For many years, St Michael’s was regarded as a rough diamond on the Sydney golfing landscape. But recent works around the course have polished off some of those abrasive edges.
For decades St Michael’s has been one of Sydney’s most underrated courses. While its has always boasted its fair share of fascinating holes covering amazing land, there was for a long time a sense that it wasn’t polished to be the best it could be. It could best be described as a rough diamond.
‘St Mick’s’ covers beautiful naturally undulating topography, which is a feature of the stretch of seaside land that incorporates New South Wales Golf Club, bordering St Michael’s to the south and The Coast Golf Club next door to the north. With several tees perched high in the dunes affording great ocean views beyond the fairway and green that lies in front, St Michael’s has always been a spectacular place to play golf.
In recent years the club has been working towards polishing up the rough edges of its diamond and making it an even more memorable golfing experience, returning the layout to more of the links-style course it was 80 years ago.
The adjoining New South Wales club had been hosting players for nearly a decade when a small band of golfers, known as the Niblic Club, took over the leasehold on land just north of the Dr Alister MacKenzie-designed layout in 1937. Michael Moran, who held the lease, signed over the land and then supervised the construction of the first nine holes. Acres of seaside scrub and ti-tree were cleared, often by hand, to reveal a sandy linksland dominated by high dunes sloping down to the seaside clifftops.
When Moran retired a year later, club member and official starter Charles Cole oversaw the construction of the second nine. The club lost use of the course during World War II when the army took over the St Michael’s and New South Wales clubs. Over the decades that followed trees were planted, new tees built, some greens altered and the fairway grass was changed.
These changes were not always good ones and in recent years the club has worked to recapture some of the best elements to the layout and, therefore, improve the overall playability and presentation of the course. This included converting all of the fairways from kikuyu to Windsor Green couch, which are some of the most pure surfaces to hit off in Sydney.
Tree plantings that were detached from the natural bush – predominantly Eastern Suburbs banksia – lining many holes had, over time, created an unfair aspect on a selection of holes and many of these have been removed. The removal of non-native scrub has exposed vast tracts of sandy wasteland, which adds to the links character of the layout.
While the routing has changed very little over the years (and why would you change it?), 12 holes now feature bunkers and/or sandy wasteland areas that did not exist nearly a decade ago. This, in my opinion, has transformed the course from simply being a challenging layout – assisted by the hand of Mother Nature – to also exuding a visual appeal few courses in any Australian metropolitan area can boast.
RIGHT: Southerly winds can transform the par-4 14th hole into the hardest hole on the back nine. PHOTO: Brendan James.
Some of the most memorable holes to be found in Sydney are at St Michael’s. The best holes cover some of the most dramatic terrain. The first of these is the 170-metre par-3 3rd hole, which offers brilliant views of the coastline from the tee. It is cut into the side of a hill, while the green is perched on top of a steep hill on the other side of a valley of sand, scrub and deep grass. The challenge here is in holding the green, especially on a windy day when your golfing instinct is to keep your tee shot as low as possible.
Two of the best picks on the back nine cover less undulating topography but are no less challenging. The 176-metre par-3 12th requires exact club selection to find the small, steep-sloping green, which sits on a slight diagonal to your approach. The putting surface is protected by five bunkers – two short and three left of the green – while two deep hollows right make pars here well earned. A short-sided approach shot here will ultimately lead to a bogey or worse.
“Some of the most memorable holes to be found in Sydney are at St Michael’s. The best holes cover some of the most dramatic terrain.”
The 472-metre par-5 13th demands an accurate tee shot between a water hazard left and scrub-covered sand dunes to the right. In the prevailing southerly wind, the green is definitely reachable in two shots for the aggressive player but the second shot here is to a semi-blind green, bunkered left and right with a steep drop off through the back.
St Michael’s is realising the potential it had for so many years and it will be exciting to watch what improvements the club makes in the future to make the course even better and see it rise from its current spot as the No.30 ranked Public Access Course in Australia.
LOCATION: Jennifer St, Little Bay, Sydney, NSW.
CONTACT: (02) 9326 8009.
DESIGNERS: Michael Moran (1937); Charles Cole (1938); in-house (ongoing).
PLAYING SURFACES: Windsor Green couch (fairways), bentgrass (greens).
PGA PROFESSIONALS: John Serhan, Chris Rose, Neil Sarkies, Scott Sando.
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Russell Fletcher.
GREEN FEES: $100 (bookings advised).
MEMBERSHIPS: St. Michael’s caters for every age of golfer. Long term well-established male and female members fill most of the membership categories, however; the club is also fortunate to have a large group of young members ranging from 20 to 40 years of age. St. Michael’s also boasts an impressive junior elite player program with many recent years representative pennant flags donning the walls of the club’s hallway of fame. If you are interested in joining the club, visit the website for further details.
RECIPROCAL CLUBS: Victoria (Southern GC, Portsea GC, Cranbourne GC, The Dunes GL, Settlers Run G&CC); Queensland (The Brisbane GC); WA (The Western Australian GC, Mt Lawley GC, Royal Fremantle GC); NSW (Yarrawonga Mulwala, Pambula Merimbula GC, Newcastle GC, Kooindah Waters Golf Resort); SA (Glenelg GC); Tasmania (Tasmania GC, Launceston GC).