The story of Eric Apperly – designer of the Newcastle golf course

Sourced: G O L F  A R C H I T E C T U R E

Article written by John Scarth and Neil Crafter

Son of the AMP Society’s Secretary, Eric Apperly grew up in what could only be considered affluent circumstances in Sydney society. Educated at the University of Sydney, obtaining an Architecture degree, he not only designed buildings, but also golf courses. As such, he was likely the first trained design professional in Australia to engage in golf course design. Others, such as civil engineer Alex Russell, soon followed in his footsteps.

Early days and golfing success

Eric’s father Henry Wellstead Apperly, was born in Melbourne and his mother was Alice Langton Apperly. Henry became the Secretary of the AMP Society – one of the largest insurance companies in the country. Born on 16th September 1889 in Sydney, Eric Langton Apperly was known as the ‘boy champion’ in his early golfing years. He reportedly took up the game to improve his delicate health, and at the age of 16, the young fellow described as “a sickly boy”, made the final of the 1907 NSW Amateur Championship, only to lose on the 37th. A tall and gangly individual, he went on to win five NSW Amateur Championships whilst a member of Killara Golf Club and later Manly Golf Club, the first in 1912 and the last in 1930.

Apperly’s most famous victory came in 1920 as the first New South Welshman to win the Australian Amateur Championship, defeating Tommy Howard 4 and 3 at The Australian. Apperly also won the 1921 Australian Foursomes Championship. He was selected in the NSW state team in 1906 – and was still there over 20 years later – a remarkable feat of longevity.

The Sydney Mail described Apperly’s technique as “unorthodox, looking at times almost clumsy”, but added “He gets results and as a fighter he knows no equal.” Jack Pollard wrote in his book Australian Golf – the Game and the Players that:

“Apperly’s game looked undistinguished but he hit most of his shots straight, if not in copybook fashion, and he was a relentless fighter. He was chosen to play for Australia against Great Britain in 1934 at the age of 45, but it will be for his work as a golf course architect that he will be remembered…”

Eric married Marjorie Audet in 1923 and they had one child, a son Richard Eric Apperly, who was born in Sydney in 1925. He too became an architect. Richard married Myrna Hirsch in 1957 and they had three sons – all born in Sydney.

Writings and opinions

In October 1933, Apperly wrote extensively on golf course architecture in Golf Australia magazine:

“My Conception of a Good Golf Hole. In my opinion, a hole is a good one if it calls for nicety of judgement, careful thought as to the direction and placing of the strokes or particular skill and variety of their execution, no matter what the length or the par may be.”

He went on to say: In this short article on Golf Architecture I had intended to pick out one or two of my favourite holes on our Sydney courses and to say why I considered them good. It struck me however, that before being so it might be as well to try and get a clear view of what constitutes a good hole. It is certainly a subject on which there is much room for difference of opinion, as one will not infrequently hear the favourite of one good player roundly condemned by another, and each will advance arguments in favour of his view.

A good deal depends on the player’s attitude of mind to the game itself; some would have it a game of strict justice, where punishment is meted out to the erring strictly according to the extent of their sin, whilst the good are never troubled.

To such I would say, why not decide your competitions by competitive examination, awarding marks for length and accuracy over a series of tests with the various clubs? Such a method should undoubtedly be more successful in unearthing the best stroke maker, but golf would assuredly cease to be a game.

In order to retain its fascination, golf must ask for something more than mere mechanical accuracy in stroke production, the spirit of adventure must be fostered; the player’s character and judgement should be tested; he should be required to know himself and play accordingly.

In these days, too, when many players are so mechanically accurate in the ordinary straight-ahead shots, it seems to me quite fair that some special stroke should occasionally be called for, and that the player capable of producing it should have some advantage.

For instance, a fairway sloping sideways, where only a slice or draw can expect to hold it, is quite a legitimate test for players who aspire to championships, and in addition it adds variety and makes for greater interest.

The best holes, however, whilst providing plenty of thrills and interest for the expert, should not be made impossible of accomplishment in reasonable figures by the shorter hitter who can command reasonable accuracy. A way round, or a shorter carry, should be provided for him, provided of course that he must be reconciled to taking one stroke more to reach the green.

