King Island is situated in the Bass Strait, to the northwest of the main island of Tasmania, and it lies about half way between Tasmania and the mainland state of Victoria. The golf course is located in the northwest corner of the island, around a 45-minute drive from the regional airport at Currie, the largest township on the island.
It’s said that respected author Darius Oliver was instrumental in convincing businessman Duncan Andrews to develop the remote Cape Wickham site and so the property was duly purchased in 2011. American architect Mike DeVries was then hired to lay out the links, using the contractor Programmed Turnpoint to construct the course.
The first five holes wind their way around the Cape Farewell headland before the routing moves inland, with the next eight holes set amongst sand hills and occasional limestone outcrops. Holes 14 to 18 then move towards the imposing Cape Wickham Lighthouse, culminating in a closing hole which wraps itself around Victoria Cove.
Highlight holes here include short par fours at the 5th, 10th and 12th, all of which hug the coastline. Three of the par threes - at holes 3, 11 and 17 - also occupy spectacular seaside locations, with each of their greens overlooking the rocky shore. The best is kept until last however when the narrow 18th fairway doglegs right around a sandy bay to the home green.
The first course built on King Island is called Cape Wickham. Golf Digest has already included this new course very high in their World Top 100. Cape Wickham is on the far end of King Island about a 45-minute drive through sheep filled pastures which is lovely.
Upon arrival on the gravel roads the iconic massive lighthouse greets you. What a wonderful site for golf with its coastal dunes scape. Mike Devries with help from Darius Oliver have put together an extremely fun, challenging design which makes wonderful natural use of the terrain.
The course is set up with 13 holes on the west side of the clubhouse and 5 holes on the east side. It starts with a couple short par 4’s and a par 3 running along the coast line before heading slightly inland back toward toward the clubhouse. It’s a spectacular start with all holes enjoying either placement on the coast or a sea view and all playing in different directions with regards to the wind, which can be quite extreme at times. The 5th hole runs back out away from the clubhouse again offering a different take on the days wind direction. 6 is a reachable risk reward par 5 dogleg right with a tricky raised green. It’s a strong hole as it tempts you to go for it but ending up short or long leaves tricky recovery shots and left or right could result in trouble involving native grasses that are full of poisonous snakes they say. I didn’t venture in to test that theory.
A lovely short par 3 with a slightly raised green running at an angle away from you from left to right with a diabolic natural hump on the front provides the next challenge. This is followed up with a semi blind drive from up on a dune for the long par 4, 8th hole. The fairway here offers far more room than we are led to believe from the tee. The approach is one of the tougher approaches on the course. The green is up on a dune to a semi blind green (can’t see the putting surface). It’s a tough shot to judge the distance on, then just add wind to finish off the challenge.
The par 5 9th is another risk reward hole and plays as a double dogleg after a semi straight tee shot that plays from high on a dune to a fairway tucked inbetween the dune down hill. A strong drive will hit the speed slot and leave a tempting approach to go for the green in two. Nothing is as easy as it seems and that is definitely the case with this hole. The green is tucked into two small dunes but come up short and there is a deep dry wash everywhere but the right side. That means lost ball in this case. Long is open and the green is a tough one to hold. A definite risk reward par 5.
The 10th hole plays straight down hill to a green backed by the sea. 11 is a short par 3 playing along the sea shore from an elevated tee. The coast is full of rocky outcroppings here and the walk along the coast is a huge bonus and provides a surreal setting. The short par 4 12th plays along the cliffs and is a risk reward drivable hole. The cliffs and a 3 off the tee is certain for anything missing the fairway on the left side. The green has excellent shaping and nice undulations protecting it.
13 through 15 are all solid holes playing back to and then away from the clubhouse in the same direction. The finishing holes all play back along the coastline to the clubhouse.
The 16th was surely a difficult hole to plays and fits into the same type of surreal setting as the 11th. The fairway is sharply slanted from left to right. If I had to guess this will be softened in the future as too many balls bound through the fairway into lost ball territory. The greensite is sublime and sits on perhaps the best spot of any on the course with the coastal inlet behind it and rocks and water to the right.
