It's fair to say that most who make it here have to be pretty dedicated to the cause. Even for most Australians, a trip to Barnbougle still requires a couple of hours on a plane followed by an hour's drive. Starting from London, there can be few less accessible top class courses on the planet. But once you get here, you'll be glad you made the trip. As you arrive at this wonderful golfing outpost, your first glimpse of the course is of the fantastic par 4 10th, rising to an elevated green surrounded by waste bunkers on either side. Your appetite whetted, already you can be sure that you are in for something special. If you were unsure before, the warm welcome at the professional's shop confirms that this place exists to provide pure enjoyment of the game.
The course is all about wide fairways, strategic bunkering, risk reward short par 4s, undulating greens and stunning scenery. However, if you do miss the generous fairways, then your ball is more than likely lost in the thick vegetation that covers the dunes. Therefore, a local rule treats the long rough as a lateral hazard. Despite being a relatively new course, Tom Doak has managed to make it look like it has been here for ever, with the waste bunkers giving the place a natural look.
Standing on the first tee, you are faced with a drive through a valley. The uninitiated may fret about unseen dangers lurking on the fairway ahead. But fear not, the fairway is typically wide and, on this occasion at least, there is no sand to be found from the tee. Accurate approach play is key in the first two holes which, seemingly benign from the tee, are defended by greens which will repel anything short or off line, with potentially dire consequences. But it is from the 3rd where the course really takes off, as a beguiling short par 4 guides you into the towering dune complexes. The fourth is outstanding. Across a valley and 300 yards long, do you take on the enormous waste bunker and hope for a straightforward chip to the green (bearing in mind that anything off the fairway is probably lost), or play it safe with an iron into the valley below and then face a blind wedge to the green that now stands above you? The course then continues to wind its way through the dunes, offering options from the tee and confounding you around the greens. There is a great variety of short holes here - 5 is a superb par 3, 220 yards downhill to a gathering green, but it is the 7th that may live longest in the memory. Only 125 yards on the card, you may think that this offers a chance for an easy par or better. That is until you stand on the tee and see the upturned saucer of a green, perched above cavernous waste bunkers. It reminded me of some of the classic short holes at Sunningdale - but with far more severe punishment dished out to anything not finding the green.
The back nine continues in a similar vein, with the 280 yard 12th a brilliant par 4, reminiscent of the the 12th at Royal St George's. The greens continue to provide lots of fun, with the undulations on the short 13th unlike anything you've ever faced before. There really isn't a weak hole to mention on this course. If I had to pick hairs, I might say that that I would like to see a first tee which is more open, making the challenge in front of you a bit more apparent. Perhaps the 1st and the 18th on the neighbouring Lost Farm are better opening and closing holes. But, all in all, there are few places where you will enjoy your golf as much as this, especially when you consider the green fee is just £60. Having come this far, we played twice, and enjoyed it even more the second time round.
Date: April 21, 2014