Nineteenth Century Colonial maps of Van Diemans Land, or Tasmania, as it is now known, simply mark a patch of the North Coast east of Pipers River as Low Sandy Shore. The golf course at Barnbougle Dunes runs along this shore, in between a wide complex of dunes that extend behind it. On this pristine coastline, 80kms north of Launceston, architects Tom Doak and Michael Clayton have designed Australia’s best seaside test. It takes some getting to, even for mainland Australians, but its reputation is growing. Presently the bulk of the golfing traffic is either wide-eyed locals more used to up-and-down-the-paddock golf or touring enthusiasts from Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne.
Doak, paired here with Victorian professional and designer Mike Clayton, is a well-travelled and cerebral architect and accents his courses with idiosyncrasies drawn from the world’s classic courses. Elements of these are present here, not in a Las Vegas style pastiche, but in a much more indirect manner in which the course is laid out in sympathy to the twists, humps and folds manifested by the retreat of the sea over thousands of years and the action of the prevailing winds.
Barnbougle Dunes is the closest thing to a seaside links as exists in Australia. The holes are routed through the dunes, some as high as 100 feet. It is an odd day when there isn’t a zesty breeze to contend with, normally from the west which means you head into it immediately. The fairways are smart enough but not over cultured. They retain every warp and fold of the land on which they were placed and a few more besides. Many of the greens flow in a continuation of the surrounding land. This is a golf course made upstairs, as the saying has it.
Barnbougle Dunes is a memorable golf course made by enthusiasts for enthusiasts.
The above passage is a brief edited extract from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia by James Spence. Reproduced with kind permission.
BBD is golf on steroids, golf designed by Pininfarina, golf painted by Dali!
OK, now, so you get my drift. This golf course is right up there no matter what descriptor you want to use and until the addition of its sister, The Lost Farm, Cape Kidnappers and Tara Iti was the most outrageous, off-the-wall track in Australasia by daylight.
The introduction does not adequately describe the huge risk taken by the original proponents of the project, Greg Ramsay and Richard Sattler, but with some prodding by Mike Keiser among others and the inspired choice of Tom Doak as designer, a gem or, maybe, a rough diamond of a golf course came into being.
Now, it should be noted that even in Australia where most of us are familiar with and have experienced ‘the tyranny of distance’ BBD is remote, really remote. Now one can fly into the complex itself from the mainland but in its formative years the nearest airport, Launceston, was a 90 minute drive away. Even today a quick look at any online maps shows the small town of Bridport nearby and very little else in the way of ‘civilisation’.
The course itself has been described in great detail by previous correspondents and I, mostly, agree with their comments. Doak, of course, is greatly influenced by Alister Mackenzie and, perhaps, apart from rule 4 [hill climbing] and rule 10 [lost balls] it fulfils the ‘13 Principles’ pretty well. Every hole is different, every hole challenges you with multiple options, it tests your thinking and your game all the way.
While we are discussing lost balls, I should mention that the fairways are wide but the rough is thick marram grass which devours wayward shots. If you want to search for that ball [not recommended] be aware that BBD has more than its fair share of wildlife - wombats, wallabies and kangaroos are fine and you generally see plenty but copperheads and tiger snakes are not and they are out there. Take an extra measure of balls and play the ‘Irish Water Hazard/Red Penalty Area’ rule.
When you have finished you will be mentally and physically drained [especially if the wind is up which it usually is] but in the nicest of ways and uppermost in your thoughts will be ‘let me get out there again’
The hospitality of the staff and ambience of the clubhouse and bistro is top shelf - enjoy your post-round beer or Tassie Pinot Noir and remember that the 30th, 55th and 75th best golf courses in the world are within easy reach and accessible - not bad for a small island at the end of the world.
The world should be forever grateful to Greg Ramsey, Richard Sattler, Bruce Hepner, Mike Clayton, Tom Doak et al. for finding, funding, building and operating this substantial golfing oasis on the somewhat remote coast of North East Tasmania. There is surely a spiritual link between Sand Valley, Nebraska, Bandon Dunes, Oregon through to Barnbougle and beyond to Cabot in Nova Scotia. The golf world will be forever in debt to names such as Youngscap, Keiser and Sattler who have driven destination golf towards spectacular remote locations with a ‘build it and they will come’ mantra.
