Royal Sydney Golf Club

The 18th hole at Royal Sydney, Brendan James

It’s interesting to sift through the historical records of the Royal Sydney Golf Club; only then do you realise that no single course designer can lay claim to creating it. The course, a smooth seven-iron hit from the edge of Sydney Harbour, was originally laid out by an unknown designer and dotted with more than 360 bunkers. Some of the architectural work has often mistakenly been attributed to Dr Alister MacKenzie, who visited the course briefly in 1926. He said the undulating ground was ‘adaptable to the construction of holes, which should compare favourably with the best championship courses in Britain’. But he was critical of the penal nature of Royal Sydney. Three-quarters of the bunkers, he suggested, should be removed and replaced by grassy hollows. MacKenzie’s words seemed to ring in the ears of the various club committee members over the decades, as more than 200 bunkers disappeared.

In 1980 Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge began redesigning many of the holes and changing all of the greens, a project completed in 1986. Nearly two years after Aaron Baddeley won the 1999 Australian Open here, another designer in Ross Watson was on-site. Watson was commissioned to rebuild some holes and all of the greens – once again – which were by now suffering from drainage and turf problems. ‘The club wanted the greens to have better shapes and surfaces,’ says Watson. ‘To do that they needed to change them to a sand base.’ Watson says he convinced the club to look beyond simply rebuilding the greens; to ‘revisit the whole character of the golf course’. He examined each hole from tee and fairway, before deciding on the design of the green. ‘The club also wanted to return the course to its traditional big bunker style. MacKenzie was right when he said there were too many bunkers, but over the years people took his comments to the extreme. The course had lost its appeal as a classically bunkered layout. We added about 20 new bunkers, mainly on the fairways, because some of the holes were a bit open.’

This element of Watson’s changes is immediately apparent the moment you step on the tee at the short par-four 1st. At 256 metres, this hole was onceeasily reached by competent golfers in favourable weather conditions. With little trouble looming down the left side, a fairway trap to the right and bunkers either side of a wide green opening, par was a sitting duck. Now a sea of sand covers the left edge of the fairway, forcing every player to think about their tee shot. In the 2006 and 2008 Australian Opens, when the wind was a favourable westerly, many players were able to carry their tee shots on to the green with a fairway wood. But just as many walked to the next tee with a bogey. ‘The theory we had with the 1st hole,’ says Watson, ‘was to present what Royal Sydney is all about right from the outset.’ Mission accomplished!

The addition of bunkers and a few greenside hollows – MacKenzie would certainly approve of these – has given the course some extra charisma. This is particularly evident on the final two holes: the 202-metre, par-three 17th and the 374-metre, par-four 18th. Dynamic green schemes are a feature of each, with heavily undulating putting surfaces surrounded by deep bunkers and hollows, as well as mounding. Together they are regarded as the toughest two closing holes of any tournament course in Australia.

Royal Sydney is a private members’ course but access is available for interstate and overseas visitors by prior arrangement with club management.

Memorable holes

1st, 6th, 8th, 16th, 17th and 18th  

Where to go

Kent Rd, Rose Bay, NSW 2029

Book a round

(02) 8362 7000

Where to stay

Bondi’s four-and-a-halfstar Swiss Grand Resort Spa is the nearest quality accommodation, a 10-minute drive from the course.

Before/after your round

The iconic Bondi Beach is a magnet for visitors from around the world, who fl ock there for its great eateries and scenic coastal walks.

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