Corner King St & Vernon Ave,
New South Wales,
- +61 2 9669 1311
The Lakes Golf Club is a historic championship venue and one of Sydney's premier golf clubs. Host to numerous Australian Opens, its pedigree stretches back to 1928 and naturally the main feature of the course is water with many daunting lake carries. The Mascot freeway was routed through part of the course in 1968 and Robert von Hagge was tasked with redesigning the layout.
Lakes are not the only hazard at the Lakes Golf Club. In fact, the front nine – with the exception of the opening hole – is water free, but on the outward nine you will be presented with some of Australia’s boldest bunkering and more than enough trees instead. The inward nine is where the water comes into play, so play within yourself and be patient, playing for position if you are looking to maintain a decent card.
In 2006, Mike Clayton was brought in to restore the course to its former glory and he cleared away enormous areas of trees and scrub to widen playing corridors and bring a feeling of openness back to the layout. Many feel his improvements have been especially beneficial on the front nine, making those holes almost as good as the spectacular back nine.
The following edited extract by architect Mike Clayton is from Volume Six of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected].
“The original course of The Lakes club, in Sydney, was split in two in the late 1960s by a new and desperately needed freeway that connected the city to the airport. Jack Nicklaus had beaten Bruce Devlin around the old layout in an 18-hole playoff for the 1964 Australian Open; six years later, Devlin was commissioned to build the club a new course. He partnered Robert von Hagge and crafted a course that was the site of Greg Norman’s first Australian Open victory, in 1980.
It was a really good course, yet the members could never leave well enough alone. The original, in the fashion of traditional links, had few trees. Non-indigenous trees, predominantly pine, were planted with abandon. This activity ensured that the character of the land changed significantly. While the routing remained the same, many of the greens and surrounds were redesigned and the trees ‘had their way’.
The grassing regime finished up as an odd looking mix of four distinctly different grasses: kikuyu; couch; rye; bent. The presentation looked disjointed, and it played as poorly as it looked. Nor was there any hint that anything other than the middle of the fairway was the ideal place to play to the flag. It was a relatively short course by modern standards: the question was how to keep it relevant for first-class play.
Against the trend of modern design, we decided against consciously adding yardage for its own sake. We also chose to remove almost all influence of long, green grass as a way of dictating the play. Our determination was this: that without significant fairway width, there can be no meaningful strategy from the tees; and no one wants to play down narrow fairways in high winds.
We headed in the opposite direction: there would be no rough around the greens; the fairways would be as wide as we could make them; but the ideal lines into the flags would be from the more difficult to access edges of the fairways. And this would be close to the hazards. Each player would need to make a decision on where it would be best to aim; and that makes the game interesting for both members and golf professionals.”
The club was founded in 1928 when local golfers identified the potential of the sandhills and lakes at Kingsford, not far from Sydney airport
Eric Apperly and Tom Howard were the architects and the course open to universal acclaim.
One of the conditions set for the club to meet if it was to use the land to build a private golf course was to also provide for a public access golfing facility on adjacent land- this facility is known as Eastlake Links and is a quality course in it's own right
In 1968 the Mascot Freeway construction required a significant redesign of the course. The changes were overseen by American Robert Von Hagge.
In 2007 Mike Clayton was employed to re imagine the course. Clayton has built a reputation for clearing trees out, and at The Lakes he was able to widen fairways and give more emphasis on the rolling sandy terrain and bunkering
The Lakes has hosted 7 Australian Opens. Notable winners include: Jack Nicklaus (1964), Greg Norman (1980), Steve Elkington (1992), and Geoff Ogilvy (2010). Other tournaments held have been The Australian PGA, The Wills Masters, The Johnny Walker Classic, & more
The Lakes has always been a tale of two nines. The front nine starts with a par 4 right on the lake, but then heads into the trees. This is where the Clayton redesign comes to the fore
Previously this nine was a tight treelined parkland golfing adventure, but not a memorable set of holes By taking out trees and opening up the holes, Clayton has brought the course to life and given it a more linksy feel The sandy wastelands and bunkering are now a feature to genuinely rival the picturesque back nine
The homeward nine can get the heart rate up with many of the holes featuring the water hazards from which the club gets it’s name
There are some unique holes. No one will forget playing over the water on the short par 5 fourteenth, or the challenges avoiding the lakes on 16 & 17. It’s a strong test of golf, and a not for the faint hearted!