The fescue turf at Barnbougle is perfect for golf and counterpoints the Bermuda/Santa Anna Couch and creeping bents that generally predominate on the mainland. The cooler climate grasses like the additional Southern Ocean influences that are brought to bear both here in Tasmania and on King Island.
The course starts with a couple of gentle openers along the river, before rising into the dunes on the delightfully short and strategic par 4 4th. The stretch of holes from 4 through 8 and 13 through 17 just blew my mind. Once again the par 3’s are the stars of the show with the treacherous short 7, the uphill recreation of a long lost and forgotten green on 13 and the rollicking 16th as stand out memories.
Anyone who considers themselves a links devotee simply must visit this little corner of public access golfing heaven in ‘the back of beyond’.
For more information on my Australian golfing adventure, please click the following link: The Long Road to Van Diemen's Land
A rare example of a ‘true links’ outside of GB & I. Barnbougle Dunes was the first course built here on the North Coast of Tasmania. Although separated only by a small body of water, there are various differences between this course, and it’s slightly more modern neighbour Lost Farm. It’s a tighter piece of property, in general can play slightly tougher, and the greens are shaped even bolder. There are some fantastic, world class holes that you just want to play over and over. On the front, the 4th and the 7th are examples of this. The 4th is a epic hole, a driveable par 4 with the biggest bunker in the southern hemisphere just short of the green. The fact the surrounding areas of the green can help a ball run up to certain pinnable locations makes it even more tempting! I learnt the hard way this isn’t always the best play, as I got completely stuck in the aforementioned bunker resulting in picking my ball up. The 7th is an extremely short par 3, only 122 yards from the tips, but if you miss anywhere (especially left, right or long), you are pretty much dead. A caddy told me that when he plays he often lays up short on this hole! The great holes continue on the back, and the theme of half par holes continues. The 12th has a small green, and depending on the wind for that day can be quite gettable or absolutely treacherous. The 13th green is reminiscent of an elephants’ graveyard, and sometimes putting away from the hole is the sensible play. As you would expect of a course of this calibre, the finishing stretch is also strong and matches the rest of the course. It was the first Tom Doak course that I played and in the resulting years since first playing it has made me always find a way to play any Doak courses possible. The question players will ask themselves is which course did they prefer between Dunes & Lost Farm? For me- they are too hard to split and so will both receive the same mark.
I am a big fan of short par four holes that demand decisions from a player each time he plays, and it is no coincidence in my opinion that most of the top courses in the world include classic strategic short par four holes. Barnbougle Dunes has a number of world class short par four holes where different pin positions, tees or weather can dramatically alter how a player tackles the hole.
The 4th hole at Barnbougle is such a hole. It has a boomerang shaped green set in between dunes and is potentially driveable by the long hitter. But the pin position determines for me whether I lay up short off the massive bunker on the right or hit a longer club on the left to avail a short pitch into a right side pin. It really is one of the great holes in world golf!
One of the tasks I undertook pre opening was to name and rate all of the holes, and hole 4 was named Homestead as the original farmhouse was located here. Hole 15 was called The Cut as a reference to the 'improved' course of the Great Forester River which runs up the right hand side of the hole. And if you hit a left to right shaped shot (a cut) this is where your ball will end up. The Cut is beautifully strategic with a drive to the wide left fairway rewarded with a blind approach at an awkward angle to a small raised green. On the other hand a bold drive down the tight right hand side fairway is rewarded with a short iron straight up the green.
The collection of par threes are also strong and varied. My favourite is the 108 metre seventh hole known as Tom's Little Devil. It is a short shot to a tiny table top green and it needs to be precise as long or left can be diabolical. Play it in a strong breeze and real skill is required to even hit the dance floor.
By contrast the thirteenth hole is a mid iron to one of the most dramatic greens anywhere. The hole is named Sitwell Park after a famous wildly contoured green designed by Dr Alister McKenzie on a course of that name in London (the hole in London no longer exists). Sitwell Park at Barnbougle is a cracking hole!
