First discovered by Europeans in 1799, King Island is a little remote, located around half way between Tasmania and the Australian mainland state of Victoria, in the middle of the Bass Strait. No passenger ferries commute to the island so the only way to get there is to fly north from Tasmania or south from Melbourne.
Until 2015, the only golf facility on the island was the modest little composite 18-hole course at King Island Golf & Bowling Club, featuring seventeen tees, twelve greens and ten fairways. Then, along came the Mike Devries-designed Cape Wickham links 30 miles to the north, followed a year later by Graeme Grant’s Ocean Dunes.
Suddenly, almost overnight, King Island became a golf destination that now features high on the “must play” bucket list of intrepid golfers the world over, especially those who like to play the game on as many top class courses as possible in the least accessible corners of the globe.
Architect Grant, supervisor at Kingston Heath for sixteen years then a design partner of John Spencer and Jack Newton during the 1980s and 1990s, chose fescue for the tees and fairways and bentgrass to carpet the greens at Ocean Dunes and the course was built by fellow director, Bernie McMahon of McMahon Golf and Sports Ground Construction.
Six of the holes are located hard against the coast, with the par threes at the 130-metre 4th and 210-metre 10th vying for “signature hole” status. The former plays across a rocky inlet from a tee perched above the waves and the latter features a similar forced carry across water to a Redan green that slopes from front right to back left.
Ocean Dunes is the second course to open on King Island in the Bass Strait, Cape Wickham being the first and is the brainchild of golf course architect Graeme Grant. Like Cape Wickham, Ocean Dunes is recipient of a wonderful piece of coastal property and every effort has been done to maximize the players interaction and pleasure of the sea and sea views.
I was fortunate enough to play 36 holes across two separate days in varying wind conditions, steady and very hard. The first day we started with about a 5-club wind behind us. Making the first 3 holes play shorter but given the firm and fast conditions it was very tricky to approach the greens. The 3rd hole being the strongest and most spectacular of the starting trio. A Cape Hole where you cut off as much as you dare by taking on the water and rocks to a fairway running at a diagonal from left to right. The green is set up ideally for the ground game but finds itself situated with sea and rocks to the right and behind.
The 4th hole is a spectacular little par 3 that on our day required a full punch 5 iron. It’s played from the end of a small rocky outlet to a green across water and rocks sitting on another rocky outlet. One of the most surreal settings you will ever see for a golf hole.
After the 4th the course heads inland and then zigzags back and forth towards and away from the coast. The green site for the par 3 8th is placed at a high point providing an amazing view of the coastline out towards the back 9 before heading to the par 5, 9th hole.
The tee shot on the par 5 9th delivers a cut off as much as you can chew type shot on this sharp dogleg left. Cut the corner and you have a shot at the green in two, depending on the weather of course.
Hitting the green in two as I managed to do with a tail wind gusting is no guarantee of anything as this is one of the wildest greens I’ve seen. If the flag is in the middle section just the put from the lower or upper level will be scary. It’s that steep. Good luck judging a putt like this as it’s not likely you would have been faced with such a putt before.
The back 9 starts out back along the sea with a solid par 3 that plays 200+ yds over water. An extremely tough hole in any direction of raging wind like they receive there. Into your face you are looking at driver. I hit a 7 iron one day and a rescue club the next.
The next hole also plays along the coast before the course turns inland around some massive dunes. The 12th hole plays to a huge double green which it shares with the par 4, 15th. The standout hole in this stretch of solid holes is the drop-shot par 3 14th playing to a postage stamp volcano green with two tiers and a strategically placed bunker on the left front. I hit what I thought were great shots on this hole both days and didn’t manage to hold the green. It’s a scary shot to that green and that’s with no wind. The view from the tee is amazing and it faces straight out to sea playing from high up on the dune down to the green, completely exposed to the elements.
The strong finishing stretch takes you back through the dunes to the parking lot and clubhouse. While those holes are excellent they are perhaps slightly anticlimactic in relation to the coastal holes with the spectacular views.
Ocean Dunes is a fantastic course and offers up an interesting but extremely challenging routing. The greens are arguably on the extreme side given the wild shaping and extremely fast and perfectly manicured surfaces. If you add the extremely harsh conditions that many will run into on King Island I would be very curious how often the course borders unplayable in high winds.
I’d be very curious as to your experience there. It was just playable on the two days I was there and I had a blast but I’ve already heard some pretty wild stories from others. In low to medium winds I think everyone will love this course.
Read terms and conditions carefully. Weather on the island is very unpredictable and the course does not offer refund for online bookings. Despite extreme wind and rain and nearly 48 hours notice of intention to cancel I was not refunded. Save your money for Cape Wickham and King Island GC.
All 18 holes at Ocean Dunes were completed in June 2016. This coastal masterpiece was built by Graeme Grant, who has a decorated CV, including being head greenkeeper at Kingston Heath for 16 years. I had the pleasure of Graeme’s company for the trip – so his in-depth personal insights were wonderful.
Land down along the west coast of King Island is rugged, and the opening stretch of Ocean Dunes brings you straight out into the rocky action with ocean-pounding backdrops. There is no delay in exposing golfers to the magnificent violent coastline with dramatic changes in elevation, heroic carries over water and danger in all directions. The turf has a lot of maturing to do, and many dollars are needed to support the conditioning of the course. Given the land they had to deal with, and the rock that needed to be moved, this course was considerably more difficult to build than Cape Wickham. A tremendous amount has already been written about the glory of the golf course, but I focused heavily on the skill it took to merely construct the layout. Graeme lived onsite for three years, having to deal with extreme winds and brutal conditions. Fairways had to be planted multiple times, sacrifices had to be made in certain parts of the property. But I am of the opinion that Ocean Dunes certainly holds its weight architecturally with its neighbour up the coastline.
Played Ocean Dunes on my way up to Cape Wickham. The course was mostly complete with three holes on the back still under construction. I played them anyways: “cross-country” style which was enough to get a feel for them.
The course is on a great piece of property and makes good use of the elevation changes. The seaside holes are spectacular, especially the par 3 4th and the par 3 10th. The smell of the salt air is reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest and a reminder that the latitude is getting really south.
I also really enjoyed the inland holes on the back nine. The topography makes for terrific golfing terrain.
The other great feature of the course is you can be teeing off within ten minutes of picking up the rental car at the airport.
Had a chance to chat with Graeme Grant after my round. His passion and commitment for the place was obvious. Lots of hard work was invested.
Although King Island is a very long way for non-Aussies to travel, the Cape Wickham / Ocean Dunes combo is fantastic and definitely worth a return trip. I only hope for a bit of an upgrade in terms of available dining and accommodation (the kitchen at Cape Wickham is great though).