Review: Pacific Harbour Golf & Country Club

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Review: Pacific Harbour Golf & Country Club

Southeast Queensland again endured a wet start to the year, with near-record rainfall and floods. It proved to be a bitter blow for golf courses across the region, with many hoping for some rain across the closing months of 2023, only to be inundated post-Christmas and for the next four months. As the old saying goes … “it never rains, it pours”.

Few if any courses between the Sunshine Coast and the NSW border escaped the impact of the rainfall completely unscathed. However, there are some which bounced back quicker and have since returned to normal playing conditions.

Pacific Harbour Golf and Country Club is one such course which is back to “business as usual” despite nearly 1100mm of rain caught in its gauges between January and mid-April. This can be attributed to what lies beneath the course’s crumpled fairways.

The course is located a 70-minute drive north of Brisbane’s CBD on Bribie Island, which is one of nearly 360 of Moreton Bay’s islands which have a seemingly endless profile of quick-draining fine sand.

The 137m 7th pays homage to the famous island 17th green at TPC Sawgrass. PHOTO: Brendan James.

When I visited Pacific Harbour to compile this course review, it was in terrific shape, less than 48 hours after receiving yet another hefty downpour. The TifEagle putting surfaces, in particular – despite being understandably a little soft – were in superb condition and healthier than I had witnessed on two previous visits since the pandemic.

While all the sand under foot has obviously benefitted the quality of the course in the years since it opened for play in 2006, it was in the construction phase of the layout when this sand truly was the star of the show.

There is nothing a golf course architect likes more than being presented with a blank canvas of sandy terrain to gently poke and prod into a spectacular layout. And that’s exactly what course designer Ross Watson found when he first laid eyes on the relatively flat and sandy landscape which today is home to the Pacific Harbour layout and a massive residential community.

The dogleg right par-4 5th, which plays to 359m and features fairway bunker acreage on the inside corner of the hole. PHOTO: Brendan James.

“Who doesn’t like playing with sand?” Watson laughed when talking of those early days of the development.

“I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to build some courses on spectacular sand-based land, which allows you to really get creative without moving heaven and earth to do it. I am really pleased with the finished product at Pacific Harbour.

“I tried to create 18 individual and memorable holes that all golfers will enjoy. The fairways are generous in width, but there is definitely a variety of playing lines on most holes that call for different strategies and there are plenty of safe hitting areas for less-gifted players.”

Plenty of wildlife will be watching you along the way. PHOTO: Brendan James.

And that’s the conundrum of every course designer – you need to challenge better golfers, while not alienating the bulk of golfers from casual to mid- and high-handicap players.

It is a fine line, but experienced architects like Watson have proven it can certainly be done, as you will find at Pacific Harbour.

Watson’s course really issues the challenge to better players, who are no doubt the same players able to hit a ball of some decent length. Longer hitters can blast away with their driver at will as the fairways are, for the most part, generously wide. However, the further you hit your drive on some holes, the more complicated your approach is made because of Watson’s simple rolling fairway design, which brings shorter, more accurate players back into the frame.

The width of the fairways and its angled – and sometimes oddly shaped – greens really add to the risk-and-reward strategy required on most holes.

Course designer Ross Watson has always been very keen to minimise impact on any surrounding natural environs. PHOTO: Brendan James.

An early example of this can be found at the short par-4 2nd hole, known as Mahogany. The 307m slight dogleg left hole is flanked down the left side by a lake, while a large fairway bunker lies within easy reach from the tee down the right. The wide green is protected by a large scheme of bunkers short and left and are best avoided, especially if the flag is in the right half of the putting surface. The key here is for accuracy from the tee and skirt your tee shot by the fairway bunker to leave a short iron into the green. Big hitters tempted by blasting their ball up near the green need to be precise as well as powerful if they are to dodge the thick crop of trees right and the water left.

Similar questions are asked on the dogleg right par-4 5th, which plays to 359m and features fairway bunker acreage on the inside corner of the hole. Even though the driving zone is quite wide, your tee shot ideally needs to flirt with the sand and finish near the right edge of the fairway to leave the shortest and most direct approach into the kidney-shaped green, which almost wraps around a large greenside bunker and slopes markedly towards the front-right entry.

