Location: King Island, TAS
Architect: Mike DeVries and Darius Oliver
Date Played: 17th November 2017
The final game to complete the Australian Top 100 Golf course list was at Cape Wickham Links. Located along the norther coastline of King Island, this course has taken the World by storm since its opening. Only seemed fitting this should bring to a conclusion, my quest to complete the current published list of the top 100.
Cape Wickham Links Entrance
The Cape Wickham lighthouse, built in 1861, sits at the norther end of the course. At 48 meters in height, it is visible on a majority of the holes, sometimes being the only aiming point you have.
Our Chariot to King Island and the crew rearing to go
But lets take one step back. Getting to King Island can only be done by flight. I don’t mean your normal commercial jets, but a light plane. The largest the King Island airport can handle is around 30 seats. To make life a lot easier for the organiser, me, we used a tour company to organise everything, from flights, accommodation and ground transport. No designated drivers on this trip. Let me point out that you need to book accommodation quite early in advance, due to the lack of rooms available. Booking this trip had occurred ten months in advance, so it also relied on me to play the remaining top 100 courses if this was to be the last.
Touring Group at Cape Wickham Links Clubhouse (L-R Mark, Phil, Steve, Geoff, Chris, Bob, Daniel, Myself and Rob)
Making this a bit more special was having a group along to finish the quest. With half the group having played at least one course or more along the way, it was good to have fellow players who could appreciate what had been achieved around.
Cape Wickham Links Course Map
The course is located along the coast, at times venturing inland. Routing seems to be very seamless and natural, with walks between holes very minimal.
Scorecard for Cape Wickham Links
There are two men’s tees and a forward tee for ladies. One of the criticisms would be the lack of another tee between the men’s and ladies. Some of the less competent or physically capable players, struggled to make some of the carries to the fairway. This is something than Barnbougle has done quite well.
Himilayan putting green behind the 13th hole
There is a large putting green available, but a new Himilayan putting green is currently being prepared for use. Based on the principle at St Andrews Golf Links in Scotland, this is a large area with lots of humps and hollows of varying degrees and quite a few holes. Families, learners or even a challenge or two over a few drinks can be played, without hitting the course. I had been hoping it would be completed before our arrival, but we were probably a few weeks too early. The grass was a bit too long to even attempt putting. Located behind the 13th green, it is not far from the 1st tee and quite accessible.
Snake Warning Sign
I have seen signs for snakes on courses throughout Australia, but have rarely seen them. Take note of this one, they are definitely around. Our leading group encountered at least three during their round. Lucky for us they scared them off. If the ball goes into the long stuff I recommend leaving it, play an Irish drop and move on.
Hole 1 – 340 meter par 4
Starting the round is this mid length par 4, playing relatively straight. Sitting on the coastline, the right side has cliffs falling away to the sea below. The Fairway is quite wide, opening even further past the rough on the left.
View of 1st green from 4th Hole
With the green angling away to the left, the best side to make the approach is along the right, next to the cliff. Sitting elevated, the forward section of the green has a large slope to climb, whilst there are three bunkers located on the right. The first thing that is noticeable is how much the ball runs on the fairway. Second is how firm the greens are, allowing the ball to run through quite easily. Nice hole to ease into the round, yet still have some risk verse reward on offer for the tee shot.
Hole 2 – 330 meter par 4
Next is a similar length hole, again playing relatively straight. A small carry is required over scrub to reach the wide fairway. A cliff is found the entire length of the hole down the right, so it is best staying away from this side. With a small central bunker there is an option to layup or play on either side, with a lot more room available to the left.
View back along 2nd hole
This green sits close to the cliffs edge, which runs along the right side. From the central bunker the fairway slopes right to left, feeding away from the long putting surface. With a lot of short grass available in this area, it is the best side to make the approach. Sloping on the green help to feed the ball into this run off area, if not hit correctly. A simple hole which does not offer a lot of risk or reward. Although the left side of the fairway is best to make the approach, there are no hazards around to reward a good shot.
