By George Begg, Staff Writer
Spotlight on Australian Golf:
In the past few years, and particularly since Sydney's magnificent Olympic Games in the year 2000, many people from around the world are finding that Australia is not just a sun-burnt country, but that it is quite cosmopolitan and worldly, and among some of its more noticeable features, it lays claim to having some of the best golf resorts in the world.
There are some excellent establishments that invite you to �Stay and Play� from one end of the country to the other and we will endeavor to show you why, other than the exchange rate (which gives two Aussie dollars to every one U.S. dollar at the moment) the reason why so many people are heading �Down Under� to tee off!
Australians pride themselves on excellence and the many golf resorts on the east coast of the country stretching from far north Queensland right down to the beautiful Huon Valley at the bottom of Tasmania produce great accomodation, genuine warmth from the people and above all, great courses on which to play. One that is high on the writer's list of �Australia's must play category� is Hope Island in Queensland.
Hope Island Resort
When five time British Open winner Peter Thomson retired from tournament golf, he joined forces with avid course designer and long time friend Mike Wolveridge. Their charter was to design some of the best golf courses in the world. For their company, Thomson Wolveridge & Perrett (with headquarters in Melbourne, the home of some of Australia's finest golf courses such as Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and Metropolitan), to be given the task of designing a new course at St Andrews, the home of golf, a few years ago, shows that their Links designs are sought after around the world.
�The Links� at Hope Island, which is situated in a region referred to as Queensland's Gold Coast (or as some refer to it, �Golf Coast�) is one course that is a must for any devotee of the game visiting our shores. Hope Island is well known to many U.S. visitors to the region and when the Indy Car Racing takes place each year around October, many of the drivers, crews and officials make certain that this is one course that they must play when given the opportunity to do so during their busy schedules.
Hope Island Resort course was designed by Thomson & Wolveridge way back in 1993 and even then it had the earmarks of becoming one of the best resort courses in the country (which it eventually did), but alas fate was to play a major part in its future. Originally owned by a Japanese syndicate, the complex saw some hard times when the Asian currency took a battering on the world markets and it was evident then that something had to be done after some deterioration to return it to its original glory.
Australian property developer Lang Walker took a look at the big picture. He liked what he saw and purchased the entire complex late last year. One of his prime objectives was to re-establish Hope Island's links as a first class golf course by returning it to the condition that the designers had intended it to be. He consulted Thomson and Wolveridge and they were commissioned to oversee changes, including the complete re-surfacing of the entire 18 greens from bent grass to the more robust 328 strain.
Having closed the course for three weeks, earlier this year, to have all the necessary work undertaken at once by brilliant golf course superintendent Andrew Baker and his excellent staff, the result is the production of what surely will be the number one resort golf course in Australia for a good while to come.
A true �Scottish� links style, the fairways, bunkering and, of course, the true and beautifully manicured greens, are a treat to play and one can be forgiven for thinking that they have ventured to either Scotland or Ireland rather than to this part of the world. Being a par 72 with a length of 6,457 metres (7,064 yards), this perfectly groomed golf course with its undulating fairways and St.Andrews style pot bunkers is a challenge to the best of players.
Consisting of two magnificent nines, the first, or outward nine, has a combined length of 3,170 metres (3,468 yards) from the blue pegs and although being lured into a sense of relaxation with the very easily rated 341 metre (373yards) par four first hole, the challenge on the course begins with the second. Having water along its entire left-hand side, this superb 501 metre (548 yards) par five has its fairway guarded by two majestic fig trees and one must resist the temptation to �grip it and rip it!� Many an errant golf ball has come to rest in the canal on the left.
With five par fours, two par fives and two par threes to navigate to get back to the clubhouse, the writer believes that the old adage of �the best is yet to come� applies to the 3,287 metre (3,596 yards) back nine. Winding its way into the well populated residential area of the Hope Island complex, one is faced with the 369 metre (403 yards) par four 10th, the 511 metre (548 yards) par five 11th, a 351 metre (384 yards) par four 12th before standing on the tee of undoubtedly one of the best par fours in the country.
Suitably titled �Wetlands�, this magnificent 13th hole, a 389 metre (425 yards) par four is rated at number three on the index and is, in my humble opinion, one hole that every golfer should take on. A well-placed drive is needed to be in the position to attack the green over the water (if you dare!). Although being slightly elevated, this green is receptive to a well delivered second shot but the extensive bunkering that the designers have put in place may see a good scorecard tumble at this point.
From the 13th, the 410 metre (448 yards) par four 15th will also provide the ultimate test of playing ability. Simply called �Tussocks�, the name says a lot to the placement of the tee shot and the second shot to arrive at the green in regulation. This hole, like many others, is designed for the �Scottish� style bump and run game as well and a brave player who takes this option can be very well rewarded with a par or better.
The two closing holes are a delight and both offer rich rewards. The 17th is a par three of 230 metres (251 yards) and the challenge here is to go for the straightest way to the green across the water. To the average player, a well struck three wood or metal is a necessity. Some days with the prevailing winds an iron will suffice .
Number 18 is one of the finest par five finishing holes in Australia. At 515 metres (563 yards), a par or better on this superbly well bunkered and challenging hole will give you plenty to talk about when you sit back and reminisce in the clubhouse afterwards.
The fairways have a lush carpet of Wintergreen couch and they wind their way through natural wetlands with tussock fringed rough and bunkers that appear to have been carved by mother nature herself. Each of the 18 holes has its own uniqueness and they offer the player 18 different challenges of making par or better. The very subtle hazards, both natural and manmade, add to the beauty of the golf course, yet they are not too savage on the errant ball.
One feature is the provision of golf carts with the latest state of the art GPS satellite tracking system that does away with the age old custom of pacing out the yardage to see how far out the player is from the green. This system has won wide acclaim from the club members and the many visitors that make Hope Island a must play venue when visiting the region.
Owner Lang Walker takes pride in that fact that the property at this development has ITR or Integrated Tourism Resort status with the potential for resale throughout the world. Hope Island residents are not restricted by the standard government regulations that restrict sales of property to offshore buyers.
Newly appointed golf club General Manager Bernard Wilson told AustraliaGolf.com, �Under Lang Walker's new ownership, a significant investment has been made in the presentation and manicuring of the course and the management has been very careful to listen to and act upon the feedback from our golfing customers. We are experiencing many players coming back again to take on the course and this was not happening in the past.�
�There is no doubt that the changes to the greens and the re-defining of the fairways and playing areas has won support from the golfing community and that to us is paramount. Mr.Lang Walker is correct by saying, �Without a good golf course we have nothing!' We all now believe that we have the finest complex of its type in Australia,� Wilson said.
From arrival until departure, Hope Island cares for the golfers' every need. From the concierge at the Valet Bag Drop to the friendliness of the pro shop staff and the warmth shown in the clubhouse by all of the personnel serving the obligatory after round drinks, the visitor is treated as if he or she is the new owner.
No resort course can be complete without adequate accommodation and Hope Island's is five star plus. The magnificently appointed villa's overlooking the 17th and 18th fairways are superb and staying there, one can be excused for believing that they are on a Mediterranean resort. This style is also mirrored in the beautifully appointed clubhouse that can cater for parties ranging from 10 to 150 people.
The emphasis at Hope Island is on relaxed indoor-outdoor living largely in tune with Queensland's climate and lifestyle. The resort is laid back and has a strong family oriented theme. The canals and waterways give it access to the open sea and the fishing around this part of the country is second to none. Australia beckons the traveler to see what it has to offer. The invitation is extended; Australia wants to see you here to experience the best.