Pacific Dunes Golf & Country Club

Pacific Dunes Golf Club

Pacific Dunes is a highly rated course located at Port Stephens just north of Newcastle in NSW. Its design is a triumph (by architect James Wilcher) of creating an exciting and memorable course from an essentially flat and unspectacular site. The front nine runs through native woodlands, where tree-lined fairways demand accuracy. The course opens on the back nine with a more resort-style wetland setting with frequent watery graves to be avoided. The clever design is complemented by year-round championship-ready levels of course conditioning – the couch fairways are carpet-like and the bent grass greens are wonderful surfaces containing subtle breaks.

The par 72 championship course has smooth bent grass greens and a superb ball striking surface of Santa Ana couch. Both are surrounded by a dense assortment of Angophoras and Swamp Mahogany trees. At its longest the track stretches 6,403 metres, but has craftily managed to present a fine collection of gorgeous short par 4s – a prerequisite of any quality design!

The signature hole at Pacific Dunes gets the back 9 underway, and memorable it is. The 10th measures a mere 288 metres from the back tees and is, by a fair distance, the shortest of the par 4s, but is by no means easy. A meandering creek transects the fairway at 150 metres from the tee and continues down the left portion of the fairway before joining a lake that protects the front portion of a diagonally placed green. Key to success at this hole is a judiciously placed tee shot short of the fairway bunker followed by an assured wedge across the pond. Visualise what you want with the pitch here!

Kangaroos congregate in force at Pacific Dunes and one of their favourite haunts is the 16th tee, which is clearly one of the best holes to be found across this diverse layout. Intimidation is the theme from the tee at this 382-metre par 4 that doglegs left with water awaiting left and right. The closer you can get to the water on the left with the tee ball will afford a more direct, shorter approach to the green. Several pockets of tall gum trees encase the near perfect putting surface, which resides just past two bunkers that will attract less than perfectly struck approaches.

The home hole at Pacific Dunes is certainly a fitting closing examination. It’s a 486-metre par 5 with opportunity for reward or disaster! As with many previous holes, the tee shot is critical on this hole that surprisingly only rates as the 7th most difficult. The fairway at the outset is inviting and wide but narrows in a sinister fashion at the landing zone. Water stretches some 400 metres along the right side of the hole and, just for fun, extends right up to greens edge. The putting surface could be the largest on the course and sits barely raised from the waterline protected additionally by 3 bunkers beyond and to the left. Make sure you visit the elegant Greenhouse after golf for some fabulous food and a necessary beverage!

Newcastle Golf Club

Newcastle-Golf-Club

Located at the mouth of the Hunter River, a two-hour drive from Sydney, Newcastle is one of only two courses in NSW given international recognition by the panel of experts rating the World’s Top 100 Courses. It has recently been rated “International Honourable Mention”, meaning that it has won sufficient points to be worthy of inclusion in the Top 100 courses outside the USA. Given only a handful of the World Panel have played at Newcastle, it speaks volumes that those who have played this hidden gem rate it so highly! In recent rankings, Newcastle has appeared within the top 30 in Australia.

A true championship track of 6,200 metres, not considered long by modern standards, it is based on undulating sand dunes like those of the great historic links of Great Britain and Ireland. That said, instead of fairways lined by gorse and heather, Newcastle is carved out of a forest of eucalypts and angophoras abounding in native flora and fauna, including kookaburras, bearded dragons and wallabies, making it a delightful as well as a challenging course to play.

Although the course is situated only a few kilometres from the busy industrial city and port of Newcastle, the wide bands of trees separating the fairways give a feeling of peaceful isolation from the hustle and bustle cares of the world.

Originally founded within the city of Newcastle, the Club moved permanently into the remote dunes of nearby Stockton during the 1930’s to the site of a secondary 9-hole course they had built in 1915. Eric Apperly was employed to extend their short course and his full 18-hole layout opened in 1937 and has remained virtually untouched since.

