Once renowned for its brutish difficulty, the Ross Watson design on the New South Wales Central Coast continues to improve as it finds the right balance between testing and enjoyable golf.
I’m sure I am not alone when I say my favourite golf is the variety played on courses positioned by the sea. It is where the game has its origins and the sound of the ocean and the sea breeze requiring creativity when playing shots off tight, sandy-based grass makes for a truly enjoyable experience each and every time.
Magenta Shores Golf & Country Club certainly has the benefits of such an idyllic location in spades. However in the immediate period after the Ross Watson-designed course opened in 2006, the extremity of the challenge made it a less enjoyable experience than the course presents today.
Since those early days of high handicappers losing handfuls of golf balls and recording Stableford scores in the low 20s, the club has made numerous changes to make it more playable for all. And the result is a better layout that has continued to improve on each of my numerous visits, since first making the hour-and-a-half drive up from Sydney not long after the course opened.
Long fescue rough is far sparser than it once was. It no longer lies around the large blowout bunkers and between the sandy hazards and the putting surfaces that caused the dual negative of stopping balls running into the sand and penalising bunker shots that were good enough to clear the lip but not carry onto the green.
Santa Ana couch has also been progressively replacing the existing Legends couch grass on the fairways, with the project set for completion later this year. The completed areas certainly proved more playable and in better condition during my most recent trip at the tail end of winter.
The course has also had a small number of bunkers undergo reconstruction to feature riveted faces to alleviate plugged lies, and while there are no plans to make this a widespread amendment, it has certainly helped in the troublesome spots where it has been implemented.
When visiting Magenta to compile this story there was also a number of areas formerly marked as out of bounds – left of the par-5 2nd and par-4 3rd – that were being trialled as red-staked hazards. Another decision that makes plenty of sense in my opinion.
Despite these changes, Watson’s par-72 is certainly no pushover. With wind a constant factor and the movement in the fairways rarely offering a flat lie, players still have a task ahead of them if they are to record a good score on the course just north of The Entrance on New South Wales’ Central Coast.
Tightly mown green surrounds both add to the challenge and enjoyment of the links-style course, with a wide variety of short game options on offer. The shorter holes see the sloping areas around the putting surfaces repel balls away from the centre of the greens, while the longer and more difficult holes offer more friendly terrain for the running approaches of higher handicappers and skilled players with the ability to flight the ball down.
“Watson’s par-72 is certainly no pushover. With wind a constant factor and the movement in the fairways rarely offering a flat lie …”
The early holes at Magenta are built on the site of a former tip, yet skilful earth moving give the holes on the southern side of the property a natural and rustic feel.
Played towards the opening of Tuggerah Lake to the Pacific Ocean, the opening two holes are best played with placement rather than power, before the 3rd hole heads north and offers up the first significant test of the round.
Measuring nearly 400 metres from the blue tees, the par-4 rates as the third-hardest hole at Magenta and offers an example of what is required to score well around the No.37 course in the country according to this magazine’s 2018 Top-100 Courses ranking.
Depending on the wind, stronger players have a choice from the tee whether to challenge the fairway bunkers left and right, or to take less than driver and play safely into the widest part of the fairway. Aggressive players will be rewarded with a shorter club in and a better visual of the hourglass-shaped green, but the lurking danger of a potential lost ball to the left of the fairway or a splash out of the bunkers places a premium on execution.
Even once the fairway is found the job is far from over at the 3rd, where bunkers placed deceptively short of the green make choosing the right club tricky and wild native grass and bushes lie in wait for an approach hit long or right.
RIGHT: Measuring 550 metres, the final hole at Magenta Shores offers an exacting final challenge. PHOTO: Brendan James.
Magenta’s risk and reward qualities are again on show at the short par-4 6th, another hole that lays options out for players from start to finish and rewards those capable of hitting the required shots and punishes those willing to try, but unable to execute. I have hit everything from 5-iron to driver from the tee at the 303-metre hole with varying results and consider taking every one of those clubs again each time I reach dogleg right hole.
Longer hitters can get close to the green in the right conditions, however, a miss in the wrong place can leave a devilish pitch that will have you thinking whether a safer play short and left of the scheme of bunkers down the right and a short-iron approach may have been the more prudent play.
Although there is plenty to like about the early holes at Magenta, it is once you reach the northern side of the narrow strip of greenery where the best holes take place.
The par-5 8th unravels before you after emerging from a tunnel under Magenta Drive and begins arguably the best stretch of holes on the course. Reachable in two good hits, the 474-metre hole doesn’t necessarily favour longer hitters over those capable of accurately finding fairways.
A long bunker down the left combines with two more, one on the same line and one to the right, to tighten the fairway significantly where those with power to burn will be aiming. Again, Magenta’s qualities as a second- and third-shot golf course come to the fore here, sand and mown runoffs surrounding a raised green with numerous ridges that make a two putt no mean feat.
