The great natural beauty of New South Wales’ Illawarra region forms the scenic backdrop to some quality golf courses, which are all accessible to the travelling golfer, making it the ideal destination for a home-grown holiday.
The impressive escarpment, to the west, and the Pacific Ocean to the east, frame the Illawarra region with a natural beauty.
Less than an hour’s drive south of Sydney’s outskirts will have you in the heart of the area, with its fantastic beaches, beautiful rolling hills and a wide range of natural, historic and adventurous attractions.
And you don’t have to look too hard to find delicious food and wine.
Golfers don’t miss out either with a wide selection of quality courses offering superb views, enjoyable challenges and affordable green fees.
One course that ticks all of the aforementioned is Gerringong Golf Club – located between the seaside towns of the Gerringong and Gerroa. The layout covers undulating, natural terrain between two headlands and, at its lowest point, it runs alongside the back of beautiful Walkers Beach.
The club purchased this parcel of land from Kiama Council in 1985 (after leasing the land for several years) and has since evolved into one of the Illawarra’s most enjoyable courses to play. Much of that can be attributed to the spectacular views you experience from the opening tee shot to the last putt.
In recent times the quality of the holes and the playing surfaces have improved markedly, which adds to the enjoyment. Much of the improvement has come from the conversion of all the greens from Bermuda Tifdwarf to A4 Bentgrass, the rebuilding of many tees and a program of bunker refurbishment. The 5th and 6th green complexes have recently been rebuilt and there are plans to continue upgrading other greens across the layout.
During my visit for this feature, the greens were absolutely pure. They were firm under foot and had few, if any, pitch marks despite hosting hundreds of weekend golfers a few days before.
Gerringong’s best stretch of holes starts at the 360-metre par-4 3rd hole – a left-to-right dogleg that demands a tee shot be carried over the edge of a dam before climbing uphill to a green cut into the side of the hill.
The 562-metre par-5 4th hole can be best described as a beautiful beast. The tee is perched high above Walkers Beach and the hole doglegs left-to-right following the arc created by the back of the beach. Thick coastal scrub is all that separates the fairway from the sand. The aforementioned dam on the 3rd hole cuts right across the 4th fairway and, depending on your length from the tee, it is worth considering a lay-up from the tee particularly into a southerly wind. Two more dams lie short of the bunkerless green and only the longest hitters in the game would even contemplate going for this target in two shots, and even then, it would have to be with a strong tailwind. I’ve played at Gerringong many times in the past two decades and I have parred this hole once and never birdied it … what a beautiful beast.
The 5th hole – a sharp dogleg right par-4 of 334 metres – leads you away from the beach and up a hill to one of the highest points on the course. Again, the green is terraced into the side of the hill and the view from the back of this green over the course and the ocean is worth the green fee alone. Two refurbished bunkers cut into the front of the green are deep and best avoided.
Heading north, it is a leisurely 15-minute drive to picturesque Kiama – home to the famous ocean blowhole – and several enjoyable courses.
Kiama Golf Club is an easy-walking layout found between the Minnamurra River and the south coast rail line just north of the seaside town and features a nice variety of holes in a beautiful setting. It is a short course but has the reputation for being one of the prettiest in the region.
The same can be said for its inland neighbour, Jamberoo Golf Club, a 15-minute drive west. Stunning bush and mountain views, as well as 96 native bird species calling Jamberoo home, add to the overall experience of a round. Hyams Creek meanders through the middle of the course, bringing water into play on 10 of the 18 holes.
Situated conveniently between Wollongong and Kiama, Shellharbour is home to one of NSW’s biggest real estate developments undertaken during the past three decades. The creation and growth of the multi-billion-dollar Shell Cove development also gave rise to a new golf course – The Links Shell Cove.
Created by Sydney-based landscape architect Scott Murray, Shell Cove opened for play in 2004 and it proved to be a popular addition to the Illawarra’s golfing stocks.
Although it is not a ‘links’ in the true definition of the word, the course is subjected to plenty of wind as the ocean is not far from the eastern boundary of the layout, which rolls across two sides of a wide valley.
It is fair to say that within a few years of opening. Shell Cove’s honeymoon was over. Narrow fairways, long wild rough, smallish firm greens on dramatic sloping terrain had all combined (with the often-strong winds) to create a very demanding layout that offered little in the way of fun.
Much has changed in the past decade and the Shell Cove you find today is a much fairer and more enjoyable excursion. Two of the longest, and more brutal, par-4s are no longer part of the course since a driving range was opened for play a few years ago. As a result, the layout has been re-routed with some new greens built, many long and forced carries from tees eliminated, vast areas of impenetrable long grass cut back and new, more strategic, holes created.
