It’s played something of a second-fiddle role during construction, but King Island’s latest wonder course is a shining example of good things coming to those who wait.
The official opening of Ocean Dunes on September 1 added another dimension to the world’s love affair with outstanding new golf courses in remote, challenging locations. Like its sister Tasmanian layouts and those of coastal Oregon and Nova Scotia on opposite sides of North America, King Island is emerging as a hot golf destination in a jaw-dropping setting.
The course is as strategically layered as it is visually mesmerising, changing with the seasons and the volatile conditions. Such an adventurous project in such an isolated place requires vision, determination and sound support.
Credit for the reality that is Ocean Dunes goes to veteran course designer Graeme Grant for his intuition and architectural nous, Bernie McMahon for his construction savvy and fellow project directors Andrew Mitchell and Richard Lees for their financial backing. This stands to become one of the most impressive seaside locations for golf on
The capricious nature of the site – remember, this is a rock in the middle of Bass Strait with no land mass to the west on the same latitude until you hit Argentina – gives Ocean Dunes a variety of personalities. One day she’ll be calm, serene and highly scoreable; 24 hours later the wind will howl and turn her into a teeth-gnashing monster. Choosing the appropriate tee markers (there are four options) to suit the daily conditions and ability level is advised, although most landing areas are generous and safe paths navigable throughout.
This writer has savoured two trips to Ocean Dunes, firstly to play the front nine just a few days before it opened last November, and again last month. There is no avoiding comparisons with the equally new Cape Wickham course on the northern tip of King Island. Both are ingenious designs on stunningly beautiful ground, both utilise their vast natural assets with aplomb, yet each owns characteristics the other doesn’t. They make a great double act.
Early opinions gave Cape Wickham the edge, but I’m not so sure it’s clear-cut. I loved using the curves around Ocean Dunes’ greens to propel my golf ball nearer the flag, the voluptuous terrain making inviting targets feel even more so. Yes, a few contours will be at odds with certain winds (I challenge anyone to get their ball anywhere near the front-right flag on the par-3 8th hole in a stiff right-to-left breeze), but there’s nothing wrong with a few occasions in 18 holes where a reachable goal turns out to be unattainable in one swing. Links golf giveth and it taketh away, and Ocean Dunes is a triumph for those who agree that the game is far more interesting when the ball is on the ground rather than in the air.
And there are genuine, one-off stroke-saving opportunities and shots to be encountered at Ocean Dunes. There is simply no other green complex in Australia quite like the 2nd. The 280-metre par-4 ends with a sliver of a target that’s 45 metres wide but only ten metres at its deepest point. All but the far right edge of the split-level green is blind as the surface sits between two dunes that create a ramp effect, potentially slinging balls close to or well away from the flag. Miss the ‘ramps’ short or long, and the ball will find a sandy, grassy dune or bunkers. Given that most approach shots will be played with a lofted wedge, it’s an entirely appropriate – and infinitely memorable – target.
One hole earlier, the course begins with a sidewinding par-5 where the opening drive needs to carry a huge blowout bunker to find the two-tiered fairway. Most golfers should be able to carry the pit, but it is eye-catching and remains visible at various positions across the course. The green is also visible from the tee, sticking out from beyond the huge dune; the astutely bunkered putting surface also providing the first visit to the shoreline, which is just beyond the green. The 1st is a terrific entrée to Ocean Dunes, giving golfers an instant taste of what’s ahead.
A highlight moment comes at the 130-metre par-3 4th hole, which plays over an inlet in the rocky coastline to a wide, shallow, two-level green perched just across the far side of the cove. Stamping the 4th as the ‘signature hole’ perhaps detracts from the quality of the other 17, but there’s no doubt the hole called “Disphyma” will come in for high photographic attention and set the pulses of golfers racing.
