Date: Thu 14 Feb 2019

Impressions of a golf trip to Tasmania and King Island, Nov. 2018

In November 2018, EIGCA members Mark Adam, Marco Martin, Achim Reinmuth, and Christoph Städler undertook a tour to some of the most spectacular and exciting golf courses of the southern hemisphere.

Lost Farm: The immensely scenic short par-3 4th

Lost Farm: The immensely scenic short par-3 4th

The 4-day trip was organized and executed by a specialised company, AirAdventure, which flew us from Melbourne to Tasmania with an 8-seated aircraft which was a formidable experience in itself.

The first two days, we played the two courses of the Barnbougle Resort: Barnbougle Lost Farm, designed by Bill Coore (known as a design partner of Ben Crenshaw on several prestigious Golf projects), and Barnbougle Dunes, designed by Tom Doak. Both courses are lying in the dunes belt along the Tasmanian north coast and both golf course architects really took full advantage of the phenomenal dunesland plots that they had been provided by the investors.

Although very young at age, both Barnbougle courses are already ranked #4 (Dunes) and #6 (Lost Farm) in Australia. The fact that they shot up the ranking so fast expresses the outstanding quality of these courses.

Design features which both courses have in common:

  • The majority of holes are integrated into natural coastal dunesland
  • Large plots with massive room in between holes
  • Mostly gigantic greens and very large closely mown surrounds
  • Boldly shaped green contours with clearly separated sections
  • Festuca grass in all closely mown areas, from tee to green, and the greens were so hard and dense that not a single pitchmark occurred anywhere whatever the type of approach shot!
  • Reasonably wide fairway (and semirough) corridors. The fairway turf belonged to the best I’ve ever played on, providing perfectly crisp lies like on a carpet.
  • Thick, deep Marram grass and native bush vegetation in the roughs mark a stark contrast to the closely mown fairways, granting very little hope of finding wayward balls
  • Extremely impressive bunkers: completely natural and organic – and transformed perpetually by the strong wind
  • To avoid too much outblow of bunker sand, all the bunkers are heavily irrigated to wetten the sand, however that can only reduce the sandblow
  • Hydroseeding of all fescue areas, from tee to green (regular seed would have been blown away over and over again)
  • Even the beach outside the golf courses was irrigated to prevent the sand from being blown onto the golf course

Features which distinguish the courses from each other:

Lost Farm: par-3 6th

Lost Farm: par-3 6th

Lost Farm:

  • Very large greens with mostly open entrances to allow for bump-and-run approaches (“ground play”)
  • 20 holes, including two extra par-3s
  • Fairways are less sculptured than on the Dunes course
  • A few holes give the impression of being laid out without particular strategic design thoughts

My favourite holes:
The immensely scenic short par-3 4th which plays along the coastal dunes into very strong cross winds from the ocean so that it proved surprisingly difficult to hit the green,
the reachable par-5 8th , tempting to attack the green but punishing the slightest mishit,
and the shortish par-4 14th, the course’s signature hole with a very narrow crowned green.

Very remarkable is the Lost Farm restaurant which is located on the highest dune of the site, about 15 m high above green #15, providing an breathtaking view over large parts of the golf course and the ocean.

Barnbougle Dunes: The scenic short par-4 4th

Barnbougle Dunes: The scenic short par-4 4th

Barnbougle Dunes:

  • Shaped from tee to green with severe contours
  • The majority of greens are crowned, making a bump-and run approach difficult or impossible
  • Strongly defended green surfaces, containing many mounds, ridges, run-offs etc. which deflect the balls away from the surface into hollows around the greens

My favourite holes:
The scenic short par-4 4th, a dogleg right around a gigantic bunker to a punchbowl green complex nestled in between high dunes where it is wise to play a safe lay-up instead of trying to attack the very reachable green with the drive,
the short signature hole par-3 7th where the teeshot plays against the wind to a tiny crowned green surrounded by bunkers and grassy hollows so that pars are unexpectedly rare,
and the brilliant, scenic par-4 15th with a very demanding approach to a narrow, well-defended green.

Cape Wickham:

Cape Wickham: View from the clubhouse across the 18th to the Cape Wickham lighthouse

Cape Wickham: View from the clubhouse across the 18th to the Cape Wickham lighthouse

On the morning of the 3rd day, the little aircraft flew us to King Island. This island which belongs to the state of Tasmania is situated in the wind-swept Bass Strait between Tasmania and the Australian continent. The Bass Strait is one of the world’s most dangerous shipping routes. To prevent the wrecking of ships on the shores of King Island, the Cape Wickham lighthouse was built in 1861. It overlooks the new spectacular golf course stretched along the rugged rocky coastline. The aptly named Cape Wickham GC, designed by Mike de Vries and Darius Oliver, opened for play in 2015 and is already ranked #3 in Australia, having surpassed the Barnbougle courses.

The golf course occupies one of the most scenic and dramatic coastal sites to be found anywhere in the world of golf. It features several greens and tees at the very edge of the ocean, some of them on peninsulas or promontories, and many shots have to be played across ocean bays with rugged black stone cliffs and also a white sand beach along the 18th fairway. It somewhat resembles Pebble Beach but the inland holes of Cape Wickham are far more scenic, with views of the ocean from literally each hole.

