Wedged between the steep escarpment of the Great Dividing Range and the ocean, NSW’s Illawarra region has been built on steel, great surf and a leisurely lifestyle.

Wollongong, less than an hour’s drive south of Sydney, lies at the northern gateway to the beautiful south coast and first comes into view as you wind down the steep escarpment from Mt Ousley.

Known as ‘The Steel City’, Wollongong and neighbouring Port Kembla is home to the biggest steelworks in the country and has been a hub of steel manufacturing for nearly a century.

While steel has been the economic mainstay of the Illawarra for so long, tourism continues to grow as a more visitors spread the word about the region’s fantastic beaches, beautiful rolling hills as well as a wide range of other popular attractions -- from the natural to the historic and the adventurous. And you don’t have to look too hard to find delicious food and wine.

And golfers don’t miss out either with a wide selection of quality courses offering superb views and enjoyable challenges.

Wollongong Golf Club. PHOTO: Brendan James

The oldest course in the Illawarra is Wollongong Golf Club, which dates back to 1897. In the early years of this century, course designer Ross Watson developed a masterplan for an extensive redesign of the layout to take into account an expansion of the clubhouse, to include accommodation, and a residential complex overlooking the course.

One hole that was untouched by the changes is a classic short par-3 where the where the wind off the sea is a heavy influence on your shot and club selection. The tee of the 137-metre 17th is perched high above the green and City Beach to the right. The green is set below the level of the adjoining dune and is ringed by six deep bunkers and a few hollows, while the putting surface, interestingly, breaks subtly away from the ocean.

Design changes have also been made in recent years to the Port Kembla Golf Club, just 15 minutes’ drive south of the Wollongong club.

Port Kembla implemented a masterplan, created by course designer James Wilcher (Pacific Dunes, Elanora and The Cut), which has seen the redevelopment of 13 greens and their surrounds. These very good changes and the ongoing high quality presentation combine to make Port Kembla one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf to be played on the NSW South Coast.

Port Kembla Golf Club. PHOTO: Brendan James.

It’s lush, easy walking fairways are bordered by a combination of gums, melaleucas and s well as lakes and ponds (especially on the back nine) making Port Kembla a layout that rewards the straight-hitter.

There is plenty to like about much of the front nine, which offers glimpses of ‘sandbelt’ golf with very little rough between the fairways and the coastal scrub. The remodelled bunkering has raised the standard on these holes, especially on the short par-4s like the 266-metre 7th where a scheme of fairway traps right of the driving zone can make you think hard about your strategy for the hole.

Arguably the most memorable holes come later in the round starting with the par-5 14th where the final approach is to a big, wide green with much of the right side of the putting surface tucked behind a lake. The easy play here is to lay-up short but this area is relatively narrow between fairway bunkers left and the water to the right.

Water also comes into play on the par-4 16th and 17th holes. The 311-metre 16th bends from left-to-right around a lake to reach a green that lies just beyond the water’s edge. The slightly longer 17th turns from right-to-left and features water along most of its left side.

Port Kembla's par-3 15th hole. PHOTO: Brendan James.

Port Kembla’s nearest golfing neighbour to the west is The Grange Golf Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014.

The course, which is owned by Dapto Leagues Club, recently engaged Troon Golf to manage the course and announced in June 2016 that it would undertake a $7 million refurbishment of Grange’s clubhouse, function facilities and the golf course.

The Grange’s new clubhouse was unveiled in August 2016 and work has begun on the new design for the course.