EVERYBODY remain calm.
Golf on Tasmania’s King Island isn’t going anywhere. But it’s fair to say it needs some stars to align if it’s to become a sustainable, long-term business model.
Four months after Cape Wickham Links – ranked No.24 in the world by Golf Digest – was offloaded to a Vietnam-based investor for a reported $16 million, King Island’s second Top-100 contender, Ocean Dunes, is now on the market for about the same price.
Colliers International and Comac Retail Property Group had listed the spectacular 18-hole course, surrounding land and the King Island Hotel for sale by way of “expression of interest due December 6, 2017 at 4pm”.
It shapes as an attractive package for the right buyer, but why would its consortium ownership want to part way with such a spectacular commodity? Furthermore, why did Cape Wickham owner Duncan Andrews take the money and run when things were just taking off?
It’s the classic chicken-before-the-egg scenario – a couple of visionaries who managed to create two otherworldly golf courses in a place that simply wasn’t ready or equipped to facilitate them. As a result, they’re now left staring at five critical issues.
1. Not enough accommodation
There are simply not enough beds on King Island to meet the demand of travelling golfers. Nelson Da Silva, a former general manager of Ocean Dunes who now helps sell tours to his old club with Vortex Air, knows better than anyone the challenges the island faces getting people to play and, importantly, stay. “We need more accommodation for the Bass Strait Masters tournament, but there’s nothing. It’s crazy,” he says. “It’s difficult when you have all these tour companies trying to make money out of 150 beds every weekend. To put that into perspective, Barnbougle’s two courses on the mainland have almost double that capacity.”
2. Airport is too small
There are two parts to this problem. (1) The council-run King Island Airport can only cater for small charter aircraft, meaning there is a limited number of visitors who can come at any one time. A proposal to get larger aircraft in from other capital cities would mean a complete overhaul to airport security, not to mention other expensive facility upgrades. (2) King Island is not a refuelling airport, placing huge restrictions on flight logistics. “It’s so hard to attract people from Sydney because of the trouble they have to go to in order to get here,” says Da Silva. “When they have to change airports and flights it’s easy to just say, ‘Let’s just go to Barnbougle.’”
3. Logistical barriers
There is only one ship per week for delivery of goods, so ordering for food and beverage or golf course supplies like fertilisers must be done in advance. “If you forget to order an item it means you either do without or freight the item in by air, which is expensive,” says Andrews. Shipping costs are also “hideously expensive” because ships between Melbourne and Tasmania are manned by the Australian Maritime Union. “Sourcing qualified staff both for the golf course maintenance and the clubhouse can be tricky, particularly as Cape Wickham is 40 kilometres from the nearest town,” adds Andrews. “Overall, I estimated operations on King Island were about 30 to 35 percent more expensive than in Melbourne.”
4. Lack of infrastructure
With only 1,400 residents, King Island does not have the infrastructure that people on the mainland take for granted. The impact of golf relative to the overall size of the island has created short-term issues. For example, there is a genuine shortage of housing for both course staff and visitors. However, there are not enough builders, plumbers and electricians on the island to fix the problem quickly. “Council tries hard but with only 1,400 citizens its financial resources are pretty limited,” says Andrews. “Medium-term, I’m confident these issues will get sorted out.”
Not all local residents have been overjoyed by the influx of golfers. When you’ve spent your entire life in peace on a remote island, it can be hard to give that up and share it with the world. “On a whole, most are in favour of the courses. It’s just that the 10 percent who aren’t are the most vocal,” says Da Silva. While the Tasmanian Government and local council are right behind golf on King Island, Da Silva is adamant they can’t solve the immediate problems. “I’ve said this since day one: you can’t expect government and council to fix golf-course problems. The developers need to be aware of all the issues and ensure they do what is absolutely necessary to fix them.”
Time will tell how things pan out with cashed-up new owners running the show, but Andrews believes we have reason to feel optimistic. “It’s definitely a big opportunity for the island, no question.”
Brad Clifton is Editor-in-Chief of Australian Golf Digest