Alice Springs Golf Club
It is safe to say that our day at Alice Springs Golf Club surprised the hell out of us! First, we never really expected to be in Alice Springs. And second, when we found ourselves there, the golf course was so much more than we ever would have imagined!
When we arrived in Australia in December 2019, we had a rough 6-to-8-month travel and golf plan. Of course, Uluru was part of our original plan. So, we knew that a trip to Alice Springs could be a strong possibility. But we certainly hadn’t planned a round at the Golf Club. However, as it did with everyone, covid forced us to completely change our plans!
An Unexpected Visit
Prior to covid, we had already made it much of the way down Australia’s eastern coast. We were on our way to Tasmania, while simultaneously keeping our eye open for flights so we could visit Uluru. And then March 2020 arrived. Perhaps naïve at the time, we didn’t expect the virus to have such a lasting impact. But as days stretched into weeks, and weeks stretched into months, we realized that our original plans were no longer possible. First, flights were canceled. And second, many of Australia’s borders had closed to one another.
Fast forward another 6 months, and we found ourselves in the middle of Australia’s Red Centre driving down the Stuart Highway. We had set the ambitious, and probably insane goal of golfing the iconic Explorer’s Way! Starting at Darwin Golf Club, we made our target of playing golf all the way down to Adelaide Golf Club, a mere 4062 kilometers south!
Roughly halfway, we arrived in Alice Springs in late October, hot and exhausted from days of driving. Late October is late spring, almost early summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and it already felt like summer was beating down in the NT. But there was something familiar and extremely refreshing about Alice Springs.
Alice Springs, or The Alice, or simply Alice as it is locally known, wasn’t the dry dusty town that we had become so accustomed to the previous weeks of traveling down Australia’s marvelous Top End. There was a stream. Trees. And even green grass! A true oasis in the middle of nowhere! And a strikingly beautiful-looking golf course!
Australia’s Original Desert Golf Course
Australia is a land that is full of deserts. But we were shocked to learn that there are only 2 true desert golf courses in this huge country. Kalgoorlie Golf Course, located in WA, and depending on your direction is either the beginning two or end two holes of the Nullabor Links. And Alice Springs Golf Club. Alice Springs was consistently ranked within the top 100 in Australia for years, and as recently as in 2016, but has since slipped out. That probably has more to do with the increase in competition of fantastic golf courses in Australia than anything.
Designed by golfing legend Mr. Peter Thomson and his partner Mr. Michael Wolveridge in the 1980s, Alice Springs is Australia’s original desert golf course. The stunning scenery that surrounds the course and the uninterrupted views of the MacDonnell Ranges will simply blow your mind! The golf club plays 6776 yards from the back blue tees, with a par of 72, and 5857 yards, par 73 from the red forward tees.
As we arrived, we were saddened to learn that the front 9 was closed. It was early spring here in Australia. And just like spring all over in the golfing world, the greens were being aerated, or plugged, and sanded to get ready for the summer season.
But, as we’ve learned in our travels through Australia, it was no worries, mate! It was already getting hot, so we jumped in a buggy, and I started the day by making a birdie on our opening hole, the par 5 tenth.
An Introduction to Desert Golf
Having grown up on the West Coast of the US, I have played a lot of golf in the desert. Both Palm Springs and Phoenix are home to some of the best. But not Menekse. Yes, we played some courses in the Australian desert. But they were more country courses or whoop whoop courses as they might be called in Australia, than true desert courses. They were the types of golf courses that have sand greens and dirt fairways. And it didn’t take long for her to be introduced to true desert golf!
The 390-yard eleventh, our second hole, is a straightaway par 4 that has a pair of fairway bunkers that guard the left, and we did our best to stay away. Aiming just right of those bunkers, Menekse’s tee shot went too far right, and she found the left side desert that outlines the hole. Without an old desert club in our bag, she knew that to get out safely, she had to pick it extremely clean! With just a puff of smoke, she picked it clean and flew out just short of the green.
From the left-center of the fairway, I hit a wedge that carried the greenside bunker short and found the putting surface.
