Ellerston is the course that Greg Norman built for the flamboyant Australian media magnate Kerry Packer, the country's richest man, who sadly died in December 2005 at the age of 68. The course is undoubtedly impressive and one of the best courses in Australia. It even crashed onto our World Top 100 in 2016. But how would regular golfers know how good this course actually is? Only the lucky few have enjoyed the honour at Ellerston and the course remains largely the private preserve of the Packer family.
This is what Greg Norman had to say about his creation, which opened in 2001: “For me Ellerston was a very special project. It had taken me more than ten years to convince my good friend and passionate golfer, Kerry Packer, that he should build his own golf course and when the decision was finally made, he ensured the brief was unique. Create the best golf course possible with as few tees as possible, in other words, build a golf course that penalises poor shots, makes the golfer think and play hard. He got all that plus more.”
If you’ve played Ellerston, we’d welcome your thoughts… but dare you be honest? We’d love you to write a review, come on, be brave.
Ellerston also has an Argentinean little sister
called Ellerstina, which is a unique and innovative design set in the heart of
a world-famous private polo ranch to the west of downtown Buenos Aires.
Ellerston is one of the World’s most exclusive golf courses. It is built on the 70,000-acre private estate of the Packer family in the upper Hunter Valley of NSW. The Packers are one of Australia’s wealthiest families and made their fortune in the media and casino industries. The late Kerry Packer who was well renowned as a golf fan contracted Greg Norman back in 1999 to build him a tough and challenging golf course.
Together with Bob Harrison, Norman did just that and unfortunately not too many people get the opportunity to play this amazing course. Access is next to impossible and many guests are helicoptered in. There is a strict no picture policy once on the property and one needs to respect that as it is after all the Packers own private country estate.
Ellerston is built over some spectacular undulating land and is play is reserved for carts. Pages creek dominates the layout and the natural hazard is incorporated into many of the holes. The 6th green has been washed away numerous times due to floods but every time it is rebuilt in exactly the same location.
To explain more about Ellerston the routing is as follows:
1st = long relatively straight P5 with bunkers protecting the drive both left and tight. Pages creek is located in front of the green for those keen to try to reach the green in two.
2nd = a great short P3 set against the creek.
3rd = a long and testing dogleg right P4 with a second shot over a deep gully.
4th = this P4 has a wide landing area that then doglegs left uphill to a very narrow green.
5th = a demanding P4 with the green set at an oblique angle to the fairway.
6th = a mid P3 protected by the creek to the left and bunkers to the right.
7th = a long P4 with a tough drive – favours a draw off the tee then a fade into the green flanked by the creek on the right.
8th = blind uphill P4 with the fairway cambering to the left. The second shot must carry over another deep gully.
9th = a dramatic P5 with a severe downhill to the green. The green is hard to reach in two as the creek and trees protect the greensite.
10th = uphill P5 with a lone tree left guarding the landing zone. The hole is bunkerless with a small creek crossing in front of the green.
11th = downhill P4 and a cluster of trees right protect the drive. A front to back sloping green awaits.
12th = uphill mid P3 with the green narrowing towards the back.
13th = downhill then uphill P4 that doglegs right. Greensite situated at the top of a hill
14th = a mid P4 with a heavily bunkered fairway
15th = a steep drop-off P3
16 = hard dogleg left P4. The green is situated on an outcrop of land that falls to the left. Again, Pages creek protects the green which is unbunkered.
17th = P5 with the tee accessed by a bridge. Creek follows the fairway left then crosses in front of the green.
18th = long P4 with a wide landing area that narrows to the green.
The only thing lacking for mine at Ellerston is a great short P4. Off the Championship tees the course is over 7,318m (8,000y) long. The mandate for the designers was to build a demanding golf course and that they did. In my opinion, Ellerston is the toughest golf course in Australia.
Ellerston is kept in immaculate condition and is set-up for guests each day even if no-one plays it. I was fortunate to play 36 holes the day I was there and the maintenance crew re-cut the greens and hole locations between rounds!
