A local’s guide to the Queensland golf trip calling you in 2021.
I get it. I was once like you. A southerner who didn’t feel as though he could get through even a mildly frigid winter without an escape of some description to the Sunshine State.
In the early days of our relationship it was a cheeky three-day weekend with the wife; in time a family holiday with theme parks and beaches thrown in. When I got really lucky there was a golf trip on the boss’s dime to explore a new course in the Australian golf portfolio and when someone found the time – and motivation – there might even be a mates getaway, an excursion of excess that proved to be just as lucrative for the local watering holes as it was for the resort courses’ sales of once submerged golf balls.
But for the past year Queensland has been the domain primarily only of Queenslanders. Our family left lockdown and headed straight for the Sunshine Coast. Rather than head south for school holidays, we went whale watching at Hervey Bay.
Golf has been booming up this way with tee-times as scarce as a sky blue jersey down Caxton Street, but we’d be lying if we said we haven’t missed you (and your tourism dollars). The good news is that the borders are back open, the golf courses are mint and we’re ready to welcome our southern brethren again with open arms. Whatever you need from a south-east Queensland sojourn, there’s a destination just perfect for you.
Action aplenty on the Gold Coast
There’s an energy to a Gold Coast holiday that is undeniable. It is a dangerously intoxicating mix of Las Vegas and Hawaii, with laid-back beach vibe and a nightlife renowned for encouraging the party animal within.
With the exception of some local member courses, golf was not an obvious fit on the ‘GC’ until the resort course boom of the 1980s and early 1990s transformed Australia’s favourite holiday playground into also one of the country’s most desirable combination of golf and good times.
The Graham Marsh-designed Palm Meadows was the first to be unveiled in 1987 followed soon after by Sanctuary Cove (1988), Royal Pines (1990), Robina Woods (1990), Paradise Springs (1992), Links Hope Island (1993), Lakelands (1997) and Glades (2000).
With the exception of upgrades at Royal Pines and also Sanctuary Cove’s Palms course, little has changed in the past 20 years but the sentiment remains the same; there’s more quality golf than can fit on most itineraries.
One perennial favourite that is undergoing some changes is Links Hope Island, a new prestige 46-property precinct titled ‘The Gallery’ opening the door for the late Mike Wolveridge to have input along with Ross Perrett and Warren Duncan into a new par 3 prior to his passing.
‘There’s an energy to a Gold Coast holiday that is undeniable. It is a dangerously intoxicating mix of Las Vegas and Hawaii.’
The original layout was the first completed by the team of Peter Thomson, Wolveridge and Perrett, its distinctive pot bunkering in a resort course giving it a character of all of its own. By engaging Wolveridge to make one final pass with his paintbrush, that character will be maintained with a new ninth hole that will play across the lake that formerly served as the driving range, a knee-knocker with a mid-iron before you make the turn. With the old par-4 ninth being converted into the new driving range, there are also plans to extend the par-3 third hole to a par 4 measuring 320 metres that will ensure the layout retains two nines each playing to a par of 36. With an emphasis on providing members with a premium experience but providing a welcoming environment to guests, it provides another great excuse to get back to Links Hope Island.
Credited as the first golf resort in Australia when it opened in 1979, Kooralbyn Valley quickly became the destination of choice for the Aussie elite seeking a combination of luxury and seclusion. In July 2008 the resort closed but has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity since its reopening in 2016, the Desmond Muirhead-designed golf course as rousing and awe-inspiring as the day it was first played.
After a gentle start that uses a small lake to the left of the first green just to keep you honest, Kooralbyn’s boldness takes hold from the third hole that twists within the native bushland. It is followed shortly after by the jaw-dropping par-3 fifth where the green sits 30 metres below the tee and a tick further than 200 metres away. A watercourse feeds through much of the layout but is at its most impactful at the par-4 15th and par-3 17th as you either try to keep a good round intact or wish ill on the ball your mate is playing.
Go big in Brisbane
Southerners may snigger – especially those who visit Queensland’s rugby league cathedral at State of Origin time – but if an air of sophistication exists in the land of big pineapples, it is within the boundaries of the city capital. Eagle Street Pier is a Friday-night favourite, South Bank offers a slightly more chilled vibe and the adjacent Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Museum and Gallery of Modern Art the hub for the culturally inclined.
‘There is a level of class and history to Brisbane’s premier golf courses that, while not an obvious golf destination, is richly rewarding to those who appreciate the finer things in life.’
There is a level of class and history to the city’s premier golf courses that, while not an obvious golf destination, is richly rewarding to those who appreciate the finer things in life.
Royal Queensland Golf Club’s place in Australian golf history has now stretched into its 101st year and across town Brisbane Golf Club continues to get better with age, drawing a mix of elite amateurs and professionals, golf-mad sportspeople of various codes and a loyal membership base who have long known they belong to something special.