When the course first opened I was concerned that the two holes that were sited outside the gorgeous dunes holes two and ten- would not be up to the standard of the rest of the course. Hole two (Estuary) is essentially a flat hole outside the dunes, but the green complex here is superb. Mike Keiser dubbed it an 'architects hole' where Doak has made something out of nothing. Indeed it became a hole I always looked forward to. Ten also stands proud.
Some say that the course really starts at hole 3 and while I think 1 & 2 are wonderful holes, I do agree that the stretch of holes from three to nine is of the highest standard. Mike Clayton was Doak's local partner on this project, and hole 3 is where he had the most to say. Shaper Brian Schneider needed direction and Clayton flew down to assist.
It is a hole you would perhaps appreciate more after a few plays, with an awkward tee shot to a split fairway. The green is tight, heavily bunkered, and contoured. Even though it is a short approach it will demand much thought on the type of shot played. It is a thinking man's golf hole.
I have already mentioned hole 4, but the walk from the back of that green along the beach side dunes to the next tee is memorable... Hole 5 is called The Turn and is a long irish style par 3 with a heavily contoured green where putting is a hoot.
Hole 6 continues through the large dunescape with a tee shot that needs to negotiate a large dune protruding from the right. Of course the raised green is better approached from the right hand side so a safe driver will need to take their medicine.
After Tom's little Devil at hole 7 we come to The Keep- a long par 4 rated the hardest on the course. With a split fairway and green sitting well above the fairway it takes two very strong shots to get home in regulation. It's a tough hole and one which I think could be improved a tad by making the left fairway option a little kinder. It is my belief that even an accurate shot up the left side can be harshly dealt with given the excessive movement in the landing area. Nevertheless it is a unique and outstanding hole.
Hole nine worries me a little. When first in play this was in my opinion one of the best holes on an amazing course. Doak often designs golf holes with a natural feature being the focal point. On hole nine the perfect tee shot left a golfer on the top of the fairway 150 metres out playing to a beautifully bunkered green running at an angle from left to right with the natural topography- but with the expanse of Andersons Bay Beach extending all the way from the back of the green toward Lost Farm in the distance. It was a magnificent setting and an approach shot to die for. Unfortunately things changed.
As the course matured and became harder and faster, tee shots from the regular tees inevitably ran further, with the majority now playing relatively blind short approach shots from the valley just short of the green. Now those experienced with play at Barnbougle may know to lay up off the tee, but being a public course this isn't going to happen a lot and effectively one of the purest golf shots on the course wont be experienced by as many as it ought.
The other unfortunate event was the extension of the clubhouse. The beautiful beach backdrop has now been replaced with a view of the clubhouse.
Next time you play hole 9 check out Mike Clayton's addition to the back of the back tee- it is a brute of a spot but fun if you are game! And for more fun we also had a 'directors tee' set up to the beach side of the eighth green. If you look for it you will find an area that is levelled, and the tee shot from there is completely different to the normal tee....
The back nine at Barnbougle has a different feel to the front- whilst the front nine is set down between the big dunes, the back nine is routed over them. The front is more protected, but the back has magnificent farm and ocean vistas in all directions.
I found that over time I preferred playing one nine over the other, but enjoyed the fact that they were different and complimentary.
Hole 11 was named The Key. At one stage shaping ground to a halt when a machinery key disappeared in the sand. If you ever take a divot on the eleventh hole and dig up a key, you will know why. It's a clever hole demanding an accurate tee shot and has a green that can never be underestimated..
Hole twelve is called Temptation- where in the right conditions many could aspire to hit the short par 4 green off the tee, setting up an eagle attempt. The tee shot to an exposed and elevated ridge running left to right must be accurate, and the tiny green has a few tricks of its own. This really is a wonderful hole. It took a while to build though, as the elevated green site is the most exposed on the course, and twice after the hole had been shaped, strong winds blew it all away..
I love the angled tee shot on 14, and the high tee shot on the par 3 sixteenth (called High). Many love this hole, but I believe the green needs softening a little in parts.