And the changes won’t be stopping there – on and off the course – with the club planning to extend its welcome to more families with a children’s play area as well as a mini-golf facility that promises to be quite different to the usual putt-putt course.
A few things haven’t changed though. One of the highlights of a round at Shell Cove remains the high quality of the bentgrass putting surfaces, while the par-4 16th is still the best hole on the course.
There is more than 20 hectares of wetlands to be found on the southern edge of the layout and this has been incorporated into the design of a few holes including the challenging 338-metre 16th. The hole wraps right-to-left around the edge of the wetlands – almost in a semi-circle – and demands you hit your drive over the edge of the water to the widest part of the relatively narrow fairway. There is not much reward for biting too much off the dogleg, so a fairway metal on a conservative line here is the right play here. The difference between making birdie or a bogey here is in the second shot club selection as missing the green leaves a difficult up-and-down recovery from all sides.
Heading north from Shell Cove, there is a plethora of nearby golfing choices before you reach the Illawarra region’s hub, Wollongong.
Calderwood Valley is set amidst 30 hectares of farmland at the foot of the rugged escarpment. Designed by Wollongong-based course architecture firm McKay and Sons, the 18 holes cover gently undulating land – punctuated by streams and some lakes – and is a fun course for all players, no matter what their ability.
Venturing north and back towards the coast, there is the Troon Golf-managed The Grange Golf Club, which covers gently undulating topography and features one of the most memorable par-3s in the region – the 146-metre 18th hole, with its carry over Mullet Creek to the safety of the green near the clubhouse, which has been refurbished in recent years.
Change has also been part of the recent history of two of the region’s most celebrated layouts – Port Kembla Golf Club and Wollongong Golf Club.
RIGHT: Wollongong’s superb beachside holes are memorable. PHOTO: Brendan James.
A few years ago, Port Kembla implemented a masterplan, created by course designer James Wilcher, who designed Pacific Dunes and The Cut as well as overseeing the redesign of Sydney’s Elanora Country Club. His changes saw the redevelopment of most of the course’s greens and their surrounds.
There is plenty to like about much of the front nine, which offers glimpses of ‘Sandbelt’ golf with very little rough between the fairways and the coastal scrub. The remodelled bunkering has raised the standard on these holes, especially on the short par-4s like the 276-metre 7th where a nest of fairway traps right of the driving zone can make you think hard about your strategy for the hole.
Wollongong Golf Club is the oldest course in the Illawarra with nine holes on the current site opening for play in December 1897. Over the next 20 years more land was acquired and by the early 1920s there was an 18-hole layout stretched out behind the sand dunes of Wollongong’s City Beach.
In the early years of this century, course designer Ross Watson was commissioned to come up with a long-term masterplan for an extensive redesign of the layout to take into account an expansion of the clubhouse, to include accommodation, and a residential complex overlooking the course.
In recent times, lots of work has been carried out on green complexes, bunkers have been rebuilt and scrub removed to add to the playability of the layout as well as enhancing its visual appeal.
One hole that has seen little change is a memorable par-3 where the wind off the sea really dictates how you play the hole. The tee of the 137-metre 17th (rebuilt after a storm almost wiped it out in 2016) is perched high above City Beach to the right and the green in front. Despite being set below the level of the adjoining dune, downhill shots here are exposed to the prevailing sea breezes. Four deep bunkers ring the putting surface, which breaks subtly away from the ocean.
WHERE TO PLAY
GERRINGONG GOLF CLUB
Green fees: $40 (18 holes).
KIAMA GOLF CLUB
Green fees: $30 (18 holes).
JAMBEROO GOLF CLUB
Green fees: $30 (Monday to Wednesday and weekends 18 holes); $22 (Thursday and Friday).
THE LINKS SHELL COVE
Green fees: $19 (Monday, 18 holes walking); $29 (Monday with cart); From $19 to $39 (Tuesday to Friday with cart); From $29 to $39 (Saturday with cart); From $29 to $55 (Sunday with cart)
Green fees: $25 (weekdays, 18 holes); $30 (weekends and public holidays).
THE GRANGE GOLF CLUB
Green fees: $42.50 (weekdays, 18 holes); $45 (weekends).
PORT KEMBLA GOLF CLUB
Green fees: $38 (weekdays, 18 holes); $43 (weekends).
WOLLONGONG GOLF CLUB
Green fees: $27 (Monday,18 holes); $35 (Tuesday to Sunday).