Reef Magazine – Hamilton Island and the Great Barrier Reef
Selecting a signature hole at Hamilton Island Golf Club is no easy task. While most golf clubs, particularly resort courses, like to nominate an iconic member of their 18 to build a reputation upon and to market the course, Hamilton Island has arguably a dozen or more worthy candidates.
Since its opening, many first-time visitors to the course, located on neighbouring Dent Island, have chosen the par-3 14th hole as their favourite, and having navigated my ball into the greenside bunker rather than the ball-swallowing bush that rings the green, I was tempted to agree. That was until I reached the 15th tee, where the course’s toughest hole beckons you to take it on like a pugnacious boxer, daring you to take a swing.
A few minutes later, standing on the tee of the short 16th hole where the green is perched on a hillside, the Whitsundays sprawled out around you and Hamilton Island itself in full view, I realised that here again was another contender. And these selections omit the gorgeous fourth hole with its eye-catching backdrop and undulating green, and numerous other stunning challenges in the 18 holes. In short, this is an exceptionally beautiful place to play golf.
Some world-renowned golf courses in remarkable settings mask design shortcomings with spectacular scenery. Not so at Hamilton Island, where the Thomson Perrett team has designed a course that will appeal to the scratch-handicap player and once-a-year holidaying golfer alike.
At first glance the course appears to be a golf-by-numbers layout, where you must hit to specific, identified points to avoid the design’s pitfalls – the most obvious being the jungle lining most fairways. A more intuitive golfer, however, will realise that while the course is tight, it is not overly long by modern standards, so the driver might not be required more than a couple of times in 18 holes.
With judicious club selections, even a C-grade golfer playing from the forward tees will find it possible to avoid exhausting.
With little else occupying Dent Island, space is not an issue. The golf course spans much of the eastern side of the island with the two nines looping in different directions. The unique site yields several design quirks. For instance, from the 15th green you backtrack almost the full length of the hole to reach the next tee, while the journey between the 17th and 18th is almost a kilometre.
Thomson Perrett’s finished product unquestionably owns the No.1 excursion to a golf course in Australia. Nowhere else is a boat (or helicopter) the only access option to reach the Clubhouse. It’s a short ride, less than 10 minutes, but it reinforces the isolation of the course site.
The first two holes are a reminder of your challenge and your location: the opening hole is bordered on both sides by thick bush while the second tee affords a clear view over your shoulder back to Hamilton Island.
It’s almost preferable to play this course ‘blind’, without doing any homework on the holes, as for the first-timer there’s an element of “what’s happening next?” to the design.
One minute you’re scaling a steep hill to a plateau tee and the next you’re being asked to drive a ball from high above the fairway to the strip of green snaking below. It’s a roller-coaster ride without the seat belts and queues.
I love the par 3 fourth hole, partly because I hit a nice 4-iron just behind the flag, but also for the shot the hole asks you to play and the canvas of the Whitsundays behind it. By the eighth hole I realise that if the driver isn’t behaving, a 3-wood might be the more prudent play from the tee. Despite a slight hook with mine, I manage to find the fringe of the green in two and two-putt for a par 4. Later, I miscalculate the steep rise to on the green the 10th green and leave an awkward pitch that leads to a bogey 5, but two holes later I face a similar chip from in front of the 12th green and almost hole it for a birdie.
The tee shots and vistas from the final five tees are the layout’s crescendo. Those wary of losing a ball off the side of the island on the little 16th have been given a bail-out bank on the left to bounce a ball onto the green, but there’s nowhere to hide on the previous two holes. The 14th is a white-knuckle mid to short-iron par 3 with two bunkers the only respite from the vegetation. This is a tough hole, but local golfer, Bernice Petersen, became the first person to score a hole-in-one in competition at the course on this very hole! The 15th green is perched on a peninsula and its fairway so narrow you almost have to ride single file to the green.
Ross Perrett says there’s a ‘fluidity’ to the design, and I see it on the back nine. While I dislike the hidden nature of the 17th green, there’s a simple way to play the hole without threatening its hazards. A lay-up second shot leaves a straightforward pitch to the green and a chance at par, which is how all mortal golfers should play it.
Yet the showstopper might just be reserved until the 18th, a long par 4 that plays much shorter thanks to the enormous drop from tee to green. A good drive will have your ball etched against the distant horizon for a moment before plummeting to earth and scuttling down the fairway.
The sheer range of nominees means a signature hole may not be readily identifiable, but all visitors will agree Hamilton Island Golf Club has left its mark on the Whitsundays.
Courtesy of Reef Magazine – Hamilton Island and the Great Barrier Reef