Apperly utilised the undulating sand hills of the site, forging the holes out of dense Aussie bush – the routing meandering around, over, and up its considerable slopes. Purists could speculate that the sandpit bunkering model lacks the creativity of the Southern sand belt venues, however the ageless appeal of the design is the brilliant use of this contrasting terrain. The various holes turn with, rather than against the substantial fairway movement.

After a solid start, the most favourable sequence of shot making arrives at the famed 5th – a hole always in the discussion of top 20 holes in the country, and a perennial favourite of the membership at Stockton. Stretching 365 metres, this par 4 is an exciting driving hole encased by scrubby dunes with a diagonally placed landing area sweeping downward to the left. The following 6th is another standout hole. Shaping around tea tree scrub and elevating heavily into a substantial raised green, it is followed by a gorgeous short par 3. The next 2 have great merit as does the par 5 10th, a fabulous confluence pitted across three deep saddles that offers partially or fully blind shots dependant on whether you lie high up on ridges or deep in the chasms. The average length 11th and short 12th ease you into the back 9 which perhaps is not as demanding as the front side. That said, this uniquely Australian course is without a genuine weakness. Ranked as NSW’s Number 1 regional course, it is definitely worth your while to play it and make your own mind up on the top ranked golf holes.

Hunter Valley Golf & Country Club

Hunter Valley Golf Club

The Hunter Valley Golf and Country Club was originally named Portofino and was designed in 1998 by the current resident professional at the nearby Vintage, Richard Mercer, of the renowned family of golf pros including father David Mercer and uncle Alex Mercer.

Shortly after development, the formerly known Portofino club, ran into financial difficulty and later became Hunter Valley Golf & Country Club and these days it forms an integral part of the Crowne Plaza Resort. Measuring 5,774 metres, the par 71 design remains essentially the same. Not a long course by any means due to constraints on available land, Mercer still managed to create a challenging but somewhat quirky layout. A clever mix of almost drivable par 4s and reachable risk-reward par 5s featuring lovely views of adjoining vineyards and the ever present Brokenback Mountain range – Hunter Valley equals a delightful day’s golf.  

On the 280-metre par 4 1st you will encounter a lake running across the front of the tee. Despite the very generous fairway width, this body of water somehow turns a very simple short hole into one that can be a tad destructive. Clear the mind of negativity, and a solid strike across the open fairway will result in just a short iron to the green.

Water is a common and protective theme at this track and the 167 metre 3rd dictates water carry from tee to green – again the mind is tested by the finality of water!

The hardest ranking hole is the 392-metre par 4 7th. With water lurking ominously to the left of the tee shot landing area and in front of the green, it poses a credible challenge to any player to reach the green in regulation. Once there a relatively flat putting surface is conducive to holing putts without too much fear of speed induced 3 putts!

At 399 metres par 4, the second hardest hole is the aptly numbered 13th. Out-of-bounds looms large the entire way from tee to green. A strong left directed tee shot can hopefully avoid this calamity and will set up a mid to long iron to the tightly guarded green. Your next shot will be fraught with danger, with the ample putting surface surrounded by water on the left and bunkers to the right.

Your final challenge for the day lies in wait at the risk-reward 454 metre par 5 18th.  A tee shot to the left will avoid the water and get you to the layup area short of another body of water. If the green is out of range for the second shot, the last approach is hopefully a well-judged wedge to the lower tier of the double green (shared with the 9th). Retire gracefully now to the well-stocked bar!

Cypress Lakes Golf & Country Club

Cypress Lakes Golf Club

As recently as two years ago, Cypress Lakes attracted no votes at all in the biannual Golf Digest rankings to assess the top 100 public access courses in Australia. Thankfully, due to significant investment by the owner, the layout has been restored to its former quality and has easily catapulted back into the top 100 after many years’ absence.

The 6,427 metre layout opened in 1992 and was designed by Steve Smyers from Florida. Cypress is his only Australian design and is located in the stunning wine district of the Hunter Valley. Magnificent panoramic views of many of the famous vineyards are afforded from the tees and greens along with glimpses of the surrounding Brokenback mountain range.