Ellerston has an amazing routing and a very strong collection of holes. It is wildly dramatic, provides great challenges off the tee and on the greens and will undoubtedly test your game if you ever get the opportunity to play there. An invite to Ellerston is both a treasure and a treat much like Augusta National I would presume.
The last round of a several week golf visit to Australia and New Zealand ideally should always end on a high point. That’s not all too complicated given the astounding level of golf Down Under. For me I just happened to stumble onto a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend a couple days enjoying one of the world’s most private and exclusive golf clubs, Ellerston Golf Club. Ellerston is one of those clubs with a membership of 1, owned by the Packer family one of Australia’s wealthiest families.
A visit to Ellerston like any other golf course starts with the logistics of getting there. For me that entails crossing the world, literally given my home is in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Once you arrive in Sydney you have a couple choices, a 4 to 4.5-hour drive North East through the Australian bush or helicopter. The helicopter is faster but just two weeks earlier a friend of mine’s once in a lifetime visit there didn’t go through because the cloud cover wouldn’t allow the helicopter to take off. We opted to drive. Smart choice in my opinion, no way was I going to take the risk of coming this far for such a unique opportunity and then falling short on a technicality at the last minute.
The trip is very unique in and of itself. The last 40 or so kilometers are driven on gravel roads before arriving at the Packer Ranch.
Once you arrive at the gate, you are requested to wait there until you can be picked up. Then you are taken to a cozy home that doubles as a clubhouse which Ellerston actually doesn’t have. Logically, who would it cater to, given next to no one goes there. Ellerston would be pushed to get between 250-500 rounds a year on average.
At the house you receive a warm welcome with drinks and sandwiches, the anticipation hard to contain at this point then you are set up with buggies as the course is extremely spread out and not realistically walkable in the heat by anyone sane. There are holes that easily have 250 meters + from green to tee.
The property is immense and very similar to the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The architect who brilliantly designed Ellerston is Bob Harrison. Bob was the right hand man for Greg Norman Golf Design and created all of Norman’s notable courses in their entirety. With Ellerston the challenge would have been to manage the expectations of Mr. Packer and deliver him the desired results. The objective was to create a very hard course and use as much land as was necessary to create 18 great holes. They had enough land to build hundreds of golf holes, so this was not an easy task.
Make no mistake, Ellerston is hard, easily Pine Valley hard without being a slog of any kind. The conditioning is the best of any course I’ve ever seen, literally perfect but erring on the very fast and firm side. My favorite kind of golf.
I’m sure any scratch or better player that had the opportunity to experience this course will absolutely love the unique challenge the holes present. It’s one of the few courses that exist with 18 totally and completely unique all world holes. The land being very open can also have strong winds ripping through it, really the perfect conditions for great golf.
Given the dramatic landscape there are constant elevation changes and I wouldn’t be pushing to suggest that there isn’t an easy shot on the course, every time you grab a club you are wondering if it’s the right choice, standing every tee adrenaline rushes through your veins knowing danger lurks and a solid tee shot is required.
My favorite hole is a par 4 with a blind uphill tee shot. Successfully navigated your left with a long to mid iron over a severe drop off to the left to a green running right to left away from the line of play that drops severely on 3 sides and is protected by bunkers. A scary shot, but what a beautiful golf hole.
Ellerston is certainly the kind of course where you struggle to pick a favorite hole. It also has one of the strongest set of par 3’s you will ever see all completely different, facing in different directions and of varying lengths. The 2nd hole is Ellerston’s version of a postage stamp in my eyes – 160 yds of pinpoint accuracy to a crazy narrow wonderfully bunkered green. The course is also full of risk reward and heroic shots with challenging choices.
If I had to find drawbacks on this course it would be that it’s not really playable for all levels in my opinion. I think most single figure hcp’ers will enjoy the struggle and challenge. Low single hcp’ers and scratch players I know who have played the course almost unanimously say it’s the best course they have ever played. I guess that fits the mandate Mr. Harrison was given when designing it. I believe that if more of the golf community was allowed access the course would be ranked much higher in the Top 100 rankings.
A shame really as Ellerston is one of golf’s amazing experiences.