Hole 17 was called Ocean and had a variety of tees built. Unfortunately the most spectacular of these was washed into the sea in the early years. Still it is a great hole requiring two good shots, and an amazingly convoluted green that is quite hard to hit. I love the pin positions at the back or in the bowl on the right- they make for a lot of fun putting!
Hole 18 is called 'home' and has a wonderful green structure with dramatic pin positions. I always loved that shot in. Depending on which tee is played the drive might come from an angle to the fairway over the beach- which is in play.
In the early days the beach was just sand and a ball played from the sand back on to the green was a possibility- these days however the marram has taken over this part of the beach meaning a wayward ball is more likely to be lost. And one set of tees nearest the beach fell out of use, as the quality of turf suffered with sand constantly blown over it. Pity!
The wind is a major factor at Barnbougle- as it is on all links courses- and it can get pretty wild. But surprisingly if you avoid the springtime you will find there are also a lot of milder days. The mountain ranges to the south do protect the area somewhat.
Golf magnate Mike Keiser was cognisant of the weather when in an early visit he strongly suggested to Tom Doak that the nines be swapped. His argument was that when the wind did blow golfers would have turned into the wind on what is now hole 15, and then continued into the wind through 16, 17, 18, 1, 2, 3, & 4. That's a long haul! I am glad the nines were changed...
There is no doubt Tom Doak is one of the great golf architects, and whilst he has an impressive portfolio of courses around the world, I still regard Barnbougle Dunes as his masterpiece. The course is defined by the wildest of greens- but they use the natural dunescape, and with a number of bowls can be forgiving as well as challenging. Most importantly they are fun! The variety of holes, and shots required makes it a course where once is not enough...
Barnbougle Dunes offically opened in December 2004, and is now regarded as one of the best courses in the world. Although I am no longer involved I am proud to be part of the team that made it all possible. Kudos should go to all the investors, and for Greg Ramsay for his vision and energy in bringing this project to life despite all odds.
Barnbougle Dunes is a unique links in a magnificent natural setting. The course is challenging and about as much fun to play as any course I have come across. It is now universally regarded as one of the top 35 courses in the world, and together with Barnbougle Lost Farm makes a most appealing destination for a short golfing holiday.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full report.
Barnbougle Dunes is an ideal modern golf resort. Ground game links golf in a beautiful location, walking only, very friendly team, reasonable green fees and superbly functional onsite accommodation with good value food and drink. And kangaroos.
They've taken the best elements of other modern commercial golf operations and added a Tasmanian twist to produce a brilliant facility.
The turf is excellent, the sweeping bay is beautiful and reminiscent of royal dornoch, and the course itself is challenging in the ever present breeze without being unfair.
Nice mix of long and short par 4’s, fun green sites often with significant run offs but always recoverable, usually puttable.
If you put Castle Stuart in Balmedie it would be a lot like Barnbougle Dunes – natural dunesland with fatal rough, but set a way back and the focus on fun not ego.
A couple of minor points would be that I dislike rough mounds in the middle of the fairway as at 8 – guaranteed to be my only straight drive, and that the hole separation is lost at 12, an elevated short 4 like at Eden Course doubling back to the short 13th.
All in all though, as you finish the excellent 18th you just want to go out again.
As I write this beer in hand watching the shadows lengthening from my terrace, a wombat just walked past before ambling across the practice green, with kangaroos nibbling the ninth fairway. A great links golf experience.
Barnbougle is a Doak and Clayton design. Mike Keiser has earned high praise for what has been created here, but let’s make sure we give Greg Ramsey a little love as well. Greg, who grew up in Tasmania and caddied in Scotland, was the visionary who saw the possibilities.
