An international tourism boom and worldwide golfing acclaim have been predicted for Tasmania’s King Island as its two highly anticipated courses, Ocean Dunes and Cape Wickham, open their doors to the public.
Ocean Dunes, on the west coast of the island, unveiled its front nine on Friday, which coincided with the 18-hole opening of Cape Wickham, on the northern tip of the island.
Ocean Dunes director and course architect Graeme Grant has compared King Island’s new courses to the famous layouts on California’s Monterey Peninsula.
“I think we’ve got the opportunity to produce something like Cypress Point and Pebble Beach in the two courses down here,” Grant said. “With such spectacular links land and the opportunity to play so close to the coast, we have something reminiscent of what I’ve seen and played on over there.”
Golf Australia CEO Stephen Pitt said the flow-on effect from King Island’s emergence as a golf hotspot will be felt nationally.
“I think they will be absolutely must-play destinations and I think that’s important in terms of golf tourism,” Pitt said. “I think it offers benefits for the whole of the country. Often those top-end courses are the hook that gets people over but they play a whole range of courses while they’re here.”
Grant has been living on King Island for two and a half years and echoed Pitt’s sentiments about the golf potential of the remote Bass Strait Island.
“Maybe it won’t happen in my lifetime, but this has got to open up and become some sort of a mecca for links golf in this country,” Grant said. “As people come down here and see the dunes, they’ve got to be encouraged to do something with them. I’ve been involved in golf for more than 50 years and came down here about four and a half years ago. When I got off the plane, all I could see was Scottish and Irish links land and it just kept going and it goes from the northwest tip to the southwest tip of the island. It really is incredible to think that people in Australia know so little about the potential of it for golf.”
The emergence of Ocean Dunes and Cape Wickham has some in the golf industry predicting Tasmania will surpass Melbourne’s famed sandbelt as Australia’s premier golf destination.
Pitt expected golf visitors to King Island to also spark a surge in international visits to the famed courses of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.
“I think it puts Tasmania in a really good position. Obviously, the courses at Barnbougle are rated so well and they will add to that and really make Tasmania a destination and hopefully some of that feeds on to the other clubs in Tasmania as well. I actually see courses being at that really pointy end of world ratings being a great hook for the whole country.”
The consensus from visitors to Ocean Dunes ahead of its opening has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Grant.
“To date, we’ve only had a few out but the response has been very, very encouraging. There have been people from all over the world come here to look at it.”
Grant - who spent 16 years as superintendent at famed Kingston Heath and pioneered the use of couch grass fairways on the Melbourne sandbelt - has opted for fescue grass on the fairways and tees at Ocean Dunes and bentgrass greens.
“You worry all the time about whether or not what you’re doing is going to be accepted. I prepared Kingston Heath for three Australian Opens and I had to deal with some pretty pedantic professional golfers over the years, but nothing has prepared me for designing, building and eventually maintaining a golf course on the edge of the Southern Ocean.”
Golfers at Ocean Dunes can expect to be greeted with traditional links golf weather.
“We’re in the middle of Bass Strait and some of the days are pretty bad but most of the year you get great weather. You get a bit of wind, it won’t be unlike Barnbougle and it won’t be unlike the Mornington Peninsula. The encouraging thing for us is that people are travelling to play and are prepared to play in those links environments. People who go to those places really love to deal with the elements, as it was when the game started.”Golfers at Ocean Dunes can experience nine holes for $65 and unlimited golf for just $100.
Ocean Dunes’ 18-hole opening is expected as early as February 2016.