The Hamilton Island resort was developed by Keith Williams in the 1980s but it went into receivership in 1992 and was then managed by a number of companies until Bob Oatley, one of Australia’s richest businessmen, acquired the property in 2003.
Since then, millions of dollars have been spent on upgrading and expanding the facilities, including the construction of an 18-hole championship golf course.
The course is not actually located on Hamilton Island; instead it’s laid out on nearby Dent Island and is accessed by ferry from the marina but, as golfers cross the short sound between the two islands, there’s very little to suggest that they’ll find 18 holes set on top of the cliffs on Dent.
All the heavy machinery involved in construction was brought across by barge in order to literally carve the fairways out of the rugged landscape and the front nine holes were routed around the centre of the island with the more dramatic back nine holes positioned along the ridges to the south.
The four par threes are the real standouts here, with two them deserving further comment. The exposed green of the 4th hole is set against the backdrop of Long Island in the distance and a rocky outcrop to the right of the target frames it. The 165-yard 14th plays to a raised green with bunkers cut into three sides of the putting surface, leaving a tiny bail out to the left for the feint hearted.
Dent Island is a fantastic setting for a golf course and the thrilling changes in fairway elevation offer some sensational 360-degree views of the surrounding Whitsunday Islands.
The following edited extract by architect Ross Perrett is from Volume Six of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected].
“Hamilton Island’s course is situated on Dent Island, approximately one kilometre from the established tourist resort of Hamilton Island, which has its own airport. Dent Island is approximately 2,500 acres in area and has been unoccupied since 1987, the year the lighthouse ceased to be staffed. Unlike Hamilton Island, which boasts several stunning beaches, Dent Island is a rugged, rocky monolith. And, due to the extreme slopes of the land, initially it did not seem naturally conducive to playing golf.
Becoming better acquainted with the property – preferably, on foot with the help of accurate contour information and up-to-date aerial photography – is the starting point for any project. The more time spent on site, the better the design response will be. Further, the architect must gain an understanding of all the other constraints that will affect the design, including wind patterns, the site’s geology, soils, vegetation, season’s rainfall and temperatures.
The major design constraint with the Dent Island site was the lack of flat land suitable for fairways and, in particular, to accommodate par-5s. This dictated the use of elevated tees with large carries and the concentration of holes on ridges and in valleys. Side slopes were avoided as the slopes were too severe. The resulting routing plan responds well to the contours and creates two nines of contrasting character. The front nine is more conventional, with holes concentrated in a series of valleys, while the back nine runs generally along the island’s central ridge.
Having settled on a workable routing plan, the next challenge was to gain planning permission to build the course. This proved to be an expensive and drawn-out process that required patiently working through a raft of issues and solving myriad problems – most of which were not strictly related to golf. A series of environmental management plans were developed and worked through studiously with the appropriate planning authorities (and) a full-time environmental consultant was required to monitor and report on construction.
The construction phase proved to be even more challenging than the planning and design phase. Being a rocky island surrounded by a coral reef, the logistics required to build this course were exceptional. All heavy equipment and materials required to build the course had to be barged in at high tides to avoid damaging the reef. The equipment included bulldozers, excavators, trucks, tractors, site vehicles, crushing plants, concrete batching plants, fuels tanks and, eventually, golf maintenance equipment.
Labour was another major constraint as Hamilton Island could not accommodate the workforce that, at times, approached eighty personnel. Initially, the workforce was ferried to Hamilton Island from Airlie Beach on the mainland and then transferred by smaller craft to Dent Island. This proved to be highly inefficient so a worker’s camp was established on Dent Island. At its peak, the camp accommodated sixty-five personnel (and) it proved to be invaluable and critical to delivering the project in a realistic timeframe.
If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play at Hamilton Island spare a thought for what has gone before you. Hopefully, it will make your golfing experience even more special.”
This is much more than a golf course. It is a destination and an experience. The Hamilton Island golf course (which is actually located on neighbouring Dent Island) is as challenging as it is awe-inspiring. Before the golf even begins, you will be greeted at the dock to be picked up by ferry for a short transfer to Dent Island. Upon arrival, a minivan will collect you and drive you up the winding path to the clubhouse. The friendly pro shop staff welcomed us with refreshing face towels and a freshly made juice while we relax in the clubhouse prior to our tee time. They make you feel like a rock star.
