New South Wales (NSW) is one of the most spectacular courses in Australia and it’s one of the toughest tests of golf in the country. If you have been fortunate (or should we say unfortunate) to try and play NSW in any sort of wind, you will certainly know what we mean. It has lost some of its undergrowth with the bushfires that went through the area a few years ago but the panoramic views that have resulted will leave you spellbound.
Initially Dr Alister MacKenzie designed New South Wales in 1928. MacKenzie was responsible for probably the most famed cliff-top ocean course in all of world golf – Cypress Point in the USA – and twelve months later he created the layout here at La Perouse. The NSW course overlooks Botany Bay, where Captain James Cook first sailed in to Australia in 1770. The course was built some 150 years later with the assistance of another famous architect, Eric Apperly, who was largely responsible for the bunkering and ensuring that MacKenzie's vision became a reality.
The tough par three 2nd soon gives you a flavour for the stern test of golf ahead. Each of the four par threes are set in different directions, which means that you will be tested by the wind that will hit you from all directions – just like the great links courses in the British Isles. Whilst not a pure links course, NSW's rugged terrain combined with lightning fast greens demand the very best from a golfer both physically and mentally.
The stretch of holes from the 5th to the 7th is generally considered to be NSW's best. The par five 5th is a cracker with a blind drive over a hill. If the wind is a northerly, a good drive and a wedge will suffice but if it’s a southerly, you may need up to three woods to reach the green.
We then reach the world famous par three 6th with its back tee located on a rocky outcrop overlooking the wreck of the SS Minmi we soon realise that this hole can definitely wreck your scorecard. Sometimes we need to aim our tee-shot directly into the Pacific Ocean for it to move on the wind to reach the green. Such a shot requires the utmost in commitment, just like almost every shot here at NSW, because this course definitely punishes poor or off-line shots more than most other courses. The drive on the long uphill par four 7th is another that requires pin-point accuracy as the vegetation will capture any off-line shot and this green is one of the more treacherous on the course.
You will struggle to find a better collection of holes anywhere than the last six at New South Wales Golf Club, beginning with four par fours each of different character. The 13th and 14th are classic cliff-top doglegs and the drive through the 'saddle' on the up-hill 15th, along with the blind second shot, will certainly test your resolve - as will the difficult dogleg 16th. The exposed 17th is another fantastic par three where you miss the green at your peril. The closing par five requires three accurate shots and, hopefully, no more than two nervy putts on a wickedly deceptive green to conclude a truly memorable and exacting round of golf where the clubhouse provides the only respite from the elements.
NSW perennially rates in the Top 5 courses in Australia and in the world Top 50. And, whilst it has only hosted a few tournaments in its time, the professionals should consider themselves lucky that they aren't asked to tackle it more often. Some words of wisdom – when you play NSW for the first time, add at least five shots to your handicap before teeing off - you'll certainly have more chance of playing to this higher handicap.
Course description by Kevin Pallier.
New South Wales is easily the best course in the Sydney area and certainly a top ten golf course within Australia, perhaps even in the top five. It is a delight to play and offers real choices to the player as they navigate the holes up in the hillier area of the golf course. The only critique one can have of the golf course is that it takes awhile to get going. I felt the golf course did not really begin until the sixth hole. The green complexes are all above average although I did not find the greens themselves difficult to read as the slopes and slants are pretty obvious. The greens are also the appropriate size for the hole and location. Some of the holes are very well defended while holes with more difficult fairways have less defense around the greens which is a good balance in any golf course.
The first hole is fairly easy as a relatively short downhill then uphill 330 yard par 4 as long as you navigate the false front which goes much deeper into the green than it appears and can send a ball struck well short very far down the hill. However, I think once you learn this about the hole, then you know how to play it.
The second hole is a long par 3 of 200-180 yards that is relatively flat to the hole but has swales surrounding the raised green as well as bunkers on the left. I thought the green was appropriate to the length of the hole while others thought it was a bit small.
