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Links Down Under: Exploring Barnbougle Dunes

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Barnbougle Dunes, a golf course unlike any other in Australia, is a testament to the beauty of Tasmania’s dramatic North East coast. This links-style course, designed by American architect Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes, St. Patrick’s Links) and Australian Mike Clayton, is a strategic masterpiece that rewards tactical thought and creativity.

After opening in December 2004, Barnbougle Dunes has consistently ranked as one of the top golf courses in Australia and the world over the past decade-plus. The most recent world rankings place it between #16 and #36 globally. Within Australia, it ranks as high as the #2 or #3 best course in the country.

In this post, we will delve into the genesis of Barnbougle Dunes, exploring its transformation from a strip of sandy farmland along the coast of a potato farm to a world-renowned golf course. We will discuss the course design and construction challenges and walk through both nines, highlighting the unique features that make it a bucket list destination for golf enthusiasts worldwide.

We will also check in with George Waters, who praised the course in his book “Sand and Golf,”, and provide further reading and videos for those who wish to explore the course in more detail. As always, the images are simulated to set the scene and provide context.

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Genesis

Barnbougle Dunes was once a strip of land along the coast of a potato farm owned by local farmer and tourism entrepreneur Richard Sattler. In the early 2000s, Sattler collaborated with golf enthusiast Greg Ramsay on transforming the sandy, rolling dunes along his coastal property into a world-class golf course. Sattler invested $4 million into making this dream a reality by bringing on renowned golf architect Tom Doak and Australian designer Mike Clayton to lay out the course.

Doak and Clayton embraced the natural contours and dramatic landscape of the sandy site. They routed wide fairways that meander through the dunes, with lively greens that roll with the natural undulations in the land. Their minimalist design philosophy allowed the true star – the spectacular seaside setting – to shine. The course was quickly recognized as a strategic masterpiece that brings creativity and memorability to a links-style golf experience.

A few years after its debut, Barnbougle Dunes earned a top 50 global ranking and the title of Australia’s number one public access course. This launched the development of a second course called Lost Farm in 2010, designed by Coore and Crenshaw, adding to Barnbougle’s offerings. Today, Barnbougle continues to captivate golfers worldwide with its breathtaking landscape and acclaimed design.

barnbougle genesis

Course Design

Barnbougle Dunes was routed along a strip of coastal potato farmland, utilizing the natural contours and dramatic dune landscape. Doak and Clayton embraced a minimalist philosophy, allowing the natural terrain and seaside setting to dictate the design. Clayton stated, “The land is so good there it’s a matter of just planting the grass, shaping the greens, and figuring out where you might put a few bunkers.” The course is laid out over a two-mile stretch of coastal sand dunes along Bass Strait. It features naturally rugged bunkers and lively, undulating greens that roll with the contours of the dunes. 

They used the dramatic dune ridges to frame holes, route play over saddles, and shelter landing areas. The architects highlighted that on great sites like this, “the best routing” utilizing the natural contours is paramount. Barnbougle was partly inspired by Doak’s Pacific Dunes design in Oregon, which he channeled into creating Australia’s first true links course. It established Barnbougle as one of the world’s premier sandy sites for golf.

The architects orientated the greens to maximize the site’s natural undulation. Combined with firm, fast-running conditions, Doak notes “much too much going on in the short grass to simply blast away.” Strategy and creativity are rewarded. The par-4 4th hole, playing from an elevated tee down to an infinity green, is a standout. Its massive cross-bunker is one of the largest hazards ever built. It epitomizes the risk-reward design that brings so much memorability to Barnbougle Dunes.

barnbougle course design

Construction

Construction presented a series of significant challenges. The site’s isolation necessitated meticulous planning for transporting heavy machinery, materials, and workforce. The harsh Tasmanian weather, characterized by strong coastal winds, sudden storms, and fluctuating temperatures, added another layer of complexity, as did the wet, sandy soil conditions. The site’s previous use as a potato farm meant minimal infrastructure was in place, requiring the team to build roads, install utilities, and create necessary systems from scratch. The limited construction window, dictated by the short growing season and unpredictable weather, necessitated careful scheduling and phasing of construction activities.

Despite these hurdles, the vision of owner Richard Sattler and the expertise of lead architect Tom Doak ensured the successful completion of the project. Temporary housing solutions were implemented to accommodate the construction crew due to the lack of existing lodging facilities. Through strategic planning and a phased approach to construction, they overcame the logistical challenges and brought the vision of Barnbougle Dunes to life.

barnbougle construction

Sand and Golf

In “Sand and Golf,” George Waters highlights Barnbougle Dunes as an excellent example of a links-style golf course built on sandy terrain. He praises architects Tom Doak and Mike Clayton for utilizing the natural features of the dramatic dunes landscape to create a strategic and memorable golf experience.