The course itself was in fantastic condition and greens that rolled true, although slower than I expected. What I really enjoyed about the course is that every hole is vastly different from the last, and they all require strategy off the tee. The fairways are generously wide, however, don’t let that fool you into thinking this course will be a breeze. Despite the wide fairways, there is little to no rough as most holes transition from fairway to knee-high shrubs and reeds. Once your ball is out of sight, consider it donated to the course and lost forever. It’s also advised around the course and in the carts that snakes live in the tall grass so if you’re brave enough to search for your ball, you’ll probably find five others in there too.
The first hole gives you a taste of what to expect for the course. A beautiful vantage looking down from the tee box to a wide fairway with two bunkers on the right side to be mindful of. Big hitters may clear the bunkers, but there is plenty of room left of it anyway that will lead to a short approach into this par 4.
Hole 9 was another favourite of mine on the front nine. This is a par 4 that requires a solid tee shot to reach the top of a gully, which will give you a good look at your second shot over the thick rough towards the green that is protected by water down the right side and several greenside bunkers. If your tee shot fails to make the top of the gully you’ll be faced with a blind approach shot with an uphill lie. A fun hole that is certainly worthy of its index 2 rating.
There are so many breathtaking holes on the back 9 it is very difficult to pick a favourite. If for whatever reason you can only play 9 holes on your visit to Hamilton Island, definitely make it the back 9. Holes 14-18 all have stunning views looking back to Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays. Personally, my favourites were the par 4 15th, the short par 3 16th, and the par 4 18th.
Standing on the tee box on 18 looking down at the fairway, clubhouse, and surrounding islands is a wonderful feeling. When this hole is playing downwind it gives you a true “grip it and rip it” feel to finish your round – an opportunity to blow off some steam after blowing out your scorecard on the previous few holes! The longest par 4 on the course at 421m from the tips, certainly doesn’t play this long as the elevation drop is about 40m and any drive hitting the fairway will bound down the hill leaving you with a short iron into the relatively safe green.
While the Hamilton Island golf course may not be highly ranked or well known around the globe, the entire experience makes this a must-see destination for any golfer that appreciates the experience as much as the course quality.
Hamilton Island Resort dates from the 1980's. Like a number of other island Queensland's island getaways, Hamilton Island had a turbulent history until Bob Oatley purchased it in 2003 and steadied the ship. Since then it has consolidated it's position as one of Australia's favourite holiday destinations.
With regular flights from the major cities, and a spectacular golf course, Hamilton Island offers a relaxed holiday experience for both golfers and families
The Hamilton Island Golf Course was designed by Thomson, Wolveridge & Perrett and opened in 2009. It is located on Dent Island, just a 10 minute dedicated ferry ride from Hamilton Island Marina.
Dent Island is not occupied and not the sort of site one would consider suitable for golf- it's steep, rocky, and heavily vegetated. But Thomson, Wolveridge & Perrett have carved out a course that demands your attention.
Purists will say that the distances between green and tee are excessive. And that the course is not walkable. Perhaps that the course is too penal.. I agree
On the other hand most would agree that there are a number of exhilirating holes, that the views are to die for, and a round here is always memorable.
Over the years I have played a number of clifftop courses aorund the world- Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria, Old Head in Ireland, Cape Kidnappers & Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand, Cape Wickham in Australia, Quivira in Mexico... These spectacular courses attract us because of the glorious landscapes and the exhiliration of playing in such a setting.
None of these courses was designed for regular club competition golf. The are designed for resort guests and carts are the expected mode of movement around the course, giving architects licence to connect holes in terrain that is not easily walkable. And yes the courses are penal, but the spectacular terrain dictates that is shall be so.
Having said that, I still think there are areas on this course where the land is just too unforgiving. There are places where a ball just missing the target area will hit fairways or green fringes and bound into the rough and be lost. With wind always a factor, lost balls are inevitable at Hamilton Island..
I recently hosted a large group event at Hamilton Island. The group consisted of keen club golfers from Victoria. We had a spread of men and women, low and higher handicappers. The group really enjoyed their Hamilton Island experience, with a few days in a warmer climate, some decent restaurants and bars, and a spectacular golf course. Over two days the group lost 283 balls (averaging 5 balls per person per round), but all had a great time.