The third hole as a longer par 4 of 415-385 has a sharp dogleg left at the bottom of the hill. You play a blind shot here, a sign of what is to come later on the golf course. The reality is the proper line is over the trees on the left, not inside them. I hit my tee shot slightly to the right of the trees on the left and ended right behind one of the three trees at the bottom of the hill. There is also a large collection of trees at the bottom of the hill to the right but they should not come into play. The approach shot is all uphill so it is somewhat of a blind shot to a green that has run-offs front and left and two bunkers on the right side that are fairly deep. For me, this was easily the best of the first five holes.
The fourth hole is a long par 4 of 425-410 that is fairly straight. It has trees down the left side and a small pond and bunkers down the right. The green is protected on the right but a bunker and another run-off area. However, the green is long and large and not very contoured. I felt this hole was good but lacked a bit of visual stimulation.
I did not care for the fifth hole but I played it on a relatively low wind day. It is a par 5 steeply downhill with no real defense other than the collection of bunkers on the left of the green and one on the right. I hit driver and then putted from 115 yards to this 510-500 yard par 5. My putt as my second shot ended up 15 feet behind the pin. That really should never happen on a par five. It was fun to do, but showed the weakness of the golf hole.
The sixth hole, a par 3 of 195-170 yards is likely one of the most photographed holes in all of golf. This is a breathtaking hole over the water of Botany Bay that cuts into the tee shot on the left side and over the rocks with the water continuing on the left side. There are bunkers left and right of the green as well as a swale-like grass bunker in front of the green. Maybe wind would have made a difference, but I felt there were too many bail-out areas on this hole offering an excellent chance of saving par if you missed the green. It is a stunning hole, but I am not convinced it is a special hole from a difficulty standpoint. For me, this is where the course really began to take advantage of the land. I know this hole has been changed as it has been shortened and perhaps made a bit easier.
The seventh hole is good and the holes just keep building after this one. Some are even terrific. This uphill par 4 of 415/400 yards plays a lot longer than the yardage. There is not a lot of defense other than the trees left and right of the fairway. The green is one of the best greens on the golf course with a fair amount of undulations, false front and run offs.
The eight hole is a par 5 of 555/505 playing longer as it is uphill. The second shot is a blind shot over the hill. The green sits under the next hill backstopped by trees and is well defended by a bunker left and two to the front right. It has another excellent green. This is a very good hole that is fun.
I thought the finishing hole for the front side was really well designed as the routing takes you downhill to a fairway sloped right to left. For the longer hitters they have to navigate a large bunker area with trees on the left side. The green is well defended as you are likely hitting off of a slant on this par 4 of 375/360 yards.
The tenth is ever better than the ninth, an uphill par 4 of 400-370 yards where the green is protected by several bunkers left and right. It had another really good green on it. This hole was simply fun to try to figure out which side of the fairway is easier to play one’s second shot.
The eleventh hole was closed for renovation when we were there so I cannot comment on it. I did look at the land and it looked really special as a 165 yard slightly downhill par 3 that once again was likely well defended by bunkers but they were also under repair.
The par five twelfth hole is likely the easiest hole on the inward nine, at only 520-500 yards with a relatively wide open fairway and a large green. However, it was a lot of fun to play this uphill hole with the ridge running through it creating a blind shot.
The thirteenth hole was my favorite on the golf course, a dogleg left of 400 yards with a narrow infinity green to Botany Bay well protected by trees lining the fairway and bunkers at the front of the narrow green. The views as you play you second shot and after completing the hole are absolutely stunning.
If someone wants to say the fourteenth is better than the thirteenth I would not argue it too much. It is another par 4 dogleg left with an infinity green. The fairway is lined with trees after you have a carry over a canyon of roughly 180 yards. The longer hitters will take off as much as this dogleg as they can leaving only a gap wedge to this 350-330 yard hole. The views here are even more incredible than the hole before. The green has no greenside bunkers but is very tilted right to left just like the fairway. It is an incredible hole.