The course starts with 3 breathtaking oceanfront holes, of which the drive from the 1st tee is the most breathtaking – probably providing one of the most spectacular opening shots to be found anywhere in the world. The long par-3 3rd across and along the black cliffs is also awesome and a tough challenge due to the prevailing cross winds from the sea. The course then performs an inland loop until the 10th green, and these holes are not inferior to the ocean holes in strategy and variety. Actually, the 9th hole is one of the best par-5 holes that I have ever played: a multi-route / multi option fairway that winds through dunes, large bunkers and around a deep dune valley to a small green on a plateau nestled between 2 dunes, with the view of the ocean as background.

	Cape Wickham: view to the green of the breathtaking, multi-option par-5 9th

Cape Wickham: view to the green of the breathtaking, multi-option par-5 9th

With the downhill 10th hole the course returns to the ocean front. The 11th, a shortish par-3 with both the tee and green on small plateaus between the rocky cliffs, is another highlight, and likewise the dogleg left par-4 12th around an ocean bay which features excellent bite-off design.

The last 5 holes – the “lighthouse loop” – are stretched out along the coastal section which is dominated by the lighthouse. It’s a sensational finish which culminates in the last 3 holes where every shot has to cross ocean bays and the greens are placed dangerously close to the beach, offering spectacular views and a stern test for the player’s nerves and skill.

Like the Barnbougle courses, Cape Wickham has been seeded with Festuca grass from tee to green. The green surfaces are not so boldly contoured as in Barnbougle Dunes yet offering plenty of diversity and challenges, and again the turf cover was so hard and dense that no pitchmark was found anywhere. The generously wide fairways were like dense carpets, unsurpassable in playability. The bunkers are rather small to reduce the sandshifting by the very strong winds. The fairway bunkers are strategically very well positioned while the greenside bunkers are mostly lateral, thus often leaving the choice of bump-and-run approach shots.

A feature which remains particularly in memory is the scenic native flora. Beside the high Marram grass and thorny bush vegetation, the sections near the coast were covered by dense carpets of ice plants, flowering in many varieties of pink, orange and yellow – a feast for the eyes which is hardly found elsewhere on a golf course!

My favourite holes:
the breathtaking, multi-option par-5 9th,
the awesome risk-reward par-4 12th,
the highly dramatic and scenic par-4 16th and the stunning and challenging par-3 17th which both provide some of the most captivating vistas.

Ocean Dunes:

Ocean Dunes: Close-up of the 4th green

Ocean Dunes: Close-up of the 4th green

On day 4, our final golf round came at Ocean Dunes, located at the coast near the little airport of King Island. Ocean Dunes is the creation of Graeme Grant, a former well-known Australian golf course superintendent with little experience in golf design so far. The course went into play as recently as 2016 – a year after Cape Wickham. Ranked for the first time in 2018, it climbed up instantly to #8.

Settled in between massive dunes and along the rocky coast, it resembles Cape Wickham in general landscape characteristics but provides a strong character of its own. It features a plethora of spectacular, scenic, and strategically strong holes.

My favourite holes:
The course starts right away with an awesome par-5 which doglegs to the right around a massive dune with a fearsome-looking huge bunker and then tumbles down to a green with the ocean in short distance behind. The second is a great short par-4 along the coast where a brave tee shot close to the hazard margin will be rewarded with a view and better shot angle to the long diagonal green which is obscured by a dune ridge after a safe tee shot.

Among the many great holes of Ocean Dunes, the four par-3s are truly outstanding. Although utterly different visually, they are all unbelievably spectacular and breathtaking and they all have in common that the teeshot must find the green or it will be either impossible or very difficult to save par. There is hardly any golf course in the world with a set of par-3s which are similarly dramatic, fascinating, and jaw-dropping.

The quality of the course might well keep up with Cape Wickham’s if the last 2 holes would not present a rather weak finish, with the shortish par-4 17th which demands a blind drive in imponderable bite-off design across the shoulder of a gigantic dune, while the 18th is an extremely long uphill par-4 against the prevailing wind – too tough for any normal human beings! This world-class golf course would have deserved a better finish, then it might even outrank the other Tasmanian competitors in the future. In terms of fun and playability, Ocean Dunes was the favourite of our group because the “friendly” design with plenty of bowl-shaped green surrounds can be used advantageously to feed approach shots back to certain green sections, thus granting good scoring opportunities.

The green surfaces provide a good mixture of subtle and bold contours. In contrast to the other 3 courses, the greens turf was seeded with pure Agrostis. The turf was a bit thin and jagged - although putting truly – but the aesthetic impression was kind of unsightly compared to the firm and uniform Festuca turf of the surrounds. Surprisingly, the Agrostis greens allowed for pitchmarks and thus held approach shots much better than the Festuca greens of Cape Wickham and Barnbougle.

At the end of our journey, the four players of our group could hardly judge which of the 4 courses we liked best – they are all top world class and combined they deliver a golf trip of a lifetime, even for golf maniacs!

Christoph Städler MEIGCA

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Golf Course Design