King Island's Cape Wickham golf course is Australia's new must-play destination

Investor Duncan Andrews swore he would never build another golf course.

They're expensive projects, prone to bureaucratic meddling and renowned as money pits. Plus, he had already put his name to two in Victoria and did not feel the need to add another one. "It's not something you do if you're sane," he says.

But then author of the Planet Golf guides, Darius Oliver, implored him to get on a plane and fly to King Island in Bass Strait. "He said there was this incredible piece of land there that would be perfect for a course and when I got off the plane and saw it, my jaw dropped," Andrews says.

"I remember thinking that if ever you were going to build a golf course in the top 20 in the world, then this would be the place to do it.

"You didn't need to be Einstein to see the potential in it."

Andrews agreed to fund the project subject to a long-term lease by the Tasmanian authorities to use the coastal crown reserve. This land was essential to the routing of the golf course, with much of the spectacular greens touching government land.

International destination

Some three years later and the Cape Wickham Golf Course is attracting attention as a destination course of international standing.

It opened in November but has already been ranked 24th in the World's Top 100 Golf Courses by the influential Golf Digest USA magazine.

"I had always hoped that one day we would make the top 10, but I didn't even think that we would make the top 100 in the first year of opening," Andrews says. "It usually takes time for a course to come along and mature."

Set against the backdrop of the stunning Cape Wickham lighthouse, the 18-hole links course offers views of Bass Strait from each hole, with eight holes parallel to the ocean. The 18th hole bends around the beach, which is in bounds.

"I saw a tourist trying to hit off the beach and back onto the green and when he was able to he was so thrilled," Andrews says. "It was so wonderful to see that joy."

Open to all

The course is open to the public, with golfers flying in from overseas to try the course. "About one-quarter of the people who play come from overseas and we have everyone from experienced players to beginners," Andrews says.

"I didn't want to build a difficult course, golf architects sometimes like to create these torture tests and that was not my aim. I wanted it to be a pleasurable experience."

Elizabeth Sattler, the director of Golf Course of Australia directory, says Australia is punching above its weight on the international golfing scene.

Her family owns the acclaimed Barnbougle Dunes course in Tasmania, and she wasn't surprised to see Australia with eight courses in Golf Digest USA's recent top 100 rankings.

"I think Australia has a few advantages when it comes to golf," Sattler says. "We are quite lucky in that we can play golf all year round, we don't get snow on the courses, unlike in the UK and the US.

"And we are very hospitable when it comes to our courses. Golf is still seen (globally) as very much an elitist sport, but in Australia it is much more open."

Among Australia's best

Sattler lists the sandbelt in Melbourne's south-east as home to a handful of top-notch courses, including the famous Royal Melbourne West, which is regularly rated Australia's number one. "The sandbelt has sandy loam subsoil, which is great to play off," Sattler says.

She is also a fan of The NSW Golf Club, owing to its majestic cliff-top outlook in Sydney's La Perouse. "It is quite amazing because you are 10 minutes from central Sydney in this beautiful location."

The Royal Adelaide in South Australia is also worth a visit, largely owing to its unique soil profile. "The soil is much drier than in other parts of Australia and it really pops when you are playing at sunset or sunrise," Sattler says.

Then there is the lauded Hamilton Island course, designed by five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson and considered one of the most challenging in the world. It is the only 18-hole championship golf course on its own island, and is accessed via a ferry from Hamilton Island.

"It's a pretty unique course in that sense and, as you can imagine, the views from the course are incredible," Sattler says.

Furthermore, Hamilton Island is a public course, meaning you don't need to befriend a member to have a hit.

Of course, ranking golf courses is a highly subjective exercise. One person will preference the location and views, while more serious hitters will focus on layout and design.

"A great golf course will be so well designed that it will suit a beginner, but will also challenge a professional," Sattler says.

"But at the end of the day, it is about who you are playing with. You can just be playing at a local golf club and have a great time because you are outside, away from your devices, and enjoying the company."