by Selwyn Berg
It used to be known as Far North Queensland, but nothing is far in today’s jet age world and the region is a favoured tourist destination for International and Australian visitors alike.
Cairns, with its International Airport, wide selection of luxury hotels and fine dining provides easy access to the Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea Islands and Tropical Rainforests.
20km North of Cairns lies the delightful and peaceful village of Palm Cove with a good selection of accommodation and eateries. A further 45km drive via a winding coastal road reaches the bustling holiday hotspot that is Port Douglas.
But now there’s another reason to head for the Tropics…GOLF!!!
The Mirage Country Club was the first "resort" course in the region, built some 14 years ago, to be joined a couple of years later by the awesome championship layout of Paradise Palms just south of Palm Cove, where the Novotel Resort also boasts a quality nine hole resort layout.
Now, with the completion of Seatemple (The Links at Port Douglas), and a wonderful spirit of co-operation between the "resort" and "local" golf clubs in the region, Tropical North Queensland has become a "golf destination" in its own right.
The "locals" comprise Cairns Golf Club, Half Moon Bay Golf Club (at Yorkey’s Knob just North of Cairns), Mossman Golf Club and a further eight little courses.
PARADISE PALMS COUNTRY CLUB
Serious golfers will tune up their games and tackle this magnificent Marsh/Watson designed championship course that ranked as Australia’s No. 13 Public Access Course in the 2003 Golf Course Guide.
Situated at the very foot of the McAlister Ranges that provide a dramatic backdrop to many of the holes, the panorama is breathtaking.
Natural creeks create water crossings, and ornamental lakes supplement the lower reaches.
Played from the back tees at 6592m, the layout has stood the test of time to remain one of Australian golf’s sternest tests, rated 76 by the AGU. But one of the secrets to enjoyable and challenging golf is to select tee markers suited to each players’ own abilities. Four sets are provided at Paradise Palms, and white will suffice for all but the strongest of players. This will usually expose all players to the designers’ strategy, particularly with respect to bunkering off the tee. Recognising that driving bunkers have often been placed just where a scratch player would like to hit his drive will often reveal the best line of play.
The undulating fairways are pure Greenlees Park couch, the greens are large and often multi-tiered, grassed in slick tifdwarf. There are six lakes with water in play on several holes and 94 bunkers. Fairways wind through stands of native eucalypts, rainforest and palms, with magnificent flowering bougainvilleas and other exotic tropical species. Look out for goanna and wallabies.
Paradise Palms offers special rates to AGU affiliated golfers, as well as frequent player discounts, participation with local clubs and The Links "passport" packages and has first rate club house and locker room facilities for corporate events.
Sea Temple - formerly THE LINKS Port Douglas
Sea Temple presents new arrivals with a bumpy plain of green dotted with white bunkers, possibly evoking the question oft-asked at St Andrews "where are the golf holes?"
Mike Wolveridge of Thomson, Wolveridge & Perrett describes the course as "the world’s only tropical links" and the description is apt. Set against a backdrop of mountains and pierced by tranches of rainforest that spear between fairways, the course looks like and, importantly, plays like its namesake. Small bunkers abound. Many are deep and forbidding, guarding approaches and warning caution. Invariably, a lofted club is required, although thankfully the constructors have not created vertical sod-revetted faces that demand a sideways or backward escape.
Apart from the mountains and rainforests, the lushness of the Greenlees Park couch fairways and the wonderful climate remind the golfer that he is in the tropics. Yet the firm Bermuda 328 greens, with close-cropped fringes dictate that bump-and-run be the name of your game on this golf course, which has been "crafted" rather than built on sandy, wind blown open coastal land adjacent to the Coral Sea.
The tracts of rainforest within the course are protected by a series of "stripping channels" designed more to remove fairway nutrients than to act as water hazards. Thus the pristine waters within are protected, sporting Barramundi and other fish. In fact, fresh water meets the sea within these tracts much as the traditional British links join land and sea.
The large modern Northern Queenslander clubhouse with its huge shady verandah is the ideal place to relax before and after your round.
