Pacific Dunes is a highly rated course located at Port Stephens just north of Newcastle in NSW. Its design is a triumph (by architect James Wilcher) of creating an exciting and memorable course from an essentially flat and unspectacular site. The front nine runs through native woodlands, where tree-lined fairways demand accuracy. The course opens on the back nine with a more resort-style wetland setting with frequent watery graves to be avoided. The clever design is complemented by year-round championship-ready levels of course conditioning – the couch fairways are carpet-like and the bent grass greens are wonderful surfaces containing subtle breaks.
The par 72 championship course has smooth bent grass greens and a superb ball striking surface of Santa Ana couch. Both are surrounded by a dense assortment of Angophoras and Swamp Mahogany trees. At its longest the track stretches 6,403 metres, but has craftily managed to present a fine collection of gorgeous short par 4s – a prerequisite of any quality design!
The signature hole at Pacific Dunes gets the back 9 underway, and memorable it is. The 10th measures a mere 288 metres from the back tees and is, by a fair distance, the shortest of the par 4s, but is by no means easy. A meandering creek transects the fairway at 150 metres from the tee and continues down the left portion of the fairway before joining a lake that protects the front portion of a diagonally placed green. Key to success at this hole is a judiciously placed tee shot short of the fairway bunker followed by an assured wedge across the pond. Visualise what you want with the pitch here!
Kangaroos congregate in force at Pacific Dunes and one of their favourite haunts is the 16th tee, which is clearly one of the best holes to be found across this diverse layout. Intimidation is the theme from the tee at this 382-metre par 4 that doglegs left with water awaiting left and right. The closer you can get to the water on the left with the tee ball will afford a more direct, shorter approach to the green. Several pockets of tall gum trees encase the near perfect putting surface, which resides just past two bunkers that will attract less than perfectly struck approaches.
The home hole at Pacific Dunes is certainly a fitting closing examination. It’s a 486-metre par 5 with opportunity for reward or disaster! As with many previous holes, the tee shot is critical on this hole that surprisingly only rates as the 7th most difficult. The fairway at the outset is inviting and wide but narrows in a sinister fashion at the landing zone. Water stretches some 400 metres along the right side of the hole and, just for fun, extends right up to greens edge. The putting surface could be the largest on the course and sits barely raised from the waterline protected additionally by 3 bunkers beyond and to the left. Make sure you visit the elegant Greenhouse after golf for some fabulous food and a necessary beverage!