Barnbougle Dunes Golf Links is located on the north east coast of Tasmania close to the quiet seaside town of Bridport.
The family of local lad Greg Ramsay had a farm in the area and Greg knew the coastal dunes well. His family also owned the property at Ratho in central Tasmania which houses Australia's oldest course- dating from 1842- so Greg had some background in golf. By the time he had returned from his travels, which included stints caddying at St Andrews and Kiawah Island, Greg had a plan to build a number of championship links courses around the coast of Tasmania.His first effort was to be in the dunes at Barnbougle Farm. However it took him a long time to finally convince the non golfing potato farmer that it was a project worth pursuing...
Initially a plan was hatched to sell memberships to fund the building of the course, but this plan soon foundered, and investors were found to provide seed capital.
Ramsay chose architect Tom Doak to design the first of a proposed two courses on Barnbougle Farm. This was an inspired choice as Doak had recently completed Pacific Dunes in Oregon- still rated as one of the top 20 courses in the world. With two fabulous golfing sites available either side of the Great Forester river, there was some discussion about commencing the first course on what is now know as The Lost Farm. That site had bigger dunes, more room, and more variation of terrain. However the practicalities were that it would have been a more costly build with water and other infrastructure concerns. Doak embraced the tighter Dunes site with relish and produced what is in my somewhat biased opinion, one of the classic designs in the modern era.
And I am biased as I was one of the investors who provided the seed capital to get the project started. My wife and I invested the funds that provided half of the initial payments to Doak and Clayton, and I went on to become Chairman of The Board and Financial Controller until 2009. Along with two other investors the syndicate we formed provided the much needed cash that got the project kick started.
I had been a student of golf course architecture for many years, and had built a decent library on the topic over the years. One of those books was 'The Confidential Guide' by Tom Doak- a book I became most familiar with. I followed golfing developments around the world, and was well aware of the buzz in the golfing world with the opening of The Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon. The opening of the second course at Bandon- Pacific Dunes by Tom Doak happened to coincide with a family visit to Canada, so I took the opportunity to check it out while the family travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer. From the very first hole Pacific Dunes made a huge impression on me- so when I returned to Melbourne and heard that Greg Ramsay had hired Doak for a new course at Barnbougle I made time to meet Greg and see the site- initially to look at property in the area as an investment. But that all changed when I saw the site! When Greg mentioned that the membership plan was foundering, and he was looking for investors it was the start of a grand adventure
During the build of the course I made a point of spending time with Tom Doak every time he visited the site and enjoyed the opportunity to get some understanding of his thought process in building the course. What I learned over many dinner discussions whilst the course was being developed has stayed with me, and I would like to think given me a greater appreciation of what a good architect can bring to the table, and a benchmark to evaluate all courses.
Here is just one example...My wife is a good player and was concerned with the challenge and playability of the course for ladies, given that many designs are based on how a course will play from the mens tees. Doak explained how he designed for all comers, and that a variety of tees was integral to his designs. And the forward tees were not just pushed forward to the start of the fairway, but had challenges of their own- with carries over trouble, and hazards to negotiate. Holes 5, 6, 12, & 15 are good examples of this, and part of the reason the ladies love Barnbougle. And fairway bunkering and hazards are in play off all tees.
Another very strong point TD emphasised was that wherever possible his greens were receptive to different types of shots played by different standards of golfers. So typically a lot of his holes can be approached by a lady bouncing a fairway wood into an open fronted green as well as a stronger player carrying the ball in higher and stopping it....
I am a big fan of short par four holes that demand decisions from a player each time he plays, and it is no coincidence in my opinion that most of the top courses in the world include classic strategic short par four holes. Barnbougle Dunes has a number of world class short par four holes where different pin positions, tees or weather can dramatically alter how a player tackles the hole. The 4th hole at Barnbougle is such a hole. It has a boomerang shaped green set in between dunes and is potentially driveable by the long hitter. But the pin position determines for me whether I lay up short off the massive bunker on the right or hit a longer club on the left to avail a short pitch into a right side pin. It really is one of the great holes in world golf!
