Originally founded within the industrial city of Newcastle, north of Sydney, the Newcastle Golf Club moved permanently into the remote dunes of nearby Stockton during the 1930’s to the site of a secondary nine-hole course they had built in 1915. Eric Apperly was employed to extend their short course, his full eighteen-hole layout opening in 1937 and remaining virtually untouched ever since.
Located a short-iron from the Hunter River and a few hundred meters from the Pacific Ocean, the Stockton course is built on rolling sandhills with Apperly carving his holes out of rugged Australian bushland and routing them up, over and around the site’s heavy slopes. Though its sandpit style bunkering lacks the sophistication of the Sandbelt courses, the timeless appeal of the design is the wonderful use of this diverse terrain as holes bend with, rather than against, the wild fairway movement.
After a very fine start the best stretch of golf begins with the brilliant 5th, a cracking driving hole surrounded by dense dunes with a fairway set diagonally to the tee and narrowing as it plunges down and to the left. Bending around tea-tree and rising steeply into a large elevated green, the 6th is another gem and followed by a wonderful short par three. The next two are also excellent, as is the par five 10th, a classic roller coaster routed across three deep dips with each shot blind or semi-blind depending on whether you attack the ridges or lay back in the valleys. The mid-length 11th and short 12th are also strong and though the remainder of the back nine is less memorable than the font nine, there is hardly a mediocre moment anywhere on this uniquely Australian layout.
With more sophistication around the greens, this track would be the equal of the celebrated Sandbelt courses in Melbourne. The green contours are mostly fine, but it wouldn’t hurt Newcastle to look at refreshing its bunkering, which has seemed tired and dated for a while now. The model for how these traps could, and perhaps should, have been built can be found at places like Woodlands and Peninsula.