The first hole is welcoming a par five, dogleg right, that can be reached in two by the very few. It has a cross bunker about 100 yards out so choose carefully on the second shot. The second hole is a rather benign par four with several fairway bunkers left. The short par four 3rd is an excellent birdie oppty. A decent drive will give you a wedge to the green, but this green runs away from you hard. The 4th is a memorable risk reward hole. A short slight dogleg right par with a 20 foot deep bunker protecting the corner. It is about a 230 yard carry from the middle tees and, alas, I came up a yard or two short. Sadly, this translated into a double bogey. Probably best to lay up with an iron or utility wood to the left. The first par 3 is over 200 yards with a large multi-tiered undulating green. The 6th is a long S shaped par 4 with no real obstacles other than sand dunes and moguls. Another tough multi-tiered green. The 7th looks easy on the card at 110 yards. However, it has an exceedingly small infinity green with a large bunker left. We go from short to long, the 8th is a 460 yard par four that is the number one handicap hole and deservedly so. A split fairway, left will play shorter, but that will force to you carry two left bunkers. My advice, hit and hope. The front ends with the par 4 9th. Favor the left off the tee and on your approach, as the slope is left to right. This is especially worth noting on the approach as there are 3 bunkers right of the green.
The back starts with a par four. Favor the right a wee bit off the tee to avoid the left fairway bunker. I would advise taking an extra club on the approach. The 11th is a bombs away par five. Big hitters can get home in two. The holes only defense are a scattering of fairway bunkers and moguls. The 12th is another short but treacherous par 4. Bends slightly right with a few bunkers on the inside elbow taunting you. It can be driven, but not by me. The par 3 13th has a nefarious three tiered green. The 14th is another reachable par five. Be careful of the fairway bunkers right. For the par 4 15th I would suggest aiming left of the fairway bunker. Big hitters can carry it and if you are right you are inviting unneeded trouble. The 16th is another par 3 that will test your putting prowess. The finishing holes are not really memorable, but hey are demanding. On 17, give the right elbow fairway bunker a wide birth off the tee. The 18th is a relatively straight bombs away par 4.
Barnbougle is much tighter than Lost Farm. To score you have to par or better the easy par fours. A good value and I would pay to play it again.
A really fun course to play and very well routed. I thought it superior from a routing, interest, and challenge to Lost Farm, but to be fair it is on better land. I did like Lost Farm a lot, but I like the Dunes course more. The course does not have “too- much” undulating greens a course built by Tom Doak course often has. Much like Lost Farm, some of the fairways of the par 5's are a too wide. The par 3’s are really good. Wind really affects the score here more than at Lost Farm.
I thought the best holes are 1-3, 6-8, 12, 15 and 17.
Tom Doak and Mike Clayton’s Links Course is superior to the Coore/Crenshaw design in almost every way. Amazingly, the back nine was laid out the exact opposite of how it was finally built. Good thing as it is terrific. As with all of Tom Doak's work, the course builds throughout to a strong finish. I liked the course even more the second time I played it on the same day and suspect I would love playing it every time.
Is it Doak’s best work? Pacific Dunes and Ballyneal are better. I regret not playing St Andrews Beach while in Melbourne as I have heard many consider it his finest routing. But I liked Barnbougle Duness more than Lost Dunes, Old Macdonald, and Sebonack.
Too often I think Tom Doak builds three-four crazy greens on his courses as he believes that is necessary to defend the hole, but on the Dunes he refrained from doing so. As is typical of Tom Doak, the green complexes are very good and fun to play.
The best holes are 1, 3, 6-9, 12, 15 and 17. It does not have as many great holes as some of the other courses of his that I have played, yet there is a real consistency throughout.
Typically Doak builds a wonderful very short par 3 which he did here with the 7th hole playing about 120 yards but uphill into a wind which normally is very brisk. The green is surrounded by bunkers and run-offs so hitting the middle of the green is a must. It is a joy. The other par 3's are longer but downhill built into the sides of hills so that shots slightly errant can still find their way into the green or even close to the pin.
There is a wonderful mixture of short and long par 4's and par 5's with mostly raised greens. The driving lines are wide enough on most of the holes not to get into trouble, so as with typical Doak, the challenge is in the approach shot.
It is a joy to play particularly after the fourth hole when you take a nice walk along the coastline to the next tee.
The first hole, hitting through a dune area has a wider fairway than it appears from the tee. I understand why given the wind we were playing into on our first round but in hindsight it feels too wide to me. There is an excellent green at the end of the hole, slightly raised from the fairway.
The second hole is a fairly flat 410-380 yard hole. I felt this was the least challenging hole on the golf course.
The third is a par 4 of 340 yards hitting through the dunes to a very well bunkered green. This hole was really beautiful and for some reason really caught my eye.
