It was billed as The Ultimate Event – the massive party thrown in celebration of the opening of Sanctuary Cove on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

The year was 1988 and the unofficial ‘King of the Coast’ at the time, property developer Mike Gore, wanted the world to know about his resort and residential community. Huge appearance fees were paid to Frank Sinatra, Peter Allan and Whitney Houston to come and sing. The likes of Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer, Curtis Strange, Greg Norman and Raymond Floyd were also enticed to play in the inaugural $500,000 Sanctuary Cove Classic.

While the Ultimate Event got everybody talking about Sanctuary Cove, it also signalled a shift in Australian golf towards resort course developments that would gain significant momentum during the 1990s.

Three decades on and Sanctuary Cove, Australia’s first international golf resort, is a resounding success with two golf courses – the Pines and Palms – both ranked in the Top-100 Courses in Australia (Golf Australia magazine 2018), a world-class marina, five-star Intercontinental resort and an ever-growing gated residential community.

The trademark pines of the Pines course, line the edges of the par-5 3rd hole. PHOTO: Brendan James.

Gore would no doubt be impressed. I know I always am, particularly with the golf courses, every time I visit.

The Pines course is the golfing jewel in the crown of the massive 474-hectare Sanctuary Cove property on the northern end of Queensland’s Gold Coast.

The Arnold Palmer-designed layout is entering its 30th year of play and is arguably in better shape now than it was when the first drive was struck there in May 1989. From that date, its reputation as one of the nation’s most challenging tests of golf has grown.

Carved through 101 hectares of pine forest, the layout demands long and straight hitting, especially from the tips, which stretch the layout to 6,681 metres. Thankfully there are several shorter teeing options on every hole.

Three decades on and Sanctuary Cove, Australia’s first international golf resort, is a resounding success with two golf courses both ranked in the Top-100 Courses in Australia …

Complicating the route from tee to green on 14 of the 18 holes is a water hazard in some shape or form. Six man-made lakes dominate the landscape and Palmer’s design incorporates them at every opportunity from the par-3 4th through to the long par-4 18th. This is with the exception of the 161-metre par-3 16th, which has a sea of sand between tee and green rather than water.

But as the name suggests, the predominant feature of the course is the pine trees. The pine-flanked 2nd is a great dogleg left hole and has always been a favourite, while the 377-metre par-4 5th is a fantastic driving hole with water down the right and pines to the left highlighting your path to the green. The rolling nature of the 5th fairway can provide all manner of approach shots to a green guarded by a large pod of bunkers to the left as well as large mounds and swales.

The setting sun highlights the bumps and hollows of the 6th hole of the Palms course. PHOTO: Supplied.

Three holes into the back nine, you emerge from the pine trees to an open section of the course and are confronted by the most talked about hole on the layout. There are six different tee positions on the 156-metre par-3 13th so choose wisely before teeing off. The least used tee, the championship marker, is 212 metres from the green, which lies on the far side of a lake and calls for a tee shot to fly all the way over water. Boulders wedged into the bank of the lake are not only cosmetically appealing but are capable of deflecting golf balls back into the water.

Water also comes into play on the significantly shorter Palms course, which underwent an $8.8 million reconstruction to implement a Ross Watson design before reopening for play in April 2011. It was a massive undertaking that transformed the landscape to reveal boldly contoured greens, imaginative bunkering and strategic hole design.

Ross Watson’s bold contouring is evident on most of the Palms course’s greens and surrounds. PHOTO: Supplied.

The Palms is nowhere near as tough as its sister course next door but golfers may find it more fun as the demands here are more about accuracy and strategy rather than strength and length.

“The neighbouring Pines layout is renowned for its length, but the Palms is deliberately shorter and calls on players to think more about where the pin is and where they need to be aiming and approaching greens from,” Ross Watson said of his Palms design. “It’s a thinking golfer’s course.”

Good shot placement is paramount when you consider Watson’s undulating greenscapes, which are a far cry from the flat putting surfaces that once dotted the Palms course.

This is clearly evident on the par-5 9th hole, which features a large steep-tiered and kidney-shaped green guarded by a series of bunkers left and right. Tightly trimmed slopes off the fringes at the back will catch the mis-hit or over-clubbed approach. While big hitters can certainly reach the green in two blows, most players will treat this hole as a genuine three-shotter and, with this in mind, the best entry to the green is from the right half of the fairway, especially when the flag is cut back and left.

The aerial view of the sweeping par-4 15th hole on the Palms. PHOTO: Supplied.

Putting on the Palms’ greens is a real test of nerve and skill. That said, if your approach shots come to rest on the wrong level or section of a green, in relation to the flag, on any of the 18 greens here, you face the likelihood of a three-putt. The undulations across many of the putting surfaces are dramatic but the greens are large enough to accommodate these slopes.

A standout feature of the Palms is the bunkering. Watson has adopted a natural, wild look with his bunkering, which certainly sets it apart from anything else to be found on the Gold Coast. Native grasses have also been used to surround many bunker schemes and further enhance the natural appearance.

The Palms course is a gem. I found it challenging and a whole lot of fun, particularly the second time around when I knew where I needed to position myself in the fairway to leave the easiest approach shot.


LOCATION: The Parkway, Sanctuary Cove, Queensland.

CONTACT: (07) 5699 9000.


DESIGNERS: Pines – Arnold Palmer (1989); Palms – Ross Watson (2011).

SLOPE RATINGS: Pines –132 (black), 127 (blue), 116 (white), 133 (white women), 126 (red women); Palms –130 (black), 125 (blue), 121 (white), 127 (white women), 122 (red women).

PLAYING SURFACES: Pines – Bermuda Tifdwarf (greens), Wintergreen couch (fairways); Palms – Bermuda Tifeagle (greens), Wintergreen couch (fairways).

GREEN FEES: Pines – Private course. Member’s guests and Intercontinental resort guests only. Palms – $99 including shared cart. Book via the website


PGA PROFESSIONALS: Matt Ballard, Michael Jones, Steve Darmody and Terry Price.


MEMBERSHIP: There are five different levels of membership available. Equity Members enjoy full membership including unlimited golf on both courses, along with access to The Country Club fitness centre, the exclusive golf clubhouse and world class practice facilities. Your Equity Membership is a share and is your key to access first class golf, sport and leisure facilities. As an asset, your share can be dealt with in a way similar to any other investment.

THE RESORT: The InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort, reflects the grand, graceful architecture of a classic Queensland estate, nestled within the beautiful surrounds of Sanctuary Cove.  You can gain exclusive access to The Pines course by staying at the InterContinental, which boasts a Memorable Escapes package that includes overnight accommodation, full buffet breakfast for two in Cove Café, plus 18 holes for two adults on The Pines. For more information visit