Of all the sliding doors moments in my life, meeting Len Evans was the most significant. Evans, the late godfather of Australian wine, was its most passionate advocate and used his ebullient personality to help bring an understanding of its quality not only to Australians, but the world. A chance meeting with him in a pro-am early in my career brought me into his orbit, and eventually into his Hunter Valley home where my previous understanding of wine was turned upside down.
Before emigrating from Wales, Evans was an assistant pro, and for a period of time also gave lessons at Mt Isa Golf Club prior to establishing his legendary career in hospitality and wine. Even in his mid-60s when we first met, he had an enviable swing and a competitive edge. All subsequent trips to Pokolbin were bound up in some way by his great loves of wine, golf and food. Many an afternoon was signed off with a quick nine at The Vintage or Cypress Lakes, leaving me with the warmest of memories of both that time in my life and the region.
Pokolbin, the nominal heart of the Hunter Valley winelands, is just a two-hour drive from the Sydney CBD and the perfect staging point to begin an exploration of the wine and golf-related riches to be found there. My go-to options for both are as follows:
The Vintage Golf Club
Conveniently located in the heart of the winelands, The Vintage is a Greg Norman design that takes advantage of subtle undulations and both natural and man-made watercourses to craft a seriously satisfying and challenging test of golf. Driving areas are generous, with small (by modern standards) green complexes that reward positioning off the tee. It’s my favourite ‘winelands’ layout.
Wine match: Thomas Wines Braemore Semillon 2018 ($40)
The Braemore vineyard has produced some seriously flashy Semillons over the years, and with the vineyard now owned by the equally flashy Andrew Thomas, this is the perfect wine match for the stylish, manicured confines of The Vintage.
Cypress Lakes Golf & Country Club
For convenience of location, it is hard to beat Cypress Lakes. Surrounded by many of the Hunter Valley’s most lauded vineyards (think Graveyard and Tallawanta for starters) and cellar doors, those looking to maximise their combination of wine and golf activity are starting in the right place. Picturesque, calm and peaceful, with plenty of water in play, Cypress Lakes ticks a lot of boxes.
Wine match: Brokenwood Forest Edge Chardonnay 2018
While not technically a Hunter wine (grapes are sourced from Orange in Central New South Wales), it remains one of the best Chardonnays in the state. Check it out at the sensational (and adjacent) Brokenwood cellar door, a must-visit for wine and food devotees.
Newcastle Golf Club
Despite the accolades heaped on it by many of Australia’s greatest professionals and being perennially rated in the top 25 courses in Australia, Newcastle Golf Club mysteriously remains, to many, one of our great golf secrets. Whatever the reason for that, the fact is there is no better layout or test of golf to be found in the region and ‘Stockton’, as it is known locally, has to be included on your itinerary.
“Newcastle Golf Club mysteriously remains, to many, one of our great golf secrets… there is no better layout or test of golf to be found in the region.”
Wine match: Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon 2017 ($65)
Much like Newcastle Golf Club, Vat 1 is an aristocrat of the Hunter, and one of Australia’s greatest white wines. It also ages superbly for decades, gaining toasty complexity over time. Expensive, and it deserves to be. Go on, treat yourself.
There’s plenty to like and enjoy about Pacific Dunes, located in the Port Stephens region to the north-east of the winelands. It’s a challenging layout, particularly when the breeze is up, with numerous water hazards playing a part in strategy off the tee. It’s underrated, and worth taking the 45-minute drive from wine central to experience.
Wine match: Margan White Label Shiraz 2017 ($40)
From a very good year for wine in the Hunter, this elegant yet full-flavoured
red is great drinking now, and for a decade to come.
Horizons Golf Resort
A little name-dropping goes a long way, so I’ll mention that the last time I played Horizons I teed up with the great Henrik Stenson, albeit before he became a household name and Major champion. Suffice to say, though, that the course was thought suitable enough to host a European Tour event back in the early 2000s, and as such is also worthy of a place on any touring golfer’s itinerary.
Wine match: Briar Ridge Vineyard Dairy Hill Semillon 2018 ($35)
Like Henrik, long (on flavour) and precise. A truly excellent Hunter white worthy of attention.
Nelson Bay Golf Club
Nelson Bay is, quite simply, a lovely day out. The 27-hole treelined course follows the natural undulations of its seaside environment, and is home to abundant wildlife making it one of the most relaxing and picturesque experiences in the region.
Wine match: De Iuliis Shiraz Pinot Noir 2017 ($35)
Watch the sun go down from the balcony at Nelson Bay Golf Club while enjoying this sensationally fragrant, medium-bodied red from one of the Hunter’s most innovative producers.
Plan your next getaway now. Visit playgolfnewcastle.com.au