A week to savour
It isn’t every week professional golf comes to the game’s best courses, but in Adelaide and Los Angeles this week tour players are in for a treat of great golf course design. The men are playing the Genesis Invitational (which used to be known as the Los Angeles Open) at George Thomas’ classic at Riviera and the women are back at Royal Adelaide for the Women’s Australian Open.
From the latest world top 100 list, only Riviera, Augusta, Pebble Beach and TPC Sawgrass hold annual tournaments in the United States and the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland is played over four days at three in the top 100 – St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie.
The dearth of big tournaments in Australia means we only occasionally see Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and New South Wales and we can safely assume pro golf will never venture to either course at Barnbougle or Cape Wickham.
There are many and varied reasons. Los Angeles Country Club, another Thomas classic, has never hosted a tour event because the members have less than no interest in opening their gates, although it will host the US Open for the first time in 2023.
Sand Hills, the best modern American golf course, is in the middle-of-nowhere Nebraska and only playable five months a year. Royal Dornoch is easily good enough to hold an Open Championship but like Sand Hills, it’s too far from anywhere.
The beautiful 6000-yard Swinley Forest in Surrey was never long enough and Sunningdale, just down the road, was once a willing participant in European Tour golf but it is now deemed too short to test the longest drivers.
Royal Adelaide is a beautiful golf course with a routing masterfully and continually switching from the duller parts of the property into the dramatic bits and out again. The opening hole, a dog-leg to the left, does little at arouse much passion and first-time visitors would be excused for wondering what the fuss, and the high ranking, is all about.
You cross a railway line on the way to the next tee and play a flattish par five, but one with a deal of strategic interest built into the second shot. It’s at the third hole, though, where you finally get a sense of Royal Adelaide and why it’s rated so highly. It’s a blind, short (maybe even drivable this week with the wind behind) par four fitted dramatically between two sand dunes by Alister MacKenzie when he redesigned parts of the course in the late 1920s.
MacKenzie gets more credit for the course than he perhaps deserves as Cargie Rymill, a local with a considerable talent for design, did at least as much of what we see today.
MacKenzie’s full alteration plan was abandoned as members were aroused enough to write to the newspaper (one presumes not the local tabloid) complaining about the imported Scot ruining their golf course.
We can absolutely mark MacKenzie down as another of his time getting credit of his genius long after he was dead. Such was the financial deprivation of the depression, Augusta National even failed to pay him monies owning from his design commission there.
The best hole on the course comes at the difficult 14th, but it was MacKenzie’s plan from the 15th tee to the end which was rejected by the committee. It was probably a pity but the newish, short par five, 17th hole (one resembling the concept MacKenzie drew) is growing in nicely and looking more a part of the course with each passing year.
There is much variety in finishing quintet of holes. The first of them turns a long way to the right, the par five, 15th swings hard to the left and the 16th with its tiny tabletop green is one of the hardest short hole greens to hit in the country.
The 17th shows off MacKenzie’s concept of a split fairway with the advantage going to the player driving left of the centre bunkers to open a clear line into the green protected on the right flank by deep bunkers.
A quirk of Adelaide golf is Kooyonga, Grange West and Royal Adelaide all finish with short par fours but each is worthy of a championship course and prove fine courses needn’t finish with a long par four or a water-infested par five.
Having said that, the long four to finish at Riviera this week is one of American golf’s iconic holes and these two brilliant courses half a world apart make it a week of professional golf to savor.