At Cypress Lakes, Smyers succeeded in presenting a fine strategic test despite a very challenging site and lengthy build process. Both 9s are considerably different. The front has generous width, rolling hills and is mainly devoid of trees. The landscape changes noticeably as you head for home with trees making it more defined and with more vertical rises and falls. Players would do well to take a conservative point to point approach rather than trying to overpower the course with bombing aggression.

The much-improved course annually plays host to ‘’The Jack”, a Pro Am tournament run by former tour professional Jack Newton and featuring an eclectic assortment of celebrities and golf professionals. Without doubt the emphasis is on fun rather than performance at this tournament where significant quantities of the local alcoholic produce are consumed!

The strength of the course lies in several demanding and long par 4s, and each 9 closes with one such hole. The 9th measuring a colossal 439 metres from the tips, is a sweeping uphill dogleg right, where tee shots are deflected right and down by the angled fairway. This combined with a large undulating putting green with severe back to front slope and you understand its No 1 ranking on the card. No 18 presents an almost equally daunting task to close out the round. A 389 metre par 4 with a ravine in front of the green that must be negotiated and calls for an authoritatively struck approach.

A fine collection of par 3s are to be found with much variation in length and topography that will keep golfers of any standard entertained. The 3rd, at 216 metres, is easily the longest and mercifully plays downhill. The ideal approach is a low running one that takes in contours on the right that feed you onto the putting surface. Contrasting nicely is the shortest of the 1 shotters – the 140 metre 11th – playing uphill to a relatively small green.

In the words of designer Steve Smyers: “Golf courses should not be designed to conform to whimsical trends of the day. Rather, they should be designed according to proven, classical principles that withstand the test of time.” Cypress Lakes is one such design that has withstood the test of time and again with much improved playing surfaces is certainly worthy of a visit on any country NSW itinerary.

The Vintage Golf Course

The-Vintage-Golf-Course

The Hunter Valley, only 2 hours to the northwest of Sydney, is largely renowned for its wines and gastronomic fare. The lifestyle match that is golf and wine has certainly been a drawcard for Sydney folk thanks to the creation of The Vintage in 2003.

Designed by Greg Norman in collaboration with Bob Harrison the site is surrounded by bountiful vineyards, quality wineries and rolling hills. This gorgeous site however was not typically suited to course design, with a very challenging clay base and topography. Instead of battling the diverse landscape features by moving colossal amounts of land, Norman and Harrison simplistically allowed contours of the land to dictate design. This ensured The Vintage is blessed with a real Australian bush feel.

As you start your round, you are encased in open bushland. The diversity of the site is quickly apparent as it swings down past natural creeks, gullies and forest areas. Charmingly local vineyards sit adjacent in wait for your post-golf visit. The front 9 glides through the undulating landscape, whereas the back 9 features far more wastelands and wetlands. All attributes combined probably see the front side as more demanding to score, however the closing stretch on the back-side features pockets of creative genius sure to invigorate the most discerning of players.

Norman was renowned as one of the straightest of the long hitters and a cluster of solid driving holes start the journey at the 2nd. Elbowing down and to the right through a funnel of Casuarina trees, an approach confidently struck should negotiate a creek that protects a small putting target. The robust 6th is another strong driving hole and its considerable green is nestled obscured behind clumps of kangaroo grasses. Most of the bushland gum tree landscape presents in the first third of the course, the design philosophy seemingly to drop holes into the site with minimal removal of the abundant natural landscape. Consequently, the landing areas are fairly tight, however you get to open the shoulders far more on the inward half.

Gullies, creeks and small ponds dictate the course management that should be employed when tackling the more expansive back 9. Players are exposed to this immediately at the long par 5 10th, a downhill tee shot aimed toward a lake that is followed by an approach to a cleverly positioned green sitting atop a high ridge of clay.

The strong par 4 11th typifies the rural splendour of the course with a raised tee ground holding a view to an ample fairway placed across a natural wasteland. Lurking innocently to the right, a small creek catches the eye and subliminally forces you further left creating a much longer more difficult 2nd. This approach is played over a huge ridge that obscures the green which is also protected on the right by the same creek you sought to avoid from the tee.

