Australia Wine and Golf

Royal Adelaide Hole #7. Copyright Donnelle OxleyAmericans often lump New Zealand and Australia together, even though they are 1,000 miles apart. Both countries are peopled by friendly folk, but they dislike being named in the same breath and are fiercely competitive in the things that count—sports, wine, food and the wow factor of their countries.
We flew from Auckland, New Zealand, into the capital of South Australia–Adelaide, which the New Yorker magazine once dubbed “possibly the last well-planned and contented metropolis on earth.” No doubt about it, the living is good, with more restaurants per capita than any other Australian city, and wide boulevards lined with tidy homes and mansions. Seventy percent of the nation’s wine exports originate here, but the Aussies keep a great deal of the best wines for themselves, judging by our experiences in the local eateries.
The Royal Adelaide Golf Club is a century-old Alister MacKenzie gem that has hosted nine Australian Opens and is ranked fifth in the country. The architect said it best: “No seaside courses I have seen possesses such magnificent sand craters as those at Adelaide.”

Royal Adelaide is private, but we had tee times, thanks to the late golf pro Cass Colbourne, who set up our itinerary and traveled with us. A walking-only course, Royal Adelaide proved to be a long gauntlet of grassy mounds and sprawling bunkers—those sand craters MacKenzie mentioned. There were lots of blind shots—rather confounding without a local to give us a clue–and sculpted greens that ran true and fast.

Cass also arranged a post-round “shrimp on the barbie” meal prepared by Andrew Fielke, an award-winning chef who left London’s famous Savoy Hotel to return to his homeland in the 1980s. He has since introduced the world to Australian native cuisine, using “wild foods” in creative dishes. Andrew grilled fresh shrimp on the clubhouse barbie, along with oysters, clams, scallops, prawns, kangaroo, emu, kingfish and lamb. It was an exceptional meal, accompanied by equally exceptional local wines.

We stayed in the Bishop’s Garden, a lovely 1940s mansion that’s one of the unique B&Bs in the North Adelaide Heritage Group. Another of the properties is a converted firehouse complete with an antique fire truck and a fireman’s pole.

North of Adelaide lies the famous Barossa Valley, Australia’s best-known winemaking region. Settled by German-speaking immigrants in the 1830s, the region is the source of fine ethnic foods and beer as well as wines. At the Jacob’s Creek Vineyard, we lunched on fork-tender steaks and other local produce, then spent a pleasant afternoon tasting wines at “cellar doors” in vineyards such as Peter Lehmann, Rockford, and Grant Burge.

Indian Pacific to Sydney

Sydney Harbour and the Opera House. Copyright Donnelle OxleyAt the Adelaide train station we boarded the Indian Pacific for a 24-hour trip through the Outback to Sydney, one of the world’s greatest rail journeys. The Gold Kangaroo Service entitled us to meals in a private dining car and cozy sleeper cabins with picture windows. Outside, kangaroos, emus and wallabies scattered as the train rumbled through the barren landscape. One stop was the bleak mining town of Broken Hill, where A Town Like Alice and Mad Max 2 were filmed.

In Sydney we checked into the 34-story harbor-view Four Seasons (the city’s best hotel, according to Travel+Leisure), and spent the day exploring the Taronga Zoo (an impressive collection of animals in natural settings), the famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and The Rocks, a lively shopping and dining area on the water.

New South Wales Hole #13. Copyright Donnelle OxleyNot far from the city center is the New South Wales Golf Club, Sydney’s only course in the world’s top 100 (it averages 50th)–and my favorite Aussie track. A MacKenzie design, NSW is a heavily bunkered, links-style layout on high, rounded hills along the Pacific, with frequent ocean views and a number of water encounters. One of these is the par-three sixth hole, which tees off from a rock outcropping reached by a bridge across a teeming inlet. The green lies across the water, on the edge of a bluff.

Melbourne

We caught a flight from Sydney to Melbourne, a city with a vibrant arts, dining, shopping, entertainment and sports scene. Our hotel was the historic high-rise Langham, overlooking the city skyline and the Yarra River. One evening we dined aboard the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant, enjoying a three-course silver service meal in Pullman splendor as the 1927 tram trundled through the city.

The Royal Melbourne Golf Club is located in the “Sand Belt” near several other famous clubs. MacKenzie designed the West Course and influenced the Alex Russell-designed East Course. Tournaments are usually played on a composite of the two, which is ranked sixth in the world. The wind was light during our round—a stroke of luck, because the par fours are long, and the hard, fast, couch grass fairways shed balls into massive bunkers. Sticking a ball on the slick, undulating greens demanded a soft touch.

Melbourne skyline from the Langham Hotel. Copyright Donnelle Oxley Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula is a popular tourist destination with resorts, wineries, golf courses, restaurants, art galleries and natural attractions. We stopped for a long lunch at Montalto, a 23-acre estate with vineyards, oliveMontalto Vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula. Copyright Donnelle Oxley. groves, wetland trails, and gardens that grow produce for the restaurant. We did our wine tasting on the terrace in front of the cellar door, overlooking the vineyards. The vintner placed two chardonnays in front of me and pointed to two facing hillsides that were the origin of the grapes. Even to my rather plebian palate it was obvious that the vines on the sunnier slope produced a fuller-bodied wine. But both chards were delicious, lacking the heavy oak taste found in so many American chards.

At dusk, we reached Phillip Island Nature Park, where the Penguin Parade is the country’s third most popular attraction, drawing a half-million visitors annually. We followed a long boardwalk down to Summerland Beach for the evening ritual. Soon, waves of adorable, foot-tall fairy penguins began surfing into shore and waddling up to their burrows, calling loudly to their waiting young.

The next morning, as we settled into our comfortable business class seats (love the 60-degree recline, large foot rests, and great service) aboard Air New Zealand, I wore a penguin pin one lapel and a kiwi on the other. I’ll never speak of the two countries again as if they are synonymous—nor will I choose a favorite.

About Dale Leatherman

In the course of her life she has exercised racehorses at New York’s Belmont Park, showed jumping horses on the A Circuit, driven a race car with the late Paul Newman and played the world’s most famous golf courses.

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