WALKING ON SUNSHINE
If the thought of enduring an entire winter without playing a single round of golf in short sleeves fills you with dread, you might want to consider making an escape to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
If the thought of shivering through winter golf fills you with dread, you might want to consider making an escape to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, writes Brendan James.
The striking stretch of Queensland coastline – from Bribie Island in the south to Noosa Heads in the north – is one of this country’s great tourist destinations, which explains why 3,394,000 Australians visited the region in 2016. Wedged between more than 100km of pristine beaches and the beautiful Glasshouse Mountains, the Sunshine Coast has evolved into the idyllic location to relax and unwind. It’s a place where you can spoil yourself at a day spa, feast on five-star cuisine, feel the sand between your toes on a beach walk or, of course, play golf under deep blue, sun-drenched skies. Better still, for those shivering in the southern states, you can do all this during winter.
The Sunshine Coast spoils golfers with a broad range of layouts – from world-class resort and public access courses to a selection of high-quality member clubs that welcome visitors outside competition times. Here’s what you’re missing by staying at home. Pacific Harbour Golf & Country Club celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2016 and the reviews after a decade continue to speak highly of the Bribie Island layout, just 70 minutes’ drive north of Brisbane Airport.
The stunning Ross Watson-designed course – complemented by a magnificent $11 million clubhouse – was ranked at No.28 in Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses earlier this year, which marks 10 successive years cemented within the top-30 of the list.
While the views towards the Glasshouse Mountains from the clubhouse deck are certainly memorable, it is the quality of the golf course that will have you longing to return.
Watson’s creation presents a stern challenge for better players without being too hard for the casual or holidaying golfer.
The acclaimed designer has a penchant for creating superb par-3s and he doesn’t disappoint at Pacific Harbour, with all four covering a range of distances that demand tee shots with dierent clubs in the bag.
The 4th measures 184 metres from the tips but a wide entrance to the putting surface is accepting of tee shots that land short and run on, while there is no such luxury on the 142-metre 7th.
This is Watson’s homage to the worldfamous island green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass in the United States – the home of the Players Championship – although Watson’s version is only a semi-island putting surface. Like Sawgrass, the green is perched above the water with a timber wall rising from the juice. The 136-metre 13th, known as Kakadu, skirts the edge of some wetlands and plays into a prevailing breeze,
so club selection is vital. This is also the case when playing the penultimate hole – a 205-metre brute that features the longest bunker in the Southern Hemisphere ( just on 200 metres long). This bunker forms a beach barrier between the fairway/green and a lake that flanks the entire right edge of the hole. Hence, the hole is known as The Beach.
Troon Golf has returned to manage Pacific Harbour in recent times, which coincides with an improvement in the presentation of the layout.
Bribie Island is one of the sand islands of Moreton Bay and its natural sand base provides the perfect foundation for growing quality playing surfaces on rolling terrain that also boasts terrific drainage. Even though Bribie Island Golf Club is a stones throw from the sea, it is 18 holes in a bushland setting that is as close to oering a Melbourne Sandbelt experience than any other Queensland layout. There are some holes here that are really not that far removed from those you would find at Woodlands or Yarra Yarra in the heart of the Sandbelt.
The Sandbelt-style bunkering is one of the highlights of the 6,162-metre par-72 layout, which features fairways thickly lined in parts by a wide variety of native trees. The rough is fairly sparse and sandy lies are common.
Heading north from the island, a leisurely 60-minute drive will have you on the 1st tee at Pelican Waters Golf Club – one of the finest Australian examples of how modern golf course designers can create a layout just about anywhere. Designers Greg Norman and Bob Harrison transformed flood prone wetlands just south of Caloundra into one of Queensland’s finest courses. In fact, the 6,289-metre (from the tips) par-72 was listed at No.21 in Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Course ranking earlier this year, making it the top-ranked layout on the Sunshine Coast.
During their years together as a design team, Norman and Harrison – both keen students of the design work of Dr Alister MacKenzie – turned the design clock back almost a century to create layouts with short par-4s, risk-andreward par-5s and the occasional punchbowl green. Pelican Waters is no dierent.
The first six holes of the layout are superb. From the back markers, there is nothing too strenuous in terms of length but strategy and shot placement is very important.