Hole 3 – 170 meter par 3
Staying along the coastline is the longest and hardest index par 3. Quite spectacular scenery with the varying colour of grass leading down to the rocky outcrops next to the sea. The hole itself has a lot of grass short to feed the ball in, which is necessary when the wind picks up.
Looking up to the 3rd green
Angling away to the right, this long green has bunkers down the same side, built into the slope leading away. On the left is a collection area, which will save the ball, but potentially leave a tricky return shot. A large rise runs across the length of the green, creating a second tier. Failing to find the correct portion of the green will leave a difficult putt. Certainly a challenging par 3 where the elements will have great influence. Having a large area to run the ball in as well as miss the green left makes a lot of sense.
Hole 4 – 393 meter par 4
Heading parallel to the 2nd hole, is this long par 4. Playing a blind tee shot over a hill will leave some feeling uneasy. As mentioned earlier, that lighthouse can be seen and is the line to take on the hole. The fairway is quite wide but a large waste area sits to the right, separating the 4th and 5th holes. There are also parts of this fairway which joins both holes.
Bunkers on the 4th fairway
Fairway traps are found further down, short of the green, on the right hand side. This makes the left side of the fairway the ideal side to make the approach. The green itself narrows towards the rear, but sits fairly level with its surrounds allowing the ball to be run in. At the rear it does slope away however. Strong hole with good design. The wide open fairway is required for such a long hole, which would be almost impossible to reach if into a headwind.
Hole 5 – 329 meter par 4
A short par 4 plays back in the opposite direction. Another blind tee shot to a fairway obscured by the scrub between tee and fairway. Two traps are located to the left of this narrow fairway. Further along on the right is the shared waste area with the previous hole. Playing close to this side will allow an easier approach.
Behind the 5th Green
The front of the green is slightly raised, compared to the fairway, although this becomes larger towards the rear. One small trap left and two at the rear of the green complex, add a little bit of difficulty for misdirected shots. After playing the previous long par 4, this seems too easy, although the slight contours leading into the green could send the ball in a different direction than expected.
Hole 6 – 447 meter par 5
Heading in a southerly direction parallel to the coast, is the shortest par 5 and easiest index hole on course. Caution is required when trying to find the tee, as this crosses with the 13th hole. Also ensuring you hit on the correct fairway, which is the one located on the right. To reach the fairway, a carry is required from the elevated tee over the scrub. The 6th and 13th fairways are joint for a good portion, allowing a lot more room out to the left.
Approach from the 6th fairway
Fairway bunkers are located on the right side. Play to hear will leave a blind second shot to the green. Being left leaves a much clearer view.
Approach to the 6th Green
The fairway turns at almost a right angle before the green, creating a lot of space to land the ball. However being left here will require a blind shot over a dune to reach the green. There are multiple traps along the front face, but more surprises exist on the green itself. Being wider than it is deep, the right rear portion falls away into a depression. This leaves a tricky putt if the pin is on the higher sections. Not a strong hole off the tee, with hazards seeming to be on a side which does not offer the best line. There should be risk in playing to the left side to find the best line. The green complex is interesting. I have not seen a reverse tiered green for a while, in fact Kalgoorlie was the last time, which was a triple decker.
Hole 7 – 137 meter par 3
Playing to the east, is the easiest index par 3. From an elevated tee, play is over a low scrub area before rising to the green. Ample room is allowed right of the green which angles away in the same direction. There are some large humps just short of the green, which manage to hide the bunkers left.
Looking across the 7th green
A two tiered green slopes from rear to front and right to left. For those who may have found the hill down the right, they are in luck, with a back board available beyond the green, which feeds the ball back. Great if the pin is center to rear. Quite like the design of this hole. It punishes bad shots, but still has some forgiveness with the green surrounds to feed the ball in. On our first day of play the hole didn’t feel so short. Nothing short of a long iron was required to even get close to the putting surface.
