St. Michaels Golf Club
There are two things you need to know if you've never visited St. Michael's golf club in Little Bay, in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. Firstly, it really is "less than a half hours drive from the Sydney CBD", despite the city snarl and secondly it's absolutely as good a test of golf as you'll find anywhere. Especially when the wind blows.
Situated on a glorious, dramatic (and regularly windy) stretch of Sydney coastline bordered by the Coast and New South Wales Golf Clubs, St. Michael's over the years has been host to both the Australian PGA and the NSW Open. It's nevertheless a friendly club with a large and active membership who'll happily tell you that their greens are as good as anywhere in the state.
Amazingly, in what is probably Sydney's worst kept golf secret, anyone with a handicap and a golf club membership can play "St Mick's" for just $40 in their open each Thursday, although booking early is a must as the sheet gets full very quickly.
Bordered by the ocean, this is a largely inland course that twists ands turns through hilly native bush land. The greens are large and often treacherously fast and on many, including the tricky par 3 12th, a two putt is usually a reward for a successfully lagged first putt. This is definitely not a course for charging Tiger-like at the hole and first time visitors will do well not to record at least one three putt (or worse). That being said, the greens are wonderfully true and once you get a feel for the pace, a delight to putt on.
The ultimate test of any good course is the holes that still stick in your mind the next day. First time visitors here will leave with vivid memories of a number of holes if not all eighteen. It's a beautiful setting and clever design means that not only are birdie opportunities rare but danger lurks round many a corner.
The first really memorable hole here comes very early in the round. After warming up with the straight but long par four first, your second tee shot is uphill to a hidden fairway that doglegs sharply to the right. And forget any idea of cutting the corner - here you can't even see the corner!
There's no shortage of opinions on just how to play this great hole but few people agree. Try a high fade with a wood or a dab up the middle with an iron for safety? On flat holes that's a hard enough choice, but blind and uphill? Welcome to the real St. Michaels!
Having somehow navigated your way to the top of the hill, you're greeted with a large and accommodating green and for those here in one, a rare chance for an early birdie. From here it's a sharp climb to the elevated third tee and your first view of the third. The green sits on a hill, 170 metres away, on the opposite side of a deep grassy valley. With trouble on all sides, few people make three from below the hole, so take plenty of club and trust that swing!
More variety comes at the 4th, where you hit from another elevated tee with fantastic views down the coast to Coogee, Bronte and beyond. Whilst short at just 290 metres, beware, it's the first of the really deceptively fast greens and unless you're a wizard with the flat stick, pretty much anywhere is better than being past the hole.
There's nothing worse than the golf bore who talks you through every hole, but from here St Michael's is an absolute joy, the tight par three 5th leading to the panoramic ocean views of the downhill par five 6th "Horgan's Gift" which at 433 meters is the only "easy" hole here. Once off the tee, this and the following two holes are all relatively easy par chances and with a tough back nine ahead, it's a good idea to try and get some points on the card.
After a well earned visit to the comfortable clubhouse sitting next to the 9th green, you're ready for a spectacular back nine.
Hard To Forget
I guarantee you'll find it hard to forget the par four 11th Off the tee, you're hitting blind again over the trees on your right. Too straight and the hill kicks you into the shrubbery, right and you'll find a road you didn't know was there. Get your tee shot away and you're down the bottom of the hill and left with possibly the most challenging approach of the 18, hitting up over scrubland to a huge elevated green guarded by bunkers and featuring a vicious slope from the right hand side. It's one of those holes where afterwards you can look back and feel proud if you're writing "4" on your card. Or "5" for that matter.
After yet another tricky par three at 12, we head back towards the ocean for the dramatic par five 13th, lined with hazards and another huge green. Playing safe is your best chance of a five and the same applies for the par four 14th, no pushover but possibly the gentlest hole on this tough nine.
The last four holes here are pretty to look at, but as tough a finish as you'll find. The 200 metre 15th plays every inch of it's length and once again, the green is treacherous, especially putting back down the hill. Trust me; it's very, very quick.
Save The Best For Last
Saving the best to very nearly the last, the view from the 16th tee is as dramatic as they come, featuring just a gap in the bushes and the ocean beyond. The ravine you're hitting over is a golf ball manufacturer's paradise. Anywhere left or short of the fairway and you're guaranteed to be playing a "provisional".
From the fairway, you'll face an often blind second to a green that slopes viciously to the left. Pick a distant tree or a cliff in the distance twenty yards right of the flag and make a good swing - with the right club you won't be far away. Once again, anyone writing "4" on the card can look back with real pride.
The round finishes with another blind tee shot over the saddle of a hill on the picturesque par five 17th and finally a closing hole that more often than not is straight into the teeth of the wind and needing two good straight hits to get home.
So that's St Michaels. It's tough certainly, but never anything other than a great place to play golf. With four par fives, four par threes and 10 par fours, St Mick's is always in great nick and a "must do" for keen golfers of all abilities. Their course superintendent recently won a green keeping award and it shows. Whilst there are plenty of motorised buggies for hire, this is no new modern "resort-style" course. It's a good old fashioned test of golf and fully deserving of its regular slot in the nation's top 100 courses.
It's a claim made by so many new courses, but you genuinely can play 18 here and still have time for a spot of lunch before heading back to the CBD for that important mid-afternoon meeting. And if you happen to have snared an early slot in their bargain priced open comp, what's not to like?