One of the tasks I undertook pre opening was to name and rate all of the holes, and hole 4 was named Homestead as the original farmhouse was located here. Hole 15 was called The Cut as a reference to the 'improved' course of the Great Forester River which runs up the right hand side of the hole. And if you hit a left to right shaped shot (a cut) this is where your ball will end up. The Cut is beautifully strategic with a drive to the wide left fairway rewarded with a blind approach at an awkward angle to a small raised green. On the other hand a bold drive down the tight right hand side fairway is rewarded with a short iron straight up the green. Awesome!
The collection of par threes are also strong and varied. My favourite is the 108 metre seventh hole known as Tom's Little Devil. It is a short shot to a tiny table top green and it needs to be precise as long or left can be diabolical. Play it in a strong breeze and real skill is required to even hit the dance floor. By contrast the thirteenth hole is a mid iron to one of the most dramatic greens anywhere. The hole is named Sitwell Park after a famous wildly contoured green designed by Dr Alister McKenzie on a course of that name in London (the hole in London no longer exists). Sitwell Park at Barnbougle is a cracking hole!
When the course first opened I was concerned that the two holes that were sited outside the gorgeous dunes holes two and ten- would not be up to the standard of the rest of the course. Hole two ( Estuary ) is essentially a flat hole outside the dunes, but the green complex here is superb. Mike Keiser dubbed it an 'architects hole' where Doak has made something out of nothing. Indeed it became a hole I always looked forward to. Ten also stands proud.
Some say that the course really starts at hole 3 and while I think 1 & 2 are wonderful holes, I do agree that the stretch of holes from three to nine is of the highest standard. Mike Clayton was Doak's local help on this project, and hole 3 is where he had the most to say. Shaper Brian Schneider needed direction and Clayton flew down to assist. It is a hole you would perhaps appreciate more after a few plays, with an awkward tee shot to a split fairway. The green is tight, heavily bunkered, and contoured. Even though it is a short approach it will demand much thought on the type of shot played. It is a thinking man's golf hole.
I have already mentioned hole 4, but the walk from the back of that green along the beach side dunes to the next tee is memorable...
Hole 5 is called The Turn and is a long irish style par 3 with a heavily contoured green where putting is a hoot.
Hole 6 continues through the large dunescape with a tee shot that needs to negotiate a large dune protruding from the right. Of course the raised green is better approached from the right hand side so a safe driver will need to take their medicine. After Tom's little Devil at hole 7 we come to The Keep- a long par 4 rated the hardest on the course. With a split fairway and green sitting well above the fairway it takes two very strong shots to get home in regulation. It's a tough hole and one which I think could be improved a tad by making the left fairway option a little kinder. It is my belief that even an accurate shot up the left side can be harshly dealt with given the excessive movement in the landing area. Nevertheless it is a unique and outstanding hole.
Hole nine worries me a little. When first in play this was in my opinion one of the best holes on an amazing course. Doak often designs golf holes with a natural feature being the focal point. On hole nine the perfect tee shot left a golfer on the top of the fairway 150 metres out playing to a beautifully bunkered green running at an angle from left to right with the natural topography- but with the expanse of Andersons Bay Beach extending all the way from the back of the green toward Lost Farm in the distance. It was a magnificent setting and an approach shot to die for. Unfortunately things changed. As the course matured and became harder and faster, tee shots from the regular tees inevitably ran further, with the majority now playing relatively blind short approach shots from the valley just short of the green. Now those experienced with play at Barnbougle may know to lay up off the tee, but being a public course this isn't going to happen a lot and effectively one of the purest golf shots on the course wont be experienced by as many as it ought. The other unfortunate event was the extension of the clubhouse to provide a larger office for the CEO, who you may know was a non golfer. The beautiful beach backdrop has now been replaced with a view of the clubhouse. Next time you play hole 9 check out Mike Claytons addition to the back of the back tee- it is a brute of a spot but fun if you are game! And for more fun we also had a 'directors tee' set up to the beach side of the eighth green. If you look for it you will find an area that is levelled, and the tee shot from there is completely different to the normal tee....