Hole 8 – 384 meter par 4
This hole is about as inland as you will get on the course. A long par 4, requires a carry over a dune to reach the fairway. There is a partial view of the green to get an idea on the direction to hit.
View beyond the dune to the 8th fairway
The fairway sits in a valley below the surrounding dunes. Quickly starting to rise towards the green, the ball will come to a much quicker stop than other holes on the course. With the green structure, making the approach from the right side of the fairway is best.
Looking down at the 8th green
Sitting way above the fairway, the elevated green has multiple bunkers on the left face, leaving the right side open. The ball could be run in, but would be difficult up such a steep slope. The green narrows towards the rear, before falling away steeply. Nicely designed hole, with a challenging tee shot but also testing approach. This hole does require one additional teeing area, for those not so confident to make the carry over a large area of scrub.
Hole 9 – 488 meter par 5
Starting the run back towards the coastline is this long par 5. With play down hill most of the way, it plays much shorter than suggested. A blind tee shot over a hill, leaves you wondering which line to take (always easier the second time). Aiming to the ridge peak should allow the ball to run down safely.
View down the 9th fairway
Bunkers built into the face of the dune on the right, or laying up short on that side, will leave a blind second shot. Caution is required on where to hit. Take a peak down the fairway to work out the best way to play.
Carry across to the 9th green
A large drop in the fairway occurs short of the green. To the right, safety on the fairway, left is scrub and waste, which will be difficult to find your ball in. Those brave enough can try and carry the valley to the green sitting on the other side. A small dune sits before the green, making the target small.
View of the 9th green
The green is of medium length, so trying to land the ball from a distance maybe difficult. However laying up to the right, must take into consideration the small dune beside the green, which has a small bunker at its base. This may block a shot into the green. At the rear of the green, steep slopes are found which will see the ball roll down to the long grass. Those finding the rear bunkers may regret the find. These were extremely penal, making the ball roll right up to the rear lip, leaving only a shot out backwards. Quite like the first half of this hole, but really unsure on the green complex. The small dune blocking the green is odd, although it works off the principle, those taking a safer option will find a harder approach.
Cape Wickham Hole Marker
The hole markers are the more modern style found at newer golf clubs. Almost looking like a tombstone, the course logo, hole number, length and par is shown, to stop any confusion.
Hole 10 – 327 meter par 4
Play continues down hill towards the coastline on this short par 4, which is the easiest index of its type. Another blind tee shot is required, although this one is not too difficult. With a small carry over some scrub, the fairway steepens its drop the further you go. Hitting towards the rocks out at sea should find the best line to the green.
Looking down the 10th Fairway
Once carrying the first portion of the fairway, the steep slopes on the fairway will do their magic in getting the ball down near the green. With all sides bringing the ball towards the middle, those being too aggressive finding the rough either side of the fairway will be kicking themselves.
View of the 10th green
The green complex is where this hole does get a little tricky. Bunkers either side will only be in play from the tee, or a bad approach. With a small hump leading onto the green, it will be easy to hit a little firmer, if too much, the contours will take over feeding the ball further away. Some tricky putts will be left if in the wrong portion of the green, with a shelf right rear having a strong slope at its front. Nice hole to play and can understand its index rating. I was curious if a putter could be used off the tee and still make the steep slope down to the green. The hole is designed to be easy with both sides of the fairway funneling the ball towards the center. It is fun to play, but do wonder how long before the novelty would wear off.
Hole 11 – 136 meter par 3
One of the most scenic at Cape Wickham Links, is the shortest hole on the course. This par 3 plays right on the coastline, with the tee and green sitting among the rocky outcrops. A carry is required to the green, with anything short basically unplayable. A large dune is located right, leaving the rest of the green sitting slightly perched amongst the rocks below.
View of the 11th green
With a bunker front left, the green widens once past this point. There is a small area surrounding, more at the front and rear for any miss, but not a lot. Some small contours are found on the green, but this hole is more about hitting the target. This hole is a lot about the scenery, but the design does allow for some forgiveness. With the large dune to the left, I am not sure how much protection is offered from the elements. Stand back, take in the view and good luck with the tee shot.
