Established vineyards come and go the deeper you get into the valley, where you will find The Vines Resort & Country Club, a former tournament venue where the kangaroos are plentiful, and the landscape is dominated by massive greens and rolling fairways.
It was here during the 1990s that the European Tour made its home for one week a year, co-sanctioning the Heineken Classic and, later, several Johnnie Walker Classics with the Australasian PGA Tour. Both events offered the biggest prize purses in Australian golf and, as a result, attracted superstars in the men’s game including Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, John Daly, Bernhard Langer and a host of others.
Some of the biggest names in women’s golf also played at The Vines in the 2007 Lexus Cup, a team event inspired by the Solheim Cup where the best players from Asia, like major winners Se Ri Pak and Jiyai Shin, were pitted against the finest Internationals including the legendary Annika Sörenstam as well as the likes of Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis.
The pros in all these events played a composite course with the best holes drawn from the Graham Marsh and Ross Watson-designed Lakes and Ellenbrook courses. In fact, even today, more than two decades after the Heineken Classic moved from The Vines to Royal Melbourne Golf Club, the composite course – incorporating holes 1, 2 and 12 through 18 of the Ellenbrook layout, with the Lakes layout back nine – is often referred to as the ‘Heineken’ course.
The Vines recently announced a masterplan for the entire property to undergo a $9 million upgrade that will ultimately see the composite course brought back into play as the resort’s tournament layout, with a nine-hole short course and a two-tiered driving range to be built. Other areas of what is now much of the front nine of the Ellenbrook course will become part of a residential development.
The first stage of upgrading the composite course has begun with new irrigation and drainage work being carried out, as well as some bunker remodelling.
The best holes across the entire property will remain. Opening a round will be the 1st hole of what is now the Ellenbrook course, which is a great entrée.
At 379 metres, this par-4 calls for distance and precision from the tee. Your drive should skirt the edge of the large fairway bunker (about 210 metres off the tee) to the left to leave an easier short- or mid-iron to the slightly elevated, tiered green.
When ‘Wild Thing’ Daly visited The Vines to play the 1996 Heineken Classic – and run T5, his best ever finish in Australia – he used a 3-iron from the tee every day. Indeed such was his respect for the whole course “it was the first time I ever played 72 holes without using my driver,” he said.
The tournament course will boast a fine collection of par-3s, with the current Ellenbrook 13th (which will become the 4th hole) and the Lakes’ 16th the best of the lot. While bunkering dominates on the 13th, there is water and sand at the long 16th.
Like so many of the holes at The Vines, the pin position really dictates how the hole should be played. When the flag is on the left of the green – which sits diagonally to the tee – it is a straight-forward mid- to long-iron with the water and bunkers to the right only coming into play for bad mishits. But when the flag is positioned right your tee shot must carry 200 metres with the water and sand most definitely in play. In fact, the smart play in this situation is to aim for the centre of the green and watch the ball take the break off the sloping putting surface and finish near the flag.
Throughout the past 100 years, some of the game’s best-credentialed golf course designers have been lured to Perth on the promise they would find land north of the Swan River that is worthy of creating a memorable layout.
The first to do so was Alex Russell, the 1924 Australian Open champion and design associate of Dr Alister MacKenzie in Australia, who set the tone for what was to follow with his creation for the Lake Karrinyup Country Club.
Today, a 20-minute drive north of the CBD can have you standing on the 1st tee at one of four impressive layouts that have all been ranked in the nation’s Top-100 Courses by this magazine.
Lake Karrinyup remains the best of them – a past Australian Open venue and a host of other big events including the WA Open, Perth International, Johnnie Walker Classic and World Super 6s.
Ranked No.22 in Australia, Lake Karrinyup has undergone two major renovations in the past 15 years, both of which have been inspired by Russell’s original design and have really improved the golfing experience.
Mike Clayton oversaw the first 18-hole renovation which was completed in 2006. It was an extensive redesign that embraced Russell’s vision and was widely acclaimed. A little over a decade later, Mike Cocking – of the design firm (Geoff) Ogilvy, Cocking and (Ashley) Mead (OCM) – supervised recontouring and bunkering shaping as all 18 greens were converted to the impressively smooth 007 bentgrass.
Karrinyup, which will celebrate its centenary in 2028, features multiple blind tee shots and elevation changes that make driving the ball a test of trust that you have selected the right line. And like so many of the great courses presents a risk and reward style, with fairways offering width but requiring the correct line if you are to receive a bounding run down to the hole and the best line to attack the green.
The imposing trees throughout the property and the par-72’s rugged bunkering – which appears to have been shaped by nature rather than man – make Karrinyup a visually stunning course.
Lake Karrinyup isn’t the only course in the suburbs north of the Swan that has undergone, or is undergoing, extensive renovations.