Opened in July 2000, Sea Temple has already been rated amongst the Top 25 resort courses in Australia by Golf Australia Magazine and The Golf Course Guide.
On course the five-star Peppers Links Resort, owned by Port Douglas Reef Resorts and ably managed by Peter Judge, offers 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom luxury villas surrounded by lush gardens and palms. All are fully appointed with quality furniture, full kitchen and laundry facilities, spa baths, stereo and video. The resort also boasts a Health Club with gym, lap pool, tennis and massage. The beach is 400m away. Villas and 28 apartments are also available to be purchased as a residence or investment.
This is a course that has much subtlety, and really requires several rounds in order to understand a little of how to play it, and produce your best score. But no matter how brief your visit, the environment and the playing surfaces ensure that the golf is enjoyable.
MIRAGE COUNTRY CLUB
The Sheraton Port Douglas, one of "The Leading Hotels of the World" and the magnificent fully integrated Mirage Resort will remain long after failed visionary Christopher Skase (dec.) has been forgotten.
The course is designed to pamper rather than punish, with wide, very gently undulating fairways, mild bunkering and modest length of 5822m from the resort tees. Better golfers will find the course a little more testing from the Tournament tees at 6261m.
Designed in 1987 Mirage is one of Thomson and Wolveridge’s early creations and consists of two quite separate nines.
Driving under the Port Douglas Rd to holes that wind through the Sheraton Resort property accesses the front or "Reef" nine. Here the setting is idyllic, with tall rainforest timbers and mountain backdrops. There are stunning holes adjacent to Four Mile Beach.
The back or "Mountain" nine is more open, and brings several palm-tree-fringed lakes into play. Some of these are inhabited by estuarine crocodiles, including "Barnie", the 14-year-old, who has been spotted waddling across the 18th fairway when water levels are low.
An interesting feature at Mirage, is Thomson’s use of six each par threes, fours and fives. The course is substantially as originally constructed, although some recent drainage work has been done to ensure maximum playability, especially in the wet season (autumn).
Palm Cove provides a host of tropical accommodation options, especially for those wishing to avoid the bustle of Cairns or even Port Douglas. Locals will tell you "this is what Port Douglas used to be like". The sprawling Novotel Resort, with both hotel and villa style apartments surrounded by swimming pools, beach, sports complex, tropical rainforest and golf course is ideally suited to the family or budget conscious traveller.
Whilst in Palm Cove I also sampled the sumptuous luxury of the Sebel Reef House boutique hotel that once played host to Bob Dylan, my idol for over 30 years. The hotel combines the charm and grace of a bygone era, with complimentary punch bowl and an honour system for other drinks in Brigadier’s Bar, just as things would be in an officers’ mess. Situated right opposite the beach, dining outdoors at Reef House is one of Tropical North Queensland’s greatest delights. Golf packages are available in conjunction with Paradise Palms and The Links.
The Palm Cove Country Club is a nine-hole (eighteen-tee) layout of 5093m that is actually a good test of golf with its dramatic undulation on several holes, quality greens and a relatively tight layout that requires precise shotmaking. The course is particularly scenic, nestled beneath tall timbered mountains with lakes and a creek winding through the lush tropical setting amidst palms and eucalypts. The birds seem to like it too.
The second hole presents a very steep climb to the green, the third then plays back down the hill towards a creek crossing that demands a layup shot off the tee. The 4th is a very pretty downhill par three of 111m, but a full 170m on the second nine as the 13th.
Similarly, the 5th plays as a 301m par four with a gentle dogleg left around a lake that runs the full length of the hole from tee to green, whilst the 14th is played as a short par three from the far side of the lake to a different green surrounded by water. With the mountain backdrop and lush growth all around it’s an idyllic setting.
The 7th/16th seem innocuous enough par fives just under 500m, but beware the creek that crosses at good driving distance and dictates either a mighty blow or a safer layup tee shot.
The fairways and greens are in excellent condition, there’s plenty of undulation, and the setting is tropical serenity. There should be more nine (strictly ten greens) hole courses like this one.
