Along with fellow American Tom Doak, Bill Coore is the most respected and admired golf architect in the industry today. While Doak is an outspoken anti-establishment type, with forceful views and an unbridled self-confidence, Coore, by contrast, is a modest, mild-mannered designer with impeccable credentials yet, on occasion, an almost reverential insecurity about his profession. Both men have a devoted following among golfing connoisseurs the world over. Both also now boast a design in play at Barnbougle Dunes, Australian golf’s prized public access jewel located on Tasmania’s northern coast.
Bill Coore’s Lost Farm course at Barnbougle is built among towering sand hills west of the estuary that runs alongside the famous 15th hole on the previous course. The name Lost Farm refers to a flat central paddock on the site, a place where farmers would find missing cattle sheltering from the elements. Like at the first course, this property belongs to local spud grower Richard Sattler, who was mentored on the expansion by Bandon Dunes founder Mike Keiser. It was Keiser who pushed the development of the second course here and Keiser, as much as anybody else, who convinced Sattler that if he wanted to match the standards of the first layout he needed to engage Bill Coore.
Interestingly, when Coore first saw the land available for this golf course he was breathless with excitement but uncertain he would be able to build a layout worthy of such a setting. This from the man responsible for the creation of the Sand Hills course in Nebraska, regarded by many good judges as the greatest golf course of the past 70 years. Coore’s concerns were with playability and the desire to build something that complimented the first Barnbougle Dunes track. Despite some misgivings, Coore took the job, commenting that ‘to turn down this project would be like a professional golfer passing up the opportunity to play in one of the majors.’
Coore began work on Lost Farm around Easter 2006, spending weeks studying every nook and nuance of the property, searching both for holes, which were everywhere, but also ways of tying all the golf together. What’s interesting about the development of Lost Farm, when compared to Barnbougle Dunes, is that Coore spent much longer on site here than Doak did when building the first course. That’s not a slight on Doak, but instead an indication of how hands-on Coore is when it comes to design, and also how much more complicated the routing puzzle was at Lost Farm. The complication stems from the fact that these dunes are taller than at Barnbougle. The valleys between them are also broader and the site available for golf was larger and stretched further inland. These factors gave Coore the opportunity to do something Doak would have loved to on his course, and that is arrange the golf so that holes run to all points of the compass, rather than predominantly east and west. On the downside, he had to figure a way of setting golf amongst such enormous sand hills, without making it unplayable.
Coore’s final routing is superbly balanced and mixes an opening stretch across the flatter Lost Farm paddock, with a diverse group of holes weaving through the expansive valleys and four showstoppers either right on the water or atop the beachside dunes. The first sea experience comes at the gorgeous short 4th, which overlooks Barnbougle Dunes and is known as Sally’s Point for this is where Sattler’s wife had apparently wanted to build her dream home. The next is a monstrous 430m par four, that curves along the Barnbougle Estuary toward a massive green site perched right beside the water. From the tee the dramatically collapsing target is clearly visible, but the fat part of the fairway is completely hidden by a 60-foot dune that must be carried by anyone hoping to get home in two. Like all the glamour holes at Lost Farm, this one is playable for the weaker hitter and a dream come true for those strong or bold enough to be tempted to bomb a drive right over the top of the hill.
The final ocean holes are the 14th and 15th, which are squeezed between Bass Strait and an 80-foot sand ridge that houses the Lost Farm restaurant and health spa. The 15th is a picturesque par three that drops from near the beach toward a green benched into the side of this mammoth ridge. It’s preceded by Lost Farm’s star attraction, the 14th a drivable par four played directly at the roaring ocean, and with a generous fairway but a skinny, concave green that is best attacked from a narrow shelf down its right hand side. For those unwilling to flirt with disaster, hitting left means a flick wedge approach shot into a green now significantly above your feet and only a few paces wide. As with Coore’s more sinister 14th hole at Bandon Trails in America, this is one of those rare modern gems that mix great beauty with sound strategy and originality. It’s sure to quickly establish itself as a true Aussie icon.
Like Doak, one of the charms of Bill Coore the designer is that he has the ability to create spectacular golf holes but he doesn’t artificially dissuade aggressive play by complicating his design or adding unnecessary hazards. It’s true his targets here have loads of internal movement, but mostly the undulations are extensions of the natural contours and can often be used in your favour to sweep a ball toward an apparently tricky pin. Time and time again at Lost Farm, as at Barnbougle Dunes, if you gamble on the scoring holes and play well you end up with a simple birdie, or better. If you fail to execute, however, the punishments can be severe, and also demoralising given how generous the golfing corridors are.
Perhaps the best example of Coore’s strategic design philosophy can be found on the par four 7th, which runs along relatively flat ground but toward a sizable green complex benched into the left side of a scrubby dune. What’s cool about this hole is that the fairway is more than 110 metres wide and has only a small knoll in its middle to complicate play from the tee. Left of the mound is narrower than the right, but a huge advantage as it gives you a fantastic angle into an otherwise intimidating target.
Despite its obvious qualities, if you were to ask visitors to nominate the best few holes on this property the 7th would likely not rate a mention. Neither would the 2nd, yet it’s another solid par four across dreary ground, or the par three 6th, which features a remarkable green angled across the tee and with a half-pipe right side and a bulging back-to-front left portion. The more obvious glamour holes not already mentioned include the drivable par four 3rd, its wild putting surface tiered and protected by blow-out bunkers, and the monster par five 8th, played first across the corner of a huge dune and then ending with a superb plateau green surrounded by an enormous exposed sand bank. The crested drive on the strong par four 11th is another highlight, as is the approach shot into the left-bending 13th hole, played between two converging sand ridges.
Following the 13th hole golfers get to play the first of Lost Farm’s two ‘bye’ holes, an exquisite short par three wedged between the 13th green and 14th tee and added because Mike Keiser wasn’t initially a fan of Coore’s uphill par three 17th and suggested they consider an alternative. 13A was found, and when agreement couldn’t be reached on which one was better, Sattler insisted they build them both. The 18th is a fine closing par four along the beachside dunes, and the retention of Coore’s 17th hole was essential in allowing it to stretch to a length appropriate for a closer played, mostly, with a helping breeze. The final hole here, 18A, is a betting par three played from near the 18th green back toward the clubhouse.
What’s great about Barnbougle Dunes now is that despite the fact these two courses nearly touch at the mouth of the estuary, they are completely different and offer contrasting golf experiences. As with any project Bill Coore works on, expectations were high with Lost Farm, but yet again he has delivered a golf course from the top-shelf. Those who have been putting off a trip to Barnbougle Dunes since it opened back in 2004, now have officially no excuse.