Of these holes, three are par-4s and the longest is the 1st at 355 metres. But it is the 5th hole, known as ‘The Passage’ that will impress. At 345 metres, it is a classic par-4 with a generous fairway flanked by water left and four large fairway bunkers hugging its edges at strategic points. The lake cuts the fairway in two just short of the green, which lies diagonally to the line of the fairway. Two cavernous bunkers can be found behind the green to trap the player who takes too much club for fear of falling short into the water.
The following hole, a 149-metre par-3, known as the ‘Glasshouse’, is a terrific hole that appears to have been loosely modelled on two of golf’s most famous par-3s – the 12th (Golden Bell) and 16th (Redbud) at Augusta National, home of the Masters. The tee shot is played over water to a Redan-style green and there is plenty of area short, right of the green to leave a ‘good miss’.
Pelican Waters’ nearest neighbour to the north, was the teenage stomping ground of
1991 Open Champion Ian Baker-Finch.
Caloundra Golf Club is a traditional bushland course where accuracy and good shotmaking are demanded by the often tight layout.
Stretching to just 5,960 metres o the back markers, the par-71 has some very impressive holes surrounded by lush vegetation which is home to kangaroos and a wide variety of birds including rainbow lorikeets. The terrain varies from relatively flat to undulating, with some of the best holes covering the more dramatic landscape.
Another impressive Sunshine Coast members’ course can be found 20 minutes to the north at Buderim.
It is hard not to be struck with the view that confronts you as you round the corner of the clubhouse from the Headland Golf Club car park en route to the pro shop.
The view of the Mooloolaba coastline from the club’s balcony is one of the best on the Sunshine Coast and adds to the memorable round you will have at Headland, a well-designed course that has been hosting visiting golfers since it was a nine-hole course back in 1958.
Today, Headland is a modern layout with large, rolling greens covered with beautifully maintained Bermuda grass.
Vast tracts of the layout can be seen from the clubhouse balcony but some of the best holes are across the lower reaches of the courses and
DESPITE STILL BEING IN ITS INFANCY, THE PLAYING SURFACES AT MAROOCHY RIVER AND, IN PARTICULAR, THE BERMUDA TIFEAGLE GREENS ARE SUPERB.
cannot be seen. By far the best of these is the 340-metre par-4 12th, which is one of the more visually impressive holes on the Sunshine Coast. Coming out of a chute created by a wall of trees left and right, the drive needs to be into the right of the fairway to avoid kicking down into the lake that comes into play about 150 metres from the tee. The lake then closely hugs the left edge of the short grass all the way down to the long green, which is protected by a sole bunker cut into the short, left fringe. By far the best miss with your approach is to the right but even then you will need to chip over some mounds onto the green.
The Sunshine Coast’s latest golfing addition is a new course for an old club.
For more than 50 years, the Horton Park Golf Club was the green hub of Maroochydore.
By the late ‘90s, residential and commercial development of its surrounds virtually landlocked the course in the regional centre’s CBD, which launched a decade long search for a new home for the club.
The club located a 102 hectare stretch of flood prone former cane fields at Bli Bli – about seven kilometres north-west of the original
course and across the Maroochy River, which the club adopted as its name to become the Maroochy River Golf Club. Graham Marsh was commissioned to design the layout, which opened for play in 2015. Given the flood-prone nature of the property, the land profile was raised considerably during construction and provided a relatively blank canvas for Marsh to create a layout, which needed to appeal as a challenge for players of all standards.
He has hit the mark on that front. The expanse of land allowed Marsh and his design team to oer wide fairways, big greens and four tees on each hole. The broad avenues of play are welcoming to the high handicapper or casual player, while the accomplished player is oered the opportunity on most holes to take a more aggressive line – skirting a scheme of bunkers or water hazard – to get a shorter or more straight-forward line to a flag.
The par-4 10th is a fine example. From the tips, the slight dogleg right hole stretches to 390 metres but the shortest route to the green is to take on the first of three bunkers near the right edge of the fairway. Big hitters can carry the first bunker but they can get a bounce into one of the two smaller traps beyond. The safe playing line wide of the sand leaves a longer shot and also brings a harder approach where a bunker short left of the green is more in play.
The bunkering is a real feature of the journey. The shape and size varies a lot, and while the depth of many leans towards the shallow side, they are visually intimidating enough to make you second guess your club selection or playing line.
Despite still being in its infancy, the playing surfaces at Maroochy River and, in particular, the Bermuda Tifeagle greens are superb. Marsh’s green contouring and variety of shapes have been complemented by the already smooth rolling surfaces and are a lot of fun to putt on.
