A recent addition to the golfing landscape in Sydney's western suburbs has found a place firmly entrenched in Golf Australia's biennial ranking of the nation's best layouts.
Brand new courses in Sydney have been rare beasts indeed in recent years, yet when they have emerged the new tracks have certainly been attention-grabbers.
Nearly four years old, Stonecutters Ridge just west of the quasi-CBD of Blacktown, energised the western Sydney golf scene and added a premium public-access offering that set it apart from the rest. Part of a now sold-out residential estate and buoyed by an instant influx of members courtesy of a land-swap arrangement with nearby (and now defunct) Ashlar Golf Club, Stonecutters’ infancy was exceptionally short as the club enjoyed fast-paced activity almost instantly.
The course took almost a decade from conception to reality, with the broader project taking on several guises before the development had an end date and took on a final look. It was worth the wait, however, as Greg Norman’s first Sydney design brought an architectural style not seen before in the nation’s largest city. Norman and former design partner Bob Harrison crafted a layout that utilises the varied terrain of the site.
The first seven holes occupy low-lying ground where several large wetland areas dominate the vista and strategy. Thereafter the holes ride the undulating land, sliding comfortably between the residential precinct and into some of the most attractive, almost rural-looking parts of the property.
It’s true that some holes of Norman and Harrison’s design share traits with others they’ve built elsewhere – for instance, the par-3 6th is a longer, meaner version of the 5th at The Glades on the Gold Coast – but throughout are fairways and features that reflect the surroundings artfully. The bunkering is an ever-present feature, the bright white sandy spaces often providing more visual intimidation than strategic influence, yet rarely does finding the sand represent a good ‘miss’. Almost everywhere at Stonecutters, even the best bunker players would rather be pitching from grass around the greens or playing from rough instead of a fairway bunker.
Water hazards come into play on half the holes, including all of the first seven. It’s most intimidating at the 16th, where a wetlands pond flanks the left side of the green at the downhill par-3. From an exposed tee that will reveal any breeze, players fire downhill to a green angled from front-right to back-left with the water on the left and two bunkers to the right and rear. Further right is a swathe of tall grass that offers no bail-out option. It’s one of those tremendous par-3s that seems so simple having hit the green yet can be so diabolical if you don’t.
Other highlights of the course include the 388-metre 3rd hole, which shares a wide fairway with the adjoining 4th and places the higher premium on the approach shot rather than the drive. Different wind directions and flag positions can dictate the preferred driving line, but regardless of where the tee shot finishes, it’s vital to strike a confident iron shot as water sits along the entire right edge of a deep green that’s split in two by a ridge separating the higher left half from the lower right side.
On the inward half, the uphill par-4 13th is a little slice of Ellerston in suburban Sydney, before the par-4 14th trundles downhill then rises to a two-tiered green where the step between the two halves is unmissably steep. Changing between a lower and higher pin position alters the best way to play the hole, as does the presence of a southerly, nor’easterly or westerly wind.
Hosting the past two and the next New South Wales Open is due reward for a club that embraced its new home, showcased its considerable wares and welcomed all comers. Two stagings of the state Open have revealed the course’s volatility yet playability as Australia’s leading professionals and amateurs have learned Stonecutters’ many distinctions without completely conquering the course.
ADDRESS: Stonecutters Drive, Colebee, NSW.
CONTACT: (02) 9627 7081; www.stonecuttersgc.com.au
DESIGNERS: Greg Norman & Bob Harrison (2012).
GREEN FEES: $50 (weekdays), $55 (weekends and public holidays).
GOLF AUSTRALIA MAGAZINE TOP-100 COURSES HISTORY:
No.35 (2014, debut), No.40 (2016).
RANKING JUDGES COMMENTS
“I’m a member at Stonecutters and would have logged close to 200 rounds there since it opened in 2012. It’s such an enjoyable and playable design that never gets boring. It changes subtly between the four seasons and in the various wind directions, which combine to reveal its nuances. If I had one criticism, it would be the way rough has been allowed to grow in places that don’t ‘fit’ architecturally, such as around fairway bunkers in several of the driving zones. OK, two criticisms: the 18th hole ought to be a long par-4, not a short par-5.” – Steve Keipert (2016).
“I’m a big fan of Stonecutters Ridge simply because of the playability of the design for golfers of all standards. Standing on each tee, you feel there is enough width not to get into trouble if you play conservatively, but if you want to be aggressive and skirt the trouble to make a great score, you really need to be on your game.” – Brendan James (2016).
“Easily the best course to be found in Sydney’s greater west. The expansive width of the fairways and size of the greens give the impression you can’t really get into trouble if you play smart. But if you want to go low, you have to find the exact playing line for the day and execute your shots well to score well. My only criticism is that the greens always seem to be on the soft side.” – Joe Thomas (2016).