A recent trip to review the best golf courses in New South Wales didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to.
Sitting in departures at Melbourne Airport, I visualised playing the golf of my dreams at some of the finest links courses on the Sydney Coast.
The itinerary included the highly rated New South Wales Club, in National Park land to the south of Sydney, and Long Reef Golf Club – designed by five-time Open Champion Peter Thomson – who said Long Reef has “the best site of any golf course in Sydney.”
Two days later, we’d been rained off after 12 holes at Long Reef and our host at New South Wales had been called away on an emergency.
Bunkered with nowhere to play
Staring out at the Tasman Sea on the Sunday, after our host at NSW had called off, it looked like the only bunker I’d be in that day would be the local beach.
My buddy Greg refused to give up and started making calls.
“12.30? OK, great.”
Sounds Scottish plays Australian
40 kilometres later, we arrived at the gated entrance to the Scottish sounding Macquarie Links International Golf Club to the south-west of central Sydney.
I couldn’t help but feel like I’d had a reservation at the best steak restaurant in town and was about to eat a Big Mac at a drive through.
18-holes later, my hunger was satisfied and I’d played some of the best golf holes I’d ever seen.
Parts of the Macquarie experience aren’t what you’d expect at a quality golf course – a storm drain, a train line, lots of concrete and even some unsightly graffiti.
Don’t be put off though. You’d be missing out on a true hidden gem.
I’m not the longest hitter, but we opted for the back tees on this soft golf course measuring 7,000 yards.
Pangs of regret struck when I still needed a 3 iron into the second hole after a solid drive, and saw water looming short right of the putting surface.
The fifth was a long testing downhill Par 3, again with water to catch any shot missing right. The other exceptional hole on the front nine was the ninth.
After a good drive, you have to hit an accurate iron shot from a downhill lie to a well guarded green.
Links golf course with outback feel
Course designer Robin Nelson has built championship golf courses in Hawaii and Bali and says of Macquarie Links: “The aim was to create a links style golf course with an Australian character – hence the name.”
The course is a blend of links style golf with a heathland character typical of classic English courses like Sunningdale and Walton Heath.
There are strong native grasses and stands of mature gum trees which have a strong feel of the Australian “outback” or “bush.”
Nelson said he wished to create an authentic Australian character in the golf course and he’s used natural creeks, lakes and subtle topographic formations.
Other manmade creeks were added for dramatic effect.
The combination is a series of natural golf holes that ebb and flow with the lay of the land.
The back nine was full of holes that are difficult to forget.
I can’t ever remember playing a Par 3, Par 5 combination as good as that served up on 11 and 12.
Looking from the tee, the eleventh is, quite simply, as spectacular as it gets.
A mid to long iron shot needs to be fired over an imposing ravine to a small narrow green with no room for error.
A birdie I’ll never forget
When my putt dropped for a two, I buzzed with excitement. A birdie to be proud of.
The twelfth is arguably just as good and only slightly less intimidating.
It’s as tight a Par 5 as you’ll ever play.
Although it might just be reachable in two for the longest hitters, there are trees down the right and going left will see you reaching into your bag for another ball.
I was happy to make a par.
The other truly stand-out hole was the Par 3 fifteenth. Holding a medal card, I’d play it as a Par 4 every day.
At 230 yards – with nothing but water between tee and green – I had to take it on.
If you visit, just do it. Take the shot on.
Ultimate risk reward hole
The hole was designed to be the ultimate risk reward golf hole.
My bag was lighter afterwards, as was my playing partner’s.
While the course was magnificent, the marshalling of the speed of play was poor.
We ended up playing behind two groups who appeared on the tenth tee and slowed the course right down.
There was no ranger or marshall to ask them to stand aside and let quicker players move through, and they didn’t wave us through.
It’s the kind of thing that can happen anywhere, but it was a little bit like biting into your Big Mac and finding you don’t like gherkin.
There’s no doubt it’s a championship course that will test anyone who tees up there. The big deep bunkers are worth mentioning, whilst the set up here also includes good practice facilities.
It may not have been the golf trip I’d planned, but I discovered a little known but authentic Australian links with bags of character and some of the best holes I’ve ever played.
That two at the eleventh will live with me for a long time.
Sink your teeth into Big Mac
I thought I’d ordered steak, but found Big Mac links and chip shots is a great meal ticket for anyone looking for a game in New South Wales, Australia.