2005: Golden transformation for Queensland coast

By Rob Vanderzalm

Gold Coast, Australia

Queensland’s Gold Coast is one of those places almost every Australian has visited at some time. Some rave about it. Others will never go back.

The impression you take away really depends on how old you are or the part of Australia in which you live. The Gold Coast, you see, has a bit of a poor reputation with those from down south because for many years it was seen as a place of opportunity that often failed to fulfill people’s expectations.

When I was younger, I had looked at the Gold Coast as an older person’s destination – a retirement area that offered little for adventurous teenagers. My most vivid memories were of cheap hotels and Japanese tourists. But it had been years since I’d last spent a few days here, and how things have changed. The Gold Coast has been transformed.

A lot of retirees still make their home here, but the quality of restaurants and the number of attractions has grown tremendously.

Golf courses always have been part of the Gold Coast landscape. A number of courses were built during the Australian economy’s boom years of the 1980s, when the area truly became a golf destination.

A handful of signature courses greatly added to the region’s golf reputation and gave golfers from Victoria and New South Wales a reason to enjoy a golf holiday in the sun. Many of those courses, mainly owned by Japanese when they were first built, have changed hands. But all are still around and have enjoyed a revival of sorts in recent years.

Located south of Brisbane, the Gold Coast has more than 40 courses and the highest concentration of hotels anywhere in the country. For that reason, the locals will tell you it is Australia’s golfing capital, and based on numbers, it’s hard to argue differently.

Because the courses are so spread out, however, it’s essential to rent a car or work with a local tour operator who can move you around. Tour operators generally visit the high-profile courses, but if you’re going solo there is an opportunity to explore some lesser-known layouts as well.

Hope Island Golf Club – one of Peter Thomson’s best designs – arguably is the finest course on the Gold Coast, if not in Queensland. It’s a unique experience for this part of Australia. Most courses here have open fairways and generous greens with few undulations. Not Hope Island, which is a demanding links-style course in a very non-links kind of place.

The bunkering is true to Thomson’s style, with numerous pot bunkers that guard the greens. Hope Island isn’t a course that allows golfers to blaze away. Thomson forces you to play bump-and-run shots and think about where you position the ball, especially on the greens. One of Hope Island’s real strengths is its condition, which never disappoints.

Like most resort courses on the Gold Coast, Hope Island is committed to service, a relative rarity Down Under. High levels of customer attention aren’t common at most Australian clubs, where once you’ve left the golf shop, you’re pretty much on your own. In Queensland, however, they take looking after golfers – before, during and after rounds – very seriously.

Lakelands Golf Club, a classic resort-style course, was the first signature Jack Nicklaus course in Australia. Opened as a purely public layout, Lakelands is introducing a membership, and over time, there are plans to restrict the number of nonmember golfers. Until then, there’s no problem securing a tee time.

The landing areas at Lakelands are wide, and the bunkers not overly demanding. Like most Nicklaus courses, each hole features multiple tees, which completely change the complexion of some holes.

Palm Meadows Golf Course was built during the mid-1980 glory days when money was no object. And the current owners recently tipped in a reported $3 million to redo the greens. In Australia, that’s a huge investment. Palm Meadows, one of the early projects for champion Australian golfer Graham Marsh, was the course that kick-started his design business. It is a visually impressive layout that lends itself to low scoring because of its wide fairways and shallow bunkering.

Another Marsh-designed course on the Gold Coast is Emerald Lakes Golf Club, which has played host to the Queensland PGA Championship since 2003 and has carved out a strong reputation. Emerald Lakes, like Palm Meadows, is a player-friendly course that offers little bite.

The Glades Golf Club also has become a major draw for the Gold Coast. Designed by Greg Norman, it attracted plenty of attention when it opened a few years ago. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations. I was told the course featured a great run of holes, but I didn’t find too many that left an impression.

The most surprising aspect, however, was the condition. For a premium pay-for-play course, it fell short of the mark. Still, The Glades is an enjoyable experience because of its wonderful facilities. Its spa is regarded as one of the Gold Coast’s best, and it also offers a stunning restaurant full of culinary delights.

Golf isn’t the only attraction on the Gold Coast. The beaches are some of the finest in Australia, and the weather is consistently warm.

It’s amazing what a few years can do to your first impression of a place.

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