The par 3 17th is a great long par 3 which proves very challenging in the wind. The green is two tiered and presents a great challenge.
Finally the 18th is a classic Cape hole the doglegs from left to right along a fairway running slightly above the beach. It’s a classic cut off all that you can chew finishing hole with a tee shot that I found very intimidating. The approach is to a very undulated green with a false front and a front left bunker.
Cape Wickham is one of the hottest new courses in the world. It comes highly recommended and a visit will certainly not disappoint as long as the wind behaves and allows for a playable experience.
The property at Cape Wickham was the number one choice on King Island for golf developers. Mike deVries, with input from Darius Oliver, serve golfers from the same menu by launching into the dramatic coastal holes. The fairways are generous and the fun is endless. Play it on a typical windy day and you’ll certainly have your hands full. On both nines, there are holes with forced carries off the tee, which won’t suit every level of player as this makes a number of holes unplayable due to the strong winds. This was my main issue with the course. The course and coastline are so beautiful, that you need to play here multiple times just so you can concentrate on the architecture. After the mind-blowing opening stretch, the course begins to move inland with plenty of raised greens and wonderful contours. Cape Wickham will overload your imagination like nowhere else, as it’s a guessing game as to how the ball will react once it lands.
Holes 9 through 12 are the best stretch, despite how good the opening introductory holes are. The 9th is a double-dogleg par five to a perched green, the 10th is straight downhill to an ocean-side green, 11th is a mind-blowing par three playing over the rugged coastline and the 12th is a short cape hole that wraps along a cliff-edge to an exposed green. You have to see it to believe it. I travel the world to see golf like this.
I first became aware of Cape Wickham while playing with to be architect Mike De Vries at his Kingsley Club when he told me he had just returned from a site visit to a place that would produce one if the most spectacular courses on the planet . At that point the job was not his but when he did indeed get the job he kept me informed with progress pictures as the project came to fruition.
In collaboration with Darius Oliver they finally got the job completed despite weather problems and environmental concerns regarding native birds.
When I got the chance to spend three days there some six months prior to the opening I jumped at the chance and in the company of Duncan Andrews the owner marveled at what had been constructed.
Various other posters have discussed the sheer beauty of the site and as spectacular as it is, the course routing is the highlight of the golf course.
After four jaw droppingly scenic opening holes with the sights,smells and sounds of the Ocean accompanying the superb golf holes , the course turns inland.
This is routing brilliance, it takes one away from the stunning scenery to give the golfer a break knowing what is still in store.
Without the turn from the coastline what comes later may not have been as much appreciated.
That been said the quality of golf is in no way compromised by the move inland.
The superb five par sixth hole for instance is the first of two par fives that have green sites leaving me marveling at the architects vision, with superb use of natural dunes to create partial blindness to several pin placements unless the lay up is optimally placed.
The three par seventh reminds me of the finest links courses of the U.K. with the green nestled in between two dunes ala Royal Birkdale perhaps, but even that doesn't do it justice this is Cape Wickham and it deserves to be beyond comparison, so my apologies.
Everybody needs to take the walk to the back tee of number eight, it could be the most intimidating tee shot I have ever seen, a slight glimpse of the fairway is barely visible over dunes, native grasses and in golfing terms nothing good for your score!!!....superb .
The ninth another par five is breathtaking in its brilliance a towering dune guards the front right of the green, a small green with very little margin for error on the approach.
The tenth returns to the sea allowing the player to walk to the ridge crest and before you sits a breathtaking view of green and coastline, in a similar manner to number six at New South Wales.
I could go on forever, but fear I may lose you reading this, suffice it to say a series of coastline hugging holes in the most spectacular golfing scenery anywhere comes to a volcanic head for holes 16-18.
Sixteen has what must be one of the most demanding approach shots in golf to its cliff hugging edge, punishing any degree of errant heroic shot, but like all the holes at Cape Wickham it is playable by any level of player with open approaches allowing the running game to flourish, should the atrial route be viewed as too intimidating.
