Jack Nicklaus’ first ‘signature’ course design in Australia is fast approaching its 25th anniversary and remains steadfastly ranked among the Top-100 Courses in the nation and a ‘must play’ for golfing visitors to the Gold Coast.
It doesn’t seem like all that long ago when a group of golf journalists, including myself, were lucky enough to be invited for a round at what was then the first significant course opening on Queensland’s Gold Coast in four years.
The Links at Hope Island had opened in 1993 and proved to be an instant hit with local and visiting golfers. In February 1997, the red ribbon was cut on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Lakelands Golf Club and the accolades were heaped on the course from day one.
In the 23 years since our small group hacked its way around the par-72, Lakelands has established a reputation for its consistently high standard of presentation. Since that first round, I have been fortunate to play dozens of rounds at Lakelands and I have never been disappointed with the conditioning. In fact, I would go so far as to say Lakelands has consistently the best Bermuda Tifdwarf greens in the country. In my experience, some clubs with Tifdwarf greens struggle to minimise the amount of grain in their surfaces but that has never been a problem at Lakelands. Putts on Lakelands greens roll wonderfully true and are usually quick, which really places a premium on hitting your approaches to the correct section of Nicklaus’ extensive putting surfaces.
While the greens are a definite highlight, the Windsor Green couch fairways and greens surrounds cannot be overlooked. They are generally always flawless and would be the envy of every private member’s club in the nation.
The impeccable conditioning of the course, which has been recognised with several awards over the years, would matter little if the design was ordinary. The fact that Nicklaus’ work at Lakelands is first class ensures this layout sits comfortably among the top echelon of Australian courses and should be on the ‘must play’ list of every golfer heading to the Gold Coast.
To realise what an incredible job Nicklaus did in designing Lakelands, is to know what the land was like that he had to work with. The land was once a flat, seasonal floodplain and water run off from the surrounding pastures would cover where the course now lies.
The construction team working with Nicklaus did a terrific job and Lakelands has proven over the years that it is one of the best draining layouts in the region.
As is the case with most Nicklaus-designed courses, the game’s best players are challenged, while the rest of us are able to have an enjoyable round as well. Nicklaus has incorporated five sets of tees, which gives players of all standards the opportunity to play his design without fear of walking off the course with their love of the game beaten out of them.
“Such is the quality of Nicklaus’ work here that you don’t realise how hard some of the holes are until you have found trouble en route to the green.”
Such is the quality of the Nicklaus’ work here that you don’t realise how hard some of the holes are until you have found trouble en route to the green. The fairways at Lakelands, on the whole, are generously wide but the key to good scoring here lies in your ability to play to the edges of the short grass and, therefore, leave a straightforward approach into the angled greens.
Nicklaus’ design intention at Lakelands was to ease players into their round and let the challenge gradually build throughout the course of the round, which is why most of the tougher holes are found on the back nine.
For mine, the 342-metre 8th is one of the best par-4s at Lakelands and offers a fine example of smart position play being rewarded. Here you need to position your drive in the right half of the fairway to avoid having to hit over a lake for your approach to the green. A lake lies to the left of the fairway, as does a sprawling wasteland bunker and second shots from this side of the fairway may be shorter but are far more difficult. A pot bunker in the middle of the fairway, about 212 metres from the back tee, does narrow the playing line down the right side but if you can avoid the sand, your approach shot will be straight up the green to the flag.
One of Lakelands’ hardest examinations comes with the opening tee shot of the back nine. The 10th hole is one of the toughest driving holes in the country, especially from the blue and black markers. From the tee, the fairway of the 384-metre par-4 sits at a slight diagonal to your drive and is raised above a lake, to the left, for its entire journey to the green. A steep slope of Couch grass-covered rough is all that separates a watery grave from the left edge of the fairway. The best result here is a strong drive, over the edge of the lake, to the right half of the fairway leaving a long- or mid-iron into a green protected by two bunkers, one left and another right.
Like the fairways, the greens are also generously sized but stray approach shots can be heavily penalised as you find your ball in a bunker or even on a rough covered downslope or hollow. The task of then getting up-and-down successfully is a tough one with many of the greenside bunkers, mounds and hollows having shoulders that slope markedly toward the centre of the green and away from the wide variety of hole locations.
But it’s not the sand that will cause you too many concerns on the prettiest and, arguably, most testing par-3 at Lakelands. What makes the 133-metre par-3 14th such a tough little customer is the demand placed on correct club and tee shot selection. You can be easily distracted by the beauty of the lake as well as the cascading waterfall beside the deep green, which sits diagonally to your approach. There is about four clubs’ difference between the back and front of the putting surface, while a swirling breeze can often be felt here and must also be considered.
It has been interesting to watch how Lakelands has evolved during the past 23 years. While ownership of the course has changed a few times, the presentation and enjoyment the layout brings has never waivered.
Nicklaus’ last visit was many years ago, but I reckon he would be more than happy with the way his first signature course in Australia has progressed.
LOCATION: Lakelands Dve, Merrimac, Gold Coast.
CONTACT: (07) 5579 8700; (07) 5510 6538 (pro shop).
DESIGNER: Jack Nicklaus (1997).
PLAYING SURFACES: Windsor Green couch (fairways); Bermuda Tifdwarf (greens).
COURSE SUPERINTENDENT: Phil Soegaard.
PGA & ALPG PROFESSIONALS: Rowan Beste, Craig Chandler, Anne Wilson-Lawrence and Jenny Sevil.
GREEN FEES: $125 per person (including motorised cart).
MEMBERSHIP: There are multiple membership categories currently available including five- and seven-day memberships. The club also offers a three-month full membership trial, while junior memberships are available upon application.
ACCOLADES: No.91, Golf Australia Magazine Top-100 Courses 2020; No.31, Golf Australia magazine Top-100 Public Access Courses 2019.