While much of the country shivers at this time of year, Queensland’s appeal for roaming golfers remains unmatched. 

As a kid, Queensland always held a certain mystique. It was a place of theme parks, excitement, aquatic adventures, beaches and perpetually warm weather. For most households from further south, it was the place to take families on holidays and indeed ours formed a stack of memories from our leisure time spent on the Gold and Sunshine coasts.

Once I became a golfer, the state held a new appeal. Stunning golf courses and luxurious resorts seen during televised tournaments of the 1980s and ’90s were within reach. I remember tackling the then-named Hyatt Regency Coolum course as a 14-year-old and losing more golf balls in 18 holes than I could remember yet loving every second of it. The 1990 version of Sanctuary Cove’s Palms course produced a similar reaction.

A 23-year career in the golf media has taken me back to Queensland on numerous occasions, yet curiously not since 2015. At long last, I broke that eight-year drought during a hectic week in May that delivered a reminder of the litany of good golf to be found in the lower-right corner of the Sunshine State, plus an insight into how the area has changed – for golf and otherwise.

The past eight years have been tumultuous for the Queensland golf scene and, sadly, not always for the better. North Lakes, Paradise Palms and Arundel Hills – all Top 100 Courses mainstays in their heyday – have all closed in that time, as have Hills International, Horton Park and, somewhat controversially, the much-loved Victoria Park course. Yet there have also been additions. Kooralbyn Valley re-opened in 2016 after an eight-year cessation, while newcomers since 2015 include Maroochy River, Maleny, Birdsville Dunes and Minnippi – Brisbane’s first new public golf course in 70 years – which will open later this year.

Development is not a dirty word in the River City. Whether it is Olympics-led or otherwise, there is a distinct push to promote Brisbane’s golf assets ahead of hosting the 2032 Games. The city has always been somewhat ‘stuck’ between two enviable destinations in the Gold and Sunshine coasts but shines in its own right via regal Royal Queensland, Brisbane Golf Club, Gailes, Nudgee, Keperra and Indooroopilly, where there is currently a hive of activity as both the clubhouse and parts of the 36-hole layout receive a makeover.

If there’s a central theme evident across South-East Queensland’s golf courses right now, it’s action. Few places were hit harder during the repetitive flooding that whacked much of the country’s east coast in the past year or two, so golf clubs have been forced to repair and recover courtesy of Mother Nature. However, COVID restrictions also played their part. So, many clubs have taken the opportunity to rejuvenate as well as repair their courses, and they’re looking collectively spectacular as a result.

The 27 holes at Keperra place a premium on accurate approach play.


Brisbane has often been given the nickname “Bris-Vegas” or “Brisneyland” for some. Such monikers are silly and a bit pointless but however you’d like to label Australia’s third-largest city, it is a haven for golfers. One of the courses where dedicated effort is reaping rewards is Brisbane Golf Club, which sits just south of the river in the suburb of Yeerongpilly. The club lured David Mason from Melbourne’s vaunted Metropolitan Golf Club to become course superintendent early last year, and it was a ‘baptism of flood’ for the incoming super. The major flooding struck right as Mason began his tenure, pushing him, his staff and the entire club into defence mode once again.

The club had unfortunately seen it all before – the horrific 2011 floods affected the course as well – and having to experience the same clean-up operation could have been heartbreaking. Yet the club took a different viewpoint and used the setback to improve its layout. Yes, clean-up work was required but the layout today looks, plays and breathes far better than it did before. Trees that once suffocated parts of the layout are now gone, while the improvements are set to continue as course architect Paul Mogford from Crafter + Mogford Golf Strategies is currently developing a course masterplan, which includes enhancing the practice range.

Brisbane is a layout that calls for precise approach shots. It is not long at 6,105 metres from the back tees and is not overly penal off the tee. However, your approach – whether it’s your second, third or umpteenth shot – had better be on the mark. A fine example of this comes at the third hole, a 351-metre par 4 that rises to a pulpit-style green with steep runoffs on both sides and in front. Regardless of how you play the hole, sooner or later you need to challenge that green complex with an assured shot.