High quality fairways and greens are also a feature of the nearby Twin Waters Golf Club.
With its spacious fairways, rumpled putting surfaces and vast tracts of sub-tropical vegetation, the Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge-designed Twin Waters has been a ‘must play’ of Sunshine Coast golf ever since it opened for play in 1991.
The course doesn’t appear to be the most dicult test around yet it plays far tougher than first impressions suggest. Thomson and Wolveridge pot bunkers are dotted across most fairways like moon craters, all designed to swallow anything bouncing towards them. The greens are mostly broad and feature gentle rather than wild undulations but those subtleties ensure they are dicult to read. Many are ‘push-up’-style putting surfaces with runos that turn many a good iron shot into a missed green and a challenging up-and-down. The most memorable hole is the 379-metre 8th, which bears a slight resemblance to the Road Hole at St Andrews. Rather than driving across a hotel, however, the carry here is across a lake and bunkers before a tough approach to a raised green with a single, deep pot bunker guarding the left side and all manner of strife over the back. Two more diering par-4s on the back nine examine your shot-making. The 12th fairway narrows the longer you hit the tee shot as 10 bunkers tighten the landing zone on the 325-metre hole, while the 13th doglegs left around two pots with water further left. The green is defended by a large scoop in the front that will send any weak approach shot back into the fairway.
From a Sunshine Coast golf mainstay to something of a hidden gem, Mt Coolum Golf Club will surprise any golfer who is yet to experience it.
Set at the foot of the spectacular Mt Coolum, the course opened for play as a nine-holer in 1976 and was known as the Suncoast Beach Golf Club. A name change to Mt Coolum came in the mid-80s and a further nine holes were added and completed in 1992.
With the course being built in two stages, possibly with diering budgets and across varying lsndcapes, there is a definite mix of tight tree-lined fairways and wider more generous landing zones. There is also an interesting blend of small subtle sloping greens and larger undulating greens … all of which compensate for the course only measuring 5,901 metres from the championship markers.
The best holes cover the southern half of the course. These include the challenging trio of holes including the 523-metre par-5 4th, 194-metre par-3 5th and the 531-metre par-5 6th, which cut through and loop around wetlands and are heavily lined by melaleucas. These are not only demanding holes for all players, they lie in a beautiful setting where plenty of birdlife abounds.
Similarly, the back nine loop of the 13th, 14th and 15th holes are equally as impressive for their beauty.
Mt Coolum has six par-5s – including four on the back nine – with the most memorable being the 433-metre 17th, which doglegs left around a scheme of bunkers before turning back to the right around the edge of a lake. Your final approach here can be over water to a well-bunkered green with Mt Coolum oering an imposing backdrop. Mt Coolum’s famous neighbour, the Palmer Coolum Resort is one of Queensland’s truly iconic courses having hosted the Australian PGA Championship for 11 years.
But its recent history has been tumultuous since a third of the course was redesigned in 2009 as the holes closest to the beach were subdivided for residential development. In the years since, high-profile businessman Clive Palmer took over ownership, the resort accommodation was closed for refurbishment and speculation about the future of the layout filled internet golfing forums and the twittersphere.
Having visited the course for the compilation of this feature, I can report the course is open for play and its condition is pretty good, but still a long way from the glory days when it was an absolute must to include on your Queensland golf bucket list.
Another recent change has seen the reversal of the nines, which brings the iconic 18th hole – the scene of so much drama during its tournament hosting years – into play mid-round. It’s still a very good hole but as the closing test of a round it was a great hole. Palmer Coolum might arguably be the most famous course on the coast, but just down the road you will find perhaps the least known layout, which has also emerged from rough times recently. Peregian Golf Course was a mystery to the golfing public for much of its first 10 years after opening in 2003 as it was a strictly membersonly layout.
As of late, the Peregian course and driving range has enjoyed a new lease on life. The course closed for several months in mid-2016 after the golf club was forced into administration and then liquidation. Before year’s end, the Golf Services Management company – which also manages several Victorian courses including St Andrews Beach, Ranfurlie and Bay Views – stepped in to save it.
Nearly eight months on, the centrepiece of the resurgence is the refurbished course, which has undergone significant works. Fairways have been re-laid, irrigation upgraded and a large-scale tidy-up were all carried out, the results of which are now beginning to bear fruit.
Designed by Phil Scott, father of Masters Champion Adam Scott, the par-72 can be enjoyed by players of all standards, which is important for a course in the heart of a golf holiday destination.
