New South Wales’ Hunter Region boasts beautiful surf beaches, world-famous vineyards and fantastic golf courses … It’s no wonder locals like Aussie golfing icon, Jack Newton call it “God’s Country.”
New South Wales’ Hunter region seemingly has everyone covered with enticements to visit the area, less than two hours’ drive north of Sydney’s northern outskirts.
Surfers have a wealth of brilliant beaches to find a wave. Foodies can certainly rejoice, while lovers of good vino are spoilt for choice in this famed wine-growing region. And if you like packing the golf clubs in the back of the car and heading off to discover yet unplayed courses, you won’t miss in the Hunter.
In fact, if you have three days to spare, you can easily play four Hunter region layouts that are all ranked in Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses for 2019.
I would certainly recommend starting any golf trip to the Hunter right in the heart of wine country.
Any time is a great time to take in the sights of wine country, but summer into early autumn is perhaps the most vibrant and exciting time around the vineyards.
Towards the end of January, vintage begins and the Hunter Valley becomes alive with both hand and machine picking in the vineyards. Warm days mean mornings on the course, afternoons exploring the vineyards and evenings cooling by the pool with a glass of some local wine in your hand.
November through to March is also a great time for ‘Day On The Green’ concerts when Hunter Valley wineries like Bimbadgen and Roche Estate play host to big name acts. Recent performers have included Jimmy Barnes (who probably took his golf clubs), Kylie Minogue, Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond and Bruce Springsteen.
Appropriately named for the region, The Vintage Resort & Spa, has been satisfying golfers’ pallets with its mix of challenging holes and beautifully manicured playing surfaces for nearly 16 years. Not surprisingly it was recently listed No.17 in Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses ranking.
“The bunkering is a memorable feature of any round at The Vintage. They are not only a hazard to the golfer but their cosmetic appeal is breathtaking.”
Designed by Greg Norman and Bob Harrison, the land where the par-72 layout now lies was first earmarked for a championship course back in 1983. But the course did not get the green light for construction until 2000 when massive financial backing was secured and the $450 million golf course resort and residential community project became a reality.
The significant budget afforded Norman and Harrison allowed the team to extract the best possible holes from a landscape that varies from relatively flat to dramatically undulating. Where possible, native trees on the property were kept and several small creeks and waterholes were incorporated into the course routing, which follows the traditional two loops of nine holes.
A fine example of this natural design can be found early in the round at the 2nd hole – a 356-metre par-4 L-shaped dogleg right that is bordered by stands of Casuarina trees left and right. Good strategy, rather than long hitting, is needed here to position the drive to leave an unobstructed view of the relatively small green, which is totally surrounded by trees and bunkers.
The bunkering is a memorable feature of any round at The Vintage. They are not only a hazard to the golfer but their cosmetic appeal is breathtaking and a recent renovation has them looking better than ever.
For mine, the back nine offers the greatest variety of holes and, as a result, is arguably the most fun to play. Two favourite holes on the inward half are at either end of the spectrum in terms of distance.
RIGHT: The long par-3 8th hole at The Vintage. PHOTO: Brendan James.
The 552-metre par-5 10th is the longest hole at The Vintage but the first two thirds of the fairway are downhill. The remainder of the hole is dominated by a lake to the left and a steep sloping fairway that rises to a green that lies just beyond a cliff overlooking the lake and is protected by a bunker to the right and a mound to the left.
At 331 metres, there is nothing too gruelling about the journey from tee to green on the par-4 13th. But you must be accurate and avoid the line of five bunkers that are wedged between the fairway and tree line to the right, and the wetland flanking the short grass to the left. The putting surface here slopes markedly from right-to-left and is far more receptive to short iron approach shots flying in from the left half of the fairway. If the flag is in the left half of this green, take aim at the right half of the green and watch your ball feed around to the flag.
The Vintage’s nearest golfing neighbour, just a few minutes’ drive south into the heart of the Pokolbin wine growing area, is the extensively renovated Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort.
Cypress Lakes quickly established itself as one of the country’s best golf resorts after opening in 1992 but the 2000s saw a gradual decline in the quality of the golf course, designed by American Steve Smyers in collaboration with former Aussie touring pro Bob Stanton.
But the past five years have seen Cypress Lakes gradually return to its former glory, after the resort was purchased in 2013 by Thai hotel group, Minor International, through its Australian entity, Oaks Hotels & Resorts.
Now known as Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort, the new owner has invested heavily in the course with designer James Wilcher overseeing upgrades to the layout, including a $1 million bunker restoration program. The overall condition of the course has also dramatically improved and led to Cypress Lakes re-entering Golf Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Course ranking in 2019 after an eight-year absence.
One hole that has changed little since the early 90s, and is arguably the most memorable and visually impressive hole at Cypress Lakes, is the 491-metre par-5 6th. From an elevated tee you get a nice view over vines in front of the tee and then beyond to the fairway and further afield to nearby vineyards.
From one of the high points of the course, you can send your drive into orbit and gaze, as it appears to stay in the air forever, before hitting the wide fairway below. The fairway then rises sharply, past staggered fairway bunkers right and left, up to a smallish green that is protected by more bunkers short left and to the right.
Some of Wilcher’s finest renovation work can be seen with the bunkering on the 17th and 18th holes. The large sandy pits dividing the split-level fairway on the par-4 17th have never looked better, while the new fairway traps in the left half of the 18th fairway have added some bite to the closing hole.
And if you are still not convinced Cypress Lakes is on the rise consider this … the resort was voted the Best Golf Hotel in Australia and Oceania at the World Golf Awards in 2018.