I WAS once among the influx of tourists who ventured regularly to the sandy expanse of the Gold Coast in search of great golf. Then three years ago, the family and I moved here.
Now, instead of trying to work out how I can wedge more than a dozen top-quality courses into a week of golf I‘m instead teased by a daily drive past The Glades, Lakelands, Palm Meadows, Palmer Gold Coast (formerly Robina Woods) and Palmer Colonial.
The magnetism of the Pines and Palms courses at Sanctuary Cove remains as strong as ever, courtesy of the latter’s recent re-design. Next door, Links Hope Island remains one of the absolute premium golf experiences you can enjoy in southeast Queensland.
But an oft-forgotten resort course that has undergone an extreme makeover during the past three years has not only re-energised RACV Royal Pines Resort but also given Gold Coast golf exposure throughout Australia and to a potential worldwide audience of more than 500 million people.
The Buzz is Back
RACV Royal Pines general manager David Hogben can’t definitively say whether it’s Graham Marsh’s re-design or staging the Australian PGA Championship that has drawn golfers en masse. But local tour operators insist it is again on the ‘must-play’ list of keen golfers.
“The golf course at Royal Pines has been out of the loop for quite a while,” says Emma Beauclerc of golfOz Tours, which has been operating on the Gold Coast for 13 years.
“But the refurbishment for the PGA Championship has breathed new life into the experience. The feedback about RACV Royal Pines from our clients has been really positive. Golfers love playing the new Royal Pines course, even though it’s a lot more difficult on the scorecard. But it certainly has converted many golfers who weren’t fans previously.”
There’s no denying that playing a course you watch the pros attack brings a certain extra gravitas. All you really want to achieve is to par – nay, birdie – any of the 18 exams. Your other chance to brush shoulders with Aussie golf royalty is at the acclaimed Links Hope Island – one of the legendary Peter Thomson’s finest pieces of golf design in collaboration with design partners Mike Wolveridge and Ross Perrett.
“Hope Island is easily the most favoured course up here,” says Emma Beauclerc. “If I had to impress someone coming to town, that’s the first public course I’d go to.
“It’s the whole experience. Going up to Hope is the best, from start to finish.”
Links Hope Island first opened its doors in 1993 and, more than 20 years later, little change to the layout has been needed. In this magazine’s most recent ranking of the Top 100 Courses in Australia, Hope Island rose four places to sit at No.37, just two behind the exclusive Greg Norman-designed The Grand for the title of Gold Coast’s highest-ranked course.
Links Hope Island also serves as the personal playground to three-time Australian PGA Championship winner Peter Senior, who is only too happy to stop and chat with visitors of the resort and provide an unforgettable memory of his own.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Lakelands Golf Club is arguably now more accessible to visiting golfers than ever. This 20-year-old course continually delivers some of the absolute best playing conditions anywhere on the coast. The layout here is a brilliantly strategic test that builds to a crescendo – a nerve-wracking finishing stretch of five holes starts with the beguiling par-3 14th. Even at 133 metres off the plates, it’s not to be messed with.
Ross Watson’s re-design of The Palms course at Sanctuary Cove Golf and Country Club has ensured both layouts were ranked within the top 50 for the first time in its storied history. With The Pines – designed by the late, great Arnold Palmer – now holding even greater sentiment as The King’s only signature golf course in Australia.
Norman and Bob Harrison’s design at The Glades continues to delight Gold Coast visitors with its typical Shark style of offering hero-or-zero options from the tees.
Locals Put Out the Welcome Mat
The default position of golfers visiting the Glitter Strip is to hit the high profile courses. But there are a growing number of local courses receiving rave reviews.
Southport Golf Club, minutes from the centre of Surfers Paradise, was once reserved for members and guests, but tour operators such as golfOz can now provide access to this delightful experience.
Nearby, Burleigh Golf Club is continually in great condition. This is in addition to its rolling terrain, dramatic elevation changes and lightning-fast greens.
“Combine the best elements of Robina Woods and Lakelands and that’s the quality of Burleigh,” says Beauclerc.
Palmer Gold Coast (formerly Robina Woods) and Palmer Colonial offer vastly contrasting challenges but with a shared premium on-course management.
Surfers Paradise Golf Club, meanwhile, can often be overlooked by visitors but is a wildly popular layout with locals for its shot-making options in a tight parcel of land.
