One of Sydney’s best-known clubs has been transformed through the creative eyes of course architect Tom Doak and the results are stunning.
The name Concord has been part of the Sydney golfing landscape from the very first days of the game being played in New South Wales.
Established in 1899, the club moved to its current site in 1907 and played across a layout designed by then multiple Australian PGA Champion Dan Soutar. Back then, it was a site almost devoid of trees and suburbia was still some distance from its boundaries.
Nearly all the holes were changed at different times during the next 80 years, especially during the ‘80s and early ‘90s when Concord became a regular Australasian Tour venue as host of the New South Wales Open and Australian PGA championships. At the height of his career, Greg Norman was a three-time winner at Concord as were the likes of Wayne Grady, Craig Parry and Ian Baker Finch.
Then, in 1996, course designer Ross Watson was commissioned to reshape greens and fairways, remodel and add bunkers as well as reshape the huge dam beside the 15th tee.
But the biggest transformation of the layout was recently completed based on a design masterplan from acclaimed American course architect Tom Doak and his Renaissance Golf Design team. For the second time in 20 years, Concord’s members voted to implement an extensive redesign to what can best be described as a new course across familiar ground.
The upgrade began on September 18, 2017, with nine holes being open throughout with no temporary greens. The course reopened for play on April 8, 2018, and, after another seven months of maturing, the Doak design was officially opened on November 11. The project had incredibly been completed in under seven months with all 18 greens complexes completely rebuilt, all 69 bunkers replaced and landing zones reshaped. New irrigation and drainage works were also incorporated into the construction phase.
More than 170 trees were removed as Doak’s vision of wider fairways leading to his angled greens, requiring greater strategy from the tee, evolved.
Interestingly, Doak’s creation is 200 metres shorter from the back markers than its previous incarnation.
“In an age where length is the main criteria for a high slope rating, our course has reduced in overall length by 200 metres to 6,050 metres on the Black course,” says Ross Haron, who was the Concord Club Captain during the rebuild. “This is mainly due to the greens being expanded, mostly towards the tee and this is where length has been lost.
“However, if you hypothetically played flags at the rear of every green on the old and new courses the yardage would be very similar, but if you played front pins on the old and new it would be 200 metres shorter, but seriously more strategic.”
Strategy and fun are now the essences of this new creation.
I have been a regular player at Concord for the past 35 years and have seen all the changes.
The course, over the past three decades, had become claustrophobic in parts with trees, and fairway bunkers, narrowing the playing lines to the extent that some holes could really only be played one way from tee to green. The philosophy was seemingly to make the course tougher.
Doak’s creation is no less a challenge, but you are faced with questions on every tee – yes, every tee – during the round as you consider what playing line you will attempt to take and the club that you will need to use to navigate the journey. Then there are more questions to consider approaching each of the greens. There is a terrific mix of angled greens, which are more receptive to approaches from one side of the fairway, as well as tilted greens that might have you thinking of a pitch and run shot bouncing up from short of the putting surface rather than a high lofted shot at the flag.
For example, the greens on three front nine par-4s – the 2nd, 5th and 7th holes – feature no greenside bunkering but they have been designed to challenge golfers by the angle and tilt of the putting surface. The 2nd green is arguably the best of the trio. Shaped by Brian Schneider, who was assistant to Lead Designer Brian Slawnik, it was inspired by the designs of Walter Travis and features undulations down its length and is angled from front left to back right and the back half tilts back left. An approach from the left edge of the fairway, which has been markedly widened, provides the easiest second shot into the green.
The 2nd hole is also a terrific example of how Doak’s sometimes subtle changes made the course safer along its boundaries. With roads and houses at its edges, the new holes are wider and are routed to encourage play away from the out-of-bounds fences. It’s no coincidence that the best, or easiest, line into the green on holes like the 2nd, 3rd and the completely new short par-4 5th is from the left half of the fairway.
The opening of the course with the removal of so many obsolete trees has given rise to an extra six hectares of short cut kikuyu fairway grass, which links many fairways through the course. To offset the additional maintenance and water usage to cut and irrigate kikuyu, the club is overgrowing the kikuyu rough and tee to fairway areas with couch, which requires less maintenance cutting and less water requirements.
"Walking off the course after playing it for the first time I felt there is still much for me to learn about how to play the new Concord."
Walking off the course after playing it for the first time I felt there is still much for me to learn about how to play the new Concord – where to hit it, where not to hit it, what shots to play and how to access different pin positions. None of this is immediately obvious. For example, a back left pin position on the 18th green is actually more accessible by hitting your approach into the right half of the putting surface, which is a ‘Punchbowl’ shape and will feed your ball around to the flag. This kind of green shape, with a wide open frontage now common across the course, allows players hitting a longer club an opportunity to have a shot at making a birdie alongside a long hitter going at the flag with a short iron.
Therein lies the challenge and fun of a round now at Concord. When you can walk off a course with a smile on your face, despite the score, you will probably want to go back. And that’s probably why Concord is one of those in the minority of Australian clubs that has a waiting list for membership.
LOCATION: Majors Bay Rd, Concord, NSW 2137.
CONTACT: (02) 9743 6111.
DESIGNERS: Dan Soutar (1907); Ross Watson (1996); Tom Doak Renaissance Golf Design (2018).
SLOPE RATINGS: Mens – Black 129, Blue 128, White 127, Red 123, Silver 122. Women – Black 141, Blue 140, White 139, Red 136 and Silver 133.
PLAYING SURFACES: Penncross A4 bentgrass (greens), kikuyu (fairways), couch (being oversown to kikuyu rough).
GREEN FEES: Concord is a private club but opportunities are available as a member’s guest or entry in an Open day event, which are played throughout the year.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Chris Howe.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Cherie Alison, Mark Alison, Lorien Scott, Ken Trimble.
MEMBERSHIP: There is a waiting list for full playing membership at Concord but applications are still being accepted. For more information about all membership categories, contact the club on (02) 9743 6111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
CORPORATE GOLF: The Clubhouse offers a warm classic ambiance with traditional timber furnishings. The Concord room features floor length windows overlooking beautifully manicured lawns and gardens, with the member’s lounge looking out over the 10th tee and garden area, both accessing our front terrace. The perfect place to mix with clients after a corporate golf event.