When I see famous and popular golf courses worldwide, I often wonder how much of a course’s desirability is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do people dream so much of playing a bucket list course that they can not truly assess its merits on a like-for-like basis with a less well-known track? Equally, I wonder with some other courses whether they might be seen as one of the top 5 or 10 courses in the world simply if more people could play them? Cape Wickham is one of those courses.
In a minute …
Cape Wickham is a public golf course on the northern tip of King Island, which is technically part of Tasmania, and located about halfway between Melbourne and mainland Tasmania. You don’t stumble into King Island by accident with a small plane, which in itself may scare a few folks, being the primary source of getting to this wonderful golf course. Opened in late 2015 and designed by Mike De Vries, Cape Wickham is making its way up most golf course rankings around the world, and you could easily see it eventually settling in a top 10 or, at worst, top 20 positions.
Golf will typically cost around AUD 175 per round, with all-day golf only being AUD 225 approximately. Both prices that I think, represent great value.
First impressions …
One word sums up my first impressions of Cape Wickham … WOW. But before that, my dominant thought was, “are we lost?”. After landing at King Island airport and renting a small car, my playing partner, Justin, ventured approximately 35 minutes to the course. I am not sure we spotted another car for the final 15 mins of the drive. But we were certainly kept on our toes, avoiding kangaroos on the road, a very genuine threat on the island.
Once we confirmed we were on the gravel road into the course, the realization we had arrived when we spotted the famous lighthouse and caught our first glimpse of the course was magical. From the high vantage point of the road, you can immediately see the dramatic landscape you are about to explore. But it is also clear this course is no joke in terms of difficulty. Battered by winds on a bad day, there is nowhere to hide on Cape Wickham if your game is going south.
Don’t expect a luxurious clubhouse or a 5-star welcome. The clubhouse is a temporary tent structure, and whilst there are now adequate accommodation units on site, this is a trip built around golf, not a luxurious stay at a resort.
In saying all of this, the view from the clubhouse and accommodation looking back at the 18th hole may be one of the most pretty views in all of golf.
I am not sure there is a weak hole at Cape Wickham. Every hole offers its own unique challenges and the holes by the water edge, in particular, are spectacular. The 1st is a generous opening hole ( that still possesses plenty of danger ), but after that, the roller coaster, which is Cape Wickham, really starts. Take the local’s advice seriously when they say, ‘watch out for snakes.’ They are out there, and they can kill you…. but back to golf. Some holes that stand out to me include :
- 3rd – A long par three normally played into the wind. Be prepared to take out a long iron or hybrid ( or driver on a windy day) and don’t be surprised if you are still short. Right is dead in the seaweed and rocks so take your par and run if you are lucky enough to achieve that.
- 6th – A relatively short par five with a generous fairway, the fun all lies in what feels like a blind shot into a hidden green if you want to take on the hole in 2. A birdie is well in reach if you are brave.
- 7th – A short par three played with a backdrop of dunes. The green has some punch bowl nature to it so if you can get it on the dance floor you can end up closer than you may have first thought.
- 10th – A par four straight down hill. Hit a big drive and you can end up only a few metres from the green. One of the few holes where it is very much worth the risk of powering up.
16th, 17th, and 18th – Possibly one of the greatest sets of seaside golf in the world. Brutally challenging, with limited landing areas, but as you approach the clubhouse, you know you have played one of the best courses going around. The 18th, in particular, offers a beautiful beach as a distraction, which you are allowed to play off if you happen to miss the target fairway.
The course is in great condition but is rugged like a true links course should be. The beauty is not in the manicured greens or beautiful flower beds, but rather in how a golf course has been carved out of this rugged terrain, whilst also seemingly not taking away from the natural beauty on the side.
If there is one small disappointment, it is that there is no driving range on site for my two visits at least. I believe there is the intention to build one ( or there may have been one right at the start of the project ), but a lack of water does not allow this to be usable right now.
If you can figure out a way to get to King Island and Cape Wickham, don’t rush your trip. You will want to play the course again, so plan on being on the island for 2 days. Best of all you can play the other world-class Ocean Dunes, which is closer to the airport.
And if you are staying a couple of days, try to stay on site. The rooms are nothing special but waking up to see the sunrise over the course is one of the best golf experiences of my life.
However, take everything you need with you as you are a long way from shops and the general population. The pro shop doubles as a restaurant so that you won’t go hungry, but you may wish to have a few drinks back in your room too.
The course has been brought and sold a couple of times already in its existence. Rumour has it new owners have plans for another golf course on-site and luxury accommodation. It will be interesting to see if this ever becomes a reality as the remoteness of the location will always scare away some fair-weather golfers.
9.5 out of 10 – It’s tough to find fault other than the driving range. Take lots of pictures.