South-east Australia already has a wealth of world-class golf courses, with five listed in the world’s top 100. From the classic sandbelt courses Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and Victoria near Melbourne to the links inspired Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm in North-East Tasmania. Having just played Cape Wickham on King Island, one more course will be added to that list next year.
King Island is located midway between Melbourne and Tasmania in Bass Strait, and is home to about 1,600 permanent residents.. The islands primary industries are cheese and beef, however golf is about to become a significant tourism asset for this small island with the opening of Cape Wickham in November 2015, to be followed by Ocean Dunes over the next 12 months.
Cape Wickham course architect Mike DeVries supported by Darius Oliver of Planet Golf has turned rolling absolute coastal frontage land into a spectacular golf course. Thirteen holes are on the coast itself, with eight holes running along the coastline, and another five with tee or green on the shoreline. The additional holes wind through the adjacent dunes. Combine Turnberry with Pebble Beach and you are starting to get the idea of what this course is all about. There are no bad holes, and every hole has views of the ocean. You are captivated by this course from first view, your eyes look to Australia’s tallest lighthouse to the East of the clubhouse, then as you pan across the course you look out over Victoria Cove, with the brilliant 18th hole winding along its beach. You then focus on the first hole and its daunting tee shot across a gully to an open fairway with ocean to your right. Im not sure if there are many days on King Island that are not windy, the course may reveal its soft side on those days. However for the majority of time, the course is designed to the prevailing wind, which provides more challenges and an oh, so tough but exciting finish.
(This is going to be tough as every hole on this course has its unique and memorable features)
First Hole – Par 4 340 Metres
Cape Wickham’s opening hole is already one of the classic opening golf holes in Australia. The exposed tee with a short but daunting carry over a rugged gully to an open fairway ahead needs a cool head and an accurate drive to setup the approach, anything right is gone. The hole dares you to get as close to the right edge as possible to improve the approach into the angled green which is protected by a couple of bunkers. There are two distinct tiers on the green, be on the correct one! An awesome start.
Third Hole – Par 3 170 metres
The first of the par 3’s is one of three absolute ocean coastline short holes, its also the longest. The large angled green is 48 metres deep with generous bailout short left, but anything right will find bunkers, dense rough, or if you are way offline, the ocean. A large ridge runs through the middle of the green, treat the 3rd with respect.
Ninth Hole – Par 5 488 metres
By the time you reach the 9th, you have settled into the Cape Wickham layout, for better or worse. You have played three holes along the coast and then into the rolling dunes. The 9th tee sits high on a dune with the fairway winding back down towards the ocean. The ideal line off the tee is down the left, though if you are contemplating hitting the green in two, a drive to the right of the fairway present a better angle. With a large gully cutting the fairway between 100 and 50 metres into the green, a big decision on the second shot is to attack the green or layup short. Whatever the decision, the shot into the green needs to avoid dunes on either side of the green and hit the narrow green, stopping before the bunkers gaurding the back.
Tenth Hole – Par 4 327 metres
The turn to the backnine is still a long way back to the clubhouse (you pass the clubhouse after the 13th). The 10th hole is a fun short par 4, descending from an elevated tee down a sloping fairway to the green perched above the waves. The views are sublime, a good drive will benefit from the steep fairway leaving a short approach into the green. Spectacular to look at, fun to play.
Eleventh Hole – Par 3 136 metres
Another wait for photos, selfies and awe and wonder before teeing off. The hole is short but deadly, the tee shot cuts across the ocean and coastline rocks to a green perched above the crashing waves to the left. A small bunker protects the front left and anything long will quickly roll into the rough, a large dune punishes anything right. As the prevailing wind picks up, the club selection will drop but not the difficulty.
Sixteenth Hole – Par 4 377 metres
At 377 metres its not the longest par 4 on the course, but it earns its stroke index of 1. The 16th tee sits perched above the ocean, waves crashing nearby, it starts the unforgettable final three holes and will often play into the wind. The carry across rocks and rough is only 100 metres but seems a lot more, again the design tempts the drive to hug the right edge of the fairway for a better approach into the green which is exposed to the wind.
Eighteenth Hole – Par 4 395 metres
Having spent the last couple of hours in awe of the layout that is Cape Wickham, you walk to the final tee for one last OMG moment. Multiple tee boxes give alternate experiences, two tees close to the ocean present a seemingly impossible task of trying to carry the dune almost 200 metres in the distance, with only a sliver of fairway to be seen. A higher tee box gives a more panoramic aspect. The beach below beckons the wayward drive and is also fully in play. Aim too far left to avoid the beach, and there is the risk of running out of fairway as it angles toward the green. The approach shot needs to keep out of the high dunes to the left, and avoid being pushed towards the beach next to the green. A brilliant finishing hole to finish a spectacular layout.
Honourable mentions to the 2nd, 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th and 17th.
- Take a camera and camera phone, no matter where you are there will be an amazing shot to take.
- Take enough balls, the coastal rough, fescue and ocean itself will consume any errant shot
- Play links golf, no stopping the ball on a dime here, approaches need to be carefully thought through, pitch and run
- Careful when walking off fairway, there are many mutton bird nest which are dug into the sand, some are quite deep and its easy to trip or ruin a round by twisting an ankle
- And keep an eye out for snakes, we noticed a couple of copperhead snakes off fairway (and one on fairway) during our round
King Island has a small airport, with regional airlines Rex and King Island Air operating daily services. There is also the option to charter a flight from a number of private airlines.
Its approximately 40 minutes from Melbourne. More details are on the golf course website
Cape Wickham has put the small island of King Island on the global golfing map. The course must already be one of Australia’s best layouts, and should comfortably sit in the world Top 100. This is one to add to your bucket list, play it now, then return when the Ocean Dunes course opens in another year which also looks to be spectacular.
– Par 72
– 6,150 metres
– Address: Cape Wickham, King Island, Tasmania