Specifically, Waters notes that Barnbougle’s fairways are wider than a traditional course, allowing players creativity and options in navigating the undulating terrain. The greens are “lively” and “rolling with the natural undulation of the dunes.”

Waters uses Barnbougle Dunes as a prime case study for why golf flourishes so well on sandy sites. The combination of fast-running turf, rumpled contours, and wind-shaped hazards makes Barnbougle an irresistible links-style test that epitomizes the special relationship between sand and golf.

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Did You Know?

Tasmania is an island of extremes, from its rugged western coastline battered by the Roaring Forties winds to the tranquil forests and mountains of the east. While the island may seem remote, located 150 miles south of mainland Australia, it has a vibrant history intertwined with the continent’s past.

Tasmania was originally inhabited by Aboriginal tribes who lived in isolation for 10,000 years after rising sea levels cut them off from Australia. Known as the Palawa, they developed a deep spiritual connection to the land and its unique wildlife over millennia. When Europeans arrived in Tasmania in the 1700s, they were astonished by the strange creatures they encountered, like the platypus and Tasmanian devil.

Today, over 40% of Tasmania is protected wilderness, boasting some of the tallest hardwood forests on Earth, along with plants dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. Glaciers carved the landscape, leaving stunning alpine tarns and lakes. The clean winds that buffet the island give Tasmania the purest air in the world, according to NASA.

tasmania dyk

The Course

Barnbougle Dunes plays to a par 71 at 6,740 yards. It has earned a reputation as one of the finest modern links courses in the world, blending seamlessly into its windswept surroundings, taking full advantage of the dunes and coastal location. The course blends fescue and bent grasses, flourishing in the coastal environment.

Tasmania’s dramatic weather provides playing conditions typical of a true links course. The coastal site experiences high winds regularly, with gusts of 50 mph not uncommon. This wind, combined with the undulating, fast-running fairways, adds to the complexity of club and shot selection. t challenges players by requiring creativity and thoughtful shot-making rather than overpowering length.

barnbougle course

The Front Nine

The front nine at Barnbougle Dunes features a variety of holes and terrain that eases players into the round while quickly revealing the creativity and strategy required on the course. Constant variety and changes in direction keep players engaged while showcasing Barnbougle’s lively terrain and strategic design.

After straightforward opening holes, the short par-4 3rd hole doglegs sharply right, demanding an accurate tee shot to set up the approach. The famous short par-4 4th features an immense cross bunker dubbed “the largest bunker in the southern hemisphere” and a large sloping green. The par-3 5th then plays slightly uphill to a green set into the dunes. Both of these holes feature memorable green complexes tucked into the dunes. George Waters singles out the par-4 4th hole with its expansive bunker as particularly challenging for even experienced, low-handicap players.

The cliff-top par-3 7th hole requires supreme accuracy to hit the small, rounded green, and the signature 8th hole is a difficult long par-4 of over 400 yards to an elevated, two-tiered green. The front nine culminates with the medium-length par-4 9th playing back towards the clubhouse.

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The Back Nine

If the front nine showcases Barnbougle’s creative design, the back 9 emphasizes the natural beauty and exhilaration of the course. The ocean comes into view early and often on the back side, which ratchets up the drama and memorability. The closing nine is more open yet equally dramatic as the first.

After heading toward the ocean on the 10th, the short par-3 11th beckons. The 12th then features a highly contoured fairway wrapping around a sand dune. The thrilling risk-reward 13th and picturesque oceanfront 14th ratchet up the excitement. The par-5 13th tempts long hitters, but trouble awaits the overly aggressive.

The 14th is considered one of the best and most picturesque risk-reward par-5s in the world, playing right alongside the ocean. The par-3 15th then plays to an infinity green perched high on a dune ridge. The closing stretch sees players returning into the prevailing wind, with the long par-4 17th and 18th holes providing a stout test to complete the unforgettable round.

Visit Barnbougle Dunes online and check out their live webcams at https://barnbougle.com.au.

barnbougle back

Further Reading

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Anatomy of a Golf Course
by Tom Doak

Summary: The book explains the thought process and strategies used by golf course architects in designing courses, including factors like hole length, placement of hazards, and routing. It aims to help golfers understand why certain design choices are made so they can better approach playing the course. Written by acclaimed golf architect Tom Doak, it appeals to both knowledgeable golfers and beginners interested in course design and architecture. The book also includes an appendix with examples of noteworthy golf courses that are worth studying.


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The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses
by Tom Doak

Summary: Tom Doak has assembled a brash, coffee-table volume of observations and analyses that’ll have golfers salivating and pulling their hair out at the same time (when they’re not debating his findings over refreshments at the 19th hole). Not only does Doak rate and review hundreds of courses throughout the U.S.–by region and state–and around the world, he offers a “Gourmet Guide” to the 31 layouts he’d personally like to play with friends: Anyone not up for the likes of