The fifteenth is a straight uphill par 4 of 410-395 yards that plays much longer. It is tree lined on both sides. One must hit their tee shot about 240-250 yards to clear the crest of the hill and have a view of the green which now sits to the right and has bunkers left and right. I could not drive to the crest but I did one-putt the green which I thought was one of the simpler greens on the golf course.
The sixteenth is a long dogleg left par 4 of 440-425 yards with the second shot offering views once again of the ocean. It is a beautiful and difficult hole and completes a demanding stretch of holes.
Or that is not quite the case as the final two holes require real thinking about lines and club selection. The seventeenth is a 170-145 yard hole situated at the crest of two hills on either side. You simply can’t miss to either side as the green is not even receptive to a pitch shot. Bunkers left and right of the green are there to collect your ball as well. It is a magnificent par 3 and for me, the best on the golf course despite the stunning views of the sixth. There simply is no room for error here.
The final hole is terrific, a par five playing slightly downhill off the tee on this 550-530 yard hole with trees that must be avoided on the right side with the tee shot and a collection of bunkers on the left for the longer hitter. The green is very well defended with bunkers left and a collection on the right side which sit well below the green on that side. The miss on the third shot should be long and never short. The green has substantial undulations to it.
New South Wales is a gem. I know it has been ranked in the top 100 and likely still is on some lists. It is easy to understand why. Given the land available, the routing takes full advantage of it. As I said, for me it felt as if the course did not really begin until the sixth hole, but that is okay given the near perfection of the holes to follow. This golf course offers everything one would want. On my personal list of the 706 golf courses I have played, it currently resides at 99. It is truly special on a clear day and perhaps extremely difficult on a windy day. Wow.
I too have played 700+ courses. Actually probably 1k +, but I don't count so much as it appears like bragging and trophy hunting, as opposed to playing great golf courses. But I digress somewhat. To the point, if someone can identify 98 golf courses in the world better than NSW... , maybe they putt from 100 yards + out. Caveat: I'm in the process of joining NSW. Played it 50+ times.
Thank you for your comments.
I list the number of courses mainly because my golf friends are curious and I can point them to this site. There are at least five I know who have played over 1000 different courses and wonder when I am “going to start to play golf.” One of them has played over 2000 different courses. Now I know another who has played over 1000 different courses - you. It’s all in good fun.
My wedge game had failed me on a couple of the previous holes which is one reason I putted, but I often use my putter off the green if I believe I can get it closer.
When I discuss rankings with my golf friends, I don’t try to convince them that I am right; we discuss what we like or dislike, but I am firm in my opinion. So yes, I have 98 courses above New South Wales. If I were given different criteria than my own, then New South Wales would likely be higher. iif someone believes in belongs in the top 50, then good for them. Others who played with me rated it as the best in Australia. It is terrific.
You are joining a gem of golf courses as well as the golf club itself. You are blessed and will years of fun, enjoyment, beauty and inspiration. There are not many courses or clubs in the world offering that combination.
...someone has played more than 2,000 golf courses?!?
That’s basically 1 new course each week over a 40 year period.
I hope they offset their carbon footprint
To say I was looking forward to playing NSW would be an understatement. Today was also the day we announced that we had a bun in the oven!
A beautiful day was given by the Gods the day I played here, making for an even more pleasurable experience. Even stole a few par's which made it extra good :)
The course was in excellent condition, fairways and greens running true.
I must also put a shout out to all staff and members at NSWGC, nothing was to much, always helped out and the greens keepers asked me if I wanted my photo taken!
Great routing, tough course in general but hey I wasn't complaining!
One of the best, NSW, Thank you!
