Far North Queensland, or Tropical North Queensland, is best known for the twin natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage Rainforest, but what are its golf courses like?
Between the tourist city of Cairns and the sleepy rainforest town of Mossman, there’s a collection of challenging golf courses that range from championship-quality 18-hole layouts to local country classics – 75 kms of top-notch golf with a unique tropical flavour. And what’s more, blessed with plenty of sunshine and a seductive climate, the courses are playable all-year-round.
Away from the golf, there’s an abundance of off-course activities from scuba diving on the reef, trips to Cape Tribulation to some of the best black marlin fishing in the world.
Travelling to the golf courses is an attraction in itself. Driving north from Cairns along the scenic Captain Cook Highway – a spectacular coast road that skirts lovely palm-fringed beaches creates a sense of anticipation for teeing it up in the tropics. To whet your appetite here are five of the best courses in the region…
Standing on the clubhouse balcony that overlooks the lush Paradise Palms layout, with the tree-blanketed Great Dividing Range rising up to the right and the Coral Sea off in the distance to the left – there are few more beautiful vistas in Australian golf.
Since opening in 1990 the Paradise Palms (20 mins north of Cairns) championship layout has continually ranked amongst the country’s top 100 golf courses. With sweeping fairways, snaking creeks, narrow undulating greens and close to one hundred bunkers, steering your golf ball around Paradise Palms is definitely one of the trickier tasks you’ll encounter in Far North Queensland.
There are plenty of great holes at Paradise Palms, but there is one that will be etched in your memory long after you leave – the 182-metre par-3 7th arguably one of the best three shot holes in the tropics. From the elevated tee, a solid and accurate strike is required.
Just in front of the steeply rising green, a creek from the left drains into a rock-banked lake that guards all of the right side. Three bunkers and some hollows stiffen the test. This is a demanding hole that requires the most careful strategy. Paradise Palms is the pick of the bunch and a ‘must play.’
Palmer Sea Reef
When you first glimpse the Palmer Sea Reef Golf Club (1 hour north of Cairns) in Port Douglas, it provides an unforgettable sight with emerald green fairways divided in two by a brilliant segment of pristine rainforest.
This is one of the few tropical links in the world, and without the lush vegetation, you could be excused for thinking you’re on a seaside course in Ireland or Scotland.
Renowned designers Thomson, Wolveridge and Perrett have incorporated classic links ingredients – rolling fairways, swales, humps and hollows, small pot bunkers and greens into the design. Add in the unpredictable nature of coastal winds and you have a demanding test.
The 310-metre ninth, ‘Ulysses’ is one of the signature holes – a marvellous showpiece of golf in the tropics, with the short par-4 culminating in an undulating green framed to perfection by tropical rainforest. It’s around here that the iridescent blue butterfly of the same name can be seen fluttering in and out of the canopy.
After your round, recount every moment over a frosty beer or two on the verandah of the beautiful Queenslander-style clubhouse overlooking the course.
Mirage Country Club
One of the main attractions of the beachfront luxury five-star Sheraton Mirage (1 hour north of Cairns) is the adjoining resort-style golf course set in magnificent rainforest and designed by Mike Wolveridge and multiple British Open champion Peter Thomson.
The 18 holes were officially opened in 1988 with the then world’s richest Skins game when Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Curtis Strange arrived to play for $2.2 million, putting the golf course firmly on the tourist map. The Mirage Country Club”s 6200 metre layout contains the unusual combination of six par 3’s, six par 4’s and six par 5’s all within two contrasting 9’s.
The front, or Reef nine, lies on sand close to Four-Mile Beach and weaves through dense shrubs and trees with the occasional glimpse of the Coral Sea. The back, or Mountain nine, is generally regarded as being the tougher stretch of holes.
Golfers must tread warily around the ponds and creeks that come into play on several holes as they are home to estuarine crocodiles. “Hazards take on a new meaning here,” says one of the golf porters with a wry smile. “There’s definitely a few around, sometimes up to 3-metres in length.”
Cairns Golf Club
The oldest golf course in Cairns (established in 1923), may not have the difficulty of Paradise Palms or be blessed with coastal views, but it’s still an enjoyable track and for value, it’s hard to beat. Cairns Golf Club (10 mins south of the city) is set in an established tropical setting amongst palms trees with a mountain backdrop, lakes and bunkers its less than ten minutes’ drive from the tourist bustle of the city.
At just 6,152 metres from the back tees, it’s a short course by contemporary standards, but there are enough testing shots to push the best players to make par. An impressive feature of the layout is the quality of its par-3’s. While the 210-metre 5th rates as the most difficult of the par-3’s, one of the standout holes is the 158-metre par-3 11th which presents golfers with a long carry to a large green encircled by pandanus palms, a distinctive feature of the course.
Mossman Golf Club
The last 18-hole course on Australia’s east coast, Mossman Golf Club (1 hour & 20 mins north of Cairns) offers a local country feel combined with good old-fashioned hospitality. Fairways are tight and lined with jungle so dense, that only stray golf balls can penetrate. Play with your head and you will be rewarded, but try and muscle your way through and this sleepy track will bite.
The layout is a botanical smorgasbord with black wattles, melaleucas, stringy barks and Alexander palms just some of the flora in abundance. Whether you enjoy a rainforest walk with golf clubs or you are a golfer who loves tropical golf, make sure to include Mossman in your Far North Queensland five – it’s the region’s best kept secret and a real gem.
Experience the colour and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef up close and personal. Reef cruising, scuba diving and snorkelling provide an opportunity to observe the marine life and intricate coral gardens firsthand. There are many tour operators in the region. One of the best is Port Douglas tour operator Quicksilver Cruises who offer snorkelling, diving and reef cruises.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Billed as the world’s most beautiful rainforest experience, Skyrail offers a unique perspective from treetop height of Queensland’s tropical rainforest. Spanning 7.5 kms (currently the world’s longest gondola cableway) between Smithfield and Kuranda over a World Heritage listed rainforest, you’ll be carried in gondola cabins metres above the rainforest canopy revealing panoramic views of the forest, the Coral Sea and the Cairns tropical region.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Opened in 1891, the Kuranda Scenic Railway is a spectacular journey comprising unsurpassed views of dense rainforest, steep ravines and picturesque waterfalls. This famous railway winds its way on a journey of approximately 1 hour 45 minutes from Cairns to Kuranda, the village in the rainforest. Hundreds of men were employed to build the 15 hand-made tunnels and 37 bridges that stand as a monument to the pioneers of tropical North Queensland who lost their lives while working on the railway.
The Beach Life
The further north of Cairns you travel, the more beautiful and deserted the beaches become. One of the best is Palm Cove – the premier beach in tropical Queensland which has claimed several awards for its beauty. At Port Douglas, you can soak up the sunshine and stroll the palm-fringed sands of the famous Four-Mile Beach.
An absolute must-see is the incredibly beautiful Cape Tribulation Coast north of Port Douglas. Here the rainforest runs into the sea and the only place in the world where two World Heritage areas – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest- exist side by side.
Just five minutes’ drive west of Mossman you will discover Mossman Gorge, an easily accessible and scenic section of the World Heritage listed Daintree National Park. Here, the Mossman River tumbles its way over and around huge boulders that line the gorge creating cool clear freshwater swimming holes. You can walk as far as the suspension bridge across the river or explore the 2.7km rainforest loop trail.