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South-east Queensland: New and improved - Australian Golf Digest South-east Queensland: New and improved - Australian Golf Digest

New touches to some old favourites is reason enough to rediscover south-east Queensland.

There tend to be two types of travellers: those seeking new adventures in previously unseen locales and those who enjoy the familiarity of an annual sojourn and the stress-free comfort it brings. Golf trips to south-east Queensland currently satisfy both of those criteria.

The resort boom of the 1980s gave the Gold Coast instant credibility as a golf destination that provided an array of opportunities both on and off the golf course, Brisbane has matured into an under-rated metropolitan melting pot of golf while the Sunshine Coast has some fresh new faces amid holiday sanctuaries that have been welcoming visitors for decades.

Given it has been nigh on impossible to enter the Sunshine State for the best part of two years, 2022 shapes as the ideal time to reacquaint yourself with some forgotten fairways and discover the enhancements and new additions stretching from Coolangatta to Coolum.

Like so much of the Queensland tourism industry since the onset of COVID-19, golf tours in the state’s south-east have been decimated, yet director of golfOZ Tours, Emma Beauclerc, finally sees some hope for the future.

Links Hope Island opened its new ninth hole in July.

“There’s no doubt that the past two years have been the toughest in terms of bringing interstate travellers into Queensland to play golf, but we’re crossing our fingers that we will be getting back towards business as usual in the early months of 2022,” Beauclerc says.

“Traditionally our busiest period is from April through to August and September, but if we can see some movement on the border closures earlier than that then I’ve got no doubt we’ll see golfers heading to Queensland as soon as possible.

“The great thing about that is that when they arrive they will see some exciting changes at many of the courses up and down the coast. On the Gold Coast, Links Hope Island has a brand new ninth hole, the Pines course at Sanctuary Cove has all new greens that are simply amazing and we’re seeing major course improvements carried out at courses such as Lakelands and The Glades. I’d argue that Brookwater has never been more popular after its recent changes and with Coolum coming back online and Maroochy River maturing, the Sunshine Coast is as strong as it’s ever been.

“For those who have been unable to visit in the past few years, there is a lot to look forward to.”

The Pines course at Sanctuary Cove recently completed a $5 million greens renovation project.

 A fresh approach

For a course embedded with Australian architectural royalty, Links Hope Island experienced very little change in its first 25 years of existence. Nobody ever suggested a touch-up to the Mona Lisa and the Hope Island layout at the hands of Peter Thomson, Michael Wolveridge and Ross Perrett has also stood the test of time.

Acknowledging the esteem for which the course was held, when new owners proposed some alterations to accommodate a new residential precinct, they brought Wolveridge back for what would be his final imprint on Australian golf. Wolveridge reconnected with Perrett and the TP Golf team on the design and the result is the new par-3 ninth that plays 156 metres from the back tees and which opened for the first time on July 4.

It plays directly across the lake that formerly served as the driving range and which is now populated by swans, pelicans and ducks, with kangaroos regularly lazing behind the catchment area at the back of the green. The hole plays in the opposite direction to the signature 17th hole and grows in difficulty when the northerly wind starts to blow with any gusto.

The old ninth fairway has been converted to a grass driving range for members and visitors and the club is still contemplating turning the 191-metre par-3 third hole into a short par 4 to return the course to a par of 72. The Gallery residential precinct that sits behind the ninth tee has sold out and the owners are in the process of selling a new estate titled Saffron, the opening in March of the Champions Hair Beauty Day Spa with seven treatment rooms and new yoga studio adding to the diversity of the Links Hope Island offering.

Like Hope Island, Sanctuary Cove Golf & Country Club has a proud place in Australian golf folklore having opened in 1988 with a star-studded gala event featuring Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston and a skins game where Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus and course designer Arnold Palmer thrilled the huge gallery in attendance.

Maleny Golf Club has developed a healthy following

The Pines course at Sanctuary Cove will forever be Palmer’s only Australian golf course design and that legacy is as treasured today as when it opened more than 30 years ago. The $5 million renovation of all 18 greens has restored as much as 25 per cent of the greens’ surface area, but it is the conversion from Bermuda 328 grass to TifEagle ultradwarf that has completely transformed the putting experience. While the original contours have been retained, the finer TifEagle leaf allows course superintendent Paul McLean and his staff to cut the greens at a lower height, which produces a roll that can only be described as pure and exaggerates the subtle break built into the original design. Start your putt on the right line and you can walk them in from 10 feet away.

Elsewhere on the course, there are new bunkers at the par-5 17th that come into play with your tee shot, lay-up and final approach into the green and the three spare holes have been enhanced to become a popular spot for members and tour players seeking some afternoon practice.

The adjacent Palms course continues to delight members and visitors, the Ross Watson design challenging decision-making from the tee as much as execution.

Brookwater remains a favourite in Brisbane.

The opening of Maroochy River Golf Club in 2015 represented the beginning of a new era for golf on the Sunshine Coast. Previously visitors had been restricted to resort-style layouts or parkland member courses, but the transfer of Horton Park Golf Club to Maroochy River delivered something completely unique to the region.

Designed by Graham Marsh, Maroochy River’s emergence from a flat sugar-cane field provided an instant point of difference, its open layout and exposure to wind presenting a diverse range of experiences depending on the conditions of the day. Firm putting surfaces shortly after completion made holding approach shots problematic for only the best ball-strikers, but the course has settled, matured and become one of Queensland’s most popular venues for elite amateur events and pro-ams on both the adidas PGA Pro-Am Series and SParms Legends Tour. It has also become a drawcard for families thanks to the mini-golf course designed by Mini Golf Creations, its popularity injecting a fun, welcoming atmosphere to all those who walk through the door.

