Plus: The Glory of Sydney
Play golf in Sydney and you'll wind up on the couch. This can be more serious than a little psychological problem (though one can imagine the seventh at Terrey Hills inducing a form of psychosis). Couch (pronounced "cooch") is a prominent strain of grass on Sydney's top courses, a fine blade with a thick mat that allows balls to bound along fairways with incredible hop, and race across putting surfaces at breakneck speeds. Couch is in fact so firm that locals at some courses routinely drag their pullcarts right across the greens.
Maybe a problem even greater than putting on the couch is getting near it in the first place. In 1990 about ten percent of Australia's eighteen million people were golfers, making it the country's number-one participant sport. Most Sydney courses are booked solid on weekends; Wednesdays or Saturdays are often taken by "men's competitions"; Tuesdays or Thursdays, with corporate outings or ladies' days. And many of the public facilities have members who get blocked-off tee times. On the other hand, Australia's private clubs are much better than their American equivalents about allowing outsiders to play (the notable exception being the Australian Golf Club; there, you need to play with a member). New South Wales is private, but with some planning and flexibility--in addition to a letter of introduction and a handicap card--it will sometimes accommodate visitors. Royal Sydney, the "Augusta of New South Wales," is virtually impossible to get on, though visitors have occasionally managed. One suggestion for the serious golfer who wants assurance of tee times is to make plans through a tour operator such as Northern Beaches Golf Tours (011-61-2-9975-7755). Owner Jeremy Alexander offers packages that include transportation, fees and first-rate rental clubs at some of the best courses in the Sydney area (though he can't guarantee the toughest ones). Finally, keep in mind that at some of the best Australian courses shorts can be worn only with the kind of over-the-calf socks that fold over a proper two inches at the top. When in doubt, wear pants.
New South Wales
An Alister Mackenzie design along the headlands at Botany Bay, this seventy-year-old links course has been rated among the top fifty in the world; were it in the United States or the United Kingdom, it might crack the top fifteen. New South Wales carries reminders of another Mackenzie design, Cypress Point, mainly because of its panoramic views of the Pacific and its fierce ocean winds (the insignia on the club tie shows a gale bending a flagstick nearly in half). The par-five fifth tightropes dramatically along the headlands, with the green framed by jutting Cape Banks and the wreck of the SS Minmi, a collier that hit the rocks in May 1937. The 195-yard par-three sixth plays like the sixteenth at Cypress, crossing from the headlands back across the ocean to an elevated green. From there the course works inland through hedgelike tea trees, which make mulch of errant shots. The four par threes and the four par fives each head to the four points of the compass. It was Mackenzie's idea of give and take--one of each always played with the wind, one against it. Members complain that the greens have to be slowed up during the Australian PGA; at any other time, balls can blow off the slick putting surfaces. At least the couch grass makes the bump-and-run approach shot a workable option.
Par & Yardage: 72, 6,850
How To Get A Tee Time: Call or fax at least two weeks ahead of time. Outside play is usually limited to Monday or Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings.
Contact: General Manager David Burton
Greens Fee: $93
Location: :About thirty minutes south of central Sydney in the La Perouse district
Nearby Course: Within walking distance is St. Michael's, a semiprivate par-seventy-two course of just under 6,893 yards that plays along the bluffs of Little Bay. It has undergone some renovation, but it's a gem waiting to be polished. Though lacking the fine maintenance of a New South Wales, St. Michael's is an enjoyable twenty-five-dollar walk.