The Australian Golf Club

The 3rd hole at The Australian, Brendan James

With a rich history dating back to the first days of organised golf in Australia, The Australian is the country’s oldest formal golf club. It was established in 1882 but didn’t find a permanent home at Kensington, in Sydney’s inner southern suburbs, until 1904, hosting the inaugural Australian Open later that year. The early design was tweaked by Dr Alister MacKenzie in 1926, and for decades the links-style course’s reputation continued to grow. Melbourne designer Sloan Morpeth made some more changes in the mid-’60s when the airport freeway was expanded. The biggest change was yet to come. The Australian’s highest-profile member, media magnate Kerry Packer, took over the Australian Open and proposed to play the event at Kensington for several years. He then proposed that the game’s best player, Jack Nicklaus, should completely redesign the course in time for the 1977 championship. Nicklaus’s radical changes turned the old links into an American parkland-style layout: heavy mounding, smaller greens, water hazards. Natural dunes were covered with deep rough. Tall trees, mainly pines, were transplanted to the edges of fairways. Today The Australian bears no resemblance to its original layout, but it remains a fine tournament venue and is still ranked among the country’s top 20 courses. Each time it hosts the Open it provides a grinding test for competitors, especially in windy conditions. Little has changed since Nicklaus’s work was completed. He combined the original par-four 10th and the short 11th to create a 455-metre par-five, in what makes for a gentle beginning to one of Australia’s toughest courses. The tee is perched high, and bunkers on the right of the slight dogleg fairway suggest that a drive moving left to right is ideal. Players hugging the corner with their tee shot earn the best line into the flag. The green is set to favour a shot that turns the opposite way to the drive.

Being able to shape a shot either left or right, even on the par-threes, is certainly an advantage here. The 186-metre 4th hole is a one-shotter over water and on to a wide green that is angled to accept a big, high fade (from a right-hander) as the perfect shot. The front bunker guards the most difficult pin in the right corner, and the back left bunker catches any long pulls that stray left. Of course, Nicklaus was the master of the high, long, left-to-right shot, and it is perhaps no surprise that he would build holes well suited to his eye and his game. On a still day, this is not a difficult hole. Into the wind, it takes a great shot to find the target.

The most difficult hole comes late in the round: the 438-metre, par-four 16th. It begins with a tight drive to a fairway cambered from right to left. Missing the short grass from the tee guarantees a bogey or worse, for not only is the second shot long, but the green cannot be hit with a running approach. The putting surface sits on a left-to-right diagonal, with a deep bunker at the front, and the perfect shot, again, is a big, high fade. When the wind is coming from the south, it makes the 16th less brutal and adds difficulty to the 392-metre, par-four 17th, which runs in the opposite direction and is flanked by a lake that curls around to sit in front of the green.

The Australian’s firm, fast-rolling greens call for precise hitting and club selection, while the surrounding mounds, hollows, water hazards and deep bunkers are positioned to hamper good scoring. It is a private members’ club but members of interstate or overseas clubs, with an official handicap, may be introduced by the general manager.

Memorable holes

1st, 4th, 8th, 9th, 16th, 17th and 18th

Where to go

53 Bannerman Cres, Rosebery, NSW 2018

Book a round

(02) 9663 2273

Where to stay

The Australian is 10 minutes’ drive south of Sydney’s CBD and Darling Harbour, where there are accommodation options to match all budgets.

Before/after your round

Spend an afternoon climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can choose between three guided climbs taking you to the summit of this world-famous construction, more than 130 metres above the harbour.

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