‘One of the most spectacular properties made available for golf in the past fifty years.’ Tom Doak on Barnbougle Dunes.
Though the gorgeous island of Tasmania has long been a popular tourist destination, for more than 160 years its only real interest to golfers was the rudimentary Ratho golf course, which was the first in Australia and dates back to 1842 making it the oldest course anywhere outside of Britain. It was not until the 2004 opening of the outstanding links at Barnbougle Dunes, in the sleepy seaside village of Bridport, that the entire golfing landscape in this most southerly corner of Australia changed forever.
Occupying a two mile stretch of giant sand dunes along Bass Strait, the course was the vision of a persistent young links fanatic who pestered, harassed and finally managed to convince a gruff potato farmer, and staunch non-golfer, to convert part of his 14,000-acre Barnbougle farmland into a golf course. American Tom Doak was the chosen architect and although the first business model for the development failed, Doak was so eager to build the course that he offered a long-term payment plan for his services, a gesture that managed to convince the landowner to proceed with the development himself.
Working with local partner Michael Clayton, Doak set about shaping the curving beachside sandhills into a quality links. Crucial to their design was a decision to opt for a central clubhouse, which meant holes could be laid out in two loops on either side. This prevented a long continuous stretch into the strong winds and allowed for the closing holes to play right along the beach. Routed mostly through dense valleys, the outward half occupies the heavier dunes although it opens with a couple of holes on the flatter farming land. The short par four 3rd, its drive partially obscured across a diagonal ridge, is the first that dives into the sand. The next is a drivable par four and the first real jaw-dropper, the hole dominated by a massive bunker embedded into a steep hillside which must be carried in order to get near a green resting within a deep dune bowl. Remaining front nine highlights include a side-slope approach into the 9th and the evil short 7th, which swings back into the prevailing winds to a tiny crowned green that is protected by a deep trap left and steep banks both long and right.
Setting out in an eastern loop, the inward nine is built across broader, more expansive undulations and heads toward a tidal inlet, before turning west and returning to the clubhouse alongside Barnbougle beach. Both of the par four finishing holes are strong, while the excessively humped skyline green at the 10th and the reachable 12th, with its enticing target sitting on a ledge, are also noteworthy. The best of the back nine, however, is the 15th, a mid-length par four played along the inlet and its adjacent dune ridge. Those able to find a slither of fairway on the right here are given the best angle into a narrow green that falls sharply to the left and is especially tough to hit for timid golfers straying left of the central fairway bunker.
Beyond the impressive dunes and beautiful beachside setting, the standout features at Barnbougle are the bunkers and Doak’s quirky greens, which are often built with smaller quadrants within the greater green shapes to allow balls to be bounced off wide slopes and fed back toward certain hole locations. Although effective, some of these external slopes, especially on the par threes, do seem a little repetitive. Both the 5th and 16th, for example, are best played by feeding your ball in from the high left side. Sensibly the designers did leave most targets open in the front, to ensure the course was manageable for all players under all conditions. They also used the rugged bunkering sparingly, often prefering to test the inaccurate approach with hollows and clever chipping zones.
Despite its basic two loop routing, the direction of play changes quite regularly at Barnbougle and its firm, fescue surfaces present a similar links examination as the premier layouts in Britain. Thanks to the vision of a young links addict, and the ability of Doak, Clayton and their teams to fashion the raw sand dunes into an exciting experience, Barnbougle Dunes is one of modern golf’s great discoveries and the sort of pure, uncompromised golf project the world needs more of.