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.
I came here after playing at Mirage which was a fun track so I had some high expectations even though recent reviews weren't great, and while I enjoyed the course, there were a few things that brought down the scoring.
When I initially booked the course called me back twice to change times because they double booked the tee times, not a huge issue, just more of an annoyance but the staff were great on the phone & in the pro shop telling me where to avoid with the cart.
The course condition itself was patchy. The fairways were pretty good but the tee's and greens looked like they has a disease with some fairly large dead patches on the greens that were just covered with sand. These patches gave different speeds on the greens obviously and became a trial. At 1 point I had to move my ball a solid meter because the patch was so large there wasn't reason to try and putt through it. While on the greens, these are some seriously undulating pieces. They were slow (as they were at mirage, but slower) but they held a lot more trepidation with mounding, false fronts and fall away's everywhere. If I am honest, if you take away the patches and the pace they would be great fun.
The fairways were fairly well maintained, again, the disease has seeped a bit into them as well but you noticed that far less. What you do notice however is a massive amount of mounding on the fairways and rough. These gave the course a links type feel, it not a links even if they say it is, but these do give it that aspect. The bunkers are were a bit 50/50, some were good, some fairly mediocre.
If you do get off the fairways there is water hazards and rain forest to deal with. Be very aware that rather large, toothy reptiles live in these waters so staying back is more than recommended.
While I know the above gives the course an average tint I still enjoyed my round here. The water hazards, rain forest, mounds and undulating greens gave the course a great challenge from tee to green and I can see what the designer has done here, so I believe that this course when all is right would be much better.
The course itself is located just south of Port Douglas next to the Pullman & Sea Temple resorts. The price tag that was probably a bit higher than what you would expect with the conditions at $110 AUD with a cart but I would play here again happily.
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.