Finally, I would ask players, when estimating the quality of a hole, to banish par from their minds. In my opinion, a hole is a good one if it calls for nicety of judgement, careful thought as to the direction and placing of the strokes, or particular skill and variety in their execution, no matter what the length or the par may be.

To say that a hole of 248 yards in length is bad because it is too easy for a par 4, is surely absurd, if the tee is put forward five yards does it therefore become a good hole because it is now a difficult par 3? The addition or subtraction of a yard or two cannot have much effect on the merits of the hole as a test of golf, surely!

Players who argue on the par basis forget that it is only an arbitrary method of estimating the playing value of the course as a whole, and that every round of eighteen holes is bound to contain some easy and some difficult pars. And it is not always the difficult pars that are the best golfing holes!

A hole should never be lengthened or shortened with the sole object of altering the par; the testing qualities or interest of the hole should alone be considered.

Many of the most exacting holes for class players nowadays are from 450 to 480 yards in length. Easy par figures they may be, but they are the holes where long and accurate players look to gain a stroke on less skilful or powerful opponents by getting fours.

Holes of less length rarely require an approach with the brassie or spoon (amongst the prettiest strokes of the game) from such long hitters as Hattersley, Williams or Ferrier, who are surely entitled to some advantage for their long hitting.”

Apperly also eagerly described in September 1933 the new course of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club for the New South Wales readers of Golf in Australia. Some extracts from this article are enlightening as to Apperly’s own design philosophy:

“The design of this course was the workof Dr. Mackenzie and Mr Alec Russell, and I may say at once that I consider it easily the best piece of golf architecture yet achieved in Australia.

A few words about its difficulties, and the methods of bunkering, compared with our own courses, may perhaps be of general interest to golfers.

The country on which it is laid out is excellent for golf, nicely undulating and with sandy soil of a rather heavier quality than ours. It was originally covered with ti-tree, so that a bad pull or slice (or even a slight one in some places) will not infrequently land in the scrub, whilst the rough is tougher and more difficult to recover from than ours.

To my mind, some of our own golfing country, such as is seen at La Perouse, Kensington, or The Lakes, is really superior: it is more like the windswept sand dunes over which the best British championship courses are laid out, and which have always been looked on, rightly, I think, as the true home of golf.”

He goes on to discuss the greens and the bunkering:

“The formation of the greens, their contours and the surrounding depressions and low hills – nearly all artificially created – are very skillfully conceived, and have been carried out in a thoroughgoing manner by moving large masses of sand without too much thought for expense. In this respect I think they had an advantage over us in NSW, in that there appears to be a great depth of sand and no tendency for water to accumulate; it was therefore possible to dig deep depressions and use material so excavated for mounds, etc, in the vicinity. As nature always creates valleys and hollows where there are hills, it was therefore much easier to give a natural appearance than on some of our flatter courses, where all artificial work has had to be above the level of the natural flat surface.

The bunkering is more up-to-date than ours and much more difficult than ours; yet the local longer markers seem proud of the course. Perhaps they have never been spoiled by having courses left too easy, as ours have been.

I do not mean by this that super-human feats should be demanded of all players. The short hitter should always be provided with a way around the difficulties (as is done at Cheltenham [Royal Melbourne]) and should be able to get round in a fair figure if he is accurate. Reasonable accuracy should be demanded of all players short or long, but something more than this (viz. judgement and a variety of strokes) should be asked of the champion who wants to get round in the low seventies.

At Cheltenham they have not been afraid to put bunkers in positions which create really difficult shots for first class players. Probably this is due to the fact that the design was left to an expert, and was not watered down by a green committee too fearful of its popularity. Many of the bunkers demand attention even by the expert who is playing perfect golf.

With us if the drive has been placed anywhere on the fairway it is usually a question of taking the right club for strength and playing a reasonably accurate shot with it. Bunkers can be neglected in the sure knowledge that they will not interfere unless the stroke is faulty.

Over there the player has often to decide whether to try to get close to the pin is worth the risk, and if he decides to do so has frequently to play something more than the ordinary straight ahead stroke.”