Design team Norman and Harrison surely would have toyed with the notion of diluting the affect of the unusual natural features, however their addition makes the course a quirky if not substantial test. The bunkering is largely classical in style, enveloping many greens but used minimally as fairway hazards. Strategy on most of the driving holes is dictated by the fall and flow of the land rather than the use of penal fairway sand.

The Vintage is a fine championship layout that members and guests will grow to love as they explore its variation. Measuring 6,310 metres from the tiger tees, it is easily long enough for the most accomplished player, yet playable from shorter tees for higher handicap players. Without doubt the best course in the Hunter region, be sure to experience it along with a glass or two of vino!

Kooindah Waters Golf Club

Kooindah Waters Golf

Kooindah Waters Golf Club, situated on the beautiful New South Wales Central Coast, is a par 72 championship course that is climbing Australia’s Top 100 rankings on the back of immaculate conditioning and a challenging, interesting layout. Completed in 2006, Kooindah Waters golf course was designed by Ross Watson and champion Australian golfer Craig Parry and is built on natural wetlands in a stunning bushland setting. It is a thinking golfer’s course but offers a fierce challenge to players of all levels. Not only will a player need to avoid water hazards on all 18 holes but also the 84 fairway and green side bunkers – some of which have railway sleeper walls. Once these hazards are cleared, golfers cannot fail to be impressed by the tour-level couch fairways and superb bent greens that roll fast and true. A gem.

After an immensely strong playing career whereby he recorded 22 worldwide victories, Kooindah’s co-designer, Craig Parry, was clearly influenced by his own individual style of play in his input with Ross Watson as they collaborated on the Kooindah Waters project. Parry’s modus operandi calls for the kind of ball control over brawn that he exhibited at will throughout his career.

Fully stretched, the course measures 6,083 metres. What is far from typical, and the essence of the challenge presented, is the sequence of holes. There are 5 par 5s and 5 par 3s and not once are there consecutive par 4s on the front 9. In fact, it only happens once at 13 and 14 on the back side.

The front half commences in languid fashion, with a medium length par 5 that certainly is there for the taking. That said, danger lurks in the form of wetland areas to the right, and small penal bunkering at the drive and lay-up landing areas. Beyond the green, a small bunker sits above the putting surface level featuring an early indication of a frequently used design feature of the course, wooden sleeper walls, that play havoc!

Reminiscent of the great designs of the late Pete Dye, the 147-metre 2nd would not be out of place on any of his signature courses. Wetlands and deep water protects the front and right of this raised green, with sleepers embedded in the retaining wall and wicked deflections that await any mis-cued shots!

Just across the wetlands lies the danger bound 8th green. Water will threaten any of the front flag positions and there’s not much value to be found by going long, with a large bunker offering a diabolical sand shot back toward the H2O you sought to avoid. A conservative layup is really the money play here, but if a strong drive has been struck in play, the temptation to reach this short par 5 in two might be irresistible. The front 9 can certainly feel narrow and tight. The back nine is significantly more open featuring a cluster of strong noteworthy par 4s.

The highlight of the back half is the one-two combination to finish. The 17th is probably the signature hole, a short blow to an island, sleeper bound green. The putting surface is very deep, but the golfer’s perspective is dominated by a pronounced left-to-right slope in the front-right quadrant. As it seems with all island greens, you wouldn’t think twice about the shot it if it weren’t for the watery grave lurking to the right!

The 18th is a fitting finish and deserves its No 1 ranking. A par 4 of 390 plus metres, it requires two hefty accurate blows to find the putting surface. From the tee you need to negotiate a hazard on the left. Assuming you find the short grass, you will have at least a mid to long iron with substantial water still on the left and bunkers right (there are those pesky sleepers again!). The green is one of the more undulating on the course and a challenging putting proposition. Throughout the journey, it wouldn’t hurt to be able to control your ball akin to Craig Parry! Now, wouldn’t that be nice.

