No South Pacific island is nearer to Australia than New Caledonia. And a hot new course has given golfers even more reason to make the short journey to the French territory.
Here’s a riddle: how does an Australian get to France in as little as two hours and without leaving the southern hemisphere? Easy: by visiting New Caledonia.
The closest of the South Pacific islands to Australia is considered a special collectivity of France, although the Noumea Accord, signed after a 1998 referendum, provides for a gradual transfer of power from France to New Caledonia over a 20-year period, pending the result of another referendum in 2018. The island might be in a state of political flux, but that matters little to golfers, for whom New Caledonia’s proximity, perfect climate and proclivity for golf courses hold the greatest appeal.
The new kid on the golf block is Golf de Déva, a Dye family design attached to the stunning beachside Sheraton resort on the west coast, about a 90-minute drive north of the airport. The sprawling design belies its coastal location with an arid, savannah-style design that uses the surrounding scrub and bushland to line the spacious fairways rather than an abundance of water. Likewise, the bunkering is not overdone and the green contours represent a particularly restrained Dye layout – there are no giant slopes nor railroad ties to be found. Yet Déva owns a charm all of her own.
The wind is ever-present and the layout allows for it by giving golfers ample space to navigate from almost every tee. Rarely is the passage to the target dictated through a specific channel as instead the conditions and player tendencies will provide the ideal path towards the pin. It also features one of the best practice facilities you’ll find at a resort course – a broad, spacious driving range with separate chipping and putting greens.
For 16 holes, Déva meanders across gently undulating terrain, changing direction regularly and sprinkling short par-4s utilising long, open greens among more protected targets. The par-3 11th is a popular choice for a hole that’s emblematic of the entire layout – that is until you reach its sister short hole at the 17th. Here is the solitary moment when play touches the Pacific, a 180-metre par-3 with the various shades of blue and turquoise acting as a backdrop to a sand-lined short hole. The huge waste bunker stretching along the left side of the green is always a factor, but just as likely to be a distraction for golfers is the setting.
The 18th betrays the open nature of the previous driving holes by asking players to thread their final blow with the big stick between two separate stands of fulsome foliage. Don’t make the mistake this writer did of leaking one too far to the right, as the sprawling fig trees sitting within a fairway bunker block any attempt to reach the green in regulation. The scorecard says No.18 is the third-toughest assignment at Deva, but I challenge anyone to find a more difficult hole on the course.
Resort guests, fitness freaks and anyone who adores a good view can get a preview of their round by scaling the hills to the east of the course. Our hosts said they provide one of the best views in New Caledonia, but I’ll have to take their word for it. Déva is not overly demanding when played from the appropriate set of tees, thanks to its mostly generous fairways. Miss the short grass, however, and the chances of locating your ball are minimal. The pro shop staff say four to five balls is about the average expenditure of ammunition for 18 holes. “Beat that and you’re definitely in front,” says Grégory, Déva’s assistant pro.
Remember to bring two things to Tina Golf Club: an attuned sense of depth perception and a good camera, because you’ll need both in abundance. The host venue of the South Pacific Open on the PGA Tour of Australasia is short but tight in places, while striking approach shots close to the flag is difficult to do on many occasions because of the uphill and downhill terrain. The course moves inland on the front nine, where many of the steep green approaches reside, before meandering towards the oceanfront holes on the back. That’s where the camera will come in handy.
Beginning as a pro-am in 2009, the South Pacific Open joined the PGA Tour of Australasia in 2011 and is now a favourite stop among the players. “The hardest part was to get the PGA to come to New Caledonia to begin with. But once they were in Noumea and saw the course, our facilities and how we run the event, it was easy,” says tournament promoter Patrick Koch. “The hospitality during the week is an important part of the tournament; it helps to build the friendship between the players and New Caledonia. People in Noumea love this tournament because it is unique for us. It is the only time of the year that good players from Australia and New Zealand come to play.
