The northern beaches area of Sydney covers one of the most beautiful stretches of urban coastline in Australia.

The surfing culture is ever present, and so it should be as Manly Beach is just one of more than a dozen world-class surfing beaches to be found on the 30km stretch of coastline north between Manly and Palm Beach, located on a narrow peninsula between the ocean, to the east, and the yachties paradise known as Pittwater, to the west.

There are also highly acclaimed private golf clubs dominating the landscape, but there are also several public access courses where you will be able to get a game most days.

According to the late five-time Open Champion Peter Thomson, the layout at Long Reef Golf Club covers “one of the best sites of any golf course in Sydney.”

The par-71 links course occupies the Long Reef headland and as a result there are ocean views from every hole and it is highly exposed to any breeze. On the highest points of the course, the views extend north to Palm Beach and south to Manly.

Long Reef began as a nine-holer, laid out across the top of the headland but was extended to 18 holes in 1927 by Dan Soutar – the pro at Manly Golf Club at the time and was also behind the acclaimed original designs at Kingston Heath, Concord and nearby Elanora.

The top of the Long Reef Headland is home to the diminutive par-3 13th hole. PHOTO: Brendan James.

The course remained virtually unchanged for half a century after World War II, then Thomson was commissioned to redesign several holes in the mid-1990s. He toughened the layout by adding pot bunkers, strategic mounding and the creation of some wetland areas. More water is being added to the course with work starting on the construction of a lake in the area formerly occupied by the club’s maintenance shed.

The prevailing wind at Long Reef is from the south and is right in your face as you stand on the tee at the 1st hole – a 477-metre par-5 that calls for the toughest tee shot of the round to also be the first. Out-of-bounds markers are just metres from the right edge of the fairway, which is cut in two by a zig-zagging creek about halfway to the green and can be reached by longer hitters. Once you have crossed the water hazard, the fairway climbs gradually to a sloping green, which is partially obscured by a wild-grass covered mound.

No hole is more affected by the wind than the 138-metre par-3 13th, which faces south and into the prevailing breeze. The 13th might be the shortest of Long Reef’s par-3s but a wide range of clubs can be used from the tee to find the green. It is not uncommon for players to use a driver when a big southerly buster is howling up the coast. In such conditions, the key is to keep your ball on the golf course as a sheer cliff above the ocean is only metres away to the left of the smallish green.

Mona Vale’s par-4 17th hole is separated from the beach by a row of sand dunes. PHOTO: Brendan James.

The toughest hole at Long Reef is the 400-metre par-4 17th hole, which is usually played with the wind blowing across the fairway from left to right. Long Reef Beach lies just beyond a long row of sand dunes lining the left edge of the fairway, while extensive mounding right of the short grass is a no-go zone. When the wind is at its strongest, golfers must aim out-of-bounds towards the beach to have any chance of finding the fairway with their drive. This hole would not be out of place on one of the great links courses of Ireland, like Ballybunion or Portmarnock. Instead it is just 30 minutes’ drive north of the Sydney CBD.

Complementing this fun, public access layout –ranked No.33 by Golf Australia magazine earlier this year in Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses – is the superb condition of the playing surfaces year round.

A high standard of conditioning is also the norm at Mona Vale Golf Club, another seaside layout on the peninsula just 10 minutes’ drive north of Long Reef via Pittwater Rd. Visually appealing strip-cut kikuyu fairways, tightly-trimmed green surrounds and well-manicured poa annua putting surfaces, Mona Vale won’t disappoint the discerning travelling golfer.

Despite its beachside location, the first 10 holes at Mona Vale are actually lined by a combination of native trees and pines, while the remaining holes – laid out closer to the dunes behind Mona Vale Beach – have more of a links feel.

Mona Vale is one of the best manicured courses north of Sydney Harbour. PHOTO: Brendan James.

The routing at Mona Vale consists of four loops out and back, continually angling the player back into or across the prevailing wind, with the 7th and 11th tees and 15th green within a chip shot of the clubhouse.

The 16th, a picturesque par-3 with a tee next to the clubhouse, is the hole most likely to cause you to stop and soak in the view before launching into your tee shot. From the tips, it’s only 129 metres from tee to green, steeply downhill, and is set against an ocean backdrop. It is a tough job keeping your ball down and out of any breeze here, which prevails from the left in summer and from the right during the cooler months, making it a stern challenge to hit the green that features two shelves creating two small targets.

Venturing away from the beach (only a few minutes’ drive inland from Mona Vale) you will find the always lush Bayview Golf Club.

Golf was first played on the site of the current course back in 1924 when New Zealand sheep farmer John Orr bought the land and he built six holes, which were played by family and friends for several years. The Bayview club was formed in 1948 and the membership took over ownership when they bought the course and clubhouse from Orr’s widow in 1967.

The steep, downhill dogleg left par-4 7th is one of Bayview’s most memorable holes. PHOTO: Brendan James.

The past 10 years have been the greatest period of change for the club with extensive remodelling of the course and the 2009 completion of a $7.2 million state-of-the-art clubhouse, which overlooks the layout.

The 18 holes are split into two sections, with a quartet of holes from the uphill par-3 4th to be found across a road and separate from the rest of the course and cover the most undulating land.

The last hole to be played before returning to the main paddock is one you will likely remember more than others. The sharp dogleg left 7th plays considerably shorter than the 375 metres on the scorecard, with the drive being struck from a tee elevated nearly 50 metres above the fairway. The L-shaped hole, with a bunker tucked into the inside of the dogleg, is bordered by tall trees left and thick scrub with out-of-bounds right of the fairway. The small green is wedged between a bunker in front and a grove of Cabbage Tree palms through the back.

The 8th hole is the best of the short holes at Bayview, as you are tested on your ball-striking ability and judgement of club selection. The 137-metre par-3 demands a quality tee shot to be played over water to a huge semi-island, two-tiered green protected by sand left and right. The choice of club must be precise so you find the same level as the flag of the day, otherwise you will be faced with the prospect of a three-putt.