Another unique addition to the Sunshine Coast golf experience can be found in the hinterland at the community-driven Maleny Golf Club. A passion project that took the committee years to wade through council red tape and environmental requirements to even begin construction, Maleny graduated to an 18-hole layout in February 2020 and received worldwide exposure when Adam Scott used it as his personal plaything during the early months of the pandemic. The setting is spectacular, the atmosphere one that harks back to golf’s earliest traditions and its connection to the local community one that other clubs would do well to adopt.

Designed by Graham Papworth, the course opens with a downhill par-3 followed by a sweeping par 5 and short, dogleg par 4. With a limited budget the holes work within the natural terrain, the first three holes of the back nine playing around a creek that meanders throughout the property. At 5,057 metres stretched to its maximum, Maleny it is by no means long but don’t think for a moment that they are giving pars away for free. Placement off the tee is critical to play approach shots into the right section of the green and best access to the hole location.

Prior to the resurgence came a resurrection at Peregian Springs Golf Course after the former private facility was placed under administration. Golf Services Management was appointed to manage the golf-course operations in 2016 and after signing a new five-year lease in July has begun to implement further improvements both on and off the course. Embracing a mantra of delivering a premium golf experience but in a warm and inviting atmosphere, Peregian Springs has been transformed into a thriving golf facility in an idyllic setting just 15 minutes from Sunshine Coast Airport.

Peregian Springs is on the comeback trail.

The course itself builds in drama as the round progresses and will be elevated even further after a course review conducted by Phil Ryan and Paul Reeves of Pacific Coast Design, the team also responsible for the new public course in Brisbane due to open midway through 2022, Minnippi Golf Course at Cannon Hill. GSM will also oversee further expansions to the on-site restaurant and clubhouse at Peregian Springs and the impressive practice facilities are accompanied by world-class coaching services led by Lucas Herbert’s coach, Dominic Azzopardi, and highly-regarded PGA member Katie Must. Golfers from throughout the Sunshine Coast have enjoyed reconnecting with Peregian Springs during the past two years and the staff are eagerly awaiting the chance to welcome interstate visitors back.

It is not a newcomer like Maroochy River and Maleny, but the most exciting news for Sunshine Coast golf might just be the re-emergence of Palmer Coolum Resort. The former home of the Australian PGA Championship has endured a chequered period in recent years but with resources being poured back into the golf course, it is getting closer and closer to recapturing its former glory.

No other course in the region boasts as many awe-inspiring tee shots as Coolum which, combined with mint fairways and pure putting greens, makes it once again the big-ticket item of Sunshine Coast golf. The course had begun a complete bunker renovation program but when word got out that the course was back online and in great condition, those major works were put on hold. Only the 18th hole was completed so that the surge of golfers coming back to the property were not duly affected. A locals pass has proven extremely popular and when interstate travel once again opens up, visitors will have the chance to fall in love with Coolum all over again.

If Coolum boasts a championship past, it is Pelican Waters Golf Club that has become the modern-day home of the Queensland Open. The Greg Norman/Bob Harrison design has hosted the past two state Opens and Palm Lake Group is in the process of building a new clubhouse, world-class practice facilities – including a six-green short game area – and new golf holes with Norman’s fingerprints embedded into the turf. Yet perhaps most excitingly at a time when mini golf has never been bigger, Pelican Waters is getting a world-first Great White Shark mini-golf course that will be as popular with resort guests as the residents in surrounding suburbs and beyond.

Gailes Golf Club is a past host of the Australian Open.

Norman’s latest work at Pelican Waters follows closely after alterations to Brookwater Golf & Country Club, west of Brisbane, that has sent its popularity soaring. When it opened almost 20 years ago a round at Brookwater was often accompanied by a post-mortem dominated by a head count of the golf balls left behind, but the Norman updates and adjustments have made golf at Brookwater just as challenging but with a renewed desire among golfers to return and play it again as soon as possible.

“It’s always great to come back to one of my designs and have the opportunity to modernise it and restore it to its original form, so to be able to return to Brookwater was extremely gratifying,” Norman said upon the completion of the redesign.

It’s been more than a decade since Brisbane Golf Club engaged Ross Watson to implement a masterplan that would bring the best out in the golf course, resulting in a return to our biennial ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the country.

With the layout well received and embedded into the property’s wildly fluctuating topography, the club has recently invested considerable funds into ensuring there is a level of presentation to match 12 months of the year. A new irrigation system at a cost of $1.5 million has not only improved coverage to all playing surfaces but given the greens staff a level of targeted control over the distribution of water across the entire course. Adding to that is the ongoing installation of the Matrix drainage system into all bunkers, another way in which the club is working to keep members and guests on the golf course, whatever the weather.

Just 15 minutes down the M7 lies another course with a significant place in the history of Australian golf enjoying a resurgence of its own. In 1955, four-time Open champion Bobby Locke beat future Open champion Kel Nagle and Norman von Nida – who had won three of the previous five Australian Opens – to claim the Stonehaven Cup at Gailes Golf Club after the championship was hastily moved due to wet weather.

It may not possess the gravitas of other championship courses in Brisbane but a round of golf at Gailes features twists and turns, rises and falls that guarantees you never play a hole the same way twice. A quintessential Australian parkland setting, the conditioning of Gailes has arguably never been better, the expansion of a dam beside the seventh green providing access to nutrient-rich H2O that has seen the putting surfaces thrive.

Those who have played Gailes in the past will feel instantly familiar with the routing, but will leave with a sense that it is a greater golf experience than which they remembered. The same could be said for many of south-east Queensland’s best golf courses.