Playing well at Alice Springs
A V in the MacDonnell Ranges acts as the perfect target on the 413-yard par 4 thirteenth. With the target in mind, I knew that I should fade my tee shot to avoid the fairway bunker left to find the fairway on the slight dogleg right. Maybe it was the heat of the day, but my swing felt loose, and I hit another bomb.
The long 187-yard par 3 fifteenth was a spectacular golf hole. Surrounded by multiple bunkers short, and preceded by nothing but the desert floor, Menekse hit a high 5-wood. The green was slightly elevated, which was the only elevation that we remembered on the back.
I had a lot of confidence standing on the 378-yard eighteenth, our last hole of the day, and absolutely ripped another tee shot. The relative straight par 4 has a “waste area” swale that somewhat dissects the fairway in two sections. Carrying the swale, I was left with a delicate wedge at an awkward distance. With just under 60-yards to the pin, I picked my 56° wedge clean. It was a great shot, but I frustratingly missed an 8-footer for a birdie that would have left me 1 under for the round.
Peter Thomson’s Favorite Golf Holes
Alice Springs is home to 2 holes that Mr. Thomson rated as being within the top twenty holes that he has ever designed.
First was the 187-yard third, which is also probably Alice Spring’s signature hole. The long par 3 plays downhill and was downwind when we stood on the tee. But as we looked down at the flag, we could see that the wind was blowing the flag in a different direction than we felt standing on the tee. The late afternoon winds were beginning to pick up. There is also a large deep bunker that will certainly collect your less-than-perfect swing.
Another beautiful-looking hole that we, unfortunately, couldn’t play was Thomson’s other favorite, the 422-yard par 4 eighth. Accuracy is more important here than length, and the best play from the tee would be down the skinny right side of the dogleg right fairway. This approach would prevent the pair of trees that protect the left side of the green from coming into play.
Driving the buggy around the front nine, we could see that there is a big difference between the two sides. The back was predominantly flat, while the front had some changes in elevation, most notably on the third. But the views of the surrounding area were just as spectacular!
An Oasis in the Desert
Alice Springs is desert golf, which means accuracy is a must. The golf course isn’t punishingly long, and not overly difficult. However, a good swirling desert wind like we felt on three could provide a much stiffer challenge than the benign winds that we experienced.
Both Menekse and I played well, which always leaves favorable memories. Good players definitely have the opportunity to shoot low scores here, as evidenced by the 65 shot by Stuart Appleby, and the 66 by a young 16-year-old Adam Scott in the ’97 Australian Boys’ Amateur Championship.
Not all golfers like desert golf, and we must admit that desert golf is not our favorite. However, there is no arguing that desert golf is beautiful golf! The rich vibrant green grass, the bright blue skies, and the deep dark reds of the bunkers and the surrounding desert environment were an explosion of contrasting colors. The kaleidoscope shades of desert red coloring the MacDonnell Ranges seemed to change as the day progressed. The beautiful desert trees and fauna, and the large eucalyptus trees surprised us. And the greenside small pot bunkers looked like something that Mr. Thomson plucked from the links courses in the UK that he so loved!
The fairways had beautiful angles and offered fantastic great tight lies which I did my best to take advantage of. The greens were understandably bumpy and slow due to the maintenance. While mostly flat, they had some understated undulations and movements that made reading them for the first time difficult. They had trouble short and long, but miss the greens left or right, and you’ll still have a chance to save par.
With good value green fees, Alice Springs was a well-conditioned course, even if the greens were cored!
The Most Remote Good Golf Course That We Have Played in all Our Travels
After our round, we rewarded ourselves with a delicious ASP IPA at Alice Springs Brewing Co. It was the ultimate reprieve from the heat of the day’s desert sun. And, with a hoppy aroma and taste that reminded me of my hometown of Portland, Oregon, it was my favorite beer in Australia!
As we sat there reflecting on our day, we realized that we both played very well. I enjoyed the course layout, and the heat really made my swing feel young. Menekse continued her string of recent good play, which made me wonder if maybe she likes this desert golf!
Alice Springs was easily the most remote good golf course that we have played in all our travels! The desert layout makes it unique from all other courses in Australia that we’ve played thus far, and we are so glad that we were able to include Alice Springs in our Australia golf journey! Even if it wasn’t planned. But sometimes the best things are never planned!