A busy club known for its slick greens and star-studded membership, Monash Country Club is a course that accentuates the best assets of a stunning bushland setting.
Talk to any golfer from Sydney’s north and mention the name “Monash” and any one of several reputations for the respected club surfaces. It might be its origins as a place where Jewish golfers, who ridiculously were refused membership elsewhere (imagine such flagrant discrimination today!), chose to begin their own club. Perhaps it’s recollections of Greg Norman winning an Australian PGA Championship at Monash in 1984. Or in more recent times, the prevalence of ex-rugby league and union internationals (current Australian representatives Jake and Tom Trbojevic are members) among the club’s membership ranks. Or it might be like mine, as a member of nearby Wakehurst Golf Club growing up with vivid memories of how frighteningly fast Monash’s greens could become.
All of the above reputations are true, which bestows upon Monash a unique standing in Australian golf. Returning to its origins, it was a club not just for Jewish golfers but a Jewish club open to all. Today, a concurrent sentiment is evident in the sense that it is a golfer’s club, as distinct to a club for golfers. Club captain Jeff Bliss enthuses how the name at the front gate might say Monash Country Club, but it’s genuinely a golf club with an active, devoted membership logging 55,000 rounds annually.
General manager John Harrison said he’s heard statistics that show Monash has the fewest plus-handicappers in Australia when factoring in the number of A graders in the club’s membership, an indication of the difficulty of a golf course that isn’t much longer than 6,000 metres. Indeed you can’t go to sleep on too many shots at Monash – you have to hit fairways to score – and there is no future in mindlessly thrashing away and hoping to compile a tidy scorecard.
And the footballer fraternity is real. Without scanning the adjoining fairways looking for them, I still counted four to five ex-players spanning multiple codes on the day I visited in early January. On a much different tangent, prominent model Jennifer Hawkins was once a Monash member. Meanwhile, 2017 Australian Open champion Cameron Davis also calls the club home, frequently playing with whichever other members are on the first tee at the time. Just days before my most recent visit, Davis had reduced the 500-metre 10th hole to a driver and 8-iron, which had other members’ tongues wagging.
The greens today are different in places to the surfaces I remember as a teenager. Most notable is the new 18th, which course architect James Wilcher redesigned in 2017 at the same time as he reworked the bunkers defending the 16th hole. The old version of the home green spawned some absolute horror stories of matches lost and rounds wrecked. If you found yourself on the top side of the cup, your best hope was a quiet prayer to your chosen deity, as even the deftest of putting strokes might not have saved you. Fortunately, Wilcher’s re-do is less severe while also enhancing the entire 18th green complex.
Four more greens were replaced in 2014, the second, third, eighth and 11th each redesigned by Bob Harrison. Keen eyes will spot the different contouring of the Harrison greens, which include shoulders, minor ridges and pockets where balls can collect rather than the overall subtly sloping surfaces Monash is known for. The rippled nature of the eighth green is especially striking. Coming at the end of a gently uphill excursion of 267 metres, the obliquely set and cascading green adds an extra dimension to approach shots, chips and putts at the short par 4.
And if legitimately unique golf holes are your thing, there is simply no other hole in Australia quite like the serendipitous 13th at Monash. A par 4 of 315 metres, the right-angled dogleg left features a twin-terraced fairway where the two portions are divided by huge, striking rocks. Semi-blind to the top portion from the tee and totally blind to the lower fairway, players need to decide how bold they want to be from the tee shot. A layup to the top is easiest but could leave as much as 140 or 150 metres to the flag, whereas the riskier play to the bottom fairway tempts with a much shorter shot to the green if successful. In between is the ever-present possibility of a (hopefully helpful) ricochet off the rocks.
The 13th is emblematic of the delightful bushland setting of the entire golf course, but almost every hole at Monash shows off its gorgeous surroundings. The bush flora is a factor on most of the perimeter holes at Monash, while rows of tall trees separate the fairways of the internal holes. It is an underrated pocket of Sydney. Just minutes from the beach yet deep in Garigal National Park, there is not a hint of noise other than a minor road running beside the 16th fairway in what is an almost total escape from suburbia. If there’s one criticism of the layout, it’s the sameness in the par-5 first and 10th holes, which sit side-by-side, are of a similar length and run in the same direction.
Course superintendent Robert Sain and his team have enthusiastically raised the bar for presentation in the past few years, while $1 million has been injected into irrigation improvements and all greenside bunkers rebuilt using the Matrix System for improved drainage. Off the course, the club recently rebuilt and refitted its pro shop into a stunning and spacious facility that ought to be a model for all clubhouses with the room to devote to that space.
Monash is a course that won’t beat you senseless if your game is just a little off, as you’re more likely to bleed shots instead of fritter them away in bunches. It’s that sort of course – one where guile and grit will persevere over brash and bravado. Just remember to keep your ball below the cup.
Monash Country Club
Where: Powderworks Rd, Ingleside NSW 2101
Phone: (02) 9913 8282