As you drive from Sydney’s CBD to the airport along the Eastern Distributor, it’s not hard to notice golf holes rolling one after the other. You get a little taste of the Australian Golf Club. Then, within seconds, the Lakes Golf Club will appear on the left.
Looking further east, there is another private club in Bonnie Doon on the edge of the Sydney Sandbelt.
Wedged between Doon and The Lakes, on a long, narrow stretch of dramatic sand, is Eastlake Golf Club – a public course for 90 years and one of the best-improved courses in NSW in the past decade.
A vast area of Botany Wetlands (part of Sydney’s old drinking water supply) separates Eastlake from The Lakes, but the history of the two clubs is forever linked. The Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage granted the Lakes Club a 20-year lease in 1928 to build a private golf course. One condition of the lease was that The Lakes also had to build an 18-hole course in the east for public use.
The Lakes hired Eric Apperly and former Australian Open and PGA Champion Tom Howard to create a design for their championship course as well as the new public layout in Eastlake. (Interestingly, Apperly defeated Howard 4 & 3 in the Australian Amateur 1920 finals almost a decade earlier).
The uphill dogleg left par 4 hole 5 always plays hard against the prevailing wind. PHOTO: Brendan James.
The course’s first nine holes opened in 1930, a handful of months after the great Bobby Jones won the US Open and finished the Grand Slam. This is where the name of the place comes from, as Jones’ home course was East Lake in Atlanta. When the remaining nine holes were completed two years later, the club’s patron, George Solomon, wrote a letter to Jones informing him that Eastlake would be named after his club.
Months passed and a reply and a souvenir and club that Jones was using arrived in Eastlake.
“I want you to know how much I appreciated your letter informing me that Eastlake Golf Club of Australia was more or less christened in my honor. It is indeed a compliment that I am very grateful for, ”wrote Jones. “Please direct my sincere good wishes to your membership for the prosperity of the association and your joy.”
The par 4 14th benefited from the removal of non-native pine trees. PHOTO: Brendan James.
Almost 90 years after the arrival of Jones’ letter, the club and its wonderful history have flourished well beyond the dreams of its founding members. Memberships are doing well and the course is expected to hold around 60,000 rounds in 2021.
Eastlake’s popularity can be attributed to the quality of the course – both in terms of design and presentation – and the value for money it represents for both members and guest golfers, which Eastlake has always catered for.
The course’s most dramatic improvements have been made in the past twelve years. It started with new holes and significant upgrades designed by golf course designer Ross Watson and has recently continued with major work overseen by Course Superintendent Nathan Bradbury.
What has remained a constant is Apperly and Howard’s original route – an eight-hole hike to the very end of the property before heading back to the clubhouse for a 10-hole drive. This is not unlike some of the great Scottish courses like the Old, New and Jubilee courses at St Andrews or Royal Troon on the Ayrshire Coast.
Most of Watson’s work can be found in the first nine. While the short par 4 5th and the long dogleg right par 5 7th were major redesigns, the 351 meter par 4 8th and the hard par 3 9th were new holes.
The curved par-5 hole at the 15th hole narrows the closer you get to the sloping green. PHOTO: Brendan James.
The 174 meter long 9th, known as “Wee Burn”, is arguably the toughest of them all. Not only is it a strong medium or long iron from the tee, but the approach must also eliminate the “burn” that cuts the fairway just before the green and winds around the right edge of the hole with only two bunkers separating the water from the putting surface. The work isn’t done when you’re on the dance floor, with subtle slopes that make reading green a difficult process here.
Of the long-established holes, Eastlake’s short par 4 14th is one of the most memorable. The 249-meter-long Big Dipper offers a real birdie chance on the way back to the clubhouse, but if you treat it with disdain, you could put a double bowey on your scorecard. The tee is next to the Botany Wetlands, while the fairway meanders to the left around the edge of the danger zone and leads up a short but steep hill to a green that is protected by bunkers to the left and right. The temptation to drive straight onto the green and bring the wetlands into play can be too great for some. Bradbury oversaw the redesign of the tees, bunkers and the removal of non-native pine trees, completely exposing one of the course’s most attractive holes.
In the next – a 454 meter long par 5 – a similar tree was cleared, which significantly improved the quality of the fairway turf and extended the play lines along the babbling fairway to the pitched green.
The long par 3 9th hole, known as the Wee Burn, is the toughest of Eastlake’s one-shotters. PHOTO: Brendan James.
I’ve played Eastlake a dozen times over the past 35 years and most of the time I’ve just hated one hole. Arrived on the 17th tee, it was necessary to consider a tee with a long iron or fairway wood – depending on the wind strength and direction – to a tiny, usually rock-hard green on a steep hill 200 meters away. I’ve never shagged the hole and I could probably count the number of pars on one hand.
Fortunately, this hole no longer exists and has been replaced by a shorter par 3 with a large, undulating green, separated from the Botany Wetlands by two deep bunkers. The 155 meter long downhill tee is more attractive and fun for all players.
The addition of the design changes was a serious commitment to improving and maintaining the overall quality of the playing surfaces, which are great for a publicly accessible layout.
The significant improvements in Eastlake over the past decade have been documented and documented in the biennial ranking of the Australian golf magazine Golf Australia Top 100 courses with public access. In 2011 and 2013, Eastlake was not listed in the top 100. It debuted at number 80 in 2015 and jumped another five spots to number 75 in 2017. There were more celebrations in 2019 when it hit number 63, and then, earlier this year, Eastlake rose to number 52.
“The addition of the design changes was a serious commitment to improving and maintaining the overall quality of the playing surfaces.”
Bradbury was at the helm of Eastlake during this time and his work on improving the layout to make rounds of golf more fun for all golfers has certainly caught the attention of our ranking judges.
He recently oversaw the rebuilding of many tees and will soon focus on upgrading most of Eastlake’s bunkers over the next several years.
The non-native tree removal program implemented by Bradbury has worked wonders not only to widen the game corridors on most holes, but also to improve the quality of the turf as the Kikuyu fairways do not have to compete with pine trees which have all of the moisture the soil suck out of them.
“The course plays hard enough, especially when the wind is blowing, that you don’t need a lot of trees, which makes it even more difficult,” said Bradbury. “The tree-felling program was huge, which makes playing on the pitch more fun than it was 10 years ago.
“I’m fortunate to have a general manager and board of directors who know what great assets they have out there and they allow me to do the best I can. The only common goal between us is to have fun. “
And while indulgence remains the goal, Eastlake will certainly keep its presence in the ranking and its popularity will continue to grow.
LOCATION: Gardeners Road, Daceyville, NSW.
CONTACT: (02) 8999 8422; (02) 9662 6453.
DESIGNER: Eric Apperly & Tom Howard (1932); Ross Watson (2012); internal (ongoing).
PLAY AREAS: Kikuyu (fairways, 14 holes); Couch (fairways, four holes); Poa Annua (Greens).
TRAINER: Nathan Bradbury.
PGA PROFESSIONALS: Alex Sutherland (chief professional); James Edge, Corey Cruickshank, John Burrough.
GREEN FEES: $ 50 (weekdays); $ 55 (weekends).
MEMBERSHIPS: Eastlake offers a range of membership options that are very competitive, from an inexpensive start up to traditional full membership. There is a waiting list for six- and seven-day full membership. However, there are five-day (Monday to Friday) memberships as well as two-day (Monday and Thursday) memberships. Please visit the club’s website for more information on the available membership categories website.
AWARDS: No 52, Golf Australia’s Top 100 courses with public access, 2021.
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