As recently as two years ago, Cypress Lakes attracted no votes at all in the biannual Golf Digest rankings to assess the top 100 public access courses in Australia. Thankfully, due to significant investment by the owner, the layout has been restored to its former quality and has easily catapulted back into the top 100 after many years’ absence.
The 6,427 metre layout opened in 1992 and was designed by Steve Smyers from Florida. Cypress is his only Australian design and is located in the stunning wine district of the Hunter Valley. Magnificent panoramic views of many of the famous vineyards are afforded from the tees and greens along with glimpses of the surrounding Brokenback mountain range.
At Cypress Lakes, Smyers succeeded in presenting a fine strategic test despite a very challenging site and lengthy build process. Both 9s are considerably different. The front has generous width, rolling hills and is mainly devoid of trees. The landscape changes noticeably as you head for home with trees making it more defined and with more vertical rises and falls. Players would do well to take a conservative point to point approach rather than trying to overpower the course with bombing aggression.
The much-improved course annually plays host to ‘’The Jack”, a Pro Am tournament run by former tour professional Jack Newton and featuring an eclectic assortment of celebrities and golf professionals. Without doubt the emphasis is on fun rather than performance at this tournament where significant quantities of the local alcoholic produce are consumed!
The strength of the course lies in several demanding and long par 4s, and each 9 closes with one such hole. The 9th measuring a colossal 439 metres from the tips, is a sweeping uphill dogleg right, where tee shots are deflected right and down by the angled fairway. This combined with a large undulating putting green with severe back to front slope and you understand its No 1 ranking on the card. No 18 presents an almost equally daunting task to close out the round. A 389 metre par 4 with a ravine in front of the green that must be negotiated and calls for an authoritatively struck approach.
A fine collection of par 3s are to be found with much variation in length and topography that will keep golfers of any standard entertained. The 3rd, at 216 metres, is easily the longest and mercifully plays downhill. The ideal approach is a low running one that takes in contours on the right that feed you onto the putting surface. Contrasting nicely is the shortest of the 1 shotters – the 140 metre 11th – playing uphill to a relatively small green.
In the words of designer Steve Smyers: “Golf courses should not be designed to conform to whimsical trends of the day. Rather, they should be designed according to proven, classical principles that withstand the test of time.” Cypress Lakes is one such design that has withstood the test of time and again with much improved playing surfaces is certainly worthy of a visit on any country NSW itinerary.