Ben Chambers completes greens renovation work at St. Michael’s GC

  • St Michaels
    Lee Sutherland

    Ben Chambers of Centreline Golf Design has completed renovation work on eight greens at St. Michael’s Golf Club, near Sydney, Australia

  • St Michaels
    Centreline Golf Design

    Chambers has created a seamless transition from the second green to the third’s teeing area

  • St Michaels
    Centreline Golf Design

    Recently completed work includes the third hole, which has been lowered for more pinnable areas and has a semi-punchbowl feel

  • St Michaels
    Centreline Golf Design

    Chambers says the par-three third has “incredible panoramic views over the Pacific Ocean”

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Ben Chambers of Centreline Golf Design has completed renovation work on eight greens at St. Michael’s Golf Club, near Sydney, Australia, which are now growing-in before a reopening in November.

St Michael’s is located in Little Bay, a 20-minute drive from Sydney, near the Alister MacKenzie-designed New South Wales Golf Club.

“The main focus has been the green complexes and surrounds,” said Chambers, who had previously been involved in smaller projects on bunkers and waste areas at the club. “The greens were very old, full of poa annua and had very little root profile. The surrounds were Kikuyu and were inconsistent from a playability standpoint.”

“Growing turf in Sydney is difficult at the best of times and ageing poa annua and heavy soil profiles weren’t satisfying the membership,” said course superintendent Lee Sutherland. “As the course was improving year on year, the greens surface was becoming a holding up point for better playing conditions. The judgment was made to start at the oldest greens and renew one green a year, this has since moved up to two greens a year and included more than just the greens profiles and surfaces.”

“The brief given by the club was to rebuild the greens with a new and improved greens mix along with new contouring and couch grass surrounds to match the existing ‘Windsor Green’ fairways.”

Chambers initially transformed the practice hole to demonstrate to the membership what could be done. “We added a new bunker style that would suit the site and its surroundings and trialled Pure Distinction bent grass on the green,” he said. “Once the grow-in was complete, a programme was developed to upgrade the existing 18 holes with this same consistent formula.”

“Adding the par-three nineteenth hole to the routing has allowed for far less interruption to members golf and enables Lee [Sutherland] to rest some of the par threes throughout the year,” said club president Matt Whitaker.

Since then, one phase of work has been completed on the first, fourth, eighth, ninth, eleventh and sixteenth holes, and another phase on holes two and three. “During work on the most recent two holes, I developed my own design company, Centreline Golf Design, and I was granted full operations as the golf course designer,” said Chambers.

“We have just finished work on the second and third holes,” said Chambers. “This has brought a unique part of the property to our hands. A short par four with an uphill blind tee shot that leads to a downhill short approach. The existing green had a slope of three per cent and bunkering that protected the front of the green and didn’t allow for running shots from higher handicap players.

“The existing tee on the par-three third was small and confined with small plantings, so we opened up the area and doubled the size of the tees and made a seamless transition from the second green into the third’s teeing area.

“The third is a tough, uphill par three that can play into the northeast wind. If you missed the green you would end up rolling back down the hill. We lowered the green by 0.75 metres, which enabled us to create multiple ball-holding areas. There was a quirky berm around the back of the green, so I decided to incorporate it into the new green. It actually turned out to be a semi-punchbowl green that has incredible panoramic views over the Pacific Ocean. We continued the short grass transition into the new fourth tees.”

As well as Sutherland, Chambers has been working with shaper Brad Willis, Darby Muller of Golf Shapes, and Dave Mewburn of Davcol Irrigation.

“As the soils and turf are being modernised, the irrigation system has not been left behind,” said Sutherland. “The older style block system has given way to valve in-head sprinklers by Toro. The Toro 835 sprinklers allow for a wide range of customisation, including a wide nozzle selection and water output, arc adjustment and the ability to change trajectory of throw; it’s great for our windy coastal location and areas bounded by critically endangered bushlands.”

“Golfers will notice more consistency in the greens with a pure bent grass surface compared to a large percentage of poa,” said Chambers. “Some of the new greens are larger with more pinnable areas. But the big difference is the removal of the Kikuyu surrounds. The new couch surrounds will play a lot firmer and faster, bringing the running game back into play which is what is required on days when the wind blows.”