Hole 12 – 295 meter par 4
Playing along the cliffs, is the shortest par 4, which doglegs to the left. The fairway is quite forgiving in width, for the first portion anyway. Three bunkers line the run out area, giving a good indication of club selection if playing safe.
Approach to the 12th green
A narrow neck connects the fairway to the green, so playing for this point requires an accurate shot. The sloping of the fairway will help to feed the ball through this section if you are willing to take on the risk.
View down to the 12th green
The green is where this hole becomes a lot more difficult. With two tiers, the slope varies in degree from front to back. A larger slope is encountered towards the front, which softens the further you move along the green. The putting surface also falls away from the front, making it harder to stop the ball on the green. It is possible to drive the green, one of my best shots of the weekend, which solves the problem of chipping into the green. Great risk reward hole (and I don’t say that because I played it well), although the green is difficult to master. It allows for a variety of play for all levels of player.
Hole 13 – 520 meter par 5
A long par 5 takes us back to the clubhouse. This is the teeing area which causes confusion, more so for those finding the 6th. Caution needs to be taken if players are on the 6th tee. Again the fairway is quite wide, having a central bunker, then another three on the right. If long enough landing left of the central bunker will open the view to the green, but this is a much smaller area. If not quite long enough the hump in this area will leave a blind shot. Safety is down the right, where ample room is available, but view partially blocked.
View along the 13th fairway
This is a very long hole. During our visits, there was a head wind on both occasions, so it was even longer. For the second, the safe option is playing to the left of the two fairway bunkers. Plenty of area here, but leaves a more difficult shot to the green. Carrying the bunkers or slightly right, leaves an elevated position to the green, with the ground sloping towards the putting surface.
Approach to the 13th green
There is a bunker left as well as front right. Between these a large hollow with a hump or two, making it difficult to run the ball in. A large ridge runs through the middle of the green, causing the back section to be slightly higher. One of the toughest holes on the course, a story common among our playing group. The design offers some risk and reward at every shot, so you must think your way to the green. But more importantly adequate fairway for the conditions that can be encountered.
Wildlife on the course
Wallabies are not uncommon on the course. We were lucky to see a mother carrying her baby in its pouch. At first thinking the mother was moving oddly, perhaps being hurt, we were relieved to see a babies head find its way out for a peek.
Hole 14 – 386 meter par 4
Crossing the clubhouse, we find ourselves heading to the most northern section of the course, where all the holes run parallel to the coastline. To start is a long par 4, with a dogleg left. Hitting from an elevated tee, a large valley needs to be carried before a view of the green is possible. Five bunkers line the upper section of the rise, running away diagonally left. Finding yourself below or worse, in these, leaves a blind shot to the green. Playing slightly right of these allows a clearer approach, which may or may not be a blind shot, depending on length from the tee.
View into the the 14th green
Chances are, if you have a blind shot, hitting at the lighthouse will end up close to the green. Sitting down in a bowl, this would almost be a punch bowl green, except the left side slopes to a large swale. Most sides can be used as a backboard to feed the ball into the green, but a small pot bunker sits rear right. Finding this leaves a difficult shot to rear pin positions. This was a nicely shaped hole, where if taking on the risks and not executing, the hazards will punish. The green is a pleasant difference, being more in a depression, rather than raised, assisting to feed the ball in.
Hole 15 – 532 meter par 5
The last hole heading outward, is the longest and hardest index par 5. A carry is required to reach the fairway, which rises hiding the green beyond. Two bunkers are found at the top, of the hill, aiming over these (more to the left one) will allow the slopes to bring the ball back due to the gradient towards the sea.
Approach from the 15th fairway
From the second shot on, the fairway continues to drop until the green complex. Narrowing slightly the further you play, the fairway slope towards the sea still needs to be taken into consideration.