The most difficult hole at Magenta immediately follows in the opposite direction and at 438 metres from the plates and regularly played into the wind, is more realistically a par-5 for many players, this correspondent included, than the par-4 it is listed as on the card.
The 9th snakes its way between fairway bunkers before rising to a long, sloping green with a number of levels. Any hopes of making par require finding the correct tier of the putting surface, with putts from the back of the green down towards a front pin a particularly intimidating prospect.
Another par-5 follows and closes the strong trio of holes played side-by-side, a more generous landing area greeting players from the 10th tee.
The 480-metre hole’s kidney-shaped green is partially hidden from view by a tongue of long grass and shrubs and requires your Sunday best to hold the crowned putting surface if you are long enough to challenge the hole in two.
The more conservative, and frankly wiser, route is to lay-up to a comfortable distance as close to the right fairway trap as you dare, opening up the length of the green and a better sight line.
There are no weak holes on Magenta Shores’ back-nine, and it is another run of three holes on the second loop that concludes in the property’s most northern corner which, although less testing, is equally as enjoyable as the stretch from 8-10.
Measuring 326 metres from the tips, the 13th is the shortest par-4 on the second half and will test players’ strategic nous. Playing blindly from the tee, long hitters can reach the downslope in the fairway that will propel the ball towards the green set in the bottom of a valley and protected by an enormous bunker right. More conservatively minded golfers will want to get as close to the peak of the fairway as possible to hopefully play from a fairly flat surface and allow for an unobstructed view of the heavily undulating green.
Turning from right-to-left, the par-4 14th rates as the second hardest hole at Magenta and requires two excellent golf shots to find the green. A collection of bunkers on the inside of the dogleg lie in wait for the player who bites of more than they can chew or pulls their tee shot, while lost balls are common for those who miss the fairway to the right. Again, a well-judged downhill approach shot is required here to a green that is less penalising than its predecessor but more strongly defended by four of Watson’s trademark bunkers.
“Despite still having the ability to bear its teeth when setup to do so or in strong winds, the quality of golf at Magenta Shores has vastly improved.”
The shortest hole on the course comes next and, despite measuring just 124-metres from the back markers, the diminutive par-3 is no picnic. The clearing of scrub between the tee and green on this hole has been a significant visual upgrade from when the course first opened, allowing players to see more of the long green and deep surrounding bunkers as they ponder their club selection. Over the years, I have hit everything from 6-iron to sand wedge on this hole and it is one I consistently look forward to playing as I reach the back nine.
Closing with the longest hole on the course by some margin is a timely reminder Magenta Shores isn’t for the golfer faint of heart, even with the club’s continued efforts to make a round less daunting through more playable characteristics and improved playing surfaces.
Despite still having the ability to bear its teeth when setup to do so or in strong winds, the quality of golf at Magenta Shores – including true rolling greens throughout the year – has vastly improved. And if you haven’t made the trip up the M1 freeway since its early days, it is certainly worth the return visit, with the golf now more appropriately matching the tranquil and enjoyable natural surrounds.
LOCATION: 1 Magenta Drive (off Wilfred Barrett Drive), Magenta, NSW, 2261
CONTACT: (02) 4336 0100
DESIGNER: Ross Watson (2006).
SLOPE RATINGS: Black 142, Blue 138, White 137 and Red 136.
PLAYING SURFACES: Legends Couch fairways (currently being converted to Santa Ana couch) and G2 bentgrass greens.
GREEN FEES: $99 (walking), $124 (including cart). Magenta Shores is a private course, however, limited tee times are available to players with a Golflink number, or guests of the adjoining Pullman Magenta Shores Resort.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: James Newell.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Rob Hurley (General Manager), Greg Lewis (Head Teaching Professional), Jeremy Farr (PGA of America).
MEMBERSHIP: There are nine categories of membership on offer at Magenta Shores, ranging from discounted rates for young golfers up to the age of 29, to limited golf and unlimited golf options. An unlimited Individual membership costs $3,785 annually and adds other benefits and privileges, including motorised cart and shop discounts, free range balls, the ability to invite unaccompanied guests and more. Magenta Shores also offers a dual membership category with the same benefits for two golfers for a cost of $6,135 per year.
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: NSW (Newcastle GC); Victoria (The Heritage, Portsea GC); Queensland (Brisbane GC, Links Hope Island Resort, Palmer Sea Reef, Sanctuary Cove G&CC); South Australia (The Grange GC); Western Australia (The Cut GC).
STAY AND PLAY: Located on site, the five-star Pullman Magenta Shores offers two- and three-bedroom villas as well as studio king rooms. Non-members staying at the resort can secure tee times on the golf course and have access to a range of other facilities.