The fourth hole, a short par 4 of 280 yards playing downhill tempts the long hitter to fly the large bunker that guards the hill on the right side of the fairway. I played down the left one time and laid up in front of that large bunker the second time leaving a blind shot in to the green that sits high above you. It requires a blind shot but a ball missed slightly to the right will still find its way down onto the green with has several slopes and pitches to it but is not overly done. I thought the hole was a lot of fun and took perfect use of the land. Maybe I should have listed this as one of the better holes.
The fifth is a long par 3 of 200-225 yards that plays downhill with a dune on the right about one-third of the way from the tee blocking the right side of the green. A miss should be to the left of the green as there is a lot of danger short and right. It is another fun hole and the tee has a view of the coastline.
The sixth is a marvelous par 4 of 390-415 yards playing downhill through the dunes and then back up slightly at the end to a green tucked into different dunes. It is absolutely splendid.
The seventh is the marvelous short par 3 of 120-140 yards playing uphill back at the coastline. Wind was a factor on both of the rounds. There is a large bunker well short of the green so any miss of this hole should be short center. The bunkers left of the green are very deep and a recovery shot will likely not get close to this undulating green. It is a fantastic short hole and once again takes perfect advantage of the terrain.
For me, the eighth, a long downhill par 4 of 450-480 yards playing through the dunes to a green that it ultimately back up on a shelf hidden in the dunes, was the most difficult hole on the golf course. The fairway has an upper shelf or lower shelf to play into with the upper shelf offering a slightly better view of what is required for the second shot. I loved this hole and consider it one of the better par 4’s I have ever played and wouldn’t care what my score was on the hole.
The ninth is a long 390-440 yard par 4 playing slightly downhill to a rolling fairway of mounds and humps that is slanted left to right. The green sits right in front of the clubhouse and has huge bunkers on the right front as well as bunkers behind it. The play into the hole is from the left side of the green. This is another demanding par 4 and is very well designed. The green was one of the easier to read.
The tenth hole is a par 4 of 400-440 yards pretty straight forward until you confront the raised green and the bunkering. I did not think much of this hole the first round but it grew on me the second round. It is a good hole and cleverly difficult.
I felt the twelfth hole was the second easiest on the golf course, a par five a little downhill of 510-525 yards. The green did have some undulations to it but it was a fairly easy hole to figure out.
The thirteenth is a short par 4 slightly uphill of 260-280 yards tempting the longer hitters to go for it. This is one green that came close to having too many ripples in it.
The one complaint one could make about the course is that the two par 3’s on the back nine are similar. The fourteenth is longer at 185-200 yards and has a green that has all sorts of levels to it but I felt the green was fair given the type of shot one is hitting into it. The green is beautifully situated into the hill surrounding it.
The fourteenth is a lovely long par 5 of 530-550 yards that plays to a very well defended green due to the large bunkers fronting and on either side. On does have to navigate several large bunkers on either side of the fairway with the tee shot.
The fifteenth has you turning back towards the beach and you get a glimpse of Lost Farm over the stream. It is a short par 4 uphill and was one of my favorite holes given the setting of the green. Once again, I think this hole perfectly uses the land available to it.
The downhill par 3 sixteenth was a discussion topic for our group. I liked it, others did not. It plays as 170-160 downhill hole with a large bunker blocking the center left of the green. We watched others play into the hole and even though the pin was center right some of the tee shots were hit to the left part of the green but found their way close to the flag some 30 yards or so away. I thought it was great fun, others thought it was contrived.
The seventeenth has a back tee that is elevated playing at 440 yards, we played it lower at 360 yards. It is a fine dogleg right playing along the coast. You can’t go right as the grass is high and dunes and a large bunker complex await you. It has one of the more interesting greens, slightly elevated with a false front.
The eighteenth is a par 4 of 410-440 yards that once again has perhaps too wide of a fairway for the tee shot. Both times I played the hole the wind was relatively calm even though at points throughout both rounds it was pretty stead at 10mph with a few gusts higher. Hitting to the left leaves one a blind approach shot to a green with a lot of humps and bumps, but once again I did not feel was overly done.