Another Brisbane hallmark is its Champion Ultradwarf Bermuda grass – a first in Australia. Southerners will notice how it’s a far less grainy surface to putt on than is often found in Queensland.

Keperra Country Golf Club is a sliver of seclusion for 27 holes in the city’s north-west. With a primarily bush setting, the location offers a genuine distinction from the mostly open courses across Brisbane.

Like many 27-holers, there was a definite ‘poor cousin’ nine, and for Keperra that used to be the 19-27 loop. Not anymore, though, after a concerted effort to raise the standard of the West nine to match the other 18. These days, members and visitors don’t mind which configuration an 18-hole round includes, says general manager Gavin Lawrence, as rounds played across the course has become more uniform.

Keperra’s layout features several small greens, which make for clear-cut targets. It’s no surprise to learn that Peter Senior and John Senden – two noted sharp-shooters through their irons – played their early golf here. Competitors in the annual Keperra Bowl, a prestigious national amateur event held each October, also recognise the need for pinpoint iron play.

One hole that amplifies this quality is the tiny eighth. The 135-metre par 3 caught the attention of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – who played an exhibition match at Keperra in 1971 – as they threaded short irons through a chute of trees from the tee while trying to avoid Kedron Brook, which winds through the course and sits ominously close to the left edge of the green. Afterwards, Nicklaus told club officials that the eighth was a hole that should never be altered.

Keperra recently opened a genius short-game facility within its practice fairway. Aimed to be a training ground for young kids, one end of the practice fairway now has six small greens, shaped and contoured to be played from short distances. Designed by David Burrup, the mini-course is an ideal stepping stone and fills an important gap in the progression of young and novice golfers between hitting balls and tackling the main course. It also serves as a handy short-game sharpener for better golfers. The full practice range facility has not been lost, however, as the space switches between the two uses depending on demand and the day and time.

Few Queensland courses have ever experienced the physical transformation that befell Nudgee Golf Club. An extensive upgrade of the Gateway Motorway consumed land containing seven holes of the existing 36-hole facility in Brisbane’s north-east. As compensation, the club received $20 million, part of which it used to redesign its two courses in a way that yielded land to accommodate the expanded motorway.

James Wilcher was the architect called in for the job and the new-look Kurrai and Bulka courses continue a tradition of respect for the land. “The transformation is really something special,” Wilcher says.

“The name Nudgee is derived from ‘wild black duck’ in the Turrbal language,” added general manager Darren Richards earlier this year. “We engaged with the local Turrbal Tribe elders and invited them to visit the land.

“Throughout the development we had labelled the courses East and West. When asked for her advice, the Turrbal elder drew a connection between the east and the west to sunrise and sunset, explaining that ‘Bulka’ and ‘Kurrai’ mean sunset and sunrise in their language. Once we heard the suggested names, we stepped through a process to gain member endorsement for the courses to be known as ‘The Bulka’ and ‘The Kurrai’. The names represent a real connection for us being so deeply meaningful to the traditional owners of the land.”

The Bulka is shorter than Kurrai, but deliberately so to create a point of difference, but golfer traffic indicates little if any favouritism between the pair. The Kurrai received a double dose of exposure last year from staging two Queensland PGA Championships. A quirk of the post-COVID calendar meant the 2021 edition was staged in January 2022, won by Anthony Quayle, with the 2022 version held last November, which Aaron Wilkin claimed.

The land the two courses sits upon is almost entirely flat. It’s also an exposed site, prone to strong winds whistling across the two layouts. Appropriately, Wilcher penned two courses that fit the landscape. He provided ample playing corridors in most instances and toughened the examination closer to the hole. As such, Nudgee has two distinctive features: undulating greens – some wildly – and flashed-up bunker lips, many of which disguise how much safety exists on the other side. The result is an eye-catching duo of golf courses.