Looking back from the 15th Green
A large area is found to the right of the green, which has a slope feeding in. This is not the area to miss, leaving it on the plateau, as a difficult shot will be left which may run through the green. The putting surface slopes front to rear, so some thought has to be given on how to stop the ball. Enjoyable hole, which requires some thought for each shot. The only hazards on the hole are found off the tee, yet doesn’t mean the hole will be easy. Finding the wrong spots on this hole will cause issues.
Hole 16 – 377 meter par 4 – Steve playing off the tee
Heading back in the opposite direction, starting the run home back to the clubhouse, is the hardest index hole at Cape Wickham Links. Running almost along the waters edge, a carry is required over the rocky outcrops to an elevated fairway. With a strong slope towards the water, plenty of room must be allowed for the ball rolling. The fairway has a lot of large mounds, so expect a potentially awkward stance.
Approach from the 16th fairway
A small dogleg to the right, on a narrowing fairway, leads down to the green complex. There is a large central bunker short of the green. Playing to the narrower left section, is over fairly flat ground, but the right side has a large swale. Appearing float on the water, there is trouble on all sides of the green, requiring an accurate shot.
Looking back to the 16th green
Truly a challenging hole using the natural contours to increase the difficulty. The approach requires a lot of thought, but taking on the risky left narrow side, will help to feed the ball into the green. Getting it wrong will lead to pain though.
Hole 17 – 164 meter par 3
The penultimate hole, last of the short ones, has a carry over the coastline to reach the green complex, sitting lower than the tee. Angling away to the right, there is ample room to land the ball short, with the contours maneuvering the ball towards the green. Those aiming directly for the target need to carry the full distance and avoid the four bunkers along the right of the green, or a larger trap to towards the left rear. There is some room to miss on short grass to the right, before the rugged ground starts leading down to the water.
Looking down at the 17th Green
Some fun can be had with the contours around this green and even more so on the putting surface itself. A small ridge runs across the green, although the middle section becomes a large hump. Finding yourself on the wrong side of this leaves a difficult putt. Playing too cautiously across this can see the ball head in the wrong direction, as one of my playing partners discovered. Really enjoyed this hole. It offers the challenge of going at the green with a longer carry, or using the fairway section to feed the ball in, especially good for shorter hitters.
Hole 18 – 395 meter par 4
Coming to the last hole, not only for the course, but to complete the Australian Golf Digest 2016 Top 100 journey, is the longest par 4 on the course. Visually stunning, this Cape designed hole has a beach running the entire length on the right. A carry over this is required to reach the fairway. Picky your line, commit and hope you calculated correctly, watching as the ball flies over the sand. What is great here, the beach is in play, although it is a decent shot to hit back up to the fairway.
View along the 18th fairway
Those worried can play to the closest part of the fairway from the tee, as there is quite a lot of room available, although leaves a long difficult approach. Lots of undulation is found along the stretch leading into the green. Finding a favourable bounce of the back side of these, can propel the ball further along.
View back at the 18th hole
A large bunker is found at the front right of the green, catching those trying to play overly safe, keeping away from the beach. The green site is quite large, which is suitable for such a long par 4. There are still some contours to deal with, in particular the rise through the middle of the green, almost creating a second tier. This is a well designed hole incorporating great elements of nature effectively. Allowance has been made for shorter hitters to reach the fairway with ample room to land the ball, but reward those taking on larger risk. Few cape holes incorporate a beach, which is still considered in play, making for a difficult recovery. Most will be around man made water hazards, which more often than not really appear manufactured. This really gives Royal Melbourne Golf Club’s 18th on the Eastern a run for its money as the best finishing hole in Australia. Certainly a great hole and course to complete my top 100 quest.
Looking at the course makeup:
- Hole Directions – There was a good variety allowing for conditions to have wide ranging effects during play. Most quadrants on the compass were covered fairly evenly, with the exception of those facing in an easterly direction, which had the least.
