Sydney’s south-western outskirts has been one of Australia’s booming residential development regions for nearly 20 years. And where there is a stable population base, quality golf is never far away.
The south-western gateway to the Sydney metropolitan area was once regarded as the area where the city met the country.
Residential sprawl during the past two decades has meant there is far less grazing land than there once was, which is significant given the history of the Macarthur region. This was where the Australian wool industry was founded in the early 1800s, on vast expanses of land owned by Elizabeth and John Macarthur.
Today, the satellite city of Campbelltown and nearby Camden are at the hub of the burgeoning Macarthur region, which is renowned today for its historical sites like Camden Park Estate, the Australian Botanic Garden and Sundial Hill at Mt Annan as well the popular Gledswood Homestead, which celebrates our farming and stockman’s history.
And, of course, there are some quality golf courses to be found. Three of the best layouts can easily be reached within minutes from accommodation in Campbelltown or Camden, making it the ideal long-weekend or three-day golfing getaway.
The highest ranked of the trio is the Macquarie Links International Golf Club (feature image), which was the planned centrepiece of a new residential development. That surrounding development is now a suburb.
The layout, just 35 minutes’ drive from Sydney Airport via the M5 motorway, is the only Australian design of the late American course designer Robin Nelson. He made his first site visit in 1998 and, with only a few small pockets of trees on the property, Nelson’s intent was to create a links-like course with an Australian character. He also wanted the course to be enjoyable to all golfers. He succeeded on both counts.
While the course definitely has a links feel weaved into many holes, there are also several holes incorporating an Australian ‘bush’ character with native grasses and tall stands of gum trees lining some fairways.
The playing corridors are generally wide with strategically placed bunkers, which are a combination of pot bunkers and the expansive sandy hazards more commonly found on the famous Melbourne Sandbelt courses. Mounding and water hazards on several holes can also damage the scorecard of the wayward hitter.
“Three of the best layouts can easily be reached within minutes from accommodation in Campbelltown or Camden, making it the ideal long-weekend or three-day golfing getaway.”
Macquarie Links’ high standard of its presentation since it opened has been a mainstay of the layout ever since. The Creeping bentgrass greens have always been a highlight, while the couch fairways are generally firm and terrific to hit off.
The 492-metre par-5 1st sets the tone for the round with a generous, gently rolling fairway laid out in front of you. However, as you progress towards the green, the fairway narrows and the hazards become more frequent, with cross-bunkers and out-of-bounds to the left coming into play. Another large scheme of bunkers dominates the right edge of the fairway for the last 50 metres to the green, which is small and slopes toward the back fringe.
The multiple teeing ground options are particularly important when you look at some of the par-4 holes at Macquarie Links. For example, the par-4 2nd is a brute at 405 metres at its longest, especially in summer when the prevailing north-easterly breeze is in your face and the approach to the green, with a lake alongside, is with a long iron or fairway wood.
The back nine has some memorable holes including the long par-3 11th, which calls for a 168-metre tee shot over a wide creek to a green nestled among a natural amphitheatre created by tall gum trees and shrub covered mounds.
The club used to be a strictly private one, but more tee times have been afforded to the public in recent years.
Nine years before any soil was turned in the construction of Macquarie Links, the now named Lakeside Golf Club opened for play.
Peter Thomson, Mike Wolveridge and Ross Perrett-designed the then named Camden Lakeside, just 15 minutes’ drive from Macquarie Links, laying it out on land that had been cow paddocks for generations.
RIGHT: Camden Golf Club. PHOTO: Brendan James.
The layout has all the characteristics of links golf – firm greens, mounding, small cavernous pot bunkers and the wind can always be a factor. Mix this with some woodland course features and it can be a stern test of golf.
There are hints of the great courses; a bunker, a specific green shape or perhaps the sculptured cut of a fairway will get you thinking of Scotland. The course is also kept firm and running fast to mimic the set-up of a true links course. And, believe it or not, the wind is a factor here even though the ocean is about 40km east as the crow flies.
If you haven’t played Lakeside in the past few years, a return will present some significant changes, which have been made since the club was purchased by the Wests Group Macarthur.
A new adjoining real estate development forced the creation of four new holes – from the 5th to the 8th – designed by the Greg Norman Golf Design firm. These holes, built on undulating land south-west of the 4th green and what was the 5th, and is now, the 9th tee. This quartet of holes feature wide interconnecting fairways, while the bunkering has been crafted to mimic the original Thomson, Wolveridge and Perrett hazards.
The work hasn’t stopped there. Six of the original greens – the 1st, 4th, 10th, 11th, 17th and 18th holes – have also been redesigned, by James Wilcher of Golf By Design, and converted to the smooth-rolling T1 bentgrass. Five more holes are due to be reconfigured as part of the ongoing improvement of the layout.
“Gregory commissioned the acclaimed architect Eric Apperly to design nine holes. A second nine followed years later created by Dan Soutar.”
Despite all the changes and improvements, arguably the most memorable hole remains the par-4 18th hole, which winds left around a lake across subtle rolling land before rising gradually to the green. A lone towering gum on the inside of the dogleg complicates the tee shot, as do three pot bunkers wedged between the left of the fairway and the water’s edge … ready to catch the overly aggressive player trying to shorten the hole.
The long-term golfing resident in the region is Camden Golf Club at Studley Park, which is the 132-year-old house that stands in the middle of the property bearing the same name. In fact, the land which the course covers was originally granted to two settlers in 1810 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie.
The house, which can be seen from most corners of the layout, later became a grammar school before being sold to a Twentieth Century Fox executive, Arthur Gregory, who was a keen golfer. Gregory commissioned the acclaimed architect Eric Apperly to design nine holes. A second nine followed years later created by Dan Soutar. That course was lost when the Army bought the property during World War II but golf returned in 1950 with the formation of the Camden club, whose foundation members looked to revive Apperly and Soutar’s work.
The historic house was sold by the club in 2008, which led to a major investment in improving many aspects of the layout, which included the remodelling of four holes – the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 13th holes.
Arguably the best hole at Camden is one of this quartet – the 342-metre par-4 13th. A solid tee shot is required to carry the edge of a dam and reach the fairway that runs diagonally from right-to-left alongside the huge water hazard. The key here is to know how much of the hazard you can bite off with your drive to get the best angle into the large green. The penalty for missing such a grand target is a tough recovery with steep drop-offs from the fringe mixed with three large bunkers, short, right and left.