Breaking Bad at Bondi

Bondi Golf & Diggers Club, Sydney, Australia.

Overlooking the world famous Bondi beach is the distinctly not famous Bondi Golf & Diggers Club. Running along stunning clifftops, this 9-hole public golf course takes some of the most expensive real estate in the world, yet offers a truly accessible golf experience.

Words & Photography by Adrian Logue


“Wear what’s comfortable for you — there are no restrictions on the course.”

Is there a more subversive sentence in golf? And yet those dozen words are the complete dress regulations for Bondi Golf and Diggers Club. Words have power, and golf’s normal dress rules consist of words with the power to turn people away, to deny access, to shame and humiliate. Formidable words like ‘collared shirt’, ‘dress pants’, ‘pleated fronts’, ‘capris’ and ‘skort’.

Such words hold back the barbarians at golf’s gate and protect its homogeneity. Dress rules are words that fit with golf’s message: we welcome you and your diversity… if it conforms to our institutional rules.

And so to Bondi’s unusual dress code. They’re the sort of dangerous words that raise a surfboard-waxed middle finger at golf’s appropriately dressed establishment. Simple words, devoid of jargon, completely unambiguous and written by a real human being. 

But do these words ‘grow the game’ with what is the traditionally ‘right’ sort of golfer? I for one, hope not. So I grab my camera and head to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs on a crisp autumn afternoon in search of diversity and stories amongst the untraditional rabble crawling over Bondi’s welcoming fairways.

No sooner do I arrive at Bondi than I meet a fella named Mick. Mick is hunched over an impossible chip, short-sided off hard pan, semi-blind up a hill to a tiny disk of green. I am at least as surprised as Mick when he clips his ball off the dirt, lands it gently on the fringe and stops it next to the pin. 

“Did you fuckin’ see that!?” he shouts to his mate Jimmy. (Jimmy hadn’t seen a fuckin’ thing, because Jimmy was struggling with his fifth fuckin’ chip up on the other side of the fuckin’ green).

I ask to take their photo after they hole out. “It’s for an article I’m writing about public golf at Bondi,” I say.

“No problem mate,” Mick said. “Did you see that fuckin’ shot I hit?”

I assure him I definitely had. Mick puffs his chest in his cotton hoodie, adjusts his nylon trucker hat and swaggers to the next tee. I notice a pretty persimmon wood among his beaten up mismatched clubs. 

“That’s a nice driver you’ve got there,” I remark.

“That thing?” he snorts, “I got all these clubs at the council cleanup. The bag and buggy too. Someone just left them on the nature strip!”

Mick’s total outlay to get started with golf was approximately zero dollars, give or take.

Mick and Jimmy are clutching stubby holders cooling a can of Bondi Beach Beer, a tasty drop from a local craft brewery. In fact, almost every group I encounter has stubby holders and a supply of cans in their bags.

In addition to its cooling properties, the stubby holder (or ‘Beer Koozie’ for our North American readers) gives one’s can a nice wide base to help keep it stay upright on the ground while hitting a shot.

I follow Mick and Jimmy for another hole and see Mick hole a twenty-footer for par. “I’m on fuckin’ fire!” he declares.

I give Mick a thumbs up and agree he is indeed on fire, before I move on to join a single playing the next hole.

Michael cuts a dashing figure with a man-bun sticking out the top of his golf visor, a stand bag over his shoulder and a strong tattooed arm carrying the obligatory stubby holder and beer. He is superbly dressed with a designer floral (non-golf) sports shirt untucked over comfortable trousers as he coolly assesses his next shot through dark Ray-Bans.

It is a fashionable ensemble, clearly assembled with care and enjoyment. He wanted to look good and feel confident on the golf course. And he did. It is also evident he is a beginner struggling with his technique, but has enough pricey equipment to suggest the golf bug has bitten hard and he is determined to get good.

Michael is a fantastic addition to the game, the sort of individual that golf needs. But could he play at any of Sydney’s private clubs in this attire? Unlikely. The untucked shirt would earn an instant scolding and the visible tattoos and man-bun would be a magnet for reproachful side-eye.

It is no surprise then that Michael’s favourite thing about Bondi is “you can get on here anytime”.

Next I spot a couple of young guys hauling a bunch of elaborate fishing gear across the fairway. They make their way down a track that leads to the base of the cliffs and the crashing surf below. When they disappear down the path I turn to some nearby golfers who are also looking on, and ask what they’re doing. 

“Yeah, spearfishing! Beautiful spot down there,” one of the golfers replies (I would later learn his name is Christian). “I do it myself sometimes.”

