to the green.
Black correctly summarizes the debate about the course’s pedigree stating that Royal Adelaide, “Cannot be classified as a pure MacKenzie course. Nevertheless, there still exists undeniable evidence of Dr. Mackenzie’s influence on this great golf links.” The author also tackles head on the recent controversy of poorly conceived changes to the seventeenth hole done by Australian architect Mike Clayton. The reconstructed hole was so incongruous with the rest of the course that the club reversed Clayton’s changes when they brought in Tom Doak to modify it once again, this time for the better.
Royal Adelaide’s centenary history published in 1992
The club’s first history, published for the centenary in 1992 was the Royal Adelaide Golf Club 1892-1992 a hardcover title of 171 pages written by Michael Cudmore. The book features a fold out schematic map of the course and a color spread of the 18 holes.
The fold-out map from the club’s first history showing the railroad track bisecting the course
I personally have very fond memories of Royal Adelaide and put it among my personal top ten courses ever played. The combination of the distinctive reddish soil the course is built on, the quaint small train that passes through the course and the spectacular and imaginatively routed golf course make it a truly memorable place to play golf. If the course weren’t 13 1/2 time zones away, I would have returned sooner to play it again.
Both books are worthy of adding to a golfer’s collection.
— John Sabino