Paradise Palms has gone a long way to restoring its reputation as North Queensland’s premier golf course and there are more exciting developments on the horizon.
As golf became the plaything of the rich and famous at the juncture of the 1980s and ’90s, Tropical North Queensland emerged as one of golf’s most desirable destinations.
Christopher Skase spared no expense with the establishment of the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas and Paradise Palms Resort and Country Club was a magnet for Japanese tourists, with owners Daikyo using its position next to the Great Barrier Reef as a way to sell this picturesque part of Australia to the world.
The addition of Palmer Sea Reef (formerly Sea Temple Golf and Country Club and, before that, The Links Port Douglas) in 2000 gave the area a world-class triumvirate, but while the Reef has maintained its levels of attraction and Cairns and Port Douglas remain extremely popular holiday destinations for Australians and international visitors, the golf lost some of its lustre.
Since they were appointed to manage the golf operations at Paradise Palms midway through last year, Troon Golf recognised the need to make the golf offering more appealing and have vigorously set out to establish Paradise Palms as the premier golf course in the region.
The weather extremes experienced in the tropics can make basic maintenance practices problematic but by following Troon’s long-established operating procedures, general manager Declan McCollam believes Paradise Palms is once again a premium golf experience.
“Priority No.1 was to get the course in a condition where it was at the highest level and the best facility in the region, and we’ve already achieved that,” McCollam told Australian Golf Digest. “All that it really needed was a bit of TLC and good programming, getting rid of encroaching trees and native areas that over the 25-year history of the property had grown in and never been culled back.
“In the late ’80s Cairns actually became quite a big golfing destination because of Mirage and Paradise Palms and it was seen as a genuine golf tourism destination. That had fallen by the wayside over the past few years and one of the big things for us is to push the Great Barrier Reef and the golf to US tour operators who have already been quite receptive.
“Our main focus remains enticing golfers in New South Wales and Victoria to come and stay for a week and play a few rounds of golf, visit the Reef, visit the rainforest and the other attractions the area has to offer but the US is certainly a market we’re keen to explore.”
A familiar face – and voice – to American golf fans is also going to help bring Paradise Palms into golf’s broader consciousness around the world. Former British Open champion, CBS analyst and Aussie golf legend Ian Baker-Finch paid a visit to Paradise Palms late last year and has been engaged to redesign the green complexes and their surrounds.
“Ian wanted to have a look at the course and we spent three days looking at it and deciding what the best options will be,” McCollam said. “The layout will stay exactly the same but due to encroachment some of our greens have reduced in size by 50 per cent. He’ll oversee all of the green complexes and the redesign of those over a period of time.”
In January last year the club had to forego its signature par-3 seventh hole to allow for a residential development to proceed, the first stage of which has already sold out with a second stage soon to be released. It necessitated changes to the layout in order to retain 18 holes, but players who turned up to play the Cairns Classic last year will see even further changes at this year’s tournament from June 16-18.
“They’re going to see a lot of work around green complexes with the removal of trees that were encroaching on greens and green surrounds and creating too much shade and poor airflow. They’re also going to see greens that now have full grass coverage,” McCollam said. “Some of the greens, bunkers and surrounds weren’t really of a tournament standard last year, but that’s all changed now and they’ll experience a greener, more manicured golf course with better grass coverage and better playing surfaces.”
That will come as welcome news to visiting professionals such as Jason Norris, who finished second last year and immediately put this year’s tournament on his list of ‘must-play’ events for 2017.
“I’m definitely going back. As I said to a few of the other guys, it’s one of my favourite events of the year. For pro-ams it’s as good as it gets,” Norris told Australian Golf Digest.
“They did a fantastic job up there. Everything that they put on from the drinks and food, the Queensland lifestyle – at that time of year coming from Adelaide or Melbourne where it was freezing cold – was beautiful. They had a fireworks display, which was awesome, and they just did a really good job of it.”
This year’s Cairns Classic pro-am has a slightly different twist with the event to be split in two between the PGA Tour of Australasia’s Sunshine Swing and Legends Tour. Wayne Grady and Brian Jones have already stated their possible intention to play, Terry Price and Rodger Davis are likely starters and Peter Senior would also have been a definite inclusion had he and wife June not already planned a European holiday.
Each group will feature a Sunshine Swing professional, a Legends Tour player and two amateurs, the first time the two tours have merged in such a fashion. But Norris warns those who are taking part for the first time this year that if they expect birdies to be as abundant as the sunshine, they need to pack precision iron play in their carry-on.
“I played there many, many years ago in a Cairns Classic and I actually think it’s a bit tougher now,” Norris said. “The greens are a bit firmer and they’re a bit smaller. They’ve grown in a bit over the years and that’s what makes it so hard. They’re all firm and small so even if you’ve got a wedge shot in you can’t hold them. It’s pretty tough.
“I love courses like that where you can’t just hit it anywhere and shoot good numbers. You have to play good golf and even if you play good golf you can still have trouble scoring. And the scores showed that at the Cairns Classic. There were a lot of players there and only three were under par for the week, so that shows how tough it is. But I loved it.”
There are now packages available for amateur golfers for the Cairns Classic with ‘Stay and Play’ components included for the duration of the event. Packages start at $975 in a resort room for three nights with breakfast, plus tournament entry for one player, lunches and the gala dinner, plus a player’s gift pack.