A second golf course could be built on the northern shores of King Island as part of a major expansion planned by the new owners of Cape Wickham Links. The world-renowned golfing resort has been eyeing off land it owns north of the historic Cape Wickham lighthouse for the project.
But Cape Wickham Links Superintendent John Geary said the project at this stage amounted to little more than "talk of potentially building another course".
"We need to have more golfers coming in but we've certainly got grand plans for the future," he said.
While building a second golf course is "a fair way off", Cape Wickham Links is forging ahead with plans to dramatically expand supporting infrastructure at its main attraction. The course intends to construct 89 self-contained villas including two-bedroom single storey dwellings and three-bedroom split-storey units cut into the hillside.
There's also a six-bedroom "king villa" complete with a golf simulator, cinema, wine cellar and swimming pool deck that will offer sweeping views across the Bass Strait.
The villas would be located in five clusters and built with concrete, wood and aluminium to mimic the natural tones of the area. The development would radically expand the accommodation capacity at Cape Wickham Links from 32 people to more than 550.
"The project hasn't been costed yet but we're looking at it going to be anywhere between $80 and $100 million development," Mr Geary said.
John Geary, Superintendent at Cape Wickham Links
These new villas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Cape Wickham Links' expansion. The course plans to construct a two-storey clubhouse to house a pro shop, bar, private lounge, outdoor terrace, restaurant, private function room, change room and laundry. There will also be a 1140 square metre conference centre with a ballroom that can be divided into three smaller function spaces.
And those looking to relax after a tough day on the green can check into a new wellbeing centre to take a dive into the outdoor pool, a sit in the sauna, a spin in the gym or a stretch in the yoga room. A development application for all these projects was approved by King Island Council in December, however, a firm date for when construction will kick off has yet to be determined.
"We're hoping construction will start within an 18 month period but nothing is concrete," Mr Geary said.
Such a grand development would have been almost unimaginable back in 2012 when King Island was grappling with huge job loses following the closure of the JBS Abattoir.
But the opening of Cape Wickham Links in late 2015 and Ocean Dunes Golf Course on the south end of the island a few months later ignited renewed interest among investors.
These courses also ushered in a golf tourism boom on King Island thanks in-part to sustained industry acclaim, with Cape Wickham ranked number one and Ocean Dunes ranked fourth in Golf Australia's 2019 list of the best public access courses in Australia.
This steady stream of golfers into King Island hasn't been without challenges: upgrades to the local airport had to be revised to cope with the influx of tourists and the number of beds available on the island are in short supply during peak season.
King Island Tourism Association president Adam Hely fears "we could find ourselves with an accommodation shortage" if other local projects get off the ground, such as the restart of the Scheelite Mine and plans for a new abattoir.
But Mr Hely said the 89 villas planned for Cape Wickham Links could alleviate this infrastructure squeeze by providing "accommodation for all", not just golfers. "A lot of people will be attracted up there just for the views and the associated restaurant and facilities to be built up there. So it will capture all parts of the tourism," he said.
Developing a grand vision for the future is one thing but getting the project built is another story, particularly given King Island's ultra-low unemployment rate.
Mr Geary said the Cape Wickham project would require "a massive workforce to bring it all into fruition" but "King Island doesn't really have that many tradesmen on site".
"Certainly from a construction perspective, we'd have to bring in a construction company, bring in employees," he said.
"Housing them and feeding them, all those sorts of things, the logistics there will be a huge challenge and then ongoing it's having that skilled experience personnel." Then there's the matter of who will staff this sprawling resort once constructed. Mr Geary said Cape Wickham Links had worked to address this issue by forging strong ties with the local school to help foster the next generation of golf industry employees.
"We're looking towards trying to interact as much with the local community, trying to fill the void from a staffing perspective," he said.
"There's no doubt that once the development grows we will need to seek more experience personnel, whether it's nationally or internationally."
The logistics of managing and maintaining such a complex hospitality operation is one of the reasons why developer Duncan Andrews decided to sell Cape Wickham Links in 2017. He had only wanted to build a world-renowned course that ranked in the World's Top 100 but Mr Andrews got more than he bargained for when Cape Wickham Links was ranked 24th two months after opening and the golfers came flooding in.
"I had then to do accommodation - we now have 16 bedrooms which means breakfasts and dinners seven days a week, we also need more bedrooms," he told Golf Australia in 2017.
"Suddenly it has stopped being a golf course and has now become a mini-resort and the patronage is booming and going to force it to become a small resort ... "
"So 16 months after opening I seem to be running a resort hotel with a golf course, and I don't want to run a resort hotel regardless of how well it is going."
The course was then snapped by up a Vietnamese-based consortium for $16 million and Mr Geary said the new owners "can see the potential that it's got long term".
"We want to see King Island become a major golfing destination and it's got potential," Mr Geary said. It's a vision shared by the King Island Tourism Association with Mr Hely keen to see if Cape Wickham Links will go ahead with its idea to build what would be King Island's fourth golf course.
"What it will do is extend the length of stay for golfers coming over and it will only enhance the experience of the golfer," Mr Hely said. "It's very exciting for the Island and tourism."
This story originally appeared on: www.theadvocate.com.au