On reflection, Barnbougle Dunes golf course reminds me of a great book (you know the type). There’s the hype fed by publishers that this is the book of the year. You hear a smattering of reports that it’s a corker and your anticipation level grows. Finally you get your hands on a copy and you settle onto the couch.
You handle the tome and a myriad of thoughts rush through your mind. The cover doesn’t look anything that special. My first thought was that the story better develop quickly and get me involved or it will join a long list of other best sellers in my collection – begun but seldom finished!
Finally you turn the first page and like what you read. You relax and start to enjoy the ride. Suddenly the story line takes off and you’re hooked. Every page gets better and better. After a couple of engrossing hours you can’t put it down. As you realise you are reaching the end your heart sinks – don’t do it! Ultimately it does and you let out a contented breath – just hoping the author can reproduce this magic again.
For me, my trip to play Barnbougle Dunes on Tasmania’s north east coast mirrored this rare literary analogy.
First there was the hype, and in my time in golf I have never heard such high praise, and then the amazing accolades that were being bestowed upon this new course. The owners must have been over the moon, because the dollar value they got in free press in the first year was simply unaffordable! I spoke to a few lucky colleges that made the journey south, and they unanimously sung the course’s praise. My juices began to flow – I had to play it!
Finally the chance came to make the trip and as I packed my clubs and finally boarded the plane, I had mixed emotions. My head said the course couldn’t be as good as everyone said. I mean, in reality, a golf course is just that. Eighteen holes, beautiful grassed playing surfaces and always a joy to traverse. I expected to be slightly let down.
The commercial approach for a golfing sojourn to Barnbougle will take you from Melbourne (or a capital airport) to Tasmania’s second largest town – Launceston. From here a course courtesy bus or tour operator could cargo you and your sticks to the course an hour away to the northern coast. Or, you could hire a car – my option. I’d love to report that the trip is a snack, and in essence it was. The roads are typically narrow and windy once you get through the bustling metropolis (not) of Launceston. Navigation is made a little difficult in part because of unfamiliarity and in part because half the “towns” marked on the map between the airport and Barnbougle don’t seem to exist! You approach what you think will be a town and one house later you’re through the other side and are left wondering whether that was it or not.
Small navigational issues aside, it was not hard to find my destination. You don’t need to pass through the nearest town Bridport (a few km’s from the course) however it is a quaint place and a peek is worthwhile.
Finally I sit on the couch and get to the cover of the book. There’s a modest entrance to Barnbougle Dunes, and a long unsealed road leading to the clubhouse. From a distance, the accommodation reveals itself to your left and the clubhouse ahead looks okay, but not awe-inspiring. You get a glimpse of the course – cusps of grass and a few sand dunes, lush green fairways and alike.
I flip the first page and enter the clubhouse. A single level, modern and practical abode. Because of the course location, Barnbougle isn’t going to have two hundred players on any given day and thankfully they have catered accordingly. They have created a warm, cosy clubhouse that incorporates a restaurant that can seat one hundred, a bar (lounges and open fire), pro shop and a great decking area. But that doesn’t even begin to explain the first few pages of this story. There’s the ceiling to floor glass affording spectacular ocean views. In fact it appears as if you are at sea level. Anderson Bay looks so close it’s like the decking is built out over the water. I loved enjoying a drink inside. The wind buffeted the clubhouse, while I guzzled cleansing ale. The fire crackled in the background, while I inhaled the spectacular ocean views. This book had me sucked in – I desperately wanted to get my teeth into the story!
I checked in to what looked like very simple lodging, about 400m from the clubhouse. A row of sixteen “tin huts” sit together looking back, open to the elements, rather naked and not that attractive. However, once inside, you are again happy with the flip of the page. A mate and I shared a hut. It had two queen size beds in two separate rooms separated by a bathroom. For two blokes this room was perfect. It was modern, clean, comfortable and so much more than it looked from the outside.
If staying on course you need not leave the complex. Breakfast is served in the clubhouse for in house guests each morning. Sandwiches and light meals are offered for lunch and the restaurant covers the evening meal (and what a menu!). Everything is of an excellent standard.
Now it was time to attack the core of the book. I stood on the first tee and was impressed but not overwhelmed. The tee and fairways looked in great condition – as was the putting green. They were all a fescue grass, offering great cover, colour and standard.
And so I marched through the first chapter. There are four sets of tees and scorecards at Barnbougle. The Forrester card is suggested for 0-4 handicappers. All tees are marked with simple tee tree off cuts painted different colours, the Forrester is black. Fully aware of reports that better able golfers than I had managed to lose a dozen balls with ease, I thought it sensible to play to my limits. So it was the Booballa scorecard for 5-17 handicappers for me. It plays as a 5642m par 71 (the Forrester track is 6148m).There’s the Melaleuca course for 18-27 handicap and the Marram for 28 handicap and above. It’s also worth noting that an optional local rule is offered on the back of all cards. “Any lost ball can be treated as lost in a water hazard (Irish drop rule). One shot penalty at point of entry.” Although it is not completely evident as to why such a rule is offered during the first few holes it becomes very apparent later on!
