Barnbougle doesn’t let down those of us who expect Tasmania to be wild and woolly. It is an intriguing place to play golf and the opening stretch of holes is crazy good. It is hard to articulate in words how exciting the third, fourth and fifth holes are. They are a wondrous collection of back-to-back holes, as good as any stretch on any golf course. The fourth hole is difficult to describe accurately but is without question one of the finest golf holes ever built on the planet. A short par four, it plays only 254 meters, but into the prevailing wind. If the wind were not blowing or was blowing downwind, it would be a drivable green. The massive bunker on the right side of the fairway gets the mind going. I imagine plenty of shots are pulled left as the golfer panics at the last second thinking about the massive hazard, which is a naturally blown bunker. If you hit short of the large bunker you have a steep uphill shot that you can’t fully see. The second shot plays to an extremely well protected and crazy green. Although his inspiration for this hole was Royal Melbourne West's tenth hole, when Doak designed this hole he must have been on crack or some other kind of mind altering drug. It is a sick hole. The walk from the fourth green to the fifth tee is one of the finest in golf along Bass Strait. Plan on playing Barnbougle over and over again, it is so good and how often are you going to get to Tasmania? Stay at the rustic cabins and have a James Boag.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Any plans to return and add Cape Wickham to the roster?
Yes, I just read Darius Oliver's new Planet Golf writeup of Cape Wickham and am anxious to play it, along with other new Southern Hemisphere courses like Tara Iti and Lost Farm.
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.
The course opens with a fairly straight forward par 5 which offers a risk/reward 2nd over a large blowout fairway bunker and the challenge of the green surrounds is quickly apparent. The 2nd is a difficult long par 4 favouring an approach from the right side and where anything left or short requires deft chipping skills with the onus clearly on the ground game. The stretch of holes from 3 to 7 are the most memorable on the course and show Doak at his best. Hole 3 is a great short par 4 which dog legs right and where the line from the tee is a total mystery. A bail out left leaves a longer approach to a narrow and well-guarded green with a drive down the right offering an early birdie opportunity. Much is made of the 300 yard 4th and it certainly lives up to the hype. An elevated tee plays towards an enormous waste bunker covering a large dune. A clean, straight drive will fly the bunker and funnel down to the green but anything left will find a second deep bunker or some very healthy rough. Shot selection is almost entirely dependant on the wind and the green should always be in play downwind but appropriately the severely sloping green does not give up single or two putts easily. Along with the brilliant 3rd at Castle Stuart this is one of the best short par 4s I have played.
The 5th is the first par 3 and is played from the top of a dune to the valley below. With everything kicking in from the left all you need to do is ensure your judgement of distance is up to scratch and then watch as your ball hopefully meanders its way down towards the pin. The 6th hole is a great 415 yard par 4 which plays through a valley of tall dunes comparable in scale to those at the new Trump course in Aberdeen. The drive must be placed to the left of a huge shaggy dune and again the wind direction plays a huge part in the playing length of the hole. It’s a beast of a hole into the wind as although there are no greenside bunkers the shot to the green is made far easier the closer you are to it. The next hole is the best single shotter on the course and also one of the best that I have ever played. From the tips it is a monstrous 123 yards but the postage stamp green is exceedingly difficult to hold due to the encroaching slopes which would make Donald Ross proud. The deep greenside bunkering complete with large chunks of overhanging turf actually seems to be an appealing miss as even 2nd shots to this green are not guaranteed to hold on.
The stand out holes for the rest of the course for me are 12, 13, 15 and 17. The 12th is another great short par 4 where the tee shot must be played left to avoid a steep drop off right. Although drivable in theory it seems the drive must be a well struck fade and again the green is tiny with small but steep slopes around the back and left side. The next is a great par three of over 200 yards but playing much less from an elevated tee. This hole is all about the green which slopes back to front over and around numerous large swails. Again there is great anticipation in awaiting the ball’s finishing position as anything at the back of the green is virtually assured of requiring three shots more to locate a front pin. 15 is played from one of the most scenic tee locations on the course with Coore & Crenshaw’s Lost Farm course visible just 100 yards away across a river. With a double fairway left there is no fear with the tee shot but the further left you go the more you have to carry a deep gully that cuts across the left side of the green. 17 is a long par four which again plays from an elevated tee to an undulating fairway which moves right against the dune line. The drive must split 2 bunkers and the second must be purely struck in order to find the elongated green. Again the greenside undulations ensure that nothing is taken for granted until the ball is holed.
The Barnbougle experience is just about golf, pure and simple. There is nothing extravagant about the facilities and considering a round costs about £65 it is probably the best value ticket around – you just have to get yourself there!