The evolution of Brookwater Golf & Country Club in many ways resembles the area it’s in. When the course opened in 2002, Brookwater was a far-flung and largely uninhabited section of Brisbane that many deemed not even part of the greater city. These days, it forms part of a vast growth corridor with a population and facilities to match.

The golf course, meanwhile, quickly earned a reputation for difficulty. It was tough, yes, but not in an excessive way; you just had to play smart to score well. It’s a quality that shines through at Brookwater today, but a minor redesign a few years ago softened some of its harsher edges. One example is the ninth green, which was positively Lilliputian in size at first but now provides a larger, friendlier target. Other green sites and contours were also softened, at the first, third, 10th and 13th holes, while all greens were resurfaced, bunkers reconstructed and selected trees cleared. The changes were made with playability in mind, but also maintaining the integrity of the original challenge.

Brookwater’s reputation for toughness remains, and rightly so. However, I’ve long contended it’s not as difficult as it looks. It is deceptively wide if you know where to find the space. It is visually intimidating but the optics make several holes seem narrower than they truly are, such as at the eighth hole. Stand on the tee there and you see a water carry and a super-tight fairway that gradually rises towards the distant green. It’s very easy to see the trouble plus the treelines lining both sides and just a slip of fairway as safety in between. Yet the water carry is no more than 100 metres, even from the back tee, and the sharp contours of the saddle-shaped fairway will rescue almost any drive that veers left or right (within reason). It’s a classic Brookwater moment, one where first instincts have you tightening up, but the reality is far less daunting. I played some mediocre golf in my most recent visit and lost just one ball – and needed to hit a truly woeful shot to do so.

Brookwater is a welcome and important piece of the fabric of Brisbane and Queensland golf. The road network makes it accessible from either the Gold Coast or Brisbane, making it a must-play destination during any visit to the Sunshine State.

The innate difficulty of Brookwater is often more visual than anything.


I was nonchalantly munching on a pie from Pete’s Village Bakery at Yandina in between course visits (side note: I heartily recommend the steak and mushroom), watching the world go by from the outdoor seating area when a scruffy-looking chap wandered past. What I noticed more than his appearance, however, was the Titleist cap on his head. Golf lives and breathes on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, even in the most unlikely of places.

Speaking of which, I’d just left Maleny Golf Club, the hinterland course built on the side of a hill that famously went viral during the early days of COVID because Adam Scott was enticed to play a social media-broadcast round there. The Graham Papworth-designed layout across what was formerly dairy farms began as nine holes, later grew to 12 and has been 18 holes since 2020, but a perception exists that it’s still less than the complete number. Not so, says general manager Stephen Porter, who adds that a common reaction to the topography-rich course is to label it a “spectacular challenge”.

It’s not difficult to see why. Numerous elevation changes – including from the opening two tee shots – characterise the layout. The drive at the par-5 second hole, for instance, calls for a slinging draw (for righties) to a fairway below that’s canted like a velodrome. The right shot shape using the terrain will be rewarded with a look at the green for the second shot. It’s a common theme on approach shots, too, where the greens are contoured to call for certain flights to either hold the green, work the ball nearer to the cup or both. Bunkers are minimal and those that exist have exquisite revetted faces. Other than sand, patches of long grass – perhaps 20 to 30 centimetres long – act as ball-swallowing hazards. Or, in the case of the first hole, there’s a picturesque but ominous rock wall flanking the side of the opening target.

Conquering Maleny is an exercise in disciplined course management. Course superintendent Mick McCombe says good players often won’t use a driver off the tee before the ninth hole. Even Grant Field, Cameron Smith’s Sunshine Coast-based swing coach, brings his charges there to teach them the art of course management.