The back nine at Barnbougle has a different feel to the front- whilst the front nine is set down between the big dunes, the back nine is routed over them. The front is more protected, but the back has magnificent farm and ocean vistas in all directions. I found that over time I preferred playing one nine over the other, but enjoyed the fact that they were different and complimentary.
Hole 11 was named The Key. At one stage shaping ground to a halt when a machinery key disappeared in the sand. If you ever take a divot on the eleventh hole and dig up a key, you will know why. It's a clever hole demanding an accurate tee shot and with a green that can never be underestimated..
Hole twelve is called Temptation- where in the right conditions many could aspire to hit the short par 4 green off the tee, setting up an eagle attempt. The tee shot to an exposed and elevated ridge running left to right must be accurate, and the tiny green has a few tricks of its own. This really is a wonderful hole. It took a while to build though, as the elevated green site is the most exposed on the course, and twice after the hole had been shaped, strong winds blew it all away..
I love the angled tee shot on 14, and the high tee shot on the par 3 sixteenth ( called High). Many love this hole, but I believe the green needs softening a little in parts.
Hole 17 was called Ocean and had a variety of tees built. Unfortunately the most spectacular of these was washed into the sea in the early years. Still it is a great hole requiring two good shots, and an amazingly convoluted green that is quite hard to hit. I love the pin positions at the back or in the bowl on the right- they make for a lot of fun putting!
Hole 18 is called 'home' and has a wonderful green structure with dramatic pin positions. I always loved that shot in. Depending on which tee is played the drive might come from an angle to the fairway over the beach- which is in play. In the early days the beach was just sand and a ball played from the sand back on to the green was a possibility- these days however the marram has taken over this part of the beach meaning a wayward ball is more likely to be lost. And one set of tees nearest the beach fell out of use, as the quality of turf suffered with sand constantly blown over it. Pity!
The wind is a major factor at Barnbougle- as it is on all links courses- and it can get pretty wild. But surprisingly if you avoid the springtime you will find there are also a lot of milder days. The mountain ranges to the south do protect the area somewhat. Golf magnate Mike Keiser was cognisant of the weather when in an early visit he strongly suggested to Tom Doak that the nines be swapped. His argument was that when the wind did blow golfers would have turned into the wind on what is now hole 15, and then continued into the wind through 16, 17, 18, 1, 2, 3, & 4. That's a long haul. I am glad the nines were changed...
There is no doubt Tom Doak is one of the great golf architects, and whilst he has an impressive portfolio of courses around the world, I still regard Barnbougle Dunes as his masterpiece. The course is defined by the wildest of greens- but they use the natural dunescape, and with a number of bowls can be forgiving as well as challenging. Most importantly they are fun! The variety of holes, and shots required makes it a course where once is not enough...
Barnbougle Dunes offically opened in December 2004, and is now regarded as one of the best courses in the world. Although I am no longer involved I am proud to be part of the team that made it all possible. Kudos should go to all the investors, and for Greg Ramsay for his vision and energy in bringing this project to life despite all odds.
Whilst acting as Chairman at Barnbougle my wife and I undertook a study trip to the USA where we returned to Bandon Dunes with the blessing of owner Mike Keiser to further look at how Bandon Dunes Resort operated, and how it flourished with the addition of further courses, making it a golfing destination. Keiser famously stated that 'one plus one equals three' when it came to adding a second course at Bandon, and of course we all hoped this would also apply at Barnbougle. The timing was good and Bandon Dunes was the perfect model for Barnbougle to emulate.
On another trip to the USA, Heather and I arranged to visit a number of courses designed by Coore Crenshaw ( Sand Hills, Friars Head ) with the thought that a second course might eventuate at Barnbougle. My report to the Board recommended Coore Crenshaw as the priority choice and that Mike Stranz (Tobacco Road) be an interesting next choice...
In time the second course did eventuate, but that is another story!
Barnbougle Dunes features in a number of Travelling Golfer tours with Lost Farm, or as part of The King Island and Barnbougle tours. These trips can also be added to our tours of the Melbourne Sandbelt. Please refer to Destinations: Barnbougle Dunes & Lost Farm
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