In all honesty the first two holes are good but not great. A par five to start and then a long par four follows. To your right is low dunes and thick grass, while on the left there’s open cow pasture, complete with grazing cattle. The book is good, don’t get me wrong but I was getting twitchy hoping it warmed up to keep my eager interest.
Then bang – the flip of a page and Barnbougle sets flight! You traverse to the third tee, catching a glimpse of the real dunes and spectacular thick clusters of grasses that line fairways. The track to the third tee rises and you arrive and finally turn to the direction the hole is to take you are overwhelmed. World renowned golf architect Tom Doak and our own Mike Clayton are responsible for the layout and use of this stunning land, and what a job they have done. Enough has been written on the humble beginnings of Barnbougle from grazing land to discovered golfing jewel so I won’t bore you with the story. I’ll only bore you with the superlatives as they ooze from my keyboard as I retell my playing experience.
The third hole is one of a number of short par fours that really ignite your golfing passion. The view alone from the tee makes this a great hole. The town of Bridport is stunningly framed on the horizon, the hole offers a risk or reward challenge and the dunes are revealed. Danger, in the form of deep and thick grasses awaits and sand, wind, bumps and dramatic undulations are unveiled.
Like any great book the story gets better and better and I think if I gave you a hole by hole description of the course I would be spoiling a story line that you should discover yourself.
But I can talk of my highlights without giving too much of the plot away. After finishing the spectacular fourth hole you walk up a track to the direction of the fifth tee. At this stage you haven’t seen the pounding ocean, yet you can hear it. As you reach the top of the track a full ocean vista hits you between the eyes – it is stunning. The path avails this view to your left for about 60m until you reach the fifth tee. You walk along the top of the dunes – some 10 metres high, with Anderson Bay and its pristine beach only a pitch away – it’s magnificent!
After you tee off at six you make your way down to the fairway, and what a sight! This was probably my highlight – huge sand dunes that line the fairway either side. They are completely covered in what appears thick Marram and gorse. Looking towards the flagstick this grass is a silvery green colour. If you look back to the tee, it turns to a rich dark green. Walking along the wide fairway with these huge dunes on either side is an experience unlike anything I have seen on a golf course. It is nature at its finest with a golfing playground thrown in.
The 112m par three seventh will dumbfound you. The downwind par five eleventh and fourteen holes will make you feel like Tiger – both are reachable in two with the wind. Then you’ll struggle to make the green of fifteen with driver and four iron – and it’s only 321m long!
The par three thirteenth green will astound. The 446m par four eighth will overwhelm, and the finishing two holes into the prevailing gusts will infuriate but reward with nature and scenery.
What a course!
After you finally put the book down and make your way to the clubhouse for a beer and refuge from the strong ocean breezes, you can’t help but relive every page and chapter with your playing partner.
Sure we lost balls – but not as many as you would think or as myth would have you imagine – for the fairways are generous. There were plenty of bunkers with no rakes to keep in line with this original links experience. But usually, they were where you shouldn’t be hitting anyway – I only found a couple in two rounds.
The greens were a little slow – deliberately left a little long so a ball could hold in the prevalent strong winds.
And so we ate, drank, reminisced, and listened to the wind howl as the daylight hours waned. The fire glowed, the stories were retold and like only a great book can do – you knew you just had to read it again.
And again we did, and like only a good book does, new sub plots and nuances were revealed. We picked up subtleties we hadn’t seen the first time round and as we finished a second time and prepared to leave, we knew this book just had to be read again!
(Garry Kennedy was a guest of Tourism Tasmania and Barnbougle Dunes. Airfares, lodgings and green fees were provided)
Barnbougle Dunes Reflections
About 12 months after my maiden visit, I had the opportunity to go back to Barnbougle Dunes again – this time with three “virgin” mates.
For those of you that live on another planet, Barnbougle is at the top end of Tasmania, on the north coast wedged between Burnie and Devonport.
A Tom Doak designed track (in collaboration with our own Mike Clayton), Barnbougle stunned everyone when it was rated – in its debut year – number 49 in the world by America’s Golf Digest magazine. From there the accolades came thick and fast – it’s considered by many in the top two or three courses in Australia and heads the Golf Course Guide’s list of the Top 100 public access courses in Australia.
I have given my opinion of the course in a previous edition of Hacker – in short I think it is stunning and probably the best course I have played. But I was more interested in a first time visitor’s perspective. So I asked fellow travelers Pete, Andy and Ted to give their view.
I’ll paint the picture to begin. A taxi picked us up and took us to Melbourne airport for a 8am departure to Launceston. With barely a minute left to board the plane (Ted’s actually the last person to board because his titanium hip has him swarmed with security Guards), the doors close and we are literally airborne in seconds.
