For a course sitting on such natural, untouched land, St Michael’s has endured an awful lot of tinkering during its 70-plus years.
And, typically of many such golf clubs, the mending was usually an improvement on what went before but occasionally not. Fortunately, the most recent refinements represent substantial upgrades.
The eastern Sydney club, which is the third of four golf courses running north-to-south along a stretch of exceptional coastal land (neighbouring, in order, Randwick and The Coast on one side then New South Wales Golf Club on the other), utilises some of the best vistas the harbour city possesses.
The layout pairs its seaside, clifftop gems with a chain of holes running through the site’s native bushland and Eastern Suburbs Banksia scrub. Strong winds off the Pacific Ocean are ever-present, while low handicappers seeking a challenge will be tested simply finding a few of the back tees, let alone playing decisively from them.
For golfers who haven’t seen “St Mick’s” for a while, the transformation in recent years from a mix of couch and kikuyu fairways to all couch has added a degree of consistency to its presentation, as has the renovation of the 6th to 9th holes.
The four holes that draw the front nine to a close were long considered architecturally weak despite sitting on some of the site’s most visually spectacular land. Played across four parallel fairways, these holes previously lacked the definition afforded to the rest by the foliage and so a smart decision was made to create sandy wastelands to provide both separation and examination. Add a little bunker revetting and the look was so effective that a total of 12 holes now feature sandy waste or new-look bunkering.
Next up is the task of converting the greens surrounds to couch and a redesign of the 16th green this summer as the club stays true to a masterplan developed some years ago, interestingly without input from a renowned course architect.
Among the highlights of the layout is the 317-metre 2nd hole, a par-4 that rises to a crest before turning right and downhill towards a well-bunkered green. There is a temptation from the tee to take an aggressive line over the right-side scrub with a driver, yet more prudent is a point-to-point approach via the highest part of the fairway. A similar semi-blind tee shot awaits at the par-4 11th, where the reverse-C-shaped fairway bends in such a fashion that the ideal line from the tee is actually much further right than the orientation of the teeing ground would have first-timers believe.
The 11th begins a run of terrific holes at St Michael’s. The par-3 12th (see opening spread) points towards the distant ocean and features a steeply canted and well-guarded green, while the par-5 13th is short enough to be reached in two in certain breezes, providing you can find the narrow fairway, which runs close enough to the ocean that it is infinitely possible to blast one far enough right that it misses Australia.
If you’re seeking a signature hole at St Michael’s, it might be the 16th. It certainly offers up the signature shot. The drive at the 379-metre par-4 asks golfers to fire across Moran’s Gully, a ravine so sinister and dense that it could swallow you as well as your golf ball should you attempt to locate a stray blow. The ideal tee shot bends from right to left with the riskier play down the left side affording a better line into the angled green.
ADDRESS: Jennifer St, Little Bay, New South Wales 2036.
CONTACT: (02) 9326 8000; www.stmichaelsgolf.com.au
DESIGNERS: Michael Moran & C.W. Cole (1938).
GREEN FEES: $88.
GOLF AUSTRALIA MAGAZINE TOP-100 COURSES HISTORY: No.78 (2012); No.75 (2014), No.69 (2016).
RANKING JUDGES’ COMMENTS:
“I really like the subtle changes that have been made here in recent years, including the removal of trees that should never have been planted in the first place.” – Joe Thomas (2016).
“I have always thought St Mick’s is one of the most fun courses to play in Sydney. Doesn’t matter how hard the wind blows, it’s always a treat.” – James King (2016).