Sitting on King Island in the middle of Bass Strait, Cape Wickham is one of Australia’s best golf courses.
Venturing to Australia’s newest golf course, anticipation filled the air. It wasn’t a matter of golf being a chore – no, we’d traverse the length and breadth of Australia for a round.
However, the remote location of this new course on King Island left us with high expectations. In the end, Cape Wickham exceeded them all.
Cape Wickham is one of two recent additions to King Island’s golfing landscape, lying approximately 100 kilometers northwest of Tasmania in the midst of Bass Strait. Accessible solely by air, we journeyed there via VortexAir from Moorabbin in Melbourne, landing at the recently renovated King Island airport. From there, it’s a scenic 50-minute drive north to Cape Wickham, a site initially earmarked for a golf course in 2011 by Andrew Purchase. His vision brought this isolated gem to life, transforming it into a world-class golf destination.
Duncan Andrews, owner and developer of The Dunes and Thirteenth Beach, along with renowned golf writer Darius Oliver, were enlisted as consultants. They, in turn, enticed American golf course designer Mike DeVries, known for his remarkable work on challenging terrains such as Alister MacKenzie’s Meadow Club near San Francisco and Greywalls Golf Course in Michigan.
Upon arrival, the sight of Australia’s largest lighthouse greets you, setting the tone for a golfing experience like no other. DeVries recognized the potential and promptly took charge of the design and construction.
As you pass the lighthouse, your gaze is drawn to the most captivating aspect of the course: the 18th hole. It wraps around Victoria Cove, potentially making it Australia’s most spectacular golf hole. While a tease at the beginning of your round, it serves as the perfect culmination of an exceptional golfing journey – one that you’ll want to revisit as soon as possible.
Despite the dramatic coastline, the course design incorporates subtleties, evident right from the first tee. All playing surfaces are covered in fescue grass, with no clear division between the practice green and the first tee. This traditional approach to course layout, coupled with breathtaking views, sets the tone for the round ahead.
The view from the 340-meter par-4 first hole tee is nothing short of spectacular. The fairway clings to the cliff top, culminating in a raised, two-tiered green that challenges your short game, making it one of Australia’s most memorable opening holes.
The short, par-4 second hole is generally played from the tees to the right of the first green with the fairway extending along the coastline to a deceptive, big green that slopes from front to back.
I can highly recommend playing the hole from the left tee that forms part of a wonderful rolling pure links-style area that encompasses the first and fourth greens, and second tee. This tee offers a vastly different angle to the fairway where bigger hitters will be tempted to smash a driver at the green but will likely finish in the left swale unless they find the narrow ledge on the right leading to the green.
On first impressions, the par-3 third hole looks a brute, especially when playing into the prevailing wind. But the bunker-free green complex is a generous one and while most golfers will need a long iron or more, you’ll be staring at a straight-forward chip and putt if you get the ball anywhere around the green.
The fourth tee provides a picturesque view with the lighthouse serving as an ideal reference point. While it tempts golfers to consider that line the 393-meter par-4 fourth hole, an alternative lies to the right, offering a shorter but more challenging approach. This route necessitates clearing two small bunkers positioned 30 meters in front of the green. In keeping with traditional links-style play, executing a bump-and-run proves advantageous for precision on a deceptively tricky green that poses difficulties in controlling the ball’s roll.
The short par-4 fifth hole heads back towards the ocean and a good drive down the narrow fairway will leave you a short pitch to the green. It’s a good place to catch your breath before playing the roller-coaster par-5 sixth that begins with a relatively straightforward drive – the right side giving you a better angle, and shorter avenue to the green.
But the approach to the green is where the fun really begins.
A left-hand pin means a blind approach over a dune that commands the front left – a miss to the right will see you facing a tough uphill chip or putt. Multiple swales and valleys on this green mean there are many different ways of getting the ball to the hole. It also means a two-putt is not assured once you’re on the short stuff.
The 7th hole is a curious par-3. Upon first look, it seems you need to carry the ball all the way to a green perched in the dunes, but after a couple of tee shots, you’ll soon realise that the bulk of the danger is behind the green.
A short pitch over the left-hand mound can surprisingly feed close to a few pin positions while finishing short and right (which at first appears a no-go zone) is not such a bad miss compared to going long. You’ll want to replay this hole straight away, no matter what you scored.
A blind tee shot starts the eighth hole that opens up into a wide fairway set in a valley before rising to a green guarded by a few bunkers on the left. Although I particularly loved the natural fairway amphitheatre, it’s all but forgotten by the time you’re negotiating the next four holes – one of the most exhilarating stretches of holes in Australia.
