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.
Like most modern courses these days the 2 9s come out and back towards the clubhouse. Actually the first two holes are a tame start that initially had me questioning whether the course was going to live up to the hype. We start with a very generous fairway on a decent par 5 followed by a fairly standard par 4 with the highlight being the charter planes landing directly to the side of the fairway. From then on however we go on a sequence of utterly great holes one after another. 3 and 4 are short par 4s but magnificent risk/reward holes where you are introduced to huge waste bunkers carved out of the slopes. The walk from 4 to 5 takes you to the top of hundred feet dunes overlooking the waves crashing on the beach, It really is like the best of the Ayrshire coast in over 30 degree heat! 5 was possibly one of the best par 3s I have ever seen but then it was outdone by the signature 7th, only 120 yards but guarded by cavernous bunkers and perilous drops to the back and right. It almost always plays into the breeze and required a punched 7 iron and plenty of hope!
The strange thing is that looking back, although I would say holes 3-8 are possibly the best of any course I’ve played (including 7 open venues) I think I somehow prefer the back 9 which only underlies the relentless quality of the course. I wont go on about each hole but a few deserve special mentions. The 12th (another drivable par 4) is a sensational hole uphill with huge waste bunkers and dune to the right but at only 250 yards just begs to be attacked. I did and was rewarded with a great memory of birdie! 13 is a par 3 that has an enormous and quite hugely undulating green where my partners had to role the ball about 15feet off line for it to track back down the hole towards the cup, some may call it crazy golf but we absolutely loved it. Following on is another beautifully bunkered par 5 and then the 15th that is visually stunning with the river and lost farm to the right, huge fairway bunker and well guarded green.
There are a number of similarities to some other great new courses ive played but I think Barnbougle comes out on top. The bunkering is very similar to Castle Stuart but Barnbougle looks like it has been sitting there for hundreds of years and is just a slightly better collection of golf holes. Kingsbarns too was in my top 3 courses but now slips down one place. I don’t tend to include clubhouse service, etc when thinking of and reviewing my favourite courses because I think it should be all about the course but Ill just say the food was excellent, staying in the huts was overlooking the course was great, (and allowed me to sneak on for a cheeky 9 just before dusk) and at 98 bucks (60 quid!) its an absolute bargain.