The spectacularly beautiful par three seventeenth over a rugged cove but to a large target is another example of the architect maximizing the coastline to provide the finest golfing experience.
A classic Cape hole brings you home, allowing the player to bite off as much as he would like...or is able...leaving a shot into a green nestled into the dunes on two sides and the cliffs edge to the right , a spectacular finishing hole with lighthouse in the background and the glistening sea all around.
A truly spectacular golfing experience, superb architecture that perfectly matches the quality of the site.
Many an architect could have produced a lesser experience but the collaboration of DeVries,Olivera and owner Andrews has produced one of the finest courses on the planet in my opinion as spectacular a golf course I have ever played.
Not be missed on the island, the Fromagerie found mid way from the airport on the road to the golf course and the food at Boomerang by the Sea...the steaks here are as good as anywhere and that cheese is the finest.
great review, really whets the appetite for the course. Number 1 on my 'to be played list'
Michael, nice review! Glad you enjoyed it there. Can't wait to visit myself.
Wow! I have played over half of the top 100 courses in the world and Cape Wickham has to be in the top 10. Generous fairways and spectacular coastal views on just about every hole. The layout has responded to the terrain and sits perfectly in it, although the cross fall on the 16th fairway is a bit of a problem. The 9th hole is a short par 5 down to the coast and is an amazing hole with all sorts of decisions to make. Take a 5 if you can and walk to the next hole being very grateful.
I haven't played it yet but another new course on King Island, Ocean Dunes, is meant to match Cape Wickham, meaning Tasmania will soon have four top 100s in the world, all proper links. 15 holes available to play now with 18 holes opening 1 Sept 2016 apparently. Suddenly a week's golf taking in Royal Mlb, Kingston Heath, Barnbougle, Lost Farm and these two looks quite appealing, all of them available to visitors.
Paul, one of our panellists, has played every course that has ever appeared in a World Top 100 ranking list and he maintains a blog, Rudo’s Golf Travels (click the link to read Paul’s Tasmanian story in the March 2016 archive). To our knowledge nobody else has achieved the feat of playing the “World Top 100 Ever” list.
Earlier this year Paul played both Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes. Here's his CW summary… Keith Baxter
“I played Cape Wickham three times, in 20-25 mph winds… Simply put, I do not remember ever having as much fun on a golf course. Every hole has a view of the Southern Ocean (better views than Fishers Island). The fairways are wide wide wide (in some cases as much as 60+ yards wide), which is necessary the way the wind blows. The greens are appropriately large (for the same reason) and are beautifully shaped and placed. Every hole feels different from the other holes, yet they all integrate perfectly into a very special flow… Assuming this course is maintained properly (and I would be shocked it is wasn’t) this is a sure World 100…only a question of how high.”
After playing over 400 courses on five different continents, it is not often that I add a course to my top ten. After playing four rounds at Cape Wickham, I am ready to add it. The property on which the course is built provides the crucial foundation for such a high rating. Rugged coastline separated by a horseshoe-shaped beach as the centerpiece. The elevated land appears to one massive monolithic sand dune structure. The dune blowout left of the 14th fairway gives a hint to this. Sand-based, costal setting, interesting topography provides the canvas. The routing takes full advantage of the land. The holes go from strength to strength, avoiding any letdowns that sometimes even plague the most elite courses. Every tee shot heightens anticipation. Options, angles, the fun factor are all there. Every one of the four rounds were unique with changing weather conditions – the charm and seduction of seaside golf. While all the holes are strong, some of my favourites were #1, #10, #11, #12, #16, #17, and #18. The course still has some maturing. Fairways will benefit when a little more bounce develops over time. Also, hopefully some of the edges will soften a bit so that windy conditions don’t ravage players. Also, looking forward to see some on-site accommodation on my next visit.
Hi Alan,My update top 10 list is:1. Royal Dornoch (Championship)2. Royal County Down3. North Berwick (West Links)4. Pebble Beach5. St. Andrews (Old)6. Bandon Dunes (Pacific Dunes)7. Cape Wickham8. Muirfield9. Machrihanish10. Royal West NorfolkIronically, it was another Australian course that was pushed out - New South Wales