The kikuyu fairways and Tifdwarf greens aren’t an agronomy combination seen every day, but the two grass types unite to provide a stout challenge. The club thinks of itself as the best-drainage course in the region, save for the Bribie Island course which is built on sand. Golf is playable at Maleny after a rain event more often than other courses in the area. For most of the year temperatures are about 4 degrees cooler in the hinterland, which is handy to know in the summer months in particular.

The drive to and from Maleny winds though gorgeous and scenic towns like Landsborough and Montville, with the striking Glasshouse Mountains providing a stately backdrop. The road back down from the elevated hinterland affords an outlook that showcases the best-known parts of the Sunshine Coast, and few courses are better known than Palmer Coolum Resort.

Hosting 11 straight Australian PGA Championships (2002-2012) among a solid résumé of tournament stagings gave almost every Australian golfer a certain degree of knowledge of the Robert Trent Jones Jnr-designed layout. The watery closing hole, imposing Mt Coolum framing the course, John Daly’s infamous drowned putter – the memories are as indelible as they are plentiful. Yet the course and resort fell from grace, and quickly. Under the ownership of the unpredictable Clive Palmer, tournaments and golfers slid into the background as instead dinosaurs and vintage cars gained prominence. The PGA of Australia sidled out of the picture and took its championship south to Royal Pines, resort guests dwindled and golfers followed as the course went into disrepair. It was a dark period for one of the nation’s brightest and most popular resorts.

A thorough renovation has The Pines course at Sanctuary Cove looking fresh. Next up: revamping The Palms course.

Palmer Coolum emerged from its slumber a few years ago, dedicated grounds staff quietly reviving the condition of the layout. After falling out of our Top 100 Courses ranking, it snuck back onto the list in 2020 and held there in 2022. Whispers that “Coolum is back!” began to circulate, but were they accurate?

Well, the rumours are true. The great dame of Queensland resort golf is indeed back, the course in arguably better shape than ever, a fact being noticed at the top echelon of the sport. Seeking solace and a quiet place to practise and prepare for his 2023 campaign, Adam Scott used Coolum as his base for two weeks in January. Soon, Lucas Herbert caught on to the same idea and did likewise, while Jed Morgan also joined in.

The playing surfaces are sparkling once more and every bunker has been renovated using the Capillary method. About the only change from the pre-2012 era to today is a switch of the two nines, which places the former 10th hole as the first for logistical reasons (the former first tee is some distance from the clubhouse).

One eye-catching quirk remains. In place of the giant model Tyrannosaurus rex that occupied a prime position between the first tee and 18th green until its demise by fire in 2015 is now a cupola monument commemorating Palmer’s membership in the 44th Australian Parliament.

Elsewhere, in a recovery of an entirely different kind, Pelican Waters Golf Club is back taking bookings ahead of its re-opening on July 1 after a substantial renovation. Parts of the 22-year-old course needed to be reconfigured and redesigned to accommodate a vast, $70 million, over-50s residential development called Palm Lake Resort Pelican Waters.

The money put towards improving the golf course yielded five revamped greens (the 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th, bearing in mind Pelican Waters reversed its nines in 2021), all redesigned by Greg Norman’s design company. Also new are a short-game practice area, mini-golf course, the clubhouse and more. When golfers return, they’ll see a striking blend of golf and residential and an insight into modern seniors living.

Leading the way on the Sunshine Coast when it comes to mixing golf and real-estate precincts has long been Noosa Springs Golf & Spa Resort. The complex turns 25 next year and owns a desirable location close to the beating heart of ever-trendy Noosa.

The Graham Papworth-designed golf course has remained popular and playable throughout its first quarter century, but these days the members are saying it’s in the best condition they’ve seen it in years. That’s partly down to the upgrade to the irrigation system that has the playing surfaces in constantly improving condition. After all, you can’t be part of the Noosa scene without looking your absolute best.

