Wedged between the private Bonnie Doon and The Lakes Golf Clubs, on a long stretch of undulating terrain, is Eastlake Golf Club – a wonderful public access course making its mark in the national rankings.
Driving to the airport from Sydney’s CBD along the Eastern Distributor, it’s not hard to notice the roll out of one golf hole after another. You get a sneak peak of The Australian Golf Club. Then, within seconds, The Lakes Golf Club looms up on the left.
Looking further to the east, another private club in Bonnie Doon skirts the edge of what might be considered the Sydney Sandbelt.
A vast expanse of Botany Wetlands (part of the old Sydney drinking water supply) separates Eastlake from The Lakes, but the two clubs’ history is forever linked. The Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage granted The Lakes club a 20-year lease in 1928 to build a private golf course. A condition of the lease required The Lakes to also construct an 18-hole course, on land to the east, for use by the public.
The Lakes enlisted Eric Apperly and former Australian Open and PGA champion Tom Howard to map out a design for their championship course as well as the new public layout at Eastlake. (Interestingly, Apperly defeated Howard 4 & 3 in the final of the 1920 Australian Amateur nearly a decade earlier).
The first nine holes of the layout was opened in 1930, a handful of months after the great Bobby Jones won the US Open and completed the Grand Slam. Therein lies the origin of the course’s name as Jones’ home course was East Lake in Atlanta. When the remaining nine holes were completed two years later, the club’s patron, George Solomon, penned a letter to Jones notifying him Eastlake had been named after his club.
Months passed and a reply, as well as a memento and a club used by Jones, arrived at Eastlake.
“I want you to know how very much I appreciated your letter informing me that the Eastlake Golf Club of Australia has been christened more or less in honour of myself. This is, indeed, a compliment, for which I am very grateful,” Jones wrote. “Please express for me to your membership my sincere good wishes for the prosperity of the club and their enjoyment of it.”
Nearly 90 years on from the arrival of Jones’ letter and the club, and its wonderful course, is prospering well beyond the dreams of its founding members. Memberships are doing well and the course is likely to host approximately 60,000 rounds in 2021.
Eastlake’s popularity can be attributed to the quality of the course – in terms of the design and presentation – and the value for money it represents, for both members and visiting golfers, which Eastlake has always catered for.
The most dramatic improvements to the course have all come in the past dozen years. It started with new holes and significant upgrades created by course designer Ross Watson and has continued in recent times with major works overseen by course superintendent Nathan Bradbury.
What has remained a constant is the bones of Apperly and Howard’s original routing –an eight-hole trek out to the furthest end of the property, before looping back for a 10-hole journey back to the clubhouse. This is not dissimilar to some of the great Scottish layouts like the Old, New and Jubilee courses at St Andrews or Royal Troon on the Ayrshire Coast.
Most of Watson’s work can be found on the front nine. While the short par-4 5th and the long, dogleg right par-5 7th were major redesigns, the 351-metre par-4 8th and the tough par-3 9th were new holes.
The 174-metre 9th, known as ‘Wee Burn’, is arguably the toughest of the lot. Not only is it a strong mid- or long-iron from the tee, but the approach must clear ‘the burn’ that cuts across the fairway short of the green and wraps around the right edge of the hole, with just two bunkers separating the water from the putting surface. The job isn’t done once you’re on the dance floor, with subtle slopes making green-reading here a difficult process.
Of the long-established holes, one of the most memorable is Eastlake’s short par-4 14th hole. The 249-metre ‘Big Dipper’ offers a genuine birdie chance heading back to the clubhouse but treat it with contempt and you might pencil in a double bogey on the scorecard. The tee lies beside the Botany Wetlands, while the fairway wraps left around the edge of the hazard and climbs a short but steep hill to a green protected by bunkers left and right. The temptation to drive straight at the green, bringing the wetlands into play, can be too much for some. Bradbury has overseen the redesign of the tees, bunkers and the removal of non-native Pine trees, which has fully exposed one of the most attractive holes on the course.
Similar tree clearing has been undertaken at the next – a 454-metre par-5 – and this significantly improved the quality of the fairway turf as well as widening the playing lines along the rippling fairway to the pitched green.
I’ve played Eastlake dozens of times during the past 35 years and for much of that time I hated just one hole. Arriving at the 17th tee meant contemplating a tee shot with a long iron or fairway wood – depending on the wind strength and direction – to tiny, normally rock hard green sitting atop a steep hill 200 metres away. I never birdied the hole and could probably count the number of pars on one hand.
Thankfully, that hole no longer exists and has been replaced by a shorter par-3 featuring a large, undulating green separated from the Botany Wetlands by two deep bunkers. The downhill tee shot of 155 metres is more appealing and fun for players of all standards.
Complementing the design changes has been a serious dedication to improving and maintaining the overall quality of the playing surfaces, which are excellent for a public access layout.
The significant improvements at Eastlake during the past decade has been played out and documented in Golf Australia magazine’s biennial ranking of Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses. In 2011 and 2013, Eastlake was not ranked in the Top-100. In 2015, it debuted at No.80, and jumped up another five places in 2017 to No.75. There were more celebrations in 2019 when it reached No.63 and then, earlier this year, Eastlake surged to No.52.
“Complementing the design changes has been a serious dedication to improving and maintaining the overall quality of the playing surfaces.”
Bradbury has been at the helm at Eastlake throughout that time and his work to improve the layout, to make rounds of golf more fun for all golfers, has certainly caught the eye of our ranking judges.
He has recently overseen a rebuild of many tees and will soon turn his attention to upgrading most of Eastlake’s bunkers during the next few years.
The non-native tree removal program implemented by Bradbury has worked wonders, not just to widen the playing corridors on most holes but also to improve the turf quality as the kikuyu fairways don’t have to compete with Pine trees sucking all the moisture out of the ground.
“The course plays hard enough, especially when the wind blows, so you don’t need lots of trees making it even more difficult,” Bradbury said. “The tree removal program has been huge and as a result the course is more fun to play than it was 10 years ago.
“I’m lucky in that I have a general manager and a board that realise what a great asset they have out there and they allow me to make it as good as it can possibly be. The one common goal between us is player enjoyment.”
And while enjoyment remains the goal, Eastlake will certainly maintain its presence in the ranking and its popularity will continue to rise.
LOCATION: Gardeners Rd, Daceyville, NSW.
CONTACT: (02) 8999 8422; (02) 9662 6453.
DESIGNERS: Eric Apperly & Tom Howard (1932); Ross Watson (2012); in-house (ongoing).
PLAYING SURFACES: Kikuyu (fairways, 14 holes); Couch (fairways, four holes); Poa Annua (greens).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Nathan Bradbury.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Alex Sutherland (head professional); James Edge, Corey Cruickshank, John Burrough.
GREEN FEES: $50 (weekdays); $55 (weekends).
MEMBERSHIPS: Eastlake has a number of membership options that are very competitive, from a low cost start up through to the traditional full membership. There is a waiting list for the six- and seven-day full membership. However, there are five-day (Monday to Friday) memberships as well as two-day (Monday and Thursday) memberships available. For more details of available member categories, visit the club’s website.
ACCOLADES: No.52, Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses, 2021.