Two holes later, the 395-metre par-4 6th trundles downhill with a split fairway that might not be immediately evident from the tee. The passage to the left of the fairway bunkers can be the more advantageous route in certain breeze/pin position combinations. The par-4 7th has some of the steepest green contours at Ocean Dunes while the putting surface at the short 8th is far deeper and larger than first impressions allow. The front nine closes with a left-turning par-5 that will often be reachable in two blows for big hitters and, once again, a two-tiered green awaits.
Things change on the inward half. The par-3 10th begins with the waves of Bass Strait lapping against the rocks bordering the tee complex. It rivals the 4th for visual splendour and ‘wow’ factor and is up to 80 metres longer, a fact sure to startle golfers assessing the scene and seeing more ocean than land. The course turns inland from the par-5 12th and into a pocket of the course where the landform required some massaging.
The shaping work carried out here is exceptional, Grant and McMahon collaborating to create a chain of holes imposed upon the land without being an imposition. The 12th rises to a broad, hilltop fairway and turns further right than it looks (first-timers should walk to the top of the crest to get a sense of what lies ahead) towards a vast double-green shared with the 15th hole. The left-side slopes that feed balls towards most hole locations offer a generous bailout option in contrast to the manner in which misses to the right are punished.
The 13th is a gem of a short par-4 that plays into the prevailing westerly wind yet is driveable when the opposite wind blows. Tee shots ideally land in a valley within the dunescape before a pitch to a narrow green with a steep drop-off to the left. And if you think the 13th green is skinny, wait until you see the next. The 14th, a 115-metre downhill par-3, commences from a tee set high above the long, narrow green and is one of the most exposed points on the property. There is no hiding from the wind and there is little latitude to work with at green level, other than some sideslope help in the front lobe. The rest of the putting surface pushes up to a raised plateau with more fallaway slopes and bunkers. It is another stunning par-3 where the ocean serves as an extra rather than the leading role.
The 16th is another of Ocean Dunes’ strong par-4s, one with a definite point of difference thanks to the quaint stream gurgling along the right side of the fairway and wrapping around the front-right and right edges of the green. Most of the broad, rumpled putting surface is set behind the hazard, although the contours will allow a left-to-right approach to meander towards the far side of the green. The second shot to 16 is a feature of the round and arguably the most exhilarating moment away from the coastal holes.
The course closes with two more fine par-4s, the 430-metre 18th the stronger one with a high road/low road fairway and another raised green framed by dunes. Played into the westerly wind, pars will feel like birdies most days. There are decisions to be made right along the final hole, just as there are throughout the course. Perhaps the toughest call to be made is how many rounds to play at such an out-of-this-world location before dragging yourself back to the real world.
LOCATION: Main St, Currie, King Island, Tasmania. Ocean Dunes is a ten-minute drive from King Island Airport at Currie.
CONTACT: (03) 6462 1633.
DESIGNER: Graeme Grant (2016).
PLAYING SURFACES: Bentgrass (greens), fine fescue (fairways and tees).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Martin Rose.
GREEN FEE: $150.
GETTING THERE: Flights to King Island operate from the rest of Tasmania and Melbourne (from Tullamarine, Essendon and Moorabbin airports) via several airlines, including Regional Express, Vortex Air, Sharp Airlines, Kirkhope Aviation and King Island Airlines. Various tour package providers also include King Island in their golf holiday offerings.
ACCOMMODATION: Ocean Dunes also operates the newly-renovated King Island Hotel at Currie. The 13 beautifully modern decorated rooms are available as twin, double or a mixture of both, plus two connecting rooms for larger groups or families. Room facilities include Wi-Fi, TV, and bar fridge.
HANDY INFORMATION: The golf course spans 115 hectares and is more spread out than is first evident. As such, a small fleet of carts is available. The location makes golf playable approximately 300 days a year. Golfers wanting to try their luck during winter are advised to book at short notice based on the weather. Travel packages are available that link the ‘Bass Strait Triangle’: flights from Melbourne and golf at both King Island courses along with the two at Barnbougle in an effective way to see all four modern Tasmanian wonders.