The green fee is worth paying just to play Noosa Springs’ fifth hole. “Risk/reward” is often a cliché in golf, but this 329-metre par 4 might be the best example of the concept in Queensland. The fairway doglegs right around a lake that lines that entire side of the hole, with a pinch-point and bunkering at the turn. There is scope to blast a drive over the corner of the water and leave a short pitch to the green, but most golfers will be better served veering left from the tee. Why is the fifth so good? Because taking the more cautious line from the tee drastically increases the difficulty of the second shot, putting the risk/reward quotient for both shots in the golfer’s mind standing on the tee.

Another perennial Sunshine Coast favourite is Twin Waters Golf Club, which melds links qualities with a tropical location and climate. Members, regular visitors and guests of the attached resort keep coming back because the offering is always – and pleasingly – the same. In some ways Twin Waters is the chicken parmigiana of golf courses. It might not be the most lavish item on the golf menu but it’s still very good, plus everyone loves it and you know exactly what you’re going to get whenever you ‘order’ it.

The course was the first rendition of bringing links-style features to Queensland by Thomson Wolveridge Perrett, the 1991 opening pre-dating Hope Island by a couple of years and Palmer Sea Reef at Port Douglas by several more. The hybrid approach of pot bunkers and rippled, linksy contours gelled with golfers immediately, the eighth hole even something of an homage to the Road Hole at St Andrews. Such an unlikely combination has proven to be a winner for more than 30 years.

Heading south, I began to wonder, Is Bribie Island part of the Sunshine Coast, part of Brisbane, neither or both? Technically part of the Moreton Bay region, “Bribie” is roughly halfway between the Queensland capital and the Sunshine Coast, making it accessible from either place. However, Bribie Island Golf Club feels like a touch of the Melbourne Sandbelt, courtesy of its naturally sand terrain. So much so that club manager Steve Middleton says people often refer to it as the “Queensland Sandbelt”.

With fairways framed by paperbarks, gums and other native flora, the layout’s most prominent feature is the unkempt sandy waste off the side of the verdant fairways. The same natural sand is used for the bunkers, giving the course its Sandbelt qualities. Such a base is also particularly useful for drainage after the heavens open.

“We can have a torrential downpour with rivers running across greens that would close most courses, but we’re often back playing in 15 minutes,” Middleton says. “If it’s been raining for three days in Brisbane, golfers will come up here to play.”

Still, the flooding of recent years was enough to close the course for five weeks at the longest stint, but the club has since taken resilience measures, including further improving its
drainage systems to better handle those sustained tropical downpours. “It’s back to being the Bribie that everyone knows and enjoys, with great fairways and greens and sandy lies off to the side,” Middleton says.

There’s another reason golfers flock to Bribie: solitude. “There are no planes, no roads, no neighbours, no residents and no noise. It’s just serenity,” Middleton adds.

The appeal of Lakelands has not waned.


Few locations resonate with golfers in the way the Gold Coast does. What’s not to like? There’s abundant sun, surf, a vibrant night life – and a plethora of top resort courses to play. This trip allowed me time to visit four, all of which would be right at home on any travel itinerary.

Lakelands Golf Club is part of the wave of course enhancement that’s permeating South-East Queensland golf. Most of the greens at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course have recently been renovated, with two – the 13th and 17th – replaced entirely. Add some general tidying of the course, including underneath trees and along the edges of the water features, most notably at the cheeky par-3 14th hole, and you have a noticeably revitalised layout.

Another course aged in its mid-20s, Lakelands has stood the test of time. It’s relentlessly solid throughout, meaning it is perfectly playable for mid and high handicappers who are prepared to remain patient and take what the course gives them, but it will goad better golfers into taking the daring play from time to time. The eighth hole is the best example. A par 4 with a lengthy fairway bunker and water down the left and the same lake in play in front of the green, the key feature of the hole is perhaps its smallest. A single pot-like bunker in the centre of the fairway asks golfers to take a path either left, right or over it. That decision frames the options for what is often a delicate second shot. There are similar calls to make on the back nine, where a series of testing holes call for accurate golf to preserve a score as the round closes.

