Bribie Island is all sand, which had course architect Ross Watson champing at the bit when he was commissioned to design what is today one of Queensland’s premier layouts.
Every course designer confronted with creating a layout from scratch faces the conundrum of having to challenge better golfers without distancing the ‘bread and butter’ masses of casual and mid- to high-handicap players.
It is a fine line but experienced course architect Ross Watson has proven it can be done with his creation at Pacific Harbour Golf & Country Club, on Queensland’s Bribie Island. It is a terrific example where golfers of all standards are catered for, not just by offering multiple tees on each hole.
Watson’s island links course, about 45 minutes’ drive north of Brisbane Airport, really issues the challenge to better players, who are no doubt the same players able to hit a ball of some decent length. Longer hitters can blast away with their driver at will as the fairways are, for the most part, generously wide. But the further you hit your drive on some holes, the more complicated your approach is made because of Watson’s simple rolling fairway design, which brings shorter, more accurate players back into the frame.
“At Pacific Harbour, I tried to create 18 individual and memorable holes that all golfers will enjoy,” said Watson, shortly after the course opened in April 2006. “The fairways are generous in width but there are definitely a variety of playing lines on most holes that call for different strategy and there are plenty of safe hitting areas for less gifted players.
“I’m really pleased with the finished product at Pacific Harbour.”
The width of the fairways and angled greens really adds to the risk-and-reward strategy required on most holes. For example, the dogleg right par-4 5th, which plays 389 metres from the tips, features a scheme of fairway bunkers on the inside of the dogleg. Even though the driving zone is quite wide, your tee shot ideally needs to flirt with the sand and finish near the right edge of the fairway to leave the shortest and most direct approach into the green, which is angled diagonally from right to left.
Watson’s design makes for some strong two-shotters – even the short ones are testing – but one suspects Pacific Harbour’s par-3s are really what most golfers will long remember.
All four one-shotters are very different to each other, which is an integral aspect of any memorable course. The 4th measures 184 metres from the back markers but a wide entrance to the putting surface allows you to land your tee shot short and watch it run on.
RIGHT: The par-3 7th hole pays homage to the island hole at TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players. PHOTO: Brendan James.
The 142-metre 7th pays homage to the famous island green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, and it even bears the name of the home of the PGA Tour’s Players Championship. However, Watson’s version is only a semi-island putting surface but you could swear it is totally surrounded by water as you survey your water carry tee shot from the back tee. There is nothing but water hazard between you and the fringe of the green, which is perched nearly two metres above the water line. The aggressive play is to take on the water and carry your tee shot all the way, but hitting with too much club can bring the large bunker through the green into play.
Watson has always been very keen to minimise any impact on any surrounding natural environs and his par-3 13th hole, known as Kakadu, is a great example. The 155-metre hole skirts the edge of some beautiful wetlands and was laid to be played into the prevailing breeze to challenge your club selection skills.
Perhaps the most talked about hole at Pacific Harbour is the 205-metre 17th. The hole features the longest bunker in the southern hemisphere (just on 200 metres), which forms a beach barrier between the fairway/green and a huge lake that runs the entire length of the right side of the hole. The hole is appropriately called The Beach.
“At Pacific Harbour, I tried to create 18 individual and memorable holes that all golfers will enjoy.” – Ross Watson
From the back tee, it is a mighty blow into the middle of the slightly elevated green. From the forward markers, the task is less exacting but a tee shot of at least 150 metres is needed to clear the edge of the sand and run up onto the front edge of the putting surface. This is one hole golfers will either love for its beauty and challenge or they will hate because they can’t hit the ball far enough to clear the sand and are forced to lay-up on a par-3.
Complementing the challenge and fun of Watson’s design is the high quality of the course’s presentation. The clearing of thick scrub in key areas of the course has improved the playing experience and resulted in Pacific Harbour being ranked at No.24 in Golf Australia magazine’s Top-100 Public Access Courses in 2019.
LOCATION: Avon Ave, Banksia Beach, Bribie Island, Queensland 4507.
CONTACT: (07) 3410 4001.
DESIGNER: Ross Watson (2006).
GREEN FEES: $54 (weekdays); $64 (weekends).
PLAY & STAY: Pacific Harbour offers exclusive Play and Stay packages with Fairways Golf and Beach Retreat (www.fairwaysretreat.com.au). All packages include self-contained accommodation at the retreat, which is located opposite neighbouring Bribie Island Golf Club. The four-day, four-player package costs $100 per person per night and includes three rounds of golf (choice of courses) as well as four nights’ accommodation.