2005: Barnbougle Dunes: A Tasmanian treasure
By Rob Vanderzalm
If you travel to Tasmania hoping to find a number of quality golf courses, luxury resorts and a fast-paced city full of flashy restaurants, you’ll be disappointed.
But there is one course that certainly makes the trip to the Apple Isle worthwhile.
Barnbougle Dunes Golf Links opened earlier this year and is proving popular, especially with golfers from Victoria and New South Wales. The international market has yet to discover it, but it’s only a matter of time.
Designed by Tom Doak and Melbourne architect Mike Clayton, the seaside links is one of the finest layouts to open in Australia in more than a decade, and is a relative bargain at $80 Australian per round.
Barnbougle Dunes already has been touted as giving New South Wales and Kingston Heath a run for the title of Australia’s second-best course – behind only Royal Melbourne, which has a firm grip on the No. 1 position Down Under.
Clayton doesn’t put Barnbougle Dunes ahead of Royal Melbourne. But he believes it’s not far behind.
“Royal Melbourne aside, (Barnbougle Dunes) has the largest collection of golf holes that are world class in Australia,” Clayton said. “As much as I love Kingston Heath, I think it’s only got two or three. This has got more.”
Once you’ve landed at Launceston airport, it’s an hour drive to the small coastal town of Bridport. The course has its own shuttle from the airport, and there are on-site accommodations along the fairways.
With a local population of slightly more than 3,000, don’t expect Bridport to be a hive of activity.
The town swells during the summer – December through late February – but the influx of tourists isn’t enough to cause havoc in the streets or on the fairways. But then the slow pace is one of the reasons – along with the fine Tasmanian seafood – so many visitors come here.
The land at Barnbougle, with endless acres of rolling sand dunes, is made for golf. The layout takes up only 382 acres of a 13,000-acre potato and cattle farm that includes five miles of beach front. A number of points on the course feature stunning views of Bass Strait.
“One of the best features of the course is the land,” Clayton said. “We could just see the fairways in front of us before we did anything. Tom just loves working in places like this. You don’t have to move a lot of soil.
“There’s a lot of land here and plenty of opportunities for more courses. This is golf country.”
The owners of Barnbougle Dunes weren’t the first to identify the land for golf. Plans were drawn more than 10 years ago to build a resort and golf course. The late father of Australian cricket great Max Walker shared the vision for golf in Bridport.
The prospect of making a golf course work in such a remote part of Australia would send a shiver up the spine of most accountants. It has the potential to be an investor’s worst nightmare.
So how did Barnbougle Dunes get off the ground?
Richard Sattler, the owner of the land and a well-known potato farmer, took the lion’s share of the financial risk. And he’s not even a golfer.
But Sattler did have plenty of people around him to advise that it was a worthy investment. Doak and Clayton – along with Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser – did most of the lobbying to make Sattler believe he was onto a good thing. Keiser, from Chicago, found huge success after making a similar gamble with Bandon Dunes along a remote stretch of the Oregon coastline. He had hired Doak to build Pacific Dunes, one of Keiser’s three layouts there.
And it appears – for now, anyway – that the decision to make Barnbougle Dunes a reality has paid off.
“I think it was Mike Keiser more than anyone that made me think this was a good idea,” Sattler said. “Mike’s proven that it can work. And so far, Barnbougle Dunes is getting plenty of interest.”
In recent months, a lot of dedicated Australian golfers have played the course and talked about their experiences. The real test will be if they come back and how often. If the quality of the course and the experience is maintained, however, there’s little doubt that its success will continue.
“What’s really good is that we’re seeing plenty of repeat business from Sydney and Melbourne,” Sattler said. “Golfers are also staying on for more than just one day. That’s great for us.”
The key to Barnbougle Dunes’ success was always going to be in its quality. Clayton and Doak knew that from the start.
“To make it work, we had to do something special,” Clayton said.
“It had to be in the world’s top 100 and inside Australia’s top five to have any chance of making it work.
We knew that.
“If it was the 12th-best course in Australia, it would have gone bankrupt in a hurry.”
Those who appreciate links golf or have played Royal County Down in Northern Ireland will enjoy Barnbougle Dunes. Golfers who don’t like strong winds and the prospect of losing plenty of golf balls won’t.
Barnbougle Dunes has plenty of holes that stick in your mind long after you’ve played. But the standout is the par-3 seventh, which measures only 124 yards and usually requires little more than a pitching wedge thanks to a prevailing wind at your back. It’s a hole that offers little relief, however, because of its well-protected green, which sits like an elevated postage stamp surrounded by bunkers and thick grass.
Another stunning short hole is the 300-yard fourth, which offers three options off the tee. If you decide to shoot for the green in a prevailing tail wind, a deep bunker front right is ready to catch wayward drives. Laying up also is an option, leaving a blind approach shot over the bunker to the elevated putting surface. The final option is to hit down the left side of the fairway, where there’s a chance to see the putting surface, but it’s a difficult angle of approach because the small green is difficult to hold.
The 352-yard 15th is more risk and reward, as the fairway is split by a large bunker about 260 yards out. Playing down the right side gives a clear shot to the green, but again at a difficult angle. Down the left side, there’s no chance of seeing the green but a better opportunity to find the putting surface.
Even if the course doesn’t win you over, Bridport is a genuinely nice place. The locals are friendly, the wine is great value and the local produce is to die for.
Barnbougle Dunes’ clubhouse, like so many of the holes on the course, overlooks the waters of Bass Strait. It has a warm, cozy atmosphere that embodies a lot of what Tasmania is all about.
Tasmania is littered with nine-hole courses, and many locals believe there’s a course for every Tasmanian. And they’re not too far off. The state does have the highest number of courses per capita in Australia.
There are a handful of 18-hole courses near Bridport, most of them in Launceston, less than an hour away. Although none comes close to Barnbougle Dunes, adventurous golfers might consider them.
Country Club Resort in Launceston offers accommodations and a casino in addition to a pleasant resort layout created by Peter Thomson in the early stages of his design career. Those searching for more of a challenge often choose Launceston Golf Club, located in the suburb of Kings Meadows. Though the par-72 layout measures only 6,587 yards, the large trees framing the fairways make accuracy off the tee critical. Both courses are open to visitors most days and cost less than $35 Australian.
Before leaving Tasmania, take time to visit Launceston, even if you don’t play golf. Australia’s third-oldest city is nestled between the Tamar River and the scenic Cataract Gorge at the beginning of the Tamar Valley. Founded in 1805, it has retained much of its heritage and architecture, and a walk through the city’s beautiful buildings and cobblestone paths is like stepping back in time.
Launceston also is known as the starting point for many of Tasmania’s best hiking trails, which attract thousands of visitors each year. Some can be done overnight, and others take as many as six days to reach stunning locations.
In many ways, Barnbougle Dunes is well suited to Tasmania. It’s a place where you leave everything behind. A place where golf, wine and friendships take precedence.
– For more information, call 011-61-3-6356-0094 or visit www.barnbougledunes.com.