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Posted March 7, 2014, 12:24 am
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Barnbougle doesn't take back seat to great Aussie courses

BRIDPORT, Tasmania - If the quality of the golf experience is proportional to the effort it takes to get there, Barnbougle is at the top of the destination golf food chain.

Or perhaps the bottom, since Tasmania is south of Down Under.

Barnbougle Dunes and its younger sister course, Lost Farm, have taken the Ban­don Dunes experience to the rugged northwest coast of Australia’s remote island state. And with the shrewd influence of Bandon’s visionary Mike Keiser, Tasmanian potato and cattle farmer Richard Sattler has created a bucket-list golf experience that makes remote Oregon seem downright suburban in its proximity.

The original Barnbougle Dunes course – designed by Tom Doak and Michael Clayton – opened in 2004 along the Bass Strait that separates Tassie from the Australian mainland. Barnbougle Lost Farm followed in 2010, a solo effort by Bill Coore without his usual partner Ben Crenshaw.

Despite their youth, the two already reside in the hierarchy of great Australian courses in the company of the famed Sand Belt venues of Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath. The two new links rank Nos. 4 and 6 respectively in Australia and Nos. 11 and 23 in Golf Digest’s inaugural list of the world’s 100 greatest courses.

Having played six of Aus­tralia’s other eight top-10 courses on a recent trip Down Under, there’s no arguing that Barnbougle’s place among the greats is justified. It’s worth the effort to get there to play in a place that boasts the cleanest air on the planet in a state that is 40 percent covered by parks and preserves.

“It can hold its own with any of the iconic courses around the world,” said Tasmania native Matthew Goggin, a PGA Tour pro.

Remote destination golf is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Old Tom Morris expanded the Machrihanish links on a distant edge of Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula in 1879. It takes great effort to get there today, yet many still make the journey. Pinehurst wasn’t exactly founded in the commercial epicenter of the South, yet it has thrived as a golf mecca for more than a century in the North Carolina sandhills.

The best pieces of property aren’t always the most accessible, but golfers will go to any lengths to seek out the perfect experience. The build-it-and-they-will-come mentality has taken off in the past couple decades. Sand Hills in the barren expanse of Nebraska opened in 1995 and soared to the top tier of the golf rankings. Bandon Dunes first brought attention to the rugged coastal cliffs and dunes of Oregon in 1999, and it has expanded to a full-service 85-hole resort that ranks as America’s best despite the massive effort it requires to get there.

New destination resorts are luring golfers to the coast of Nova Scotia (Cabot Links) and reclaimed phosphate mines in the desolate interior of Florida (Streamsong). The more remote the better, it seems.

This is what Keiser sold Sattler on when he visited the site (at the persistent urging of Greg Ramsey, a Barn­bougle neighbor) and talked the farmer into becoming a golf entrepreneur. The unpretentious Sattler was no stranger to the hotel business in Hobart, but his farming land and the heaving dunes that separated it from the sea was the draw.

“Spuds are a better story,” Sattler admits of his background that is part of the Barnbougle experience.

It doesn’t get more remote than Tasmania. By any standard, the island state south of Australia is about as far away as you can get. It’s a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney just to reach the proper time zone, and then you still have another body of water to pass over.

Launceston, Tasmania, is only a 75-minute flight from Sydney (barely 60 minutes from Melbourne), and from the airport it’s only a 90-minute drive to Barnbougle (which rhymes with Google). However, don’t take the Google Maps suggested shortest route along the Tasman Highway (A3) through Scotts­dale. It’s certainly a scenic crossing over the Sideling Range, but it makes the famous Road to Hana in Maui seem like a Kansas interstate with its string of mountain switchbacks. Any passengers in your vehicle will thank you for taking the extra seven minutes on the relatively flat A8 route toward George Town before crossing over to Bridport on the B82.

Once at Barnbougle, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any reason to leave the property. The two courses are connected by an interior gravel road. There are cozy cabins and luxurious four-bedroom villas right along the first hole at the Dunes and a string of spacious hotel rooms right at the heart of Lost Farm.

While the restaurant and bar at the Dunes clubhouse serves intermediate casual fare, the restaurant at Lost Farm situated atop the highest dune has the prettiest view of the course and Anderson Bay. It’s a spectacular setting to watch the long, slow sunset over Bridport while you savor its prime Cape Grim beef with the perfect Aussie shiraz.

Lost Farm also has a casual sports bar that serves a terrific house-made pizza and plenty of James Boags and Carlton Draught after your round. There’s also a dune-top spa to rest your weary body after walking the 20-hole Lost Farm layout.

But it’s the golf that brings you there and leaves you thrilled that you made the trip. Both the Dunes and Lost Farm courses offer expansive fairways between the dunes. But all that room can turn claustrophobic when the wind blows – which it does pretty consistently in the afternoons. When 20-30 mph gusts start buffeting Lost Farm, the sprinklers get turned on only in the bunkers to keep the sand from blowing away.

It’s that kind of wind that turns the tiny par-3 fourth at Lost Farm or seventh at the Dunes into one of the most terrifying wedge holes. From only 100 meters on Lost Farm’s fourth, a wedge aimed at the water on the right can end up lost in the grass wide left – 50 yards off the line it started on.

If you miss the fairways or hundreds of scattered bunkers, the local rule is much more forgiving than the marrum grass that protects the dunes. A search is more likely to turn up a poisonous tiger snake or petite wallaby than your golf ball. So the rule anywhere is to drop at the nearest point to where your ball went in and play on with just a stroke penalty.

The more established Dunes course offers two distinctly different nines. The front side meanders down through the dunes with a nice mix of short and long holes. The back is more exposed along the plateaus, with sweeping views on every hole of the sea or the Forrester River that separates the two courses.

Lost Farm features larger dunes and more dramatic features – including bunkers you could get lost in. Its most famous hole features a blind drive over a massive dune to the dogleg fairway, which many liken to the famous Road Hole at St. Andrews. Its “back 11” offers two extra short par-3s to give you even more bang for your buck.

Sattler is considering adding a third links course on more of the adjacent dunes and perhaps a fourth inland course to offer visitors some relief from the coastal winds.

Barnbougle has no real estate component and zero members, “because one member is too many,” Sattler said. It’s just an idyllic destination that scratches all the right itches for the golf traveler.