St Michael’s Golf Club

The 14th hole at St Michael’s, Brendan James

St Michael’s has for a long time been one of Sydney’s most underrated courses. Perhaps sharing a boundary with the world-famous New South Wales Golf Club hasn’t helped. Yet St Michael’s covers a similarly undulating seaside landscape and consists of a variety of holes that will excite and challenge any golfer.

New South Wales Golf Club had been hosting players for nearly a decade when a small band of golfers, known as the Niblic Club, took over the leasehold on land just north of the Alister MacKenzie-designed layout in 1937. Michael Moran, who held the lease, signed over the land and then supervised the construction of the first nine holes. Acres of thick seaside scrub and ti-tree were cleared, sometimes by hand, to reveal a links-style landscape.

When Moran retired in 1938, club member and official starter Charles Cole oversaw the construction of the second nine. The club lost use of the course during World War II when the army took over St Michael’s and its more celebrated neighbour. Over the following five decades trees were planted, new tees built and greens changed.These changes were not always good ones. The placement of some of the tree plantings – detached from the natural bush that lines many holes – had over time created a certain unfairness. For example, the short par-four 2nd doglegs right and over the crest of a hill before descending to the green. Long hitters could attack the hole by cutting the dogleg with a drive over thick bushland and on to the fairway, or even on to the green. But a small clump of trees, placed between the edge of the fairway and the bushland, had grown so large that many players who took on the hole would hit these trees and drop down into the rough – or, worse still, ricochet into the bushes. The trees were removed a few years ago and the hole’s risk-and-reward nature was restored. Such an outcome would delight the likes of Harry S. Colt, the famous course architect who designed the remarkable Royal Portrush in Ireland. Colt once noted that the ‘presence of trees on golf courses created too many inequities for the players’; and ‘a tree is fluky and an obnoxious form of a hazard . . . with its primary function to distinguish between those players who had good or bad fortune’.

The 3rd hole marks the beginning of a memorable stretch, where holes rise and fall sharply over undulating land or slice through near-impenetrable scrub. From the tee of the 3rd, a 170-metre par-three, the coastline views are brilliant. The tee is cut into the side of a hill. The green is perched on top of another hill – on the other side of a valley of sand, scrub and deep grass. The challenge here lies in holding the green, especially on a windy day when your golfing instinct is to keep your tee shot as low as possible.

The pick of the back nine is the 164-metre, par-three 12th and the 462-metre, par-five 13th, known as ‘Ocean Drive’. The 12th requires precise club selection if you are to find the small, steep-sloping green, which sits on a slight diagonal to your approach. The putting surface is surrounded by six cavernous bunkers and two deep hollows, making par here well earned.

The 13th demands an accurate tee shot between a water hazard to the left and scrub-covered sand dunes on the right. In the prevailing southerly, the green is reachable in two shots for the aggressive player, but the second shot is to a blind green with bunkers left and right.This variety of risk-and-reward holes, combined with outstanding conditioning, has lifted St Michael’s in recent years. It now sits comfortably among the top 10 courses in Sydney.

Memorable holes

2nd, 3rd, 5th, 12th, 13th, 16th and 17th

Where to go

Jennifer St, Little Bay, NSW 2036

Book a round

(02) 9311 0068

Where to stay

The beachside suburb of Coogee is 20 minutes’ drive north of the course. Its several accommodation options include the Crowne Plaza Coogee, which offers ocean views from its luxury rooms and suites.

Before/after your round

Coogee is one of Sydney’s iconic beaches. It is familyfriendly with playgrounds for the kids. Nearby Coogee Bay Road has blossomed into one of the eastern suburbs’ great ‘eat streets’.

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