The NSW South Coast between Mollymook and Eden has a reputation as one of Australia’s best golfing destinations. Picture-postcard scenery, a wealth of off-course activities as well as great food and wine have golfers, and non-golfers, heading back for more.
There are few places in Australia where you can play 18 holes on a top-100 nationally-ranked course in the morning, watch whales breaching in the afternoon and dine on world-class food and wine in the evening. You can do all this and more on the NSW South Coast.
As a golf holiday destination, the South Coast – from Mollymook in the north to Eden in the south – is unique. This 250-kilometre stretch of coastline is special for being one of the most easily car-accessible golf destinations in Australia for visitors from three capital cities – Sydney to the north, Canberra to the west and Melbourne to the south.
The beachside paradise of Mollymook, about three hours’ drive from Sydney, lies at the northern gateway to the region and is home to two courses belonging to the same club. Mollymook Golf Club boasts a nine-holer, called the Beachside Course, where the 1st tee is a pitching wedge from the southern tip of beautiful Mollymook Beach and ambles across easy-walking terrain around Collers Beach inlet.
Residential expansion started to take off in Mollymook during the 1970s and a land developer donated a parcel of land – a few kilometres north-west of the Beachside course – to the club for the construction of what is now known as the Hilltop Course.
The club enlisted its course superintendent Bill Andriske and professional Ken McKay Snr to oversee the design of the layout, which was carved from a thick eucalypt forest. The layout opened for play in 1977 and in its 42nd year it has never been more highly acclaimed. In January this year, Golf Australia magazine ranked Mollymook at No.72 in its Top-100 Public Access Courses in Australia for 2019, which is indicative of the course’s improvement in recent years.
Both nines open from in front of the clubhouse, which occupies the highest point on the layout and presents views above the towering tree-tops to the Pacific Ocean off in the distance.
For mine, Mollymook’s most memorable holes are on the inward nine, which covers more hilly terrain and demands a greater variety of shots. Having made the steep descent down the 10th fairway to the green, the 380-metre par-4 11th hole weaves left through a narrow gap in the trees to open up at the green, which features a bunker wedged between the putting surface and a picturesque lake.
My favourite hole at Mollymook is also one of its most memorable. The par-5 13th hole plays a little shorter than the 500 metres on the scorecard. For longer hitters it is a blind tee shot over the crest of a hill to a fairway that turns gradually to the right from the top of the rise. Once you’re over the hill, you have a plethora of choices for your second shot. Most, like me, won’t be long enough to clear the stream that separates the green from the end of the fairway. The key to the lay-up is to leave a full shot into the putting surface, which slopes markedly from back-to-front and left-to-right. Any local will tell you, leave your approach shot above the hole here and you face a certain three-putt when the greens are running at their quickest.
I have often thought Andriske and McKay may well have been inspired by the rolling par-5s of the Dr Alister MacKenzie-designed Augusta National when they envisioned this terrific hole as well as Mollymook’s penultimate offering.
The pretty 162-metre 17th hole may also have been modelled on Augusta, based on the azaleas and blooms that surround the tees that are elevated above the wide, almost kidney-shaped, green which has one large bunker left and another two smaller traps to the right. The creek between tee and green doesn’t really come into play on what is a terrific test of club selection and shot-execution late in the round.
Batemans Bay, just 45 minutes’ drive south of Mollymook or nearly two hours from the centre of Canberra, is the northern gateway to the Eurobodalla Coast. Here, you will find pristine turquoise waters of the Pacific meeting with the slow moving waters of the Clyde River, which offers great fishing for those golfers who also like to pack a rod with their golf bag.
Lying just south of the Clyde, is the Catalina Country Club, which was named after the World War II ‘Catalina’ sea planes that would land in the nearby bay. In 2016, the club celebrated 60 years of golf, from its humble beginnings as a five-hole sand scrape course partly inside a racecourse to the beautiful 27 holes and expansive modern clubhouse that present today.
Catalina has improved markedly in recent times, with the kikuyu fairways and bentgrass greens presented in fantastic condition.
There are some standout holes at Catalina, but the one most will recall long after playing the layout is the 137-metre par-3 14th. This has always been a pretty hole, which many wild birds and ducks call home, but its playability was enhanced a few years ago with the rounding off of the green surrounds to slope down into an adjoining pond. Previously, a log wall and a sliver of fringe grass had separated the green from the water, leaving absolutely no room for error in just missing the green right or short. The green is now slightly bigger and more receptive but no less challenging, particularly when the wind blows.
The following hole – a lengthy par-4 – has recently reopened after being extensively remodelled by course designer Harley Kruse. Kruse has given the hole a terrific facelift with dramatically shaped bunkering added and a new, much larger, green built. This is the first hole to be redesigned as part of an extensive golf course improvement plan.
Catalina is one of the easiest walking courses you will find featured in this article, with only a few holes offering a real change in elevation. One of those is the 477-metre par-5 16th hole, which I believe is one of Catalina’s best three-shotters.
Out-of-bounds can be found to the right of the fairway all the way to the green. An aggressive play here is to drive up the right half of the short grass to set up any chance of hitting the green in two shots. The elevated green is tucked behind a water hazard slightly to the right of the fairway but long hitters can reach the big green in two blows.
Based on its current rate of improvement it won’t be a surprise if Catalina breaks into the Top-100 Public Access Courses ranking in January 2021.
From the beauty of the bay, the Princes Highway winds south and inland, through the majestic Mogo State Forest. If you can spare the time before your next round of golf, a stop at the small village of Mogo and its zoo is a must.