Magenta Shores Golf & Country Club

Magenta Shores Golf

Magenta Shores Golf & Country Club is the Central Coast’s top ranked course. It is built on coastal dunes and opened for play in 2006. It was once a brutally tough course with very little margin for error despite almost ever-present wind. It has softened a little in more recent times with areas of coastal scrub removed so that errant balls can at least be found. The turf and greens are exceptional, and the rugged bunker style helps the course to feel very natural. Magenta Shores possesses some thrilling holes, but it’s the variety of challenge that elevates it into a top course.

90 minutes north of Sydney on the NSW Central Coast, renowned architect Ross Watson was greeted by an abundance of sand on a largely flat landscape. With clever shaping creating considerable dune areas that, despite their construction, appear very natural and as if they had featured on the site for years.

The surrounding housing estate intrudes a little too close to the course in some areas, which forced Watson to create fairways and playing corridors that are fractionally tighter than is ideal, which means the driver really needs to be on song!

Being a windy and generally exposed location, several of the tee shots are perhaps a little penal, but a well struck blow that finds the speedy fairways is well rewarded. The bunkering, utilising flowing grasses in the faces, can be challenging at times but fits well with the genre of the test and the aesthetics of the landscape. Mostly the greens are commensurate with a windy location in that they are not too undulating.

The par 3s are particularly attractive with the 165 metre 12th and the 124 metre 15th arguably two of the best par 3s Ross Watson ever designed.

Ross Watson waited most of his career for the chance to construct a links in fertile draining sand and Magenta Shores is a testament to his ability to engineer a gorgeous looking golf course. It would be hard to imagine any player not finding some joy here with the standard of playing surfaces and the artistic design seen throughout the course.

On the front 9, there are two phenomenally strong par 4’s. The 434 metre 3rd – a tight fairway boarded to the left by out-of-bounds and to the right by low lying scrub and deep penal fairway bunkering on each side – presents a serious intimidation factor on the tee. Winds will often be in from the right bringing the out-of-bounds into the frame. Once the tee shot is hopefully navigated with some success, a long 2nd shot to a deep flat putting surface is required. Again the spectre of penal bunkering and the boundary to the left places a premium on solid ball striking. The 9th, a colossal 438 metres, is a long straight uphill hole usually mistaken for a short par 5. Alas, it is in fact a par 4, index No 2 on the card. Playing to a raised 3-tiered green sloping from back to front, regardless of wind direction, to find the green in regulation is quite a feat and putting will be tricky if you haven’t accessed the correct level.

Magenta is clearly Watson’s best course and should be a starring feature of any Central Coast or NSW Country golf itinerary.

Moonah Links – Legends Course

Moonah-Links-Legends-Golf-Course

The Moonah Links Legends Course is a tribute to champion golfers and each hole is named after a Legend of the game. It is an immensely enjoyable course with friendly fairways and firm and true greens set in a captivating, sandy landscape. The variety of holes is what makes The Legends Course so much fun from the 1st tee shot to the final putt on 18. The on-site Peppers Moonah Links Resort is one of the options that The Golf Travel Agency recommend for Mornington Peninsula golf holidays and offers first class accommodation, restaurant and spa with consistently excellent service.

Moonah Links – Open Course

Moonah-Links-Open-Golf-Course

The Moonah Links Golf Resort was built to be ‘The Home of Australian Golf’ and its Open course was conceived and constructed to host the national Open – which it did in 2003 & 2005. At 6,829m off the tips, The Open course is comfortably the longest highly-ranked golf course in Australia, but there are (thankfully) many other sets of tees from which to tackle this vast course. Length is not its only defence either, as the ever-present wind here varies greatly in direction and strength and affects the demands of each hole. Play The Open course at Moonah Links if you want a real taste of modern Championship golf.

The National Golf Club – Moonah Course

The-National-Golf-Club-Moonah-Course

The Moonah course at the National Golf Club was designed by Greg Norman and represents some of his best work. The Moonah is a vastly different test to its sister, The Old Course, as it is located in front of the stunning clubhouse among the rolling dunes of the The Cups region rather than on the wooded hillside behind it. It is a stern challenge (especially from the black tees at 6,600m) despite wide fairways and semi-rough. The greens typically have multiple sections to them – just make sure you hit the right section to two-putt the hole!