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 ben 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.”
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.