Planning a vacation post-COVID-19? Our senior writer reflects on the play-and-stay destinations that deserve attention when considering your next golf holiday.
Golf tourism has suffered a massive hit during the past two years following lockdowns emanating from the ‘coronavirus’ pandemic. With all the doom and gloom, it’s easy to forget how fortunate we are as golfers to have such a variety of courses to play in Australia.
And there’s a quality golf resort for every sort of golf experience from the humid sub-tropical region of south-east Queensland to the cool temperate parts of Tasmania. Here is a selection of 13 play-and-stay destinations to whet
Northern Gold Coast
For more than three decades the Gold Coast has been the holiday playground of choice for Australian golfers escaping the winter blues. The Pines layout at InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort attracted golfers like a magnet after its spectacular 1989 opening when Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston and Arnold Palmer were the star attractions.
Sanctuary Cove set a new benchmark for luxury in Australian hospitality. Known for an extravagant shopping precinct, world-class marina and proximity to famous theme parks, Sanctuary Cove was the place to holiday.
The 1993 opening of nearby Links Hope Island provided another reason to plan a golf holiday on the northern end of the Gold Coast. The novelty of playing a Peter Thomson links-style course in sub-tropical weather proved irresistible and fuelled the construction boom that spawned more Top 100-ranked layouts (RACV Royal Pines, Arundel Hills, Lakelands, Glades).
Renovation of the second 18 at Sanctuary Cove, The Palms, by Ross Watson in 2011 added to the appeal with three superb layouts in the area. As did continual improvements that have allowed Sanctuary Cove to stand the test of time as a play-and-stay destination.
Gold Coast Hinterland
Alternatively, head inland to the Gold Coast hinterland where Kooralbyn Valley has re-established itself as the iconic course that burst onto the golf scene in 1979. The Desmond Muirhead design was the first resort-style layout of its kind in this country and helped introduce the concept of cart golf to Australians.
After closing for six years in 2008, The Kooralbyn Valley has relaunched as a family-friendly resort with multiple eating options from fine dining restaurant cuisine to pub-style meals. More than 100 rooms accommodate guests who have access to the resort’s swimming pool and health spa as well as all the natural attractions and outback farm experiences in the surrounding ‘Scenic Rim’.
Noosa and Queensland’s Sunshine Coast
Noosa Springs Golf & Spa Resort provided the trendy beachside village with a much-needed golf facility in 1999 with the opening of the Graham Papworth layout. Water comes into play on 12 of the 18 holes that meander through spring-fed lakes, lush rainforest and the fetching Tuscan-influenced residential community.
Noosa Springs has spacious one and two-bedroom apartments set in bushland near the multi-faceted clubhouse and adjoining wellness centre. The resort offers complimentary transfers to the Noosa town centre. Elsewhere on the Sunshine Coast, attractions include Australia Zoo, Fraser Island, Aussie World, Underwater World as well as the Eumundi Markets, Noosa Farmers Markets and Everglades Eco Safaris.
Bonville, NSW Mid North Coast
It’s been described as Australia’s most beautiful golf course and this country’s closest resemblance to Augusta National. For sheer beauty and isolation, Bonville Resort on the New South Wales Mid North Coast is unlike any other layout across this sunburnt country.
Although just 18 holes, Bonville can be rightly considered a genuine golf destination. It has excellent on-site accommodation in the form of 30 cabins overlooking the first fairway. Its Flooded Gums restaurant is a two-time recipient of a ‘Chef’s Hat’ (Sydney Morning Herald) – the only golf-course restaurant to achieve the feat. Resorts guests have the option of an outdoor swimming pool, the sandy beaches of Sawtell just five minutes away or a trek through the rainforests of the Coffs Coast.
Pokolbin, NSW Hunter Valley
Pokolbin is the oldest continuous wine region in Australia, tracing back to the early 19th century. But while the rich clay soil is conducive for grape growing it wasn’t as appealing for golf. That perception changed with the arrival of Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort in 1992. “Taste the reds and challenge the greens” became the catchphrase for the allure of mixing golf and wine tasting.
Much more than a golf course, Cypress Lakes quickly built its reputation as the finest conference facility north of Sydney. With more than 150 wineries in the surrounding area, Cypress Lakes helped build the Hunter Valley into a wider tourist destination known for hosting weddings, balloon adventures, outdoor concerts, craft-brewery tours and the ‘Wine & Food Festival’ (held annually in June).
However it was the addition of The Vintage that transformed Pokolbin into a bona fide golf destination. Magazine course rankings put the Greg Norman/Bob Harrison masterpiece onto golf bucket lists for its design variety and scenic trek through native woodland. Resort guests have a choice between staying at a privately owned property or either of two quality hotels, Grand Mercure Apartments or Chateau Elan Hunter Valley (known for its luxurious spa and wellness centre).
What separates Pokolbin from other golf destinations is the seasonal aspect – with the opportunity to chug a beer alfresco style on sun-drenched summer afternoons or sip a glass of the region’s iconic Semillon beside a log fire in the middle of winter.
Yarrawonga, Murray River
The splendid Black Bull Golf Course at Yarrawonga/Mulwala has revitalised the sport on the Murray River. Designed by Thomson Perrett, Black Bull is the epicentre of the Silverwoods residential community in one of the fastest-growing regional towns in Australia.
With two kilometres of lake frontage and a marina, Silverwoods has been likened to Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast. The Sebel Yarrawonga forms part of The Point, a $35 million recreational hub that includes a 300-seat conference centre, swimming pools, health spa, gymnasium, tennis courts and boat-parking facilities. The Sebel hotel currently has 63 studio rooms and luxury apartments overlooking Lake Mulwala. Guests have the option of
three dining and bar venues in the waterfront precinct.
Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
The Mornington Peninsula offers a multitude of accommodation styles at various price points. But for a pure golf experience, Peppers Moonah Links Resort is a perfect hub to explore the peninsula’s array of fine links and seaside courses.
Once dubbed ‘The Home Of Australian Golf’, Moonah Links has 36 holes to whet the appetite with twin layouts designed by Peter Thomson (Open) and Ross Perrett (Legends). With a large practice putting green, full-length driving range and wonderful short-game facility, Moonah Links is arguably the best golf complex in Australia.
Situated at Rye in the ‘Cups’ region 70 minutes south of Melbourne, Moonah Links is centrally located to all the peninsula’s top courses – The National Golf Club, The Dunes, St Andrews Beach, Portsea, Sorrento, RACV Cape Schanck, Flinders – and is literally just around the corner from the acclaimed Peninsula Hot Springs, St Andrews Beach Brewery and The Cups Estate winery.
Moonah Links offers rustic cabin-style accommodation (72 rooms and suites) at the on-site Peppers resort. It also features a modern clubhouse with restaurant, gymnasium and outdoor heated swimming pool.
Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria
The 36-hole golf complex at Thirteenth Beach on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula has proven hugely popular with competitors at the annual Vic Open when men and women play side-by-side on the Beach and Creek courses (designed by Tony Cashmore and Sir Nick Faldo, respectively). Two layouts both ranked inside the top 80 in Australia make a splendid getaway at Thirteenth Beach Golf Lodges.
Guests have large cabins each with their own private patio overlooking the Beach course and Lake Murtnaghurt. It’s a two-minute walk to the multi-functional clubhouse that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. And it’s just half an hour’s drive to world-famous Bell’s Beach, local wineries and the Great Ocean Road.
Hidden Valley, Victoria
Top golf resorts lie in all directions of the compass from Melbourne. To the north, Hidden Valley Resort at Wallan boasts that it’s Victoria’s premier golf and country club destination. Craig Parry designed the par-73 layout that features an island green on the 18th hole. Set among 180 hectares of rolling hills, Hidden Valley is the quintessential country retreat just 45 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD.
Luxurious Tuscan-inspired townhouses have all the creature comforts for a weekend getaway on the former country estate of businessman Robert Holmes à Court. Resort guests have access to the country club’s facilities, including heated indoor swimming pool, bar and bistro, gymnasium, yoga/Pilates studio, tennis courts and bowling green.
King Island, Tasmania
The fanfare that accompanied the 2015 opening of Cape Wickham put King Island on the radar of golf connoisseurs worldwide. All the hype was justified as Wickham established itself as one of the world’s great seaside golf courses.
Spectacular coastal views of Bass Strait complement the Mike DeVries/Darius Oliver design where it pays to play the ball on the ground out of the strong trade winds that buffet King Island’s north-west coast. To avoid a 40-minute commute back to the main Currie township, visitors should stay in one of 16 on-site cabins. Featuring northward-facing verandahs overlooking Cape Wickham Lighthouse, Bass Strait and Victoria Cove, these cabins enhance Wickham’s remote location. Wickham’s modest clubhouse caters for golfers all day.
Back in Currie, Ocean Dunes provides a perfect foil for its sibling rival. While Wickham is subtle and assured, Graeme Grant’s Ocean Dunes is bold and breathtaking with its dramatic contours and elevation changes. The renovated King Island Hotel is five minutes from Ocean Dunes and 10 minutes from King Island Airport where shuttle buses can be arranged.
Air Adventure provides the link to Melbourne with a 35-minute flight for up to eight people. The airline can also arrange packages to play Tasmania’s other gems, Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm. Passengers fly in a cushy private aircraft – a Pilatus PC12 – an awesome journey without peer when it comes to sheer luxury.
For an entirely boutique golf experience, Ratho Farm transports guests to a bygone era. Eighteen holes have been designed around its old homestead and shearing shed at Bothwell in Tasmania’s Central Highlands. Said to be Australia’s oldest golf course, Ratho pays tribute to the Scottish settlers who brought golf to the Clyde River Valley in the 1820s.
Restored convict cottages and farm barns have been equipped with modern appliances for a comfortable stay in tranquil surroundings. Up to 34 people can be accommodated in the cottages, which have access to the homestead’s trout fishing and hiking trails just one hour’s drive north of Hobart.
Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia
Long considered Adelaide’s playground for its quality vineyards, historic townships and coastal escapes, the Fleurieu Peninsula is a relatively hidden gem for golfers. McCracken Country Club at Victor Harbor has a wide choice of hotel rooms, suites, apartments and villas from which to explore the peninsula’s other top courses (Links Lady Bay, Mount Compass, Victor Harbor).
McCracken is a cracking good layout and acquired a spot in golf history when the late Lyndsay Stephen eagled all four of its par 5s (first, ninth, 10th, 18th) to shoot 10-under 62 in the final round of the 1996 SA PGA Championship. He returned to the 18th for a playoff with Craig Spence and struck his approach to 10 centimetres for a fifth eagle to win the title and accomplish a tournament feat that will probably never be emulated.
Joondalup Resort is veritable proof a quarry can be transformed into a jewel. American architect Robert Trent Jones Jnr created a masterpiece on the disused limestone quarry in Perth’s north where Joondalup’s huge expansive bunkers and dramatic elevation changes make for captivating golf. Kangaroos add to the scenic wonder.
The 27-hole golf facility may resemble a moonscape but Joondalup Resort could be described as sophisticated urban. The elegant hotel has 70 guest rooms with either garden or lake views. It also features a lagoon-style swimming pool while the Endota spa provides an escape for non-golfers seeking a massage or facial.