OCM is currently overseeing the greens replacement program and bunker remodelling at Mt Lawley Golf Club, which, like Lake Karrinyup, was formed in 1928.
The club recently entered Stage Two of the wholesale changes, including a rebuild of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 16th greens and their surrounds, which is due for completion in 2024.
Easily the most intriguing of these changes is the restoration of the short downhill par-3 13th ‘Commonwealth’ hole – with the green to more closely resemble the map of Australia, including Tasmania, with bunkers added to highlight the unique shape of the putting surface.
Mt Lawley covers beautiful terrain that doesn’t appear far removed from the great landscape which is home to Melbourne’s world famous Sandbelt courses. One of the finest attributes of those courses is the close-cut relationship between greenside bunkers and the putting surface. This is certainly a feature of the OCM redesign.
Mt Lawley’s nearest golfing neighbour The Western Australian Golf Club – little more than five minutes’ drive away in Yokine – has undertaken some renovations of its own in recent years.
Course superintendent Idris Evans, who has been at The Western Australian for more than three decades, has overseen turf upgrades and some bunker remodelling which has continued to raise the standard of the highly acclaimed course. The layout is immaculate, with some of the finest bentgrass greens and beautifully manicured surrounds to be found in the state.
The layout opens unusually with a spectacular, daunting long par-3. Stretched to 210 metres from the tips, the 1st hole has water flanking the entire left side of the fairway, and tall eucalyptus trees and out-of-bounds to the right. Two bunkers short, left of the green and another front right offer additional protection to par. The huge putting surface is quite receptive and features only subtle undulations, but generally most putts break towards the front of the green.
As you walk to the opening green, take a glance over your left shoulder at the hole bordering the other side of the lake. For many, the 9th hole is Western Australian’s most memorable par-3. At 176 metres, it’s a beautiful one-shotter that plays across the edge of a lake to the green with the historic Tudor-style clubhouse in the background. The angled putting surface is deep and narrow with two deep bunkers left, another back right and a smaller pot-style bunker short right.
The 288-metre par-4 12th has earned a reputation for offering the best city view from any Perth golf course. The sweeping vista from the 12th tee is a good one, but so is the hole that lies out in front. The short downhiller tempts players to take on the huge bunkers short of the angled green. The reward for avoiding the sandy hazard short left of the putting surface, will be a chip or putt for eagle. But there is the risk of finding the sand, leaving an awkward and difficult bunker shot resulting in a bogey or worse.
Nearly 25 minutes’ drive west across the northern suburbs is Cottesloe Golf Club, which has just entered the final stage of a Graham Marsh redesign masterplan that was first set out in 1998.
Work has begun on the final six holes of the restoration – from the 11th through to the 16th – which will see bunkers remodelled as well as green complexes rebuilt and resurfaced with 777 bentgrass. Cottesloe will be the first Australian course to have this new super bentgrass on all its holes, and it will be the first time in more than four decades that all 18 greens of the layout will be covered in the same grass.
Marsh’s renovation has enhanced the natural landscape of the property, with its significant changes in elevation, mature trees and rolling fairways.
Cottesloe requires strategic play from the tee to avoid numerous fairway bunkers and set up straightforward approaches into the often dramatically undulating putting surfaces. A big part of Marsh’s design theory here has been to counter the course’s lack of modern course length with complex greens full of slopes and tiers demanding an approach shot from one side of the fairway or the other, depending on the pin position of the day.
One of Cottesloe’s most memorable offerings is the 416-metre par-4 12th hole where three bunkers – one left and two right – line the driving zone. Another two bunkers, which will be reshaped as part of the Marsh upgrade, lie left of the pear-shaped green, which is most receptive to approach shots from the right third of the fairway.
The final stage of the restoration is due to be completed in March 2024.
Cottesloe Golf Club originally occupied coastal land about five minutes’ drive to the south, which is where, today, you will find Sea View Golf Club, regarded as one of the best nine-hole courses in the country.
Golf was first played on this land back in 1908 making it the third oldest course in Western Australia. Former British Amateur Champion Peter Anderson, who was then Perth’s Scotch College headmaster, laid out the original nine holes on natural undulating terrain opposite the beach.
Sea View not only offers alternate tees for a second nine, but also boasts alternate flags on the 1st/10th, 5th/14th, 7th/16th and 8th/17th, such is the size of the putting surfaces on these holes.
Just as Cottesloe Golf Club was settling into its new home in the early 1930s, a lease was being granted to a private company, Wembley Downs Public Golf Course Ltd, for 150 acres at nearby Floreat Park.
Under the direction of engineer turned course designer, Walter Fox, trees and scrub were cleared – much of it by hand – from across the rolling topography to the east of where the clubhouse now offers views of the property.