The drama ahead isn’t obvious from the tee at the 488m par-5 ninth hole. A drive across dunes looks innocent enough but you’ll be mentally challenged standing over your second. And possibly third.
Long hitters will be tempted to have a go at the most exciting shot on the golf course, while shorter hitters will be in two, three and four minds about which club and direction to lay-up.
In short, there is no easy approach to the ninth green that sits on the far side of a deep gorge – one mound on the front right, a big dune on the left and a steep drop off the back. It’s a beautiful thing to see and will have golfers gnashing their teeth or pumping their fists.
It’s one of the most unique pieces of golf architecture in Australian golf that arguably could be made even more interesting if the front hillock was tightly mown allowing for some extra craziness on the approach shot.
The 320m par-4 10th hole heads dramatically down to the ocean, finishing with a rolling green nestled among some dangerous bunkers. Finish in the wrong part of the green here and you’re facing a two-putt at best.
The 136m par-3 11th hole will be the most memorable for many golfers. And rightly so. Sitting among the rocks on the ocean edge, the tee shot requires accuracy to a green that can be difficult to hold down-breeze. It’s a stunning setting that ensures whatever goes on the card is largely irrelevant.
Like a playlist featuring all your favourite songs, the hits just keep on coming at the 12th hole – a short par-4 that bends from left-to-right around the coastline. The green complex is bigger than it looks from the tee but the fairway narrows at around 200 metres, so you may find yourself second-guessing your tee shot. Big hitters can go for the green but go left at any point and you’re all but dead in the water.
The par-5 13th hole takes you back away from the ocean with a generous landing area for your drive. The right-hand side is the best place to lay-up, but three small bunkers await down the right/centre of the fairway making for an awkward second shot. Another small bunker sits just left of the green for those who pull their shots a little left that can leave you without much of a back-swing depending on where you finish. I know it well.
The 14th hole begins the closing set of holes on the lighthouse/northern side of the golf course. Golfers may get a sense they can open up from the elevated tee that needs to avoid a string of fairway bunkers on the left. The blind approach to a punch-bowl green will have golfers annoyed and exhilarated in equal numbers. You’ll need to play this hole a number of times to know if a bump-and-run or a lofted shot is most appropriate. I’m still not sure.
A small bunker to denote the forward tee and an escarpment to the right does a great job of throwing off your perspective the first time you play the 532m par-5 15th hole. But we found the split-level right-to-left fairway on the approach to the green a little awkward.
Don’t get me wrong, this is still a wonderful golf hole and the closest point to the imposing Cape Wickham lighthouse but we don’t think it allows for as many options to get the ball home – in contrast to very nearly every other hole on the golf course.
The difficult par-4 16th begins the final three holes coming back along the ocean. A good drive to an undulating fairway will leave a long iron in hand (especially into the prevailing wind) with a sloping lie; classic links golf. My only other criticism (which says a lot about the golf course) comes from the approach to this hole.
With a big drop-off behind and to the right of this green, the low punch shot into the wind (so synonymous with links golf) is ideal here, however, it’s thwarted somewhat by the central bunker in front of the green. I wonder if this could have been a better hole (and more fun for high-handicappers) without the bunker, thereby attracting more bump-and-run options along the high ridge line, with the swale on the right a solid penalty for anything straying off-line.
Note: It says something about this golf course when my only criticisms feel like nit-picking at minor aspects of two holes at Cape Wickham.
I loved the par-3 17th hole that may be under-appreciated due to so many other great holes at Cape Wickham.
An elevated tee to a green nestled across a rocky shoreline means a left-to-right shape is ideal but there are some fun results if the ball happens to skirt some of the mounds to the left of the green. The hole can feel very different depending on whether there is a front or back pin due to a central ridge in the middle of the green.
As we mentioned earlier, the 18th hole at Cape Wickham may well be the best closing hole in Australia. The tee shot requires a carry across to a fairway that hugs the beach at Victoria Cove – and it’s up to you how much beach you cut off.
Should you stray right, you’re welcome to play from the beach, an invitation for a heroic finish.
If you’re a little less erratic and you find the fairway you’re left with an approach shot to a narrowing fairway and green. The bunker placed short and left is genius – not overbearing and detracting from the natural look of the hole but playing in the mind of those desperate to avoid the ocean on the right.
You’ll be grinning from ear to ear if you can complete the round with par or better here. Few golfers will be without a smile as they leave the 18th green, knowing they’ve just played one of the best holes in Australian golf.
Cape Wickham Golf Links, with its spectacular setting and subtle intricacies, stands as one of Australia’s finest golfing destinations. It’s a testament to the skilful course design of Mike DeVries and Darius Oliver, who allowed the land’s natural beauty to shine while crafting a golf course that ranks among the nation’s best.