Watson’s design boasts some really strong two-shotters – long and demanding of pure ball-striking. Even the short par-4s are testing, but they’re a whole lot of fun at the same time. All offer their own differing challenges, but a common thread is the need to hit quality shots from uneven lies. Again, Pacific Harbour’s sandy base allowed Watson and the construction shapers to push and craft the loam into a far more interesting crumpled, and dramatic, terrain.

Course architects love being presented with a blank canvas of sandy terrain to gently poke and prod into a spectacular layout. PHOTO: Brendan James.

There are great examples of this shaping right across the course, but perhaps the best is left until the 384m par-4 18th, appropriately named Crown and Glory. The fairway rises and falls like a rolling ocean swell as it winds past a huge fairway bunker down the right side. The lake which lies even further right tracks the edge of the hole all the way to the green, which is perched a little over a metre above the water line. A deep bunker also lies through the back of the diagonally placed green. Most players will be faced with a mid- or long iron second shot into this green and they will likely have to hit that shot from an uneven lie. You just need to hope it’s not with the ball below your feet (for right handers), encouraging a skewed shot towards the water.

While Pacific Harbour’s long holes are a lot of fun to play, it is the collection of par-3s most golfers will long remember.

All four one-shotters at Pacific Harbour are very different to each other, which is an integral aspect of any memorable course and a real trademark of any Ross Watson design.

The 4th, known as Emu’s Rest, is 161m across relatively flat terrain to a massive green with a wide entrance, but features lots of bunkers left and a lone sandy hazard long and right.

The 137m 7th pays homage to the famous island 17th green at TPC Sawgrass, and it even bears the name of the home of the PGA Tour’s Players Championship. However, Watson’s version is only a semi-island putting surface, but you could swear it is totally surrounded by water as you survey your water carry tee shot from the back tee. There is nothing but water hazard between you and the fringe of the green, which is perched nearly two metres above the water line. The aggressive play is to take on the water and carry your tee shot all the way, but hitting with too much club can bring the large bunker through the green into play.

The Pacific Harbour layout is surrounded by a massive residential community. PHOTO: Brendan James.

Watson has always been very keen to minimise any impact on any surrounding natural environs and his par-3 13th hole, known as Kakadu, is a great example. The 132m hole skirts the edge of some beautiful wetlands and was laid to be played into the prevailing breeze to challenge your club selection skills.

Perhaps the most talked about hole at Pacific Harbour is the 189m 17th, which can be stretched to more than 200m from the tips. The hole features the longest bunker in the southern hemisphere, which forms a beach barrier between the fairway/green and a huge lake which runs the entire length of the right side of the hole. The hole – appropriately named The Beach – calls for a mighty blow into the middle of the slightly elevated green. From the forward markers, the task is less exacting, but a tee shot of at least 150m is needed to clear the edge of the sand and run up onto the front edge of the putting surface.

Watson’s design is always fun and challenging to play. It has been in play for almost two decades now and has certainly evolved from the island links-style course it was when it opened. The surrounding residential estates have filled in around the edges of the course and the trees planted during construction, to create a green barrier between the holes and housing, have certainly taken to their environment.


LOCATION: Avon Ave, Banksia Beach, Bribie Island, Queensland.

CONTACT: (07) 3410 4001.


DESIGNER: Ross Watson (2006).


PLAYING SURFACES: Bermuda TifEagle (greens); Wintergreen couch (fairways).

GREEN FEES: $89 (18 holes including cart, weekdays); $99 (weekends and public holidays).

FACILITIES: Aquatic driving range, which is open seven days a week. Shanx Mini Golf can be enjoyed by the whole family.

MEMBERSHIPS: A range of membership options are on offer at Pacific Harbour to accommodate everyone from individual golfers, the family golfer and non-golfers. Full membership costs $3,165 and provides full access to the club’s facilities and playing rights seven days a week. Full use of country club facilities, including the pools, steam room, spa, tennis courts and BBQ area, as well as a long list of inclusions come with full membership.

ACCOLADES: Ranked No.34 in Golf Australia magazine’s Top-100 Public Access Courses for 2023.

© Golf Australia. All rights reserved.

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