After a tough opening 10 years ago, The Links Shell Cove is now a much more enjoyable place to play golf.
The Links Shell Cove opened in 2004 and all I heard was how difficult it was. Reports kept filtering from Kiama (about 90 minutes drive south of Sydney) about how hard the fairways were and how deep the rough was. It just didn’t sound like an inviting place to play golf at all and luckily, the club thought the same thing.
Today, The Links Shell Cove is a shadow of its former self. The past five or so years has seen the golf club change its philosophy and transform it into one of the best courses on the NSW coast and is now and enjoyable challenge for golfers of all skill levels.
The Links is not strictly a links golf course, although the wind does tend to blow as if it were right on the ocean’s edge. The opening holes begin without too much fanfare, but a little bit of local knowledge is ideal to pick the best driving line. It was obvious from these opening holes that the course is in good condition with every fairway shot rewarded with a great lie, and greens running very true.
The short par-5 3rd is a real birdie opportunity, especially if you can get your ball on the right hand side of the fairway, although the large bail out area on the left is still a good option and gives a good sense of the style of golf course at The Links. On most holes there is an easier, shorter option off the tee but it will be a longer, more difficult approach shot. Conversely, if you successfully choose the more difficult option, you will be rewarded with an easier, shorter iron to the green.
The tee shot over the lake on the par-5 5th is the first real daunting shot of the round and the distance required can be deceptive given how flat the land is at the bottom of the valley. Negotiating the water hazard is only half the job with the second shot requiring some serious thought. In truth, one could bound the ball up the right hand side with a short chip to the green but anything left is bad. Anything way left, is real bad so think carefully.
We loved the short 7th hole (top picture) which is a picture perfect a par-3 hole and as scenic as you’ll find anywhere in the country. A number of different tees and pin positions make for variety of different options for this golf hole. It looks to be openly inviting you to hit the green with the front bunkers spread out on either side but some severe slopes can leave most golfers in three putt territory if more than 20 feet from the flag.
The conditions certainly add to the charm of The Links. The course can change dramatically from day to day depending on the wind and on most days hitting the green in regulation may feel like a reasonable result. The two par-3s on the back nine are great examples.
The very short, downhill 12th hole seems a little out of place at The Links but it can trouble even the best golfers. It appears to be just a simple short iron but on such an exposed tee, even a hint of breeze can provide more than its fair share of trouble. The 200m, par-3 15th is also usually exposed to the elements and choosing the right club, ball flight and state of mind to hit the green can be awkward.
The club has removed many bunkers and thick rough to make the course more playable and it’s obvious to anyone that previously played the old 13th and 14th holes.
The 363m par-4 13th is possibly our favourite golf hole on the course. A wayward drive can find the bunkers on each side of the fairway. The deep rough on either side has been cut back and at least now you’re a good chance to find your ball if you venture further off the fairway. Either way, a good second shot is needed to find a raised green containing a few tricky contours to negotiate a par.
The 484m par-5 that runs parallel to the 13th was undergoing some pretty sizeable changes when we played. The hazard that runs across the fairway is very much in play for big hitters and construction only looked to be making it bigger. It makes for a deceptive second shot with large mounds on the left that can affect your sense of perspective and bunkers protecting the green for those attempting to hit the green in two.
Most golfers will walk away from The Links Shell Cove with the 16th hole firmly etched into their brain. It’s a par-4, 376 metre, dog-leg left that can be cut off at any point you wish. The ubiquitous bail out area sits over to the right but it will then require a long iron into the green. Long hitters can occasionally hit the green with a bit of breeze behind them, but it takes some guts as the hazard that sits inside the dog-leg is just itching to devour your golf ball.
The 18th is an intriguing finishing hole that tends to get more interesting the more you play it.
On first impressions it appear to be an awkward blind tee shot requiring an iron or hybrid to the ridge, but once you hit the rise, it is obvious a drier can be played with more and more danger the further you go. It’s a wonderful risk/reward finisher that leaves you with a long iron if you bail out short or shorter shot surrounded by more danger the further you travel.
The Links has come a long way since its early years. The course has matured well and is most certainly an underrated, excellent test of golf, particularly when the wind is blowing. But most importantly, it’s now an very enjoyable place to play golf at very reasonable green fees – which is all we can ask for really.