The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region and with 150 vineyards visitors are spoiled for choice with offerings from big names like Tulloch, McGuigan’s, Peterson’s and Mount Pleasant to boutique wineries like Ivanhoe, Saddlers Creek, Cockfighters Ghost and Savannah Estate.
While the first vines were planted in the early 1820s, the Wonnarua were the first inhabitants of the Hunter Valley, with the Worimi inhabiting the north-eastern shores and Awabakal the south-eastern shores.
Most people associate the Hunter Valley with wine and romantic getaways, but the region also boasts some superb golf courses, and in this blog, I will share my experiences of two of the best.
The Vintage is a Greg Norman designed 18-hole public golf course ranked 51 in Australia in 2020 by Golf Digest Australia. The golf club is part of the Chateau Elan resort complex where you can stay in a villa room overlooking the course and after a tough time on the green or an exhausting day of reds and whites, indulge in a massage, treatments, or a hot tub.
The first time I played The Vintage it was a crisp, cool, early morning in late June and the fog that settled over the course made for a spectacular and challenging start. I learned after this game to always keep bright coloured balls in my golf bag! Even if you lose a few balls, you cannot be grumpy when playing this beautiful course that requires you to think your way around some tight fairways.
Several holes require you to resist the temptation to ‘go hard or go home’ and lay-up, with the dogleg on the par-4 second hole leading to a green bordered by thick forest. Take a moment to soak up the views of the neighbouring Bimbadgen vineyard on hole 7 before getting ready to tackle the back nine. There are water hazards to contend with, and some of the greens will test your ability to keep your temper in check, but overall, the course is pretty, challenging, and enjoyable. One that I would happily play again.
After building up your hunger, and thirst, it is time to hit the wineries. One of my favourites is Ivanhoe Wines. They are renowned for their gutsy reds, with the Durif and Chambourcin being my husband’s top picks, but I am a big fan of their Sparkling Maiden and Riesling. I recommend booking ahead for a Masterclass wine tasting where you can sit on the deck and enjoy a cheese board. If you are a member of their wine club you can book a VIP tasting and sample exclusive labels. It is not only the wine but the service I love at Ivanhoe. Every time we have visited the staff have been outstanding, friendly but not in your face, with great knowledge of the wines they serve and the wine making process.
Savannah Estate is another vineyard where it is not just about the wine but the conversations and experience. The staff go out their way to make you feel welcome and their knowledge off all things wine is not pretentious or stuffy. I enjoyed their Marsanne, and Semillon, and we both enjoyed the Durif and purchased a bottle of the Limited Release Tawny for those chilly winter nights.
Back to golf. Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club was ranked 88 by Golf Digest Australia in 2020 but, in my humble opinion, it deserves a higher ranking. The course has some of the most frightening bunkers I have ever encountered and a variety of holes from long par-5’s that will delight the big hitters to tight, challenging par-3’s. Hole 6 is a par 5 beauty with vineyards on one side and bunkers strategically positioned along the fairway leading to the green. My favourite hole is hole 11, a tight, tree-lined par-3 with a small, elevated green. If you miss the green, you will have a difficult chip shot uphill. Hole 17 is protected by water on one side and massive bunkers that you can see from the road as you drive into the club. A very intimidating sight.
The alfresco dining overlooking the lake and golf course is reminiscent of a scene from the Lava Springs Country Club in High School Musical 2. The accommodation is excellent – self-contained units nestled in the bush, with some overlooking the course. I recommend the full stay and play experience.
At the big-name cellar doors, you can walk away with awesome wine at great prices and if you love sparkling wines you should stop at Peterson House. At the smaller, boutique wineries you can pick up some fantastic drops that are hard to find at your local. However, if you need a break from wine, then visit the Four Pines (formerly Matilda Bay Brewery) at the Hunter Valley Resort in Polkolbin where you can wash down a burger or pizza with a tasting paddle of craft beers. There is also The Mighty (formerly Potters and Foghorn Brewery) in Nukulba that is worth a visit and if spirits are more your style then try the Hunter Distillery. Samples are served in test tubes that will have you picturing a slightly intoxicated mad professor devising crazy flavours like Native Gin, Lemon Myrtle or Chilli Vodka, and Turkish Delight Liqueur. Personally, I cannot go past the Butterscotch Schnapps.
COVID-19 is still impacting businesses who must comply with current health regulations, and as such you should book ahead for accommodation, golf games, winery tours or other experiences like hot air ballooning. The Hunter Valley Visitor Information Centre is a great place to start planning your trip to this beautiful region.
Images: Cypress Lakes and The Vintage, Hunter Valley New South Wales
Issue 2, October 2021