Pacific Dunes Golf Club

The 2nd hole at Pacific Dunes, Brendan James

Advances in club and ball technology, aimed at helping players hit longer and straighter, have had a big effect on golf course architecture since the early 1990s. Many new developers have urged designers to stretch their creations beyond 6400 metres, or 7000 yards, a push that has resulted in the near-extinction of one of the most interesting and enjoyable holes for any golfer: the short par-four. One course designer bucking the trend is James Wilcher, whose highly acclaimed layouts of recent years include Pacific Dunes, near Port Stephens, on the lower north coast of New South Wales.

‘I’d like to think,’ says Wilcher, ‘that the short par-four isn’t dead. Short par-fours should tempt longer hitters to take the driver, in the belief that par or better is only one decent drive away. Otherwise an iron to safety and then a short pitch is possible for all when conservatism takes over.’

Laid out on a sandy, gently rolling landscape, Pacific Dunes has two distinct nines. The front nine is heavily bunkered, its fairways winding between tall timbers, natural wetlands and several lakes. The more open inward half features further water hazards but is dominatedby long stands of trees – large angophoras and swamp mahoganies.

Wilcher has managed to incorporate three testing and excellent short par-fours. The first of them greets you on the 1st tee. This 329-metre hole presents a generously wide driving zone punctuated by a creek cutting through the middle of the fairway, just a pitch shot short of the green. A fairway wood and short iron is good enough to reach the putting surface, a huge double green shared with the par-three 5th and guarded by deep sand traps. Yet the best of these short two-shotters is the 297-metre 3rd hole. In terms of risk-and-reward design, this hole is a gem. For mere mortals, it’s even better from the blue tee, some 278 metres from the green. The contouring of the slight dogleg-right fairway and the placement of four huge bunkers down the right side make for a daunting view. Long hitters can attack the hole by flying their tee shot over the bunkers, skirting some thick scrub to the right, and finding a small landing zone just short of the putting surface.

It was here that Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting showed he is no slouch with a golf club, smashing his drive over the corner and the bunkers and on to the green, at an exhibition match to mark the course’s opening in 2005. The ideal short par-four also offers a more prudent option than Ponting’s aggressive play. Here, a lay-up tee shot to the left of the bunkers is the conservative choice, yet it leaves a difficult pitch to a raised green with a steep false front. Any ill-judged approach is spat back down a slope and into a deep hollow.

While the short par-fours are deserving of praise, so too are the longer holes at Pacific Dunes. One of the best, after some recent redesign work, is the 408-metre, par-four 7th. A massive wasteland bunker, incorporating a small pond, has been added and cuts right across the fairway, within pitching distance of the green. This has not only toughened the hole but solved the drainage problems that plagued it in the years after the course opened.

Any course under Troon Golf Management always presents at the highest possible standard, and Pacific Dunes has never looked better.

Memorable holes

1st, 3rd, 5th, 10th, 16th and 18th

Where to go

Championship Dr, Medowie, NSW 2318

Book a round

(02) 4916 0500


Where to stay

The resort town of Nelson Bay, a 30-minute drive away, has plenty of accommodation options. Just a short stroll from the marina is the Mantra Aqua, a new resort with two and three-bedroom apartments as well as penthouses.

Before/after your round

Located next to the course, Medowie Macadamias is Australia’s southernmost commercial macadamia plantation. You can buy macadamia ice-cream, spreads, oils and skin-care products.

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