Hamilton Island is a resort course in a dramatic island setting. I'd go back anytime!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
You know you are in for a fantastic experience when your day starts with a five minute ferry ride across aqua waters to the course.
Hamilton Island is an exhilarating day of golf set against a stunning backdrop in Queensland's Whitsunday Islands.
I have read some of the criticisms of the course (it's too penal and it can only be played in a cart), but for mine, it's a unique and exciting test. The Thomson/Perrett team did a great job in routing the course across Dent Island's ridges and valleys.
The par 3's are standouts and in my view, the stretch of holes from 14-16 are world class. I played the course on two separate days in reasonably benign conditions. If you are making the journey to Hamilton, I would recommend you play it more than once. We chose to play the first day off the front tees (still tough) and the second day off the back markers. The tee shots from the back are some of the more visually intimidating you will find and well worth the challenge. Take a few extra balls and the right attitude and you are in for a special day.
Try to book lunch in the clubhouse before or after your round. Not many in world golf can boast better views and the food is outstanding.
Hamilton Island may not be the best course in the world but I think it's certainly one of Australia's great golf experiences.
Played the course several times whilst visiting my son. The trip across on the ferry sets you up for the kind of day you will have. A challenging course with some memorable holes, and when you're not playing a shot, just look at those views. The course is kept in very good condition, and when the wind is blowing can be very challenging. The opening par 4 begs you to plant a drive straight over the cross bunker that cuts in from the right hand side, and the course keeps giving you opportunities, but punishes you if you go astray. With a couple of par 3's that drop down, and challenge you to get the clubbing right, and par 5s that will give you a chance of the bird, the course stands up on it's own, then the views push it right into the land of 'must play' - The views from the clubhouse, perched right up on the hill are fantastic whilst enjoying a post round drink, and Chris and his staff make you feel like old friends. I'll be back.
I had a great time on Hamilton Island (Dent Island).
I enjoyed the golf course and don’t recall losing a ball. Yes, you have to take a cart. It must be a kilometre or more from the 17th green to the 18th tee but that is what happens when you squeeze a golf course into the available land on an island. I don’t mind taking the cart especially in those circumstances. I think Thomson/Perrett did a great job in difficult circumstances. Someone told me that relatively this is one of the, if not the, most expensive golf course ever built in Australia. The difficulties were such. I think the island is a nature preserve and nothing not native to the island could be brought in. What do you do when you need soil and there is none? Apparently you grind rocks to powder.
Anyway, the golf. The course in my view is far better than many resort courses and I’ve played a few. Some great Par 3s and interesting 4s. I played on the back of torrential rain from a passing cyclone. The course was under water one day and playable the next. I’d happily go back and play more golf there. Probably I wouldn’t make it a destination course such that you travel to Hamilton Island just to play golf on Dent Island but if you are holidaying at Hamilton, and you are a golfer, then you’d be crazy not to play the golf course. You’ll enjoy it and yes, the views are spectacular.
One simple word describes Hamilton Island Golf Club - LOCATION! The course is actually located across the way from Hamilton Island itself, on Dent Island and requires a private boat from H. I to Dent. This is a pretty cool experience no matter how old you are or how many times you've played here. This championship course was designed by Australian legend Peter Thompson.
You can play off whichever tee you want and just really marvel at the views you get from playing here.
I've heard a lot of negative chat regarding the actual course but golf wasn't meant to be played out of the rough which is very high rough and hey look I hit balls in there, everyone does, just take a few extra with you. Worth every dollar to play here, and have a beer on course and enjoy the scenery because it's world class!
Just finished my round and unfortunately the course does not match the quality of the surroundings. I'll start with the positives of the par 3s being varied and excellent, real fun to play. And the closing stretch from about 14 is certainly the highlight. there are many negatives however, the course is 100% unwalkable, which on this land is understandable but mandatory cart golf is not a wonderful start. the conditioning is moderate at best though its main downfall is that it is far too penal. 30 yard fairways at times flanked by death either side, hole after hole. I did well to only lose 3 balls and the staff were amazed by that small number. I imagine the average ball debt must be at least 6.
overall it's like kauri cliffs had fallen on hard times.widen the playing corridors and improve the conditioning with a few tweaks to design and it could be improved. should I return to Hamilton island I wouldn't rush back and that I suppose is the true mark.