Over the New South Wales border is Coolangatta-Tweed Heads Golf Club, offering two highly regarded layouts with dramatically different aesthetics. The West Course is a winding, contorted tree-lined layout that wraps its way around various water courses. The River course is reminiscent of the Melbourne Sandbelt in places with its short par 4s perfectly positioned across the ripples of sandy base that abut the Tweed River.
If you’re a golfer who finds beauty in quirkiness, a visit to Boomerang Farm Golf Course in the picturesque Gold Coast hinterland is a must. Literally a site where boomerang throwing was once taught, the club’s proud members regularly vote it into the top 10 courses on the Coast via the Gold Coast Bulletin’s annual reader survey. Despite not having a single bunker on the nine-hole layout, it boasts some jaw-dropping downhill par 3s.
The next time you’re meandering from course to course during a Gold Coast getaway, spare a thought for those of us who live here. We’re on our way to work.
More Than Just a Golf Destination
Although a significant driver, golf is not the only reason that the Gold Coast continues to hold its position as Australia’s favourite holiday haven.
The theme park capital of Australia – with rumours of another big one on the way – continues to draw families. The introduction of an AFL and NRL team in the past decade has given footy fans another excuse to visit, while regular race meetings at the Gold Coast Turf Club are a perennial favourite among travelling golfers. Gold Coast Regional Botanical Gardens offers a serene setting where you can enjoy a picnic, fuse modern technology with our Indigenous history on the Kaialgumm Games Trail, visit the native Butterfly Garden or simply take a stroll on the boardwalks circling the lake.
If retail therapy is part of your Gold Coast sojourn, you can find some bargains at the Harbour Town outlet centre or go up-market at Pacific Fair – having undergone a stunning transformation. It now houses world-famous brands such as H&M, Hugo Boss, Uniqlo, Michael Kors, Politix, Sass & Bide, Tiffany & Co. This in addition to a smorgasbord of sumptuous dining options.
“The golf courses are amazing; and all within 40 minutes great accommodation,” Beauclerc says of the region’s enduring holiday appeal.
“The Gold Coast offers the whole holiday package.”
New Releases Coming Soon
Frequenters to the Gold Coast’s golfing landscape may think they’ve played it all. But there are some new releases heading this way, including a blockbuster opening slated for 2017.
If you follow popular golf profiles on social media, you’ll know that Topgolf – particularly its new Las Vegas facility – has become the way to mix business and pleasure.
Described as entertainment-fuelled driving ranges, Topgolf [pictured] has swept the US by storm including its biggest A-list celebrities. Given that Warner Bros. Movie World serves as ‘Hollywood on the Gold Coast’ it’s little surprise Village Roadshow is bringing Topgolf to Queensland’s southeast – next door to Movie World and Wet ‘n’ Wild.
The three-level, 65,000 square foot-venue will closely resemble the American Topgolf model, serving as the first of eight Topgolf facilities to open in Australia during the next eight years.
But Topgolf is not the only new way to golf on the Gold Coast.
The virtual reality golf craze has swept the southeast with More Golf and Fitness, Slice and Parkwood International all offering world-class golf without the walking.
As its name suggests, More Golf and Fitness mixes bays of simulators with a fitness facility towards the back, but most come for the chance to play world-famous layouts and enjoy a beer or two in a relaxed environment.
For residents on the Coast, More Golf and Fitness also runs weekly golf leagues, which serve as a great way to get your golf fix after dark.
Slice Virtual Golf has opened in the heart of Surfers Paradise and offers the use of brand new Callaway clubs for those who don’t have them, as well as the latest in domestic and international beers – and pizza you can buy by the metre.
As part of Parkwood International’s major redevelopment, its driving range has also been transformed into six bays of simulators you can use to play some of the world’s great courses while sharing in a two-litre beer tower. The 18-hole layout is undergoing improvements while the Boulders and Badlands mini golf course provides 18 holes of fun for the whole family.
There’s even something new on offer for the traditionalists with the Desmond Muirhead designed Kooralbyn Valley now back up and running, west of the Gold Coast hinterland. From the heart of the Gold Coast it is a 75-minute drive to Kooralbyn but it is well worth the excursion.
The playing surfaces are in reasonable condition (the greens are excellent), and the recovery of the turf during spring will make this a must-play. The Ramada resort overlooking the course also provides the opportunity to turn your trip into a getaway – and to play another round.