QUEENSLAND, Australia -- As the PGA Tour readies for its 2011 season in January, Australia is in the thick of its schedule, hosting such major events as the Australian Masters, the Australian Open and the Australian PGA Championship, which will take place Dec. 9-12 here at the Hyatt Regency Coolum Golf Club.
The Australian PGA is one of the tour's top events Down Under, complete with a field full of Aussies such as Queensland native Adam Scott and defending champion Robert Allenby, and rounded out with some European and American players, including John Daly.
The beach town of Coolum is a spot along Queensland's Sunshine Coast, just north of the capital city and main airport hub of Brisbane, which services flights both domestically and even as far as Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
While Queensland's more populated and developed Gold Coast to the south attracts far more vacationers from all over Australia, Coolum's slower, less developed coast is the attraction for a more down-tempo beach holiday.
Peace, quiet and space at the Hyatt Regency Coolum
Coolum is void of glitzy high rises and designer shopping centers like the Gold Coast, and guests at the Hyatt Regency Coolum bask in plenty of their own space. Many of the accommodations are large, multi-room villas with patios or balconies overlooking the golf course. One afternoon a foursome decided to spend the majority of the day right outside my villa by the 18th hole -- a foursome of kangaroos. They attracted their share of visitors and didn't seem too shy. Little children and their parents would creep up within arms length of them for photos or an impromptu nature lesson.
The resort carries along this peaceful vibe spread out over 150 hectares. After your car is parked in the lot, that could be the last you'll see of it during your stay. The resort's amenities and accommodations are connected by shaded and paved pathways, which are free of cars. Only golf carts and shuttles for guests are allowed. You can also get everywhere in about 10 minutes on foot, or rent a bicycle cruiser during your stay.
And all paths eventually lead to the village. Encircling an open-air atrium, there are two levels of restaurants, shops and bars, as well as one of the resort's nine pools. This is always where the action is, especially during Australian PGA week, when many pros are celebrating the end of the season.
"For a lot of pros, it's their last tournament of the year," said Dave Close, who marshals the event every year and usually ends up fraternizing with the pros later that night at Hyatt's Village. "They bring their family along and come to the village after they play, and the village is just pumping."
Hyatt Regency Coolum Golf Club
Coolum has hosted the Australian PGA since 2002, and Allenby has won the event twice since then. So has Peter Lonard, who took home the title in 2004 and 2007. Other recent champs here include Nick O'Hern and Geoff Ogilvy.
By tour golf standards, Coolum is short at 6,850 yards. To defend par against the game's very best, the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed layout relies on some sharp doglegs, plenty of water hazards and well-protected greens, many of which are raised and guarded with splashed bunkers. It's a good idea to be warmed up before the round, because three of the first five holes are par 5s (the first four holes were recently added after development took out the original holes).
It's tough to pinpoint a signature hole here, though the best stretch of holes starts at the 11th, a secluded and scenic par 3 played from an elevated tee box over water. The ensuing par-5 12th hole is even better. A good drive down a narrow corridor off the tee will put you in position for a downhill shot to the green. The ensuing holes play through a space of dense forest and lakes, with nearby Mount Coolum looming above.
The par-4 18th hole presents plenty of opportunity to let a lead slip away. It's a 420-yard dogleg that plays around water on the left, with trees guarding the right. It demands one final roped drive in order to take home the Australian PGA crown.
Beyond the resort: Coolum Beach and the Australia Zoo
There is plenty to do at the resort besides golf, including an activities and crafts center, spa, gymnasium and tennis. But the surroundings are good reason to get outside the resort grounds some during your stay.
It's about a half-hour drive to the Australia Zoo, started by the late "Croc Hunter" Steve Irwin and his family, which continues his legacy of showing off animals in a fun, hands-on environment. Visitors can get up close with kangaroos, koalas and even three Asian elephants.
The small beach village of Coolum is worth passing through as well, whether you head down to the beach and take a surfing lesson or just stroll the local merchants on the main drag peddling fried fish and beach goods.