After landing in Launceston we had arranged transfers from the airport to the course. They were waiting when we landed. A bit over an hour later and we were at Barnbougle. After booking in we unpacked in our rooms and played 18 holes in the afternoon after a quick bite to eat. Drinks and dinner followed in the clubhouse, breakfast (again in the clubhouse) another 18 holes, a snack, back on the bus and back to Melbourne. A whirlwind 36 hour exercise and here’s what the lads thought:
What was your first impression?
ANDY: Whoa, how am I going to keep it on the fairway, but boy was it fun trying.
TED: Remoteness of the course and the natural surroundings, followed by bamboozlement at my magnificent drive down the long par 5 first.
PETE: Great service from the Courtesy pick-up van and excellent toasted sangers in Lonnie. $52 a bit steep for slab of Cascade bought on the way – but I guess it was only Tassie dollars. Property is very remote and while new, I liked the fact that the course looked like it had been there for a long time. Loved the way the course layout slowly and gradually revealed itself (like a lady of great propriety).
How do you rate the course?
ANDY: Loved it. The aesthetics of the course are a 9/10. I loved the holes which gave a view of the Ocean, and especially loved the walk between holes 4 and 5. The condition was A Grade.
TED: Great golf course. Not excessively hard like many “resort” courses seem to want to be but sufficiently hard enough to bend us all over at various stages.
PETE: Loved it. The elevations, coastal views, extreme rises and falls, hills of marram grass all provided great contrasts and lots of holes with that ‘wow’ factor. Condition was very good although I wouldn’t have said excellent. The prevailing winds were also often behind you – making the harder holes still playable.
ANDY: Scoring two points on the first three holes before my game turned to @#$%! The ocean views and Ted’s hip going off through the Airport metal detector.
TED: Magnificent drives by all into Bass Straight during that walk between holes, and of course the view! The holes that tempt you to play safe or have a serious crack! All the par 3′s were great and a favourite was the 6th – the hole looked as if it is carved into a canyon.
PETE: Loved the short par 4s in particular – from memory holes 3, 4 and especially 12. Also, we found the course was still playable from the black tees because many of the dangers (e.g. fairway bunkers) tended to be out of reach and some of the angles into the fairway were easier. Post mortems on the balcony and post-post mortems in the lounge by the fire were fun also.
Not so favourite bits?
ANDY: The high cost of balls, given that I left so many on the course. You really have to play from the tees that are appropriate to your ability; otherwise it’s a little tough, which may take away from the enjoyment.
TED. What’s that long wild grass called? The sight and smell of Garry in the morning. Peter’s putt of about 40 metres on the ninth that robbed me of my rightful winning of the first nine skins!
PETE: Continually looking for Andrew’s ball, and our reliance on the yardage book – I think we all played better when we stopped referring to it. I thought some of the greens were a bit too unnecessarily severe.
How do you rate the accommodation?
ANDY: A1. The rooms where spacious, bathroom was huge.
TED: Good value and comfortable.
PETE: Pitched at the right level. Very functional and comfortable, not too up-market and yet not too ‘budget’ either.
How do you rate the clubhouse?
ANDY: A1. Lovely glass of red by the open fire while you can hear the ocean waves crashing on the shore, cuddled on the Chesterfield…. Oh sorry that was another weekend but I could have done it this weekend. It has a great balcony to have a beer or two after the game if the weather allows (which it did).
TED: Excellent. What more do you need? Nice bar, balcony, food, fireplace.
PETE: Good and comfortable although seemed a little small to me for a course of this stature and especially if they are going to build another 18 holes. Thought the pro shop was a bit pokey and would have thought they might have had a separated restaurant area and maybe even function room type facilities. Not that it affected us at all.
Value for money?
ANDY: It was all fine
TED: You couldn’t do it every weekend but as a golfing weekend away with the boys it is good value.
PETE: Think the prices to stay and play are quite good compared with its competitors at this level of the market. However it is remote and so the extra cost to get there and back does work against it.
Would you rush back there?
ANDY: I’m looking forward to my next trip back, hopefully this year. Need to rise to the challenge and not leave so many balls out there.
TED: I’d play it again for sure and recommend it to other keen golfers looking for a different experience.
PETE: I reckon it is a great destination for maybe a once a year (or two) weekend away.
How does it rate on your all-time-best-course-played list?
ANDY: It would rate in my best half dozen
TED: Right up there with the best of them. As good as any course I have actually played.
PETE: In the top 3 for most memorable – but part of that was the whole weekend experience. In my top 5 for all-time-best-course-played!
Note: Peter plays off 8 at Rosanna, Ted and Andrew off 16 at Heidelberg. Pete and Ted know what they’re talking about, Andy has no idea! Thanks for a great weekend away lads.