We ventured to Tasmania’s King Island to discover if the hype surrounding Cape Wickham was warranted. The experience exceeded all expectations.
A lot has been said about Cape Wickham Links on King Island since its soft opening in 2015. Within months it had debuted at No.3 on Australian Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses. The buzz heightened with its listing at No.24 on the World 100 Greatest Courses by the American edition of Golf Digest.
While many rushed to consider Wickham’s merit, a course inspection was low on my priority list. I was content for the hype to subside on a layout developed by Duncan Andrews and designed by American architect Mike DeVries and Australian golf writer Darius Oliver.
However, the passage of time only served to heighten the sense of occasion upon venturing – somewhat reluctantly – across Bass Strait to see what all the fuss was about.
At first sight, the scenery at Cape Wickham is quite spectacular around King Island’s north-west coast where many journeys have been shipwrecked. Eight holes play directly along the shoreline with Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean visible from every hole. Wallabies act as playing companions across the beautifully manicured fescue fairways.
The playing corridors at Wickham are rather generous in width – and they need to be given the Roaring Forties (strong westerly trade winds) reach 30 kilometres per hour on most days.
The wide fairways bring strategy into play as the holes change in character depending on the line of approach and position of the flagstick. The dearth of strategy is a topic Oliver used to constantly lament in his course criticisms and, hence, it’s good to see he has practised what he preaches.
The first three holes play around Cape Farewell and the rocky outcrops on the foreshore are quite mesmerising. Like a fashion critic viewing a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model, it’s hard to divert attention away from the eye candy and concentrate on the subtleties of the design.
The routing moves inland as holes six to nine take on a different character through coastal dunes. The holes are superbly designed, but the green surrounds appear a fraction too penal – knee-high marram grass threatens to swallow balls just metres from the putting surfaces in some places.
The ripping downhill par-4 10th returns to the ocean and more spacious settings. The par-3 11th is a delightful pitch alongside the ocean and the 12th is a driveable par 4 on the clifftop with the Roaring Forties screaming off the left. The 13th turns back towards the clubhouse, accentuating the sensible design feature of making the downwind holes measure longer than those playing upwind into the westerly sea breezes.
The five closing holes reach out and back to Cape Wickham Lighthouse. The devilish par-4 16th plays back into the prevailing wind towards a smallish green concealed beautifully like a pocket square into a blazer. The short 17th is simply wonderful. And the par-4 18th features the most glorious natural setting of any finishing hole in Australia. The tee shot calls for a drive across Victoria Cove as the hole doglegs right to a green perched on a plateau.
It’s great fun to hit knockdown shots and bump-and-runs, keeping the ball down out of the wind and letting it bounce along the turf. And while Wickham can be brutal for less-accomplished golfers, there’s no need to be a masochist and attempt a strokeplay round off the back tees.
It’s worth heeding the words of the great English golfer Henry Cotton. In his later years he used to tee up from wherever gave him the opportunity to “putt for birdies”.
Wickham’s green fee of $A175 may appear excessive at first glance. But it’s actually a bargain given the opportunity to play unlimited golf – all day – on one of the world’s top-50 courses. Wickham also has a delightful 12-hole putting course modelled on the ‘Himalayas’ short-game facility at St Andrews.
The whole Wickham experience is something to be relished. It’s a sight to behold sitting in the makeshift clubhouse as fishing boats enter Victoria Cove with nets outstretched in search of crayfish. The local delicacy can even be found on the compact clubhouse menu that includes beer-battered gummy shark, smoked wallaby salad and a King Island scotch fillet steak sandwich.
Given Wickham’s remote location 40 minutes’ drive from the Currie township, it makes sense to stay in one of the 16 on-site cabins. The first tee is at the doorstep and golfers can take advantage of longer daylight hours in summer months when the sun sets closer to 9pm.
Each cabin has northward-facing verandahs overlooking the first and 18th fairways, Cape Wickham Lighthouse, Bass Strait and Victoria Cove where in-house guests can take a twilight stroll along the sandy beach.
With barely a soul within several kilometres, the solitude is rather therapeutic – apart from the odd wallaby hopping past the windowpane or an occasional screech from a mutton bird returning to its burrow after a daily flight over the Southern Ocean.
In a nutshell, the entire Wickham experience is Australian golf’s best-kept secret.
Cape Wickham Links
Cape Wickham Rd, Wickham, TAS 7256
Green fee: $A175
Phone: +61 3 6463 1200