Links golf and the hot, humid North Queensland climate are an interesting and unlikely combination. While some love the mix, others feel it a little contrived. Personally, the concept reminds me of the impressions of American golf architecture in Scotland and Ireland. Read reviews of the New Ballybunion course and you’ll appreciate why. Many think it’s the greatest aberration in golf while others believe the Trent Jones Jr creation to be the equal of the famous Old Course.
The Palmer Sea Reef Course (formerly Sea Temple Golf & Country Club) in Port Douglas was billed as the world’s first tropical links and is an interesting example of traditional design within the hostile Queensland tropics. Located close to Port Douglas’ famous Four Mile beach, the 73-hectare sandy stretch adjacent to the Coral Sea was a former cane farm and features gorgeous mountain vistas and a stunning rainforest backdrop. Though the site was far from the ideal base with which to replicate the British links, designer Michael Wolveridge persisted. He explains that ‘we found consistent evidence of ancient coral reef life which encouraged me to create an authentic links, restoring the farmed land to small sand dunes and an open landscape more akin to Scotland than the tropics. Cooled by an ever-present sea breeze, seasonal winds brought traditional links challenge with their weighty might’.
A number of classic links elements have been incorporated into the design including a double green, blind targets, hidden pot bunkers and even a small burn crossing the 6th green. Typically large and well protected, the greens are surrounded by humps and hollows and built in the image of St Andrews. As Wolveridge says, ‘they are large and firm with uncomplicated putting, but the very devil to get on’.
The course starts alongside its beautiful Queenslander clubhouse, and bends towards an ample green with views out to the more open and exposed fairways of the front nine. The back nine is split by a curtain of pristine rainforest that runs through the centre of the site, effectively dividing the links and reminding golfers that they are in fact still in the tropics.
This crumpled, bumpy links-looking layout does take a nice picture but ultimately Sea Temple is a rather unsatisfying resort golf experience for those who enjoy the traditional links game, given the tropical conditions here prevent the sort of tight, bouncy turf needed to encourage the ground game. While a bump and run often looks like the appropriate play, invariably golfers bypass all the undulation and instead hit simple aerial shots into the soft, spongy greens.
While the routing at Palmer Sea Reef is reasonably solid, the physical design doesn’t work because holes that look firm and interesting are actually soft and repetitive. Plus unlike Scotland, all you need around the greens here is a lob wedge. Although true that there is nothing quite like a true links experience, sadly Palmer Sea Reef is nothing like a true links experience.