Australian golf is really a game of distance. Vast distance. The trip from the States takes so long, you'll lose an entire day just getting there. Going that extra mile, though, yields rich rewards, and not just because the Vegemite is so tasty. If the magnificent courses dotting Melbourne's historic Sand Belt and gracing Queensland's lush coastline were anywhere near North America, they'd be among the most celebrated on the planet. Fortunately, the distance and seclusion have kept the gems relatively secret, which means even the most exclusive courses can be played with a little advance planning.
Because the country is so far away and so enormous, plan at least a two-week stay. Spend the first part in Melbourne, the heart and soul of Australian golf. From there, head east to be dazzled by Sydney before flying north to the reefs and rain forests of Queensland, then return home via Cairns.
Still hesitant?Consider that Yankee greenbacks are kicking butt Down Under (at press time, one U.S. dollar was worth two Aussie dollars), and the country is basking in a post-Olympics glow. So pack a good book and extrastrong sunscreen and see your world turned upside down. (All prices below are U.S. $)
Many of the best golf courses in Australia are private clubs, but if you contact them beforehand, you may well be able to arrange a game. Several bookers can also help with arrangements at these and other courses: Australia New Zealand Golf (golfaustralianewzealand.com; 800-622-6606) is America's top Australian golf tour specialist; the choice among Sydney concierges is Sydney Golf Tours (sydneygolftours.com; 011-612-9975-7755); and Unlimited Golf (unlimitedgolf.com.au; 011-613-9509-5955) is the premier Melbourne booker.
Aussie rules favor tradition, so check with club officials about dress codes; short, American-style socks are taboo in some places. Cell phones are not welcome, and wearing a hat in any clubhouse is a no-no on par with insulting Elle Macpherson. Most blokes play golf as it was meant to be played: walkabout-style, carrying or pulling their own clubs (caddies are not a common sight, and power carts are a luxury usually found only in Queensland and at new resort courses). No second-chance shots here—mulligan is just a surname in Australia. Finally, distances are in meters, so always remember to add ten percent to calculate approximate yardage (e.g., 150 meters=165 yards).
With so many venerable, world-class courses laid out southeast of town across the windswept soil known as the Sand Belt, it's possible to play one course in the morning and another that afternoon. These are the best of the lot.