- Hole Lengths – The course was a traditional par 72, with 4 par 3, 4 par 5 and remaining par 4 holes. Par three holes were all of a mid length distance, although they were mixed up within this full spectrum. Par four holes ranged from short to long with the majority being either short or long length. Par 5 holes ranged from mid to long with the latter being the majority. There was a good balance with par types between the two nines. Par 3 wise, there was great balance in hole distances. Par 4 holes were also balance, with a good mixture between the two nines, as were the longer par 5 holes. At first there was some concern on having similar length holes consecutively, but when conditions were brought into the mix, this made the holes play shorter or longer than the card stated
- Hole Layout – There was a good mixture in how the holes played. A slight majority tended to favour turns to the left, where two shots or more were required to reach the green. There an equal number of holes playing straight to those turning right. Four consecutive holes played with a left turn through, 12 to 15. This did vary in the degree of the turn, but also direction being played, which helped to make this less noticeable
Conditions on the course were generally very good. The teeing areas were relatively flat, although a little hard at times. My favourite tees which are a slightly thicker wooden type, usually last almost a round or two. Went through four in just one round due to firmness holding the tee in and the club breaking them. Fairways were overall in a very good condition, although there were a few patches on various holes which were bare. Funnily a friend on the tour did not notice this on the first round. After pointing this out, he came up to me after the second round saying all he could see were the bare spots. They were not that widespread, but interesting how these things can be overlooked. Not sure if this is due to coastal conditions or animals. Bunkers were in a good even condition, with most having longer grass on the surrounds. What did stand out was some bunkers allowing the ball to run back and rest against the rear lip. Whether this is design or condition I am unsure, but it did cause issues. Those behind the 9th green were extremely bad. I believe the original purpose of these is to stop the ball rolling down into the long grass due to the steep slope behind, but they would be better off being grass bunkers. Green complexes were of a high standard, considering the environment. Quite firm but ran quite true. The green surrounds were generally of a high quality, with short grass being well maintained.
There were a few standout holes which will forever stay in my mind. In particular the par 3 holes (5, 7, 11 & 17) all did. Most were trying to utilise the coastline to enhance the look, but all played quite differently. Some of the short par 4 holes were great, in particular, 12 and 16. Certainly the 18th was a sensational closing hole, probably the best in Australia. A memorable course, with great design taking in the spectacular views of the coast on King Island.
In summary you can only speak highly of the course and what it is a pleasure to play. Our first day did encounter quite severe wind conditions, later in the afternoon, which at one point it crossed my mind to stop playing. This seemed to ease quite a bit once we reached the 14th hole, making it more comfortable to continue. I have to commend the designers, Mike DeVries and Darius Oliver on the routing of the course. They have managed to get the absolute most out of the land, without compromising any holes. It could be cliche to have most of the par 3 holes near the water, but with them all playing quite differently, this was not a big issue.
There were a couple of issues which did not go unnoticed though, with a few bunkers allowing the ball to roll right to the back edge against the lip. Some may say it is a hazard and you should not be in them, but those at the rear of the 9th hole are almost unavoidable. As much as I liked the green complex on 10, I think this is one hole I could tire of quickly, especially if I were playing week after week. Yes it is great to find the ball funneling down towards the green, but I was already thinking about what was the least club that could be played to get over the ridge. however there are some holes I would play over and over. There are a lot of subtleties about the course, in particular around the greens, where hours could be spent trying to work out the best way to play.
I could not have planned to finish the quest to play Australia’s Top 100 golf courses in a better way. Such a fitting end to complete the 2016 list here.
The last putt completing the Australian Golf Digest 2016 Top 100 list
The big question, would I return? In a heart beat. Not only for Cape Wickham but its neighbouring course of Ocean Dunes, makes the trip really worth while. With talk of another course or two being built on the southern part of the island, a push to become one of Australia’s biggest golfing destinations is on. Now it is just a case or working it into my schedule to go back.
How to play at Cape Wickham:
1. The course is open to the public. Contact the pro shop to make a booking (don’t forget about accommodation)