Opened in 2001 as Links Port Douglas (which then changed to Sea Temple Golf & Country Club), the links-style layout at Palmer Sea Reef is a Thomson, Wolveridge & Perrett design that lies less than a couple of kilometres from Port Douglas’s famous Four-Mile Beach.
Classic links components such as pot bunkers, greenside humps and hollows, even a double green (on the 10th and 15th holes) have been brought into the design so it’s hard to imagine this property was once nothing other than a sugar cane farm located close to the coastline.
Uniquely, a ribbon of rainforest runs right through the middle of the site, splitting the nines into two distinct halves, which rather emphasizes the fact that this “tropical links” is one that can only ever hope to bring golfers a flavour of the real thing to be found in the British Isles.
When there's been a significant period between visits to a golf course, it's quite interesting to compare what you remembered about it and what it actually is. It had been over 15 years since I last played here and I'd thought quite fondly of the course. So either my memory had mellowed, or it just wasn't as good now as I remembered. Or, third option, I've had the good fortune to play a number of very good golf courses in the time between visits and what I once thought was excellent is perhaps tempered to merely quite nice.
Whatever it is, this is an enjoyable course, but it is more a tropical resort course style than what I would consider links-style. When I first played it was even called Links Port Douglas, but has subsequently been renamed SeaTemple and more recently Palmer SeaReef. Please ignore the vanity naming by the attention-seeking capitalist Clive Palmer, a mining magnate who has made a lot of money and subsequently purchased a number of Queensland golf courses. I'm yet to see one considered 'better' for his involvement, probably because he likely sees them as a long term land play rather than as a golf course or club to be promoted. (see Coolum, for a prime example...)
There are undulations in the fairways, and the greens especially require a finesse with the short stick, due to the at times quite exaggerated sloping. There are also plenty of ponds and a few stands of tropical vegetation and fortunately, the course is built on sand, so drains well when the inevitable tropical rains arrive. When I played however, there had been little rain and the conditioning was showing it with some patchy fairways and greens taking a while to recover from coring and sanding.
Other points to note: it's a relatively expensive round here, more than would seem justified; it's located within the territory of the Australian estuarine (saltwater) crocodile and the abundance of warning signs will remind you not to approach the ponds and lakes, in case there is a 'snapping handbag' within; and finally, this is the best course north of Hamilton Island GC, with the recent closure of Paradise Palms in northern Cairns and the ongoing refurbishment / redevelopment / repair of the Mirage course nearby. Mirage would be a 3-ball course at the moment (Dec 2019 - I played there the day before SeaReef), but with the completion of works over the next few months should become a solid 3.5 course.
The Links at Port Douglas is a gorgeous links style course in the tropics. Michael Wolveridge of Thomson Wolveridge fame is the man responsible for this most interesting design.
The course opened for play in 2001, and is routed around and through some tropical rainforest only a few iron shots from the famous four-mile beach at Port Douglas.
It is a small site, and the course is tight – all the more credit to Wolveridge for coming up with such a fascinating layout. It is a course that I can play over and over – perhaps partly due to the wonderful climate.
In a different setting this would be a bona fide links course as each of the holes has a classic look and feel – from the bunkering to the shaping of the greens – all of which is reminiscent of the great links of the UK.
The bunkering is both strategic and photogenic, and the course flows with a mix of long par 4's (holes 1, 4, 14, 17), some short thinking man's par 4's (2, 9, 10, 13, 18), a variety of heavily bunkered par 5's, and some striking par 3's.
There is never a dull moment!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.