“For the players, it presents a good opportunity as we have a smaller field than most Tour events,” Koch says. “Players can come here for a week, it can be like a little holiday, but it can also be a good week for their career. That’s why we have a lot of young players come over.”
Things became interesting at one of the most picturesque junctures during last September’s South Pacific Ocean when young Jake McLeod ripped a drive onto the green of the 285-metre par-4 15th hole then binned the 30-foot eagle putt to catch leader and playing partner Adam Blyth. McLeod took the direct line from the elevated tee across an inlet in the bay and a grove of palm trees, his ball flicking one of the last fronds before trundling onto the green. He made another long putt two holes later to catch Blyth once again but lost to his fellow Queensland professional on the third play-off hole.
Up the road, Dumbéa Golf Club is scenic if a little more basic by comparison. It’s a nice spot for a relaxing hit that’s not too taxing on the mind nor the golf-ball pouch of your bag. The course could use a dose of TLC, especially on the greens, but it is far from being a ‘goat track’. Many of the holes feature wide fairways and relatively unprotected greens, although several weave through some pockets of trouble in the form of streams and long rough.
The 6th is among the more difficult examinations. A par-4 of 371 metres, a stream cuts the fairway on two occasions but on neither should it be an issue if you drive the ball well. The first crossing is little more than 150 metres from the tee, while the next is about 100 metres short of the green. As most approach shots will come from the 150-metre range after a decent drive, balls should stay mostly dry … mostly. Tale care, as the overhanging branches of a greenside tree can block drives that veer too far right. Later, the downhill 11th is a neat par-3 where club selection and the ability to judge the wind are called upon. The hole plays far shorter than its 156 metres, yet the only complication with finding the broad green is a single bunker on the left.
A step up in quality is Golf de la Ouenghi, a pleasant drive north of Noumea. There’s a basic quality to the layout just as there is at Dumbéa, but the retreat-like surroundings plus a handful of cleverly designed holes make it a more than worthwhile addition. The front nine is mostly flat with only a few dangers other than the treelines, while the back utilises more undulating terrain, particularly on holes 14 to 16. The bunkers aren’t penal and the greens feature subtle rather than overt contours.
This uncomplicated layout possesses some simple touches. Many uphill or dogleg holes feature a single tall pine tree behind the green that serves as a target when you can’t spot the flag. Plenty of golfers won’t notice these but they act as sound guides if required. Likewise, several teeing grounds retain a stately tree or two in such a position that they form more of a chute to drive through than would normally be the case with only a few trees in play.
Ouenghi and Dumbéa won’t win any design accolades, but both possess a charm and – especially in Ouenghi’s case – a tranquillity that’s difficult to beat. Which is much like New Caledonia itself.
The international airline of New Caledonia, Aircalin, operates 12 flights per week non-stop from Australia to Noumea. Flights take less than three hours from Sydney, less than four hours from Melbourne and two hours from Brisbane. Sydney flights operate six times a week, while the Brisbane and Melbourne flights depart three times per week.
For reservations phone 1300 655 737 or visit www.aircalin.com
LE MÉRIDIEN NOUMEA
Le Méridien Noumea (pictured below) is a unique blend of French sophistication and warm Pacific island ambience. Located on the beachfront overlooking Anse Vata bay, it is nestled in the heart of the tropical landscaped gardens with direct access to the beach, in front of the Grand Casino, and only ten minutes from the city centre, the unique Tjibaou Cultural Centre and Tina Golf Club. To book, visit www.lemeridiennoumea.com
SHERATON NEW CALEDONIA DEVA RESORT & SPA
Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Resort & Spa combines Melanesian tradition and traditional French influence. Located in Bourail, the northern province of New Caledonia, this 180-room resort has 60 bungalows, the 18-hole Dye Design golf course, a health club and spa.
To book, visit www.sheratonnewcaledoniadeva.com
For more information on New Caledonia, visit www.newcaledonia.travel