Notable holes include: - hole 1, a short par 4 arcing around the edge of the lake - hole 5, a short dogleg par 4 with the green tucked into the trees - hole 11, a par 5 around the lake - hole 14, a short par 5 that requires some decision making and courageous stroke play - Hole 16, a unique longer par 4 with water seemingly everywhere. It’s a tough hole! - hole 17, a short par 5 around the lake edge, but with water carries required along the way
The Lakes is one of the premier courses in Sydney. It is both a fine championship course and a stern test of golf for members. The membership love the course and rightly so!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review
The Lakes is a regular home of The Australian Open and is one of Australia's best courses. It's an open parkland course filled with dramatic and penal bunkering and plenty of water hazards which definitely come into play. The fantastic review by Mark White below comprehensively covers each of the holes, so I shan't repeat, other than to differ in one area and say I quite like the contrast between the nines.
In my opinion this course is harder than NSW, The Australian, and even Carnoustie in terms of championship layouts I've played, but maybe that's just part and parcel of not being a single figure golfer. I enjoy the layout and challenge of The Lakes but have never scored well on the three occasions I've had the opportunity to play, especially on the back nine. Still, I've never put as many in the water as John Daly there...
The Lakes has hosted many professional events and I can see why. It offers plenty of length and difficulty for the pro player due to the water, which is primarily on the back nine. After having played the courses in the Sandbelt, on King Island, Barnbougle and New South Wales, this was a very different golf course. It almost felt like a good resort course in Florida such as Trump Doral Blue.
It is primarily flat and the condition is very good. We took a cart as the day was hot. I played it in February, 2019 and only once. It is not a course I would necessarily go back to immediately as I would prefer to either go back to New South Wales or try a few other courses near Sydney. I would emphasize that it is my understanding that it is considered the second best golf course in the Sydney area.
The first hole, a mid length par 4 has water down the entire left side, particularly nearer the green where it is right up against it. The green is well defended. I thought this was one of the better golf holes on the front nine.
You cross under the road for the second hole, a fine longer par 4 of 440 yards that I thought should have had the bunkering closer to the green as there is a sizeable gap. The tee shot has a lot of room down the left; down the right side is a long waste area of sand.
I should point out that other than the ninth hole the front side is basically flat with only small rises to the terrain.
The third hole is a longer par 4 with the waste bunker on the right side of the third hole is now on the right side of this hole. The fairway is certainly wide enough to hit. At the end of these fairway bunkers there is a line of trees all the way to the green on both sides which also is well defended and one of the better greens on the front nine. This hole feels like there is sand everywhere. It is about 480 yards as a par 4 and is a difficult par. It is easily the best hole on the front nine.
The fourth hole is a short par 4 of about 370 yards that has a waste area to hit your approach shot over to the green which is tucked against a tree line. This also had a decent green complex with a swale on the left side of the green. At this point I noticed how much sand, waste areas and trees are on the golf course and I wondered whether the course had the right name.
The fifth hole is a mid length par 4 of 400 yards with trees right and left after driving over another relatively short waste area. The green was again well defended with four bunkers and had a ridge in the middle.
The sixth hole was my favorite on the front nine, a dogleg left with bunkers everywhere on either side to a green that seemed smaller than the other greens and had a falloff at the rear and left side. It is visually the prettiest hole on the front nine.
A par 3 of 170 yards awaits you for the seventh hole. It has bunkers down the right side with one left center and has a large false front and a spine in the middle of the green. It is a pretty good hole.
The eighth hole brings a small pond into play on the right for the tee shot before sand and trees once again become the obstacles to the green. There is a set of near cross bunkers on the left side to catch a weaker hit second shot. The green is fairly large for this 550-520 yard par 5. It is a good hole but one that feels a bit routine.
You cross under the road again to get to the ninth hole which is a mid length par 3 of around 150 yards playing uphill to a raised green with falloffs all around it, a well placed pot bunker center front and a large bunker complex on the right side. The green is tricky due to its slant. It is a nice short par 3.