It is quite rare even among world top 100 courses, but this golf course has everything : the dramatic scenery with fantastic coast holes (5, 6, 13 and 14 are as good as you can get in that field), links holes, parkland holes, an altogether great lay-out, and the history and tradition that go with a century old club. Sitting in the clubhouse with a beer in hand after your round, you could feel in Portrush or Cruden Bay, and you certainly feel privileged to have lived a memorable day of golf.
A truly fantastic experience !
New South Wales Golf Club is so good that even members of the Sandbelt courses give it praise. While discussing various Australian cities and giving compliments to somewhere other than your hometown, I laughed when one of my Melbourne mates said, “it’s just not the done thing, it’s like going to Sydney and admitting that you liked it”. The routing at New South Wales is jaw dropping, and MacKenzie certainly took advantage of the La Perouse coastline.
Much has been written regarding the downhill approach shot into the par five 5th hole and with good reason, because it is among the top 20 long holes in golf. Heartbreakingly, I learned that the public walkways between the 5th and 6th holes are forcing the relocation of the world famous par three 6th green, which will move 30 metres away from the position it has occupied for the past 90 years. The greensite is now deemed a health and safety risk to the public. The clubhouse has explanations of the legal situation pinned up on the walls, accompanied by drawings of the proposed new tee box and green locations. This is very sad in my humble opinion, but unfortunately craziness like this is too common in today’s world. Little do the protestors realise what they are doing to one of the most photographed par threes in Australia.
During the first week of 2017, I made my second visit to New South Wales GC. Inside the men's locker room was an architects drawing of the proposed changes that would be implemented to the iconic par 3 6th green. The need for change was driven by the fact that the shoreline there is a National Park and park users were wandering around and getting in the way of golf. The local council insisted on making a public walk path in the safest location possible.
Fast forward to now - we learn that Tom Doak is currently contracted to perform the changes and is well on his way to completion. In the end, the green has been moved 10-15 feet closer to the water, which isn't a bad thing. The trick is trying to keep some fairway on the approach since the hole often plays downwind and a ball that lands on the green is hard to stop.
New South Wales is a links-style course that has a great routing, plays fast and firm and has a fair number of blind shots. The course has two distinct personalities to it. Holes three through six are characterized by great use of the hilly terrain and dramatic views. The stunning water holes like the fifth and sixth have a feel similar to the Monterey Peninsula and are inspiring. The inland holes on the back nine, particularly the severe doglegs, have a completely different feel and play inland, away from the headlands. My favorite stretch of the course was not the renowned water holes, but the inland stretch from thirteen through sixteen. The interesting combination of heavy vegetation, dunes and blind shots was at times reminiscent of Royal County Down to me.
The New South Wales Golf Club is set on a very hilly piece of terrain. Walking the course proved a very good workout. Play begins nears a traditional English-style clubhouse at the top of a hill at the highest point on the property. The routing then goes through the dunes out to the headlands. Beginning on the seventh hole, the course plays back uphill and inland and then returns to the water again for holes thirteen and fourteen before returning inland and uphill once again. This variety of uphill, downhill and back and forth to the water makes the routing very nice.
The sixth hole is the famous cross-ocean hole similar to Cypress Point’s sixteenth hole, although I don’t think any hole in the world truly compares to Cypress’s sixteenth. The 500 Toughest Golf Holes in the World ranks the sixth among its holes and I concur. It is 185 meters and uphill from the back tee and all carry.
The course is difficult to pin down into one style and to compare to other courses. While playing some of the inland holes on the back nine, which are surrounded by bottle-brush (similar to gorse), the course reminded me a bit of Durban in South Africa and had a real feel of playing through the bush.
There are not many courses in the world that can be compared to such a diverse group of courses such as Cypress Point, Durban, Royal County Down and Kawana. The eclectic feel of the various parts of the course really makes New South Wales a microcosm of many of the greatest courses in the world. It was also the most difficult of all the courses I have played in Australia.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
John - why only 5 stars? It's easily top 50 in the world