Lakelands’ members are active golfers, but non-members can still secure tee-times on at least five days each week. Only on Saturdays and most of Wednesdays do members have exclusive use of the layout.

The northern reaches of the region are home to three courses that are something of a fulcrum to any Gold Coast golf trip. Two are part of Sanctuary Cove Golf & Country Club, while the third is conveniently right across the road at Links Hope Island. All three – once again – have undergone some form of improvement work.

Since 2020, $4.5 million has gone towards a transformation of The Pines course at Sanctuary Cove. After the installtion of a new irrigation infrastructure along with extensive development of the practice facilities, the course underwent a greens replacement program during COVID. The largely grain-free TifEagle greens today roll as purely as any surfaces in this part of the country. With the addition of rebuilt bunkers, renovated tees, upgraded cartpaths, improved drainage and a little judicious tree removal (although the majestic stands of pine trees that are the course’s hallmark most definitely remain), the 34-year-old layout looks completely rejuvenated. It’s not hard to see why The Pines was originally seen as the first choice for LIV Golf’s debut in Australia before the South Australian Government swooped in.

Across at The Palms course, further upgrades are coming to the Fred Bolton design that Ross Watson redesigned in 2011. This time, Paul Mogford will spearhead an enhancement program that’s in keeping with Sanctuary Cove’s commitment to maintaining the best facilities possible. His focus will be on improving the bunkers using DuraCrumb rubber lining and new sand, plus reducing mowing in non-play areas, improving drainage across the playing surfaces and softening several greens to improve playability.

“The existing Palms golf course provides us with an excellent canvas to create an enhanced and unique player experience,” Mogford says. “The Palms is already world-class, so our job is to re-imagine the course from a player perspective to create a more strategic and aesthetic experience while prioritising the playability and fairness of the course.”

The watery par-3 ninth is one of two new holes at Links Hope Island.

Booking a game at either course now requires golfers to stay at the 5-star InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort, as all non-member play is now reserved for resort guests and select tour groups. But if you’re going to do the Gold Coast properly, why not make the splurge? Like the golf courses, the 251 resort suites were renovated in 2020, as were other key elements of the stunning resort. The new furnishings and layout are inspired by its vast lagoon beach pool and the four hectares of tropical gardens.

If you’re looking for another course that’s in supreme condition, Links Hope Island is in peak shape. The layout brought links-like contours and bunkering to the Gold Coast and, like its neighbour, continues to produce surfaces envied across Queensland. Attention to the ‘one-percent’ things, such as clearing debris and undergrowth from beneath the stands of trees between fairways, has kept the Thomson Wolveridge Perrett design from showing its age. Indeed, the course looks as sharp as it did on the day it opened, 30 years ago.

If you think you already know Hope Island, you might want to guess again. The course recently welcomed a new third hole, which was redesigned from a long par 3 into a short par 4 of about 330 metres. The revamped hole now plays from a series of new tees to a well-bunkered fairway then to the existing green complex, which, it is fair to say, better suits a pitch-length approach than it ever did a long iron, hybrid or fairway wood.

The changes to the third were made largely to alleviate pace-of-play issues that often occur when long par 3s fall early in the round rather than any desire to return the course par to 72. It had dipped to 71 when a new ninth hole was added two years ago to make way for a new driving range, the exciting water-carry par 3 replacing what was a ho-hum par 4. At 156 metres, the carry won’t make better golfers tremble, but the par 3 works as a fine complement to the famous – and treacherous – 224-metre 17th. Both new holes are worthy additions to a course that has required few improvements in its time.

The alterations at Hope Island are indicative of the flurry of activity that has gripped so many courses in South-East Queensland in the past few years. Golf courses don’t stand still, a fact that is rammed home when you don’t visit for so long. I know I won’t be leaving it another eight years to return.