Golf and Golfing in Australia

<em>Information for a golfer on playing the game in Australia. How to find a club, getting or transferring a handicap and the role of Golf Australia...</em>

It is agreed that golf arrived in Australia in the 1820s, introduced by Scottish settlers, with the first course laid out in the 1830s at Ratho, Tasmania. The Royal Melbourne Club, formed in 1891, and the Australian Golf Club in Sydney, formed in 1882, compete for the title of being the oldest club in the country. There was no course for seven years at the Australian Golf Club which has given rise to the claim that the Royal Melbourne is the older club. The West course at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club is generally considered to be the best course in Australia.

The sunny climate and outdoor lifestyle of Australia have helped golf become a popular sport, and it is played all year round. Golf is popular with both men and women. The country has over 1,500 golf courses, one of the highest number per person of any country in the world. There are many golf clubs and driving ranges throughout the country and many specialist coaches to help people learn or improve their game.

There is a wide range of styles of golf course in Australia, from heavily wooded and hilly to coastal links courses. Golf clubs also vary, from expensive exclusive private clubs to small local nine-hole courses. Driving ranges are very popular and are generally open to the public with no need for membership.

Golf Associations

Golf in Australia is overseen by Golf Australia, which is a national sporting organisation. It runs the country's handicapping and course rating systems and has a number of schemes to encourage participation in the sport.

Golf Australia is affiliated with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, so the rules of the game are the same as in many European and American countries.

Finding a Golf Club

Players arriving in Australia can search for clubs in their area using their State Association. Each State Association is responsible for governing the golf in its state. They promote the sport locally and organise competitions for all levels of player.

To find out about golf in a particular state follow the links below:

Becoming a member

Each of these websites lists the public access courses, driving ranges and private clubs in that state. Many of the clubs listed have their own website and should be contacted directly to enquire about the process involved with becoming a member.

Many private golf clubs in Australia are selective about their membership and often require applicants to be introduced by current members and to provide a reference from a former club. A possible step towards full club membership is to join an organisation that provides access to a private course and handicap benefits. These organisations - gold clubs without courses - are recognised by Golf Australia and provide a way for newcomers, beginners and occasional players to get their handicap recognised and gain access to competition play at member-only clubs.

Dress codes are reasonably common, especially in private clubs.

Fees and facilities

The cost of playing at or joining a golf club varies enormously. The joining and annual fees for private clubs can be very high and waiting periods of several years are not uncommon. Clubs can also be contacted to enquire if "green fee" playing is allowed. If so, it is possible to simply turn up and play. Clubhouse access is usually included with green fee play.

Most golf clubs have bars, catering facilities, a shop and coaching available. Some also have their own driving range.

Taking up Golf

Golf Australia has a number of programmes to help interested people learn and get involved with golf. It runs Golf Access Australia in association with the Australian Sports Commission. This scheme helps new golfers to obtain a handicap, get involved with competitions and join a club.

  • For more information on Golf Access Australia: Click here

Most golf clubs have at least one professional who teaches both individuals and group lessons. These are also usually available to non-members. The dress code of the club may have to be adhered to by anyone visiting for a lesson.

Golf Australia also runs the MYGolf scheme for children between the ages of 8 and 16 who are interested in playing the sport. There are MYGolf centres throughout Australia and the scheme also runs programmes in Australian schools.

Golf Handicaps and Course Ratings

The handicap system in Australia is overseen by Golf Australia. Official handicaps can only be issued by golf clubs affiliated to a State Association which is a member of Golf Australia. A handicap awarded by any other body is not officially recognised. There are separate codes and standards for women's and men's handicaps.

Handicaps are based on all scores in 18-hole single stroke competition rounds, and are allotted by a player's home club. A player's Australian handicap will be the average of the best ten differentials from their twenty most recent valid scores, multiplied by 0.96. A differential is defined as the difference between the gross score and the course rating.

Australia has a national computerised handicapping system called Golf Link. Players using the system have a swipe card which allows them to update their handicap information from a computer terminal at clubs throughout the country.

Course ratings

Golf Australia also oversees course ratings for Australian golf courses. The listed course rating for men and women reflects the difficulty of the course for a player of that gender with a handicap of zero.

Getting a handicap

Players who have never had an Australian handicap must submit three cards to get a handicap. The cards can be from rounds of between 9 and 18 holes played at any course with an Australian course rating. For men, any score on these greater than three over par is treated as three over par, for women the same system is applied for four over par.

The differential between the player's score card and the course's fixed rating is then calculated for each round and the worst two discarded. The best differential is then recorded as the player's first official score and is entered three times into their handicap record. These are used to give an initial handicap.

Transferring a handicap

Golfers who have just arrived in the country and wish to get an Australian handicap should contact their State Association to see if the handicap from their home country can be transferred. It is up to each Association whether they recognise official overseas handicaps. If they do, the overseas handicap can be treated as a "last recorded handicap" in the same way as one from a player rejoining handicap golf after a period away from the game. In most cases the last recorded handicap is reinstated.

  • Full details on the handicap and rating systems are given by Golf Australia: For more information: Click here (PDF)


There are regular competitions in Australia for golfers of all abilities. Most competitions can be entered by any player with an official handicap. Many clubs have regular competitions offering a range of prizes. The most common types of competition are stroke play, match play, Stableford and four ball stroke play.

Each state/territory has competitive teams for both men and women. Only Australian citizens can be a member of one of these teams. There are also national squads. Major international competitions include the Australian PGA Championship, the Australian Masters and the Australian Open Golf.

Further Information