One point – the accommodations and food onsite is terrific. You should try to stay there. The views from the Lost Farm restaurant are tremendous as is having a drink on the outside deck. Both the Dunes and Lost Farm are very good golf courses. I consider Barnbougle to have better golf than at Cabot Links and Cliffs, although the views are not as beautiful. The food is much better at Barnbougle although the rooms (due to the views) are better at Cabot.
But if you go by golf alone, I consider Barnbougle’s golf to be better than Cabot and also Streamsong.
Barnbougle Dunes is a golf course that one would enjoy playing everyday due to the splendid holes on the front nine and then sprinkled around the back nine. It has challenge, beauty, joy, interest, and strategy. I have it just outside my top 100 of the 706 courses I have played, but it certainly could be included. Playing it twice was not enough; I want to go back.
I've lucky enough to experience both courses twice and without doubt the two courses at Barnbougle keep getting better with age.
I played The Dunes Course at Barnbougle the day after Lost Farm, a course which was an absolute revelation. So it was was with great curiosity our round began.
The course design was handled by former tour player Mike (I fell on my ball) Clayton and design master Tom Doak, and right from the outset questions were asked....
Hole 1. A gentle opener, sloping left to right eases you into the round, the ideal approach is from the left, the bail out is right but the angle is less appealing. Cracker.
Hole 2: A pretty par 4 with bunkers pinching at driving distance, cool green, I missed right and banked my chip down to the hole - I was in golf heaven.
Hole 3: Risk reward is everywhere, but the throat to the green is very narrow, a lay-up is wise and the green tiny.
Hole 4: Could be one of my favorite holes anywhere, its all in from of you, the chance to be a hero, or play safe, only you can decide. the punchbowl green is a delight, oh for a twilight 2 hours here chipping and putting around!
Hole 5: Starts a run of holes in similar direction that takes you all the way through to the 11th. A long downhill par 3 that gives you a bank in from the left, the right side of the green is hidden by a massive dune. The walk from tee to green is about as good as it gets.
Hole 6: This fairway snakes right to left and back the other way, a fascinating hole with danger at every turn.
Hole 7: Hands down the best 100m hole I have seen, you almost have to hook your gap wedge to get close, play safe and stay short right to avoid a big number.
Hole 8: A split fairway make you unsure from the tee, but you can be certain - this is a man size golf hole, it will take your best to make par here, you cold put this hole on any course on earth and it would shine.
Hole 9: A generous fairway flows over what seems like a rumpled carpet, undulations are everywhere, the green is deceptive, and cold drink await at the turn.
Hole 10: A flat fairway turns uphill as you reach the green, there is no shortcut here, a solid 2nd is required and the green is steep.
Hole 11: This reachable 5 shot hole has a generous driving area, the fairway dips into a massive hollow, this is a difficult place to find yourself as the approach now becomes blind (with the green running away).
Hole 12: A very cool short four that requires accuracy and bravery in equal doses, what a hole, our group made 4, 6, 6, 6!
Hole 13: The hilliest green on the course keeps things interesting, the green sits between 3 dunes, hit a good shot and the ball will feed toward the hole.
Hole 14: This 5 par is reachable, but beware the left and the hilly green.
Hole 15: Conservative off the tee and aggressive on the approach is the plan here, don't miss the green left, the ball will race away down the hill and probably not end up on shorts grass.
Hole 16: The last of a stunning set on 3's, the green slopes hard from left to right, use the slope but don't get caught on the high side!
Hole 17: A stunner of a par 4, following the beach left to right with a raised green, once gain the designers ask the question - how good are you, how much can you bite off here.
Hole 18: Beware the left (and the right), this long raking hole is a tough finale.
Verdict: Leave me here in heaven!
I easily would have been willing to make the journey to Bridport just to to see if the venue lies up to the expectations. Thanks to my girfriend studying in Sydney and some subtle, careful manipulation, the trip would actually take place: 9 days to spend on the wonderful island of Tasmania and 38 (!) holes tucked in one long, satisfying day at the links. First: the Dunes, then Lost Farm.
