Just three kilometres from Sydney Olympic Park in a bustling part of the harbour city, Strathfield Golf Club has long been a pillar of the Sydney golf scene. Its proud history can be traced back to 1898 when the course was situated between The Boulevarde and Homebush Road on what is now known as Strathfield’s Golden Mile of stately multi-million dollar mansions and federation homes.
But times change and the private club’s ageing facilities needed a makeover. In a bold attempt to reinvigorate the golf experience, three years ago Strathfield made a sensible decision to sell off its practice range, old clubhouse and car park to be redeveloped for residential housing.
Metro Property paid a cool $52.5 million for the opportunity, subsequently building 50 stylish new townhouses on a portion of the land that range in size from two to four bedrooms. Metro Property has since on-sold the clubhouse and car park site to developer Conquest, which has plans for two high-rise apartment towers. ‘The Greens’ will have about 180 apartments across two nine-storey towers.
The mega-deal has allowed Strathfield to retire a $2 million debt, build a luxurious new clubhouse and fund course improvements on its property that neighbours Rookwood Cemetery, the largest necropolis in the Southern Hemisphere. The club is confident its business plan is sustainable over the long term given the old clubhouse used to host more than 250 wakes a year.
At a cost of more than $20 million, the clubhouse will feature a lounge bar, restaurant, sports bar, café, gaming area and a 300-seat function centre as well as underground parking for 170 cars with a further 150 on-grade car spaces. The vast new golf shop has three hitting bays, each with simulators for club-fitting, lessons and rounds of indoor golf. Add a new fleet of up to 60 golf carts, and Strathfield will rival The National and Royal Sydney for the most exquisite clubhouse in Australia.
The current Strathfield site is unique. The Cooks River runs through the course where it forms the last green wetland area before the river morphs into an open concrete canal that leads all the way out to the estuary in Botany Bay near Sydney Airport. (The property’s important biodiversity is further emphasised by the breeding boxes for the red-tailed parrot that the club maintains around the par-3 fifth hole.)
Selling off the practice area, clubhouse and car park required a re-routing of Strathfield’s existing layout that opened in 1931. Sydney-based course architect James Wilcher was selected to reconfigure the 18 holes around the new relocated clubhouse on the western side of the property next to Rookwood.
Wilcher has designed loops of eight and 10 holes that return to the clubhouse. (Eight holes are located on the eastern side of Centenary Drive) Thus far, 14 new green complexes and 16 new tees have been added at a cost of $6 million.
The new course measures slightly more than 5,900 metres with a par of 70. That’s a marginal increase in length on the former par-71 layout. Significantly, the new routing is a vast improvement on the old layout that featured three back-to-back-to-back par 5s on holes 8, 9 and 10.
The course is less claustrophobic. More than 200 trees have been removed – and 200 planted away from playing corridors as well as several thousand native shrubs and grasses – mostly over the new back nine on the eastern side of the property. Importantly, the 50 new townhouses that overlook the par-3 16th and 17th tee (fetching prices of between $1.75 and $2.2 million) don’t detract from the golf experience.
Flemming Contracting carried out all the shaping and their superb contour work is apparent on the front nine. Nearly 20,000 cubic metres of fill was removed from the site of the new clubhouse and transported over to the second green and seventh fairway/green. That’s created a visually appealing high point on the relatively flat site, which makes for a more memorable experience.
Strathfield always had 18 holes open during the renovation work. The inconvenience to members was paramount – they played on good-quality temporary greens sown with bent for the two-and-a-half years it’s taken for the reconfiguration to come to fruition.
Visitors to Strathfield will appreciate the transformation and conditioning. The redesign features A1/A4 bent on the putting surfaces, couch on the green surrounds, zoysia on the bunker faces and kikuyu on the fairways.
The putting surfaces are a lot more interesting than the old greens that used to be small, round and relatively flat.
“From a visual perspective, the brilliant white sandy façades of the new bunkering provide a spectacular contrast to the green surrounds.”
Wilcher has introduced lots of swales and run-off areas around the green complexes. The surrounds are closely mown to encourage a variety of shots, in particular putting rather than flops and pitches.
“There’s some good character-building holes out there,” says general manager Neil Hardy. The opener is certainly an example. It’s a ripping par 4 of 425 metres with the Cooks River stretching the entire left side.
The longest hole on the course is one of the most intriguing. The par-5 15th stretches 525 metres and the tee shot plays through a narrow chute to a fairway that doglegs slightly left. Two intimidating bunkers flank the plateau-style green, which has a narrow opening that enables an approach to be bounced through and up onto the elevated putting surface.
But the course renovation is only part of the Strathfield story. Once the clubhouse is fully operational in early spring, Strathfield Golf Club will be the envy of most golf clubs in the Sydney metropolitan region.
Strathfield Golf Club is a club on the move.
Strathfield Golf Club
Address: 52 Weeroona Rd, Strathfield, NSW 2135
Green fee:$60 for social groups (subject to availability); Phone: (02) 9642 0326