Across all 18 holes, golfers are presented challenges that are far more enjoyable than they are insurmountable, an approach that encourages fun golf. Each par-4 and par-5 offers choices on the tee to the better players, while there are no dauntingly long tee shots required over or between hazards that might send a higher handicapped player back to the
clubhouse in search of more balls.
The opening four holes are quite generous and, in time, will be played among rows of luxurious homes as the Peregian Springs residential development continues to expand.
Scott’s first gem is the 312-metre par-4 5th. Quality short par-4s always excite and the 5th rates as the best of the four on oer at Peregian.
Complementing the investment in the course is a full fleet of brand new golf carts, well stocked Pro Shop, practice putting and chipping area as well as first-class locker-room facilities, which are open to the public seven days a week.
Noosa is the cosmopolitan hub of the Sunshine Coast with the restaurants and boutiques of fashionable and iconic Hastings St its main attraction.
Less than five minutes’ drive from Hastings St you will find the Noosa Springs Golf & Spa Resort. On arrival the first thing to capture your attention is the spectacular Mediterranean-style clubhouse, perched high above the golf course, which oers views of nearby Lake Weyba and the Noosa Hinterland. Then there is the Graham Papworth-designed golf course, which winds its way across gently undulating terrain, through pockets of rainforest, along lake banks, into Bloodwood forests before opening up to fairways flanked by Melaleuca trees.
Noosa Springs is not a long layout at 6,180 metres from the tips. But what it lacks in distance it more than makes up for in placing demands on strategy and club selection.
Some of the best holes at Noosa Springs can be found on the front nine. The 339-metre par-4 2nd is visually stunning with Noosa National Park and the beautiful Lake Weyba to be found beyond the out-of-bounds fence left of the fairway.
The 141-metre 4th hole is arguably Noosa Springs’ best par-3 where your tee shot must carry water all the way to a huge semi-island green.
Water also plays a major role on the following trio of par-4s. The 5th, 6th and demanding 7th holes flank one of the many large lakes to be found at Noosa Springs. While the lake is intimidating, especially for your tee shots on each, Papworth has made sure there is enough room for golfers of all standards to safely navigate their way from tee to green without incurring a penalty.
The inward nine undulates more than the outward half and winds past Noosa Springs’ expansive residential precinct. Decisions are required on the 15th and 17th tees, the former a long par-5 made even longer by a creek cutting the fairway in the driving zone that effectively forces it to be played as a three-shotter for all but the biggest hitters, and the latter a 340-metre par-4 with water guarding the left side of the green, making finding the right position from the tee paramount.
Tucked away from the glitz and glamour of Hastings St is Noosa Golf Club (pictured above and below). The lush haven for holidaying golfers celebrates its 80th anniversary this year and has rarely looked better.
Whilst maintaining its natural setting – the course was first redesigned in the late 1970s by Jack Newton, while further renovations were made in the early 2000s to enhance the greens and many doglegging fairways.
The sharpest turns appear at the 416-metre 3rd and 321-metre 11th, two par-4s where the ability to shape the ball is essential. The 3rd is a big dogleg left that plays far shorter if you can hug the left edge or turn the ball around the corner. Conversely, the 11th twists right and while distance is less important here, the penalty for erring is greater as huge stands of paperbarks and other assorted towering flora will block any drive lost right or that’s too long and not faded to match the shape of the fairway. Balancing these tighter holes are several straight holes where flexing a little might o the tee is an advantage.
Three of Noosa’s four par-3s measure between 130 and 138 metres yet each one presents a different challenge. The 135-metre 5th, a newer hole than the others after the old 3rd hole was removed from the layout, is a bunker-strewn downhiller with distinct sections to the green, while the 141-metre 7th plays to a putting surface that feels smaller than it measures as it drops o at the sides. The 12th plays deceptively uphill from a sheltered tee to a green angled to favour a left-to-right approach.
Rolling fairways and sprawling bunker schemes are common traits at Maroochy River.
Pelican Waters’ 6th hole, known as Glasshouse, is one of the best par-3s on the Coast.
Headland is an impressive layout renowned for its quality playing surfaces.
Graham Marsh’s work at Maroochy River can be enjoyed by players of all abilities.
The par-3 2nd hole at Twin Waters brings water into play early in the round.
Holes weaving through wetlands is a memorable aspect of a round at Mt Coolum.