HALF MOON BAY GOLF CLUB
Just 10 minutes North of Cairns lies the peaceful township of Yorkeys Knob, named for the rocky outcrop that dominates the skyline and home to Half Moon Bay Golf Club, a pretty little course beside the Coral Sea that has recently extended to 18 holes.
At 5129m the course is tight and an excellent opportunity to sharpen up your iron play. It’s no pushover, either, the recent 36 hole Open was won with a score of one under par. Built on a sandy base, most of the holes occupy a parkland setting of wattles, gums, palms and untouched mangroves that are home to around 50 species of birdlife. Some newer holes on filled land have a links-like feel. Salt-water lagoons filled with fish come into play on eleven holes. With native couch fairways and Bermuda 328 greens, locals are proud of "the friendly club" that welcomes visitors at all times.
The toughest hole on the course is a stunner of a short par four. At 280m, the 5th is driveable, but the risk is horrendous as the green is reached via a narrow neck of fairway, with bunkers guarding the front and mangroves on all sides. The safe option is an iron to the wide part of the fairway elevated above the neck, and a delicate pitch downhill to the putting surface.
The 14th is a par five of 483m right on the beach, with a green at the mouth of the Half Moon River. With a prevailing southeasterly, this hole is seaside golf indeed.
Another short par five, the 17th at 445m is a double dogleg hole with a risk of water right off the tee and a very tight approach into a green ringed by trees.
The club house can cater for large groups in a tropical outdoor setting, and Manager Twyn Wagner is eager to customise a golf day to clients’ requirements.
CAIRNS GOLF CLUB
Just South of the city centre and nestled in a tropical valley between mountain ranges on either side of the Trinity inlet lies the well-established Cairns Golf Club, originally opened as a nine-hole course in 1926.
Now a testing 6139m eighteen-hole challenge, redesigned by Ross Watson in 1992 with huge Bermuda 328 greens and gently undulating fairways of Legend couch and carpet grass, the course is superbly maintained by the same team that is responsible for several Queensland resort courses.
Many of the greens are elevated as tropical downpours here (the wet season is Feb to May) are measured in metres rather than inches. Greens are typically large, with plenty of undulation. Fairways are lined with melaleuca, pines, eucalypts and especially Pandanas Palms, the club’s emblem. In fact, so dense are many of the stands of Pandanas, with floors so littered with fallen fronds, that they are defined as lateral hazards. These hazards, together with mangrove and rainforest scrub tighten the driving zones on many holes considerably, making the course play tougher than it appears.
With a healthy membership of some 800, the Club atmosphere typifies North Queensland hospitality, and no keen visiting golfer should hesitate to book a game. For those spending a little longer in the region, the club offers temporary membership to AGU golfers for $80 per month with unlimited playing rights. Enquire also about a TNQ Golf Passport.
Adjacent to the 3rd hole is Trinity Links Resort and Apartments that offer five star accommodation with golf packages to the region.
One of the most enjoyable holes is the so-called "easiest" hole on the course, the 471m par five 6th, which often plays with the prevailing southerly wind assisting. The hole stretches between the two picturesque mountain ranges that frame the course. Bunkers on either side of the fairway make for a tight second shot.
The course’s signature hole is undoubtedly the 151m par three 11th that is all water carry to a green backdropped by dense Pandanas Palms. This hole would sit well on any of Queensland’s premier resort courses. In fact, the variety of length and orientation provided by the four par threes stamps Cairns as a carefully laid out design.
MOSSMAN GOLF CLUB
Twenty minutes North of Port Douglas, on the north side of Mossman lies a lovely little members’ course, 18 holes, 5815m. It’s a picturesque setting with the mountain backdrop and pockets of rainforest intruding into the course. There are few bunkers, but the occasional pond on the flat, palm tree studded layout that boasts good quality Bermuda 328 greens.
The course is complete with pro shop, electric carts, and a modest clubhouse that is dominated by a huge strangler fig tree.
ausgolf are the Tropical North Queensland experts – E-mail us to arrange your Queensland golf holiday.
Selwyn Berg was the guest of Peppers Resort Port Douglas, Novotel Palm Cove, Sebel Reef House and the Daikyo-owned Matson Resort in Cairns.