Home to the Queensland Open 21 times and most recently between 2016 and 2018, the three latest winners highlight just how the golf course brings quality to the surface – Brett Coletta, Jordan Zunic and Michael Sim all possessing laser-like irons and pure putting strokes. Celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2021, the club has a number of milestone events planned but is always welcoming to visitors eager to experience a championship test and relax in the heritage-listed clubhouse after their round.
Another Brisbane layout with a rich championship history is Keperra Country Golf Club, home to one of Australian golf’s most revered amateur events each year, the Keperra Bowl. The hottest young talent currently on the Australian scene, Elvis Smylie, has won the past two Keperra Bowls to join other recent winners such as Anthony Quayle, Jake Higginbottom, Daniel Gale and Charlie Dann. Turning 90 this year, Keperra’s most famous golf export is two-time PGA Tour winner John Senden and offers a 27-hole rolling round of tranquility at the base of the Taylor Range and just 15 minutes from the city centre.
The Greater Brisbane golf course that sits highest in our current Top 100 Courses ranking – and is home to the No.1 female tennis player on the planet and golf nut Ash Barty – is Brookwater Golf & Country Club. The centrepiece of the satellite city of Springfield just 35 minutes from the centre of Brisbane, Brookwater opened in 2002, its quintessential Australian bushland setting amid ironbarks and eucalypts creating a dramatic setting for golf.
The tight driving lines and narrow playing corridors also created a challenge few could best, yet in recent years the Greg Norman design team has taken steps to improve the playability of the course without diminishing its integrity. The continued expansion of residential precincts has served to give the impression that the course has been opened up considerably yet in truth the holes have changed little, only your perception of them.
The opening tee shot remains daunting, the third and fourth holes highlight the site’s dramatic topography, the 10th is like the climb on a roller-coaster’s ascent all building to a four-hole stretch that rivals any conclusion in the country. Little wonder our judges place it among the top 30 golf courses in Australia.
Super sunshine Coast
You need only stroll through the Eumundi Markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays to get a sense of the vibe you will find on the Sunshine Coast. Whether it’s those perusing the 500-odd stalls of all manner of fare or those selling their wares, the atmosphere of a chilled, earthy community seeps into every corner of a stretch of coastline measuring some 60 kilometres.
Whether it’s a slow-down sea change in retirement or a place to replenish and escape the stresses of city living even if only for a few days, the Sunny Coast is a place of rejuvenation and its golf courses tap into that in a diverse way.
‘Whether it’s a slow-down sea change in retirement or a place to replenish and escape the stresses of city living even if only for a few days, the Sunshine Coast is a place of rejuvenation and its golf courses tap into that in a diverse way.’
The long-time home of the Jack Newton Celebrity Classic, Twin Waters Golf Club and the adjacent Novotel Sunshine Coast Resort have been a favourite destination since the opening of the Thomson Wolveridge design in 1991. On face value, Twin Waters may appear to be a typical resort golf course yet its appreciation grows when you delve deeper into its makeup. You might arrive to the first tee feeling relaxed but the tee shot across water at the par-3 second will quickly snap you out of your slumber. Holes five to seven demand precision over power while the design of the green at the par-4 eighth drew its inspiration from the famous ‘Road Hole’ at St Andrews’ Old Course. The par-3 11th lulls many into a soft bogey and the subsequent par 4s at 12 and 13 demand careful consideration from the tee on the strategy you choose to attack them with. The high level of customer service adds to the occasion and afterwards you can retire to the Novotel Resort and indulge in water sports on the saltwater lagoon, a massage at the Twin Waters Day Spa or sip a beverage by the pool at SOLA.
If you enjoy some altitude with your coastal retreats, the addition of Maleny Golf Club has given a new layer to the Sunshine Coast Hinterland experience. A community project that harks back to the game’s origins, the Graham Papworth design has had 18 holes in play for a little longer than a year and was the golf course of choice when Adam Scott was home during the COVID-19 lockdown. The nine-hole match Scott played with general manager and former touring pro Wayne Perske gave the unassuming club worldwide exposure and its unspoiled setting has become a popular draw for golfers ever since.
For the complete Maleny experience, book in to one of the 270 B&Bs found within the tiny township and sample a tasting at the Brouhaha Brewery, where you can partner a Brouhaha Milk Stout and Maleny wagyu hotdog with a Hinterland Pale Ale.
Another Sunshine Coast change of pace is on offer at Maroochy River Golf Club. It’s enticement to age demographics is as wide open as the Graham Marsh-designed golf course that has become a popular tournament venue for both professional and top amateur events. With Mount Coolum as a backdrop, the landscape has matured beautifully since opening in 2015 and it currently owns the honour of being No.100 in our biennial ranking of Australia’s Top 100 Courses.
The junior program has been a feature since the club’s move from Horton Park and that family-friendly focus has been elevated even further since the opening of the mini-golf course in November 2019, the club putting through 6,000 rounds in the first month. With a contemporary clubhouse offering expansive views across the golf course, it’s the perfect place to find yourself late in the afternoon under the setting sun.
FEATURE IMAGE: Gary Lisbon