Architecture and golf architecture

A qualified architect, Eric Apperly was a partner in the architectural practice of Wright and Apperly, Bond Street, Sydney. They designed the Manly Golf Club’s clubhouse in 1924, Eric having been a member of that club since 1911. They later designed the clubhouses for Pymble, Avondale and Cromer and undertook alterations to the clubhouse at New South Wales. Due to his outstanding golfing prowess, Apperly was also commissioned by a number of clubs to design, redesign or advise on their layouts.

Eric Apperly’s first course design project was the Avondale Golf Club’s layout in 1926, and this was followed in the same year by the design of nine holes at the Studley Park estate in Camden, which later became the Camden Golf Club.

The Lakes Golf Club was designed jointly by Apperly and Tommy Howard in 1928 – sadly this course is no longer in existence. Eastlakes Golf Club was designed by the pair in 1929-31 and Kiama Golf Club’s first 9 holes was also designed by Apperly and Howard in 1932. Orange Golf Club (Duntryleague) saw Apperly combine with professional golfer JA Irving to design this course in 1935, while Newcastle Golf Club’s second 9 holes were added in 1936 to a design by Apperly.

He redesigned New South Wales Golf Club’s course at La Perouse in 1936-7 and he redesigned the course of the Pennant Hills Golf Club in 1946, after it had been occupied by the military during the Second World War. The 1926 course of the Pymble Golf Cub in Sydney, was originally designed by Dan Soutar and Carnegie Clark. After the Second World War the Club purchased 20 acres of land known as “Britton’s Orchard” for the sum of £7000. It was then possible to redesign the course to eliminate the three holes in the 10 acre “Paddock” on the southern side of Pentecost Avenue. In 1949 Eric Apperly’s plan for the new layout was adopted and the work was completed in 1953.

Cromer Golf Club was also remodeled by Apperly in 1949 and he then designed Castle Hill Country Club’s first 9 holes in 1951. There are also a number of other clubs that Apperly advised over the course of his career.

As a trained and practicing architect, it could be expected that Apperly would have translated his profession’s passion for thorough documentation into his new endeavour as a golf course architect. Al Howard, son of Tommy Howard, recalls that:

“One time NSW Amateur Champion Eric Apperly was our first golf course architect in that he practiced the profession of architect in both the office and on the golf course. His plan drawings of green reconstructions were works of art…”

The Lakes Golf Club
Eric Apperly and his friend (and long time adversary on the links) Tommy Howard, at this time a professional, had formed an association as golf course planners and constructors. According to Tommy’s son Al Howard:

“Eric Apperly contributed his architectural ability and his experience as a championship golfer while Tommy Howard was becoming increasingly involved in planning, plus the development of putting green turf and insect and weed control.”

A group of enthusiasts were determined to turn barren sandhills in the Sydney suburb of Kingsford into a golf course. The fledgling outfit of Apperly and Howard were entrusted with this task and prepared their plans in 1928. We are fortunate that Al Howard was there and recorded his observations of the construction of The Lakes course. Al observed:

“And so it happened that as Apperly and Howard Snr. inspected future golf course sites such as the Lakes, along would tag Howard Jnr. in his role of observant but silent go-pher.

My part in their golf course programme was restricted to ‘boiling the billy’, hiking miles to the nearest shop for sandwiches and smokes and as a reward for such services was permitted to drag the wire chain into reptile infested ravines or crawl through overgrown lantana and blackberry scrub. Ah – the youth of my day knew their place in the scheme of things!

However, there were some compensations – at the Lakes the third of the major dams, now the water hazard left of the existing first hole was in 1930 ringed by small sandy shores shelving down to cool clear water. Under favourable conditions today the first is sometimes a drive and a chip – to me in 1930 it meant an occasional dip!

Worthy of mention is the fact that the present Lakes was the first golf course in Sydney to be landscaped by massive earthworks. The 1930 golf course of the Lakes was also landscaped into massive earthforms by The Almighty no less, and apart from the leveling of the tees and the building of greens from the nearby excavated bunkers, followed the natural ground contours – which to state quite mildly led to some unnatural bloody stances on and off the fairways.”