Oh my goodness is the short tenth par 4 hole a lot of fun. It is a very narrow fairway to hit from the raised tee designed to make you fear the hole a bit more. Trees and a pond run all down the right side for a penalty or lost ball. The fairway is tilted left to right. Bunkers front against the edge of the front of the green and at the back to this very skinny green. This is a hole that captures your attention and was my favorite on the back nine.
I am sure the eleventh hole gets a lot of attention, a longer par 5 that wraps around a lake to the right with a green that is set out in the water. You cannot be short nor to the right of the green or you are in the water. But I found the hole to be too similar to many other holes I have played in Florida or South Carolina
The twelfth is a long uphill par 4 that plays longer than its 440 yards. You cannot go right at any time due to the trees and the fall off. I did not care for the hole as it lacked character. It’s difficult, but relatively uninteresting.
The thirteenth is a short downhill par 4 of 310 yards with a pond on the right. Big hitters will likely try to drive the green since the green is perhaps the most difficult on the golf course given it is raised, tilted severely back to front and is even narrower in the front which barely a landing area. This is a very strategic hole demanding an excellent short game. I liked the hole.
I thought the fourteenth was a clever hole, a short par five where the tee shot must avoid the water down the left and the trees down the right. Longer hitters will try to drive over the fairway bunker to the left side of the fairway but then they are taking on the water as well. The green sits at a 90 degree angle to the hole on the left and goes right against the edge of the water.
For whatever reason, all four of us double bogeyed the long par 3 fifteenth hole, playing around 200 yards with a huge bunker complex on the right side (my downfall), another bunker center right of the green and two on the left side of the green. It is a simple hole, and one where no one should take two shots to get out of a bunker but it sometimes happens when the flag is put in the narrowest part of the green and one tries to be “perfect.” The hole did feel as if I had played it at many other golf courses. It is not a bad hole, but it is not unique.
The sixteenth, a long par 4 of 440-410 yards was much more interesting. You first have to drive over a lake, and then play into a green that is a dogleg to the right with water on the right that you must cross as well as the lake continuing down the left side all the way aside the green. The green is well protected by four bunkers although it is a pretty simple green to read.
The last time water comes into play is on the seventeenth, a short par five of 500-480 yards. You hit over water twice here. Water continues on the left side all the way to the green where the green’s left side offers no relief to the water. For the second shot, if you push your shot right it will be in bunkers that line the right side all the way to the hole. The best way to play the hole is either from the middle or left side, from the right side the third shot has to be very delicate not to end up in the water.
The eighteenth is a long par 3 of 190-210 yards playing slightly uphill with bunkers left and right to a slightly raised green tilted back to front. This is the worst hole on the golf course. I don’t have much of a bias as to finishing on a par 3, but if that is the case it should be a good hole and this is not. It needs a better green and better bunkering.
If there is a criticism of the golf course, it is that the two nines are very different, the front nine primarily having sand, being tree lined and waste areas often on both sides while the back nine incorporates the three lakes and small ponds. It is a very different feeling of the two nines. The par 3’s are relatively weak. I liked the seventh hole but thought 9 and 15 could be found almost anywhere with 18 being a hole that should be improved as a finishing hole. There are some very nice holes such as six and ten but the course feels inconsistent and visually is too much like a resort course. It is definitely worth playing once. As for the members, I am certain they enjoy it because of the heroism required on many shots.
Ranked the Number 2 course in Sydney and is also high up on the Australian Top 100 list. The Lakes GC has hosted many professional championships over the year's including the remarkable 2012 Australian Open won by veteran Peter Senior.
The course was redesigned by - Michael Clayton and his team in 2009 and holes now place a far greater premium on placement and strategy than they did previously.
The famous water carry on the 14th hole provides a challenging test for every golfer not just for during tournament play.
The final 9 holes borders a wetland area with a ray of wild life and scenic views 360 degrees, and of course a wide range of tempting shots !! It's a great stretch of holes to close of the round.
I must say my expectations were more than met when I played, and a tremendous experience was had both on course and through what is provided to guests. Ensure you play the Lakes Sydney at least once in your life time!
P. S the spa in the men's locker room is a delightful ending to any round.