The spectacular Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett-designed Hamilton Island course has never looked better as it celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
It was during a function on Hamilton Island in 1990 that I first heard of the proposal for a golf course to be built on or near the most popular of Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands.
Hamilton Island’s then owner, Keith Williams, knew a golf course would add to the tourism value of his resort island but in the ensuing years the logistics, cost and politics of constructing a course kept the proposal on the back-burner.
Some believed the prospect of a course being built had died with the sale of Hamilton Island in 2003 to wine export pioneer and renowned yachtsman, Bob Oatley. Oatley purchased Hamilton Island for $200 million and in the six years that followed he poured another $300 million into the upgrade of the resort isle.
Part of that massive investment included the construction of the Hamilton Island Golf Club. After submitting dozens of environmental management plans and overcoming the massive logistical nightmare of getting construction equipment onto the island, the course opened for play in 2009.
Now, a decade on, the course has matured beautifully and was listed at No.14 in Golf Australia’s 2019 Top-100 Public Access Courses ranking, making it the No.2 ranked course in Queensland.
The Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett-designed layout is not actually on Hamilton Island but can be found on neighbouring Dent Island – a tropical tree and scrub-covered monolith that rises steeply, to about 105 metres at its highest point, from the aquamarine waters of the Coral Sea below.
The course can only be reached by ferry from the Hamilton Island marina and as you cross the passage there is little to suggest a golf course lies on the ridges and cliff-tops high above.
It only takes a few holes into the round to really appreciate what an incredible feat of engineering, course design and construction it was to create a layout across such dramatic and rugged terrain.
RIGHT: The par-3 16th hole is another picturesque hole at Hamilton Island. PHOTO: Brendan James.
All the heavy machinery and equipment had to be brought to the island on a barge (and unloaded only at high tide), while hundreds of tons of rock were cut from the landscape to facilitate the positioning of tees, greens and fairways. This rock was then crushed on site to make all of the sand that was then crafted and shaped into the course foundation on which the Bermuda and couch playing surfaces have grown.
Thomson and Perrett designed the par-71 to be played along a series of ridges and across steep valleys with only minimal clearing of the island’s dense native vegetation. The mountainous aspect of the design presents elevated tees on most holes, which not only leaves little to a golfer’s imagination of what lies between tee and green but they also offer stunning 360 degree sea and island views.
The terrain even dictated that, in some instances, there is a fair distance between a green and the next tee. For example, it is more than a kilometre from the 17th green to the 18th tee, along a path that winds its way along a narrow ridge and then climbs to one of the highest points on the layout. But have no fear, carts are compulsory here.
“Thomson and Perrett designed the par-71 to be played along a series of ridges and across steep valleys with only minimal clearing of the island’s dense native vegetation.”
At 6,130 metres from the back markers, this is not a long layout by modern standards and, despite elevation changes on most holes and some narrow driving zones, the scoring here can be good on a still day. But windless days are rare across the top of Dent Island and the design team has taken this into account by offering generous width fairways and enormous greens.
As this is a resort course, there are three teeing grounds per hole with 30 or 40 metres between the back and middle tees. This ensures good players will be challenged by the back ‘Hoop Pine’ markers and casual players won’t be overawed by the experience by playing from either the middle ‘Pandanus’ tees or the front ‘Grass Tree’ tees.
The opening trio of holes – all cut into a ridge on the north side of the clubhouse – eases you into the round. Then it is most definitely game on when you reach the par-3 4th. From the tips this monster measures 175 metres and is played across a scrub-filled valley to a large, undulating green that is more exposed to the wind than any other hole on the front nine. The putting surface lies on a ridge where shots long and short left are gone for good. Played against the backdrop of distant Long Island and the mainland as well as being beautifully framed by rocky outcrops, this is a hell of good hole.
That said, all four of the par-3s here are outstanding. Each demands different shots, clubs and strategies to equal par and poor shots are punished. The 160-metre par-3 16th is already developing a reputation as a destroyer of good scores. The tees and green have been cut out of the side of an escarpment, with the tee elevated high above the plateau putting surface making the hole play much shorter than the scorecard suggests. This, for mine, is the most spectacular hole on the course and, perhaps, the most treacherous. The only bail out area here is just short of the green. The deep bunker cut into the front right edge of the green even looks good while standing on the tee. Miss the green right or long and you can drop another ball, while any tee shot drifting left will leave a tough chip from long grass.
The playing surfaces are already first class but they will get even better with another full growing season, which is quite often the case with infant courses. Given the long hours of sunshine and ever-present breeze, it is not surprising that the large Bermuda Tifeagle greens are firm. What was surprising was the speed of the greens. Hamilton Island’s greens were much quicker than what you might find, or expect, on a course in the tropics. There was enough speed in them to turn any downhiller from three feet into a real knee-trembler.
Hamilton Island is a course that you will be making plans to play again as you walk from the 18th green. If you don’t believe me, consider this from Open Champion and one of Queensland’s favourite golfing sons, Ian Baker-Finch.
“It is one of the most beautiful golfing venues in the world,” Finchy says.
“Hamilton Island is a course that you will be making plans to play again as you walk from the 18th green.”
“The golf course is spectacular. It can be a tough course because there is always some kind of wind. But if you go there with the idea it’s going to be a beautiful day, and a great opportunity for some spectacular photography, take in the views and enjoy the course. Amazing!
“The Whitsundays are the Greek Islands of Australia, with better weather, spectacular beaches and an easy-going lifestyle and Hamilton Island lies right in the middle of it. I love it.”
LOCATION: Dent Island, near Hamilton Island in the Whitsunday Passage.
CONTACT: (07) 4948 9760.
DESIGNERS: Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett.
PLAYING SURFACES: Bermuda TifEagle (greens), Greenlees Park couch (fairways, tees and rough)
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Brad Hole.
GREEN FEES: $160 (18 holes, including ferry transfers from Hamilton Island and GPS-fitted electric golf cart).
FACILITIES: The stunning clubhouse is ideally perched to catch the sea breeze and offers views of Passage Peak and the Coral Sea.
There is an aquatic driving range overlooking Lake Melaleuca, which is perfect to have a hit or giggle or some serious practice time. There are also chipping and putting greens available.
ACCOMMODATION PACKAGES: Hamilton Island has a large range of golf accommodation available from premium luxury through to affordable island bungalows. The award-winning Qualia (pictured) boasts 59 one-bedroom pavilions that blend harmoniously with the natural beauty of the island and provide an indulgent space to unwind. After a hard day of golf, visit Spa qualia which offers a range of luxurious local and international treatments.
There are several play and stay packages available for all Hamilton Island accommodation. For details visit www.hamiltonislandgolfclub.com.au