The Lakes was ready for play in 1930 and developed into one of the premier tests of golf in New South Wales, and indeed the country, holding many championships, including the 1964 Australian Open won by Jack Nicklaus and the 1950 Australian PGA secured by Norman von Nida. Al Howard suggests that the Lakes course of that period was “without doubt the toughest course in Australia…”

The 16th was one of the most famous holes in Australia – a double water carry unless you were brave (or silly) enough to try for the green in one on this 320 metre par 4. Nicklaus managed to carry the water twice, once in the 1963 Wills Masters and again in the 1965 Open. Al Howard describes it:

“It was a crash or carry hole and the scene of contemplated suicides. Most favoured method was to heave yourself and sticks into the nearby Styx. Into a noreaster it was a nightmare and nines were not unknown. The over water carry to the championship green was about 300 yds, and seldom attempted except in wind assisting conditions and only a handful of gorillas made the distant shore.”

Sadly, the course had to be closed in 1968 as the new Mascot Expressway was planned to run through the course. Sydney’s Bruce Devlin, in partnership with American architect Robert von Hagge remodeled the course so significantly that barely a trace remains of the original Apperly and Howard layout. The revamped Lakes course opened again in 1970.

New South Wales Golf Club
Perhaps Eric Apperly’s greatest enduring legacy was his redesign of the New South Wales Golf Club’s course at La Perouse, located on the headlands overlooking Botany Bay. The common perception today is that the course is a purebred Alister Mackenzie design – although that may have been true at one time, the reality is that today’s course owes its stature predominantly to Eric Apperly.

A company was formed to develop this new course at La Perouse and initially commissioned Dan Soutar to provide a report and a design. In 1925 the site location moved slightly and they required another design, and as Soutar was unavailable, his old partner Carnegie Clark, assisted by James Herd Scott, prepared the layout that was included in the prospectus. Whilst clearing was being undertaken, the Club learned from Royal Melbourne that Alister Mackenzie was available for consultation and in 1926 Dr Mackenzie was engaged by the Club to review their plans for the new course. A publication prepared by the Club for their golden anniversary in 1978 quoted the recollections of Brigadier-General Sydney Herring who was involved in the Club’s formative years and acted as its Secretary for some time.

These recollections are of interest:

” …Dr. Mackenzie, a world-famed golf architect, was being brought out from Scotland to alter the layouts of several Melbourne golf clubs. As well he was to report on the Royal Sydney Golf Course. Mr. Magney suggested we get hold of him to give us a report on whether our suggested Course was as good as we thought it was. His favourable report would be a wonderful boost for the Company. We got in touch with the doctor in Melbourne and he agreed to make the report for the sum of £250; his offer was accepted.”

“When Dr. Mackenzie came to Sydney he stayed at the Royal Sydney Golf Club, and he got the then Secretary, Colonel Bertram, interested in the new course. The Colonel used to drive the Doctor out to La Perouse and very often spent most of the day helping him decide on the best layout for one or two difficult holes. Dr. Mackenzie gave a wonderful report and a splendid layout. He also recommended that Colonel Bertram be retained at a nominal fee to keep an eye on the formation of the course; this with the consent of his committee he undertook to do. He had discussed every hole with the Doctor and his advice to the Club in its early days was most valuable. Work then started in earnest and contracts let for the clearing of the scrub.”

Mackenzie’s plans, although conceptual, showed an 18 hole championship length course, together with a nine hole Short Course. In 1928 the course was finally completed, although unbunkered, and ready for play. In the following few years the Club struggled to ride out the effects of the Depression and during the years 1929 and 1930 the committee sought any plans and sketches that Mackenzie might have left.

It was resolved that his bunkering plans be tabled at a meeting in May 1931, however, as finances could not be allocated for their construction, they were not built.

It is understood that Alex Russell, Mackenzie’s Australian partner, was called in by the Club in 1931 to inspect the course, still unbunkered and critique the bunkering plan and primarily dispense with the Short Course. He did this when he came to Sydney later that year to play the Australian Open and Australian Amateur Championships. Russell presented a detailed report that highlighted the fact that the golf course was too short – he also made some suggestions about remodeling some of the greens, but these were never taken up by the Club.