Christian and his mate Daniel are quintessential young Eastern Suburbs locals. They carry themselves with that easy-going surfer energy that is instantly friendly and completely without prejudice. And like many golfing surfers, they have an innate athleticism when it comes to hitting a golf ball. Strong grip, powerful shoulder turn and perfect balance — they’ve never joined a golf club or held a handicap but they’d surely be low single figures with a bit of short game practice.

I watch them both rip driver off the 5th, Bondi’s only par-4 and a hole that really should be famous (or infamous).

Bondi’s entire 9 holes occupy a tiny rectangle of grass along the cliff tops at the Northern end of the world famous beach. Whoever designed it had a tough decision — zig zag up and down the coast to get as many tees and greens along the cliff edge as possible, or splurge damn near all that beautiful coastline on one spectacular hole.

Bondi’s unknown architect chose the latter and in so doing created the par-4 5th along possibly the most expensive 277m of golf real estate in the world.

A generous imagination might see the hole as a mirror of Cypress Point’s 17th on the other side of the Pacific. Both holes ask the golfer to go left for safety or right along the cliff’s edge. But unlike the beautiful stand of cypress at MacKenzie’s seaside masterpiece, the obstacle dividing the 5th fairway at Bondi is a 100ft tall sewer vent that can shroud the course with a stifling aroma in unfavourable winds.

After seeing Christian and Daniel smash a couple of power fades around the stink pipe, I wish them well and hang back on the tee to see who will come by next. Golf aside, it’s an incredibly beautiful place to just sit and watch the ocean.

After seeing Christian and Daniel smash a couple of power fades around the stink pipe, I wish them well and hang back on the tee to see who will come by next. Golf aside, it’s an incredibly beautiful place to just sit and watch the ocean.

Soon enough along comes a flinty old bloke named Brent. Brent had worked offshore but now lives nearby and gets out on the course whenever he can. He’s right-handed but has always played golf left-handed for reasons he couldn’t clearly explain. I tell him Phil Mickelson is also right-handed, which surprises and delights him.

 “I’m a big Phil fan!” he exclaims. I suspect it also quietly justifies a choice he’s been questioning his entire golfing life.

He carries his clubs in a fantastic old black and red Proline bag — the type with the rounded rectangle tube. He can’t understand my enthusiasm for it.

 “This old thing?” he says, holding the bag up incredulously, “I’ve had it in the garage for years … it’s good is it?”

“Yes it is” I assure him, and speculate that certain golfing hipsters would pay good money for it. I can tell he is sceptical and maybe even starting to doubt my information on Mickelson’s natural hand.

“So, what do you like about playing here?” I ask.

“Well, you can always get a game,” he says. A recurring theme.

“I saw my wife off on a plane this morning, she’s visiting our daughter. I came straight out here for a hit. And I tell you what, I won’t be cooking tonight! Bloody good chef in the Diggers Club over there. Sri Lankan fella, that’s where I’ll be eating.” 

I would later confirm for myself that the food is very good at the Diggers Club.

I watch Brent take on the tee shot at the 5th. As a leftie with a strong right side, it sets up easily for him. Aim straight at the stink pipe, fade it into the fairway and off he goes.

It’s getting late and I start back to the clubhouse, there’s a couple walking their dog, and a middle-aged man trying out his new drone. There’s a couple of girls walking across several fairways to find a place to sit on the rocks and other non-golfers here and there, strolling, chatting, or just looking out over the ocean.

I see a group of women in tracksuits and active wear finishing their round. Another woman is in full golf gear introducing her non-golfer boyfriend to the game. They’re sharing her set and enjoying the afternoon.

The conclusion of a tense four-ball match is unfolding at the 9th green with the first round of drinks riding on a tricky 5-footer. It misses, and two of the four start jumping and screaming in a way that is entirely familiar to anyone who has won a match where the stakes literally couldn’t be lower, but also couldn’t be higher.

I’m about to leave when I notice a young bloke walking off the course without finishing. “Had enough?” I ask him.

“Nah, it was a bit busy out there so I thought I’d just come back to the 1st”, he explains. “Might have a beer on the balcony and jump back on the course when there’s a gap.”

His name is James and he’s been playing golf for a few years. His dad bought him a set of clubs which just sat in the garage until it was a waste not to use them. Now he’s hooked and plays all the public courses in the area … Bondi, Randwick, Moore Park, Woollahra.

He’s just back from a trip up the central coast playing Kooindah Waters and Magenta Shores, and he’s convinced a group of mates to fly down to Barnbougle Dunes in a few weeks.

“What do you like about Bondi?” I ask.

He looks around, and gives it some thought, “Nobody here cares if you’re shit.”

Diversity in golf is about letting new golfers know they’re welcome in traditionally unwelcoming places, but Bondi is anything but unwelcoming.

Words are powerful. Particularly simple ones.

“Wear what’s comfortable.”

“You can get on anytime.”

“Nobody cares if you’re shit.”


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