When the day arrived, lots of rain had settled down in the sandy soil and the skies quickly turned blue, the caddiemaster laughed in my face when I asked him if he thought the wind might lay down at any moment: “No way, not a chance. Just a tough day out there”, I can still hear him resounding. I do already apologize for the amount of referentions to the conditions, but the design is built to a great extent with the wind in mind. How windy are we speaking? 8 Bft! Two blown away and never to be found headcovers, my big wheel trolley falling on flat surfaces, wedges into the greens on par 5s and more often than not, completely lacking the imagination to visualize a shot that would leave any perspective for the next one whatsoever.
Still, I had a wonderful time absorbing the whole experience. I started off downwind at the tenth. The stretch from the 12th in particular is impressive and drop dead gorgeous in terms of the view. The 12th is a 254m par 4 that requires a perfect long carried fade off the tee to a small hilltop fairway and green guarded by a large bunker in the line of play. Visually, it’s a daunting hole for a first timer in gale winds. It really actually is hard though, don’t be fooled by the yardage. On more playable days, holes like these really show the masterful architecture by Doak. Barnbougle is a pretty short holes, yet test every club in the bag and there are so many options off the tee and into the greens. The greens are very undulated and will take many rounds to adjust to. I’m guessing half of the greens surface will never see a golfball stopping to move there. Knowledge of the lines and slopes really are key to hitting it close. The 14th is an interesting par 5. It’s a short one but it does not accept a running shot into the raised, long green. The fairway is really broad but it does not really show from the tee that deceives the view and tricks you into playing a shot down the right part of the fairway that slopes to the right and where you will find trouble lurking (or the odd kangaroo if you are lucky). It’s one of the half-par holes at Barnbougle. Oddly enough, this concept makes the golfers mind work overtime. Then we have arrived at one far end of the figure 8 lay out. The next hole plays right next to the water and into the prevailing wind. The tee shot is not the hard part, although there is a central bunker. Given the wind, the approach to the narrow green nestled on a large dune and the deep run off on the left, this one is not easy to pull off. All the holes on the back nine are of exceptional quality and feel balanced. The dunes have a similar feel to Tralee’s thrilling back nine. Everything just falls in place at Barnbougle a little bit more though. It is subtle and in your face at the same time and a very tough test for even the best golfers.
The front nine at the Dunes is where the course really convinced me, even in the at that moment unplayable conditions. The wind took care of my decisions regarding the temptations on the 3rd and 4th holes, which are truly world class and often described. As is the walk from the 4th to the fifth tee. It will make you forget the score on the 4th, good or bad. Although the 7th is most people’s pick of the par 3’s, I really enjoyed the fifth as well. The green is really intriguing, with a slope in the middle to the back that makes it a game of roulette to which side of the green the ball will tumble. In a very good way however. It makes for tap in birdies as well as terrifying long putts with 180 degree turns and no intention of stopping anywhere near the hole. The 7th is a wonderful little par 3 as well, but unfortunately simply unplayable on the day. It does not need a storm to be nasty though as the green has a slippery false front and slopes from left to right as well, while deep bunkers are happy to punish the slightest of mistakes throughout the hole. Quite noticeably, the wind is a big influence in finding the slopes and the next thing you know, yous ball is in the exact same spot as it was two shots ago. Nowhere near the green. It’s got to be the hardest hole on the smallest amount of land in topgolf, measuring just 98 meters. The hole is easily the best of the finishing stretch. 17 and 18 are very solid par 4s with strategic options off the tee.
I do advise to play the course the right way round, starting from the first tee, when you are a first timer at least. I do hope to return in more benign conditions. While the course feels and is stupidly good the first time, it seemed impossible to really catch everything what’s so great about it already. Another couple rounds I’m sure would make me rave about the sophistication and creative variety of the course even more. I find it quite hard to review the course. It is a course of contradictions as well. The course is rugged but manicured. It is forgiving and penal at the same time. It allows for bombing drivers but it remains very much a shotmakerscourse that rewards that favours delicate accurate play. Revenge and further insight in the secrets of Barnbougle will have to wait until a next trip to Tasmania. Cape Wickham will make for a proper excuse to make the journey again in the future. Time is precious, don’t hesitate and don’t forget to discover the rest of this remarkably special island while you’re at it!