InNovember 1932 the Club felt in a position to undertake some remodeling and Eric Apperly was engaged by the Club to finally implement Mackenzie’s bunkering scheme – how much of this was to Mackenzie’s design and how much was Apperly’s own ideas will most likely never be known. Alex Russell’s suggestions from his 1931 report were also in the mix. At this time, Apperly was also asked to suggest means of toughening the layout, which he achieved by extending some holes and converting the 3rd from a par 5 back to a par 4. One of Apperly’s most significant changes came at the 5th.

In April 1933 the Sydney Morning Herald advised its readers that “the crown of the hill has been cut down, and a plateau formed”, explaining that “the new tee is 40 yards further back. Previously, with a following wind, an average drive finished within 100 yards of the green, owing to the steepness of the hill. This made the par five ridiculously easy. The new tee and plateau have had the effect of making it more difficult as two exceptionally long woods are now required to reach the green.”

Eric Apperly was listed in the Club’s Annual report as its “Hon. Architect” every year from 1933 until his death in 1951. It is interesting to speculate whether the ‘Honorary’ title meant that Apperly did not charge the Club for his services. In 1933 the Club awarded him Honorary Membership as a mark of appreciation of his service to the Club and to golf in general.

By 1935 the Club’s newly modified layout was settling in well, but the Army had its sights set on some of the land that the Club leased from the Government for its fortifications. Herring recalls:

“…I heard a rumour that the Army intended to put some guns on the hill (Cape Banks) and as well, were going to run a road through a couple of the fairways. I made some enquiries but found it was a very hush hush affair; officially I was told there was nothing to it. However, I had a friend at court who told me that plans had actually been drawn up and that we had better get in early before they were finally approved……. after a good deal of negotiation a new agreement was drawn up in which the Army moderated its demands as far as the roadway was concerned. We were given some more land and a rebate of rent to offset the cost of altering the layout. The Greens Committee was then given the job of altering the course, under the advice of the Golf Architect, Mr EL Apperly…. After a lot of hard work and considerable delay the new layout was finally put into play and the Club continued to increase in popularity.”

The land changes forced substantial modifications to the north-east corner of the course. The short fourth, a ‘drop down’ one shot hole playing towards the cliffs, was lost, along with the tee at the fifth. Apperly moved the tee back up and across into its current position and most inspirationally, replaced the lost par three with a new hole, the sixth, playing along the clifftops. Later in 1972 the famous island tee was added to this hole.It is recorded that Apperly implemented some of the suggestions made in Alex Russell’s 1931 report, but mostly the ideas were his own. Apperly’s revised layout then opened for play in May 1937. From 1942 to 1946 the course was surrendered to the Army and when handed back it was completely overgrown and bore little resemblance to a golf course. Apperly advised the Club on the restoration required to bring the course back to its former condition and in the summer of 1948-49 he proposed some further modifications to lengthen some holes and reposition some of the greens and tees on the outward nine.

So what remains of Mackenzie’s routing at La Perouse, and what did Apperly remodel? Given that some land was lost and new land acquired, Apperly had to design a number of new holes as well as modify some existing ones to fit into the new layout. According to Gary Dempsey, the golf course superintendent at La Perouse, only nine holes of the current New South Wales course bear any similarity to Mackenzie’s layout.

These holes are:

Hole 3 – tee position similar and green moved to increase dogleg
Hole 4 – tee position altered, otherwise hole is the same
Hole 7 – virtually unchanged
Hole 9 – tee position altered
Hole 10 – tee position altered
Hole 12 – similar to original
Hole 13 – virtually unchanged
Hole 14 – new tee, new green moved 60 metres back
Hole 18 – tee position altered.

The remainder of the holes were new or substantially modified holes to Apperley’s design. As the course stands at present, there is not one green or tee that has not been changed.

It is interesting to note that two of the most renowned holes on the course, the tumbling par 5 fifth that runs towards the Pacific Ocean and the heroic par 3 sixth across an inlet are both Eric Apperly holes.

In fact all of the par 3’s are Apperly’s and these play to all points of the compass, as do all the par fives – an important consideration given the windswept nature of La Perouse.


Eric Apperly sadly passed away on 26 May 1951, aged 61, after collapsing in the Clubhouse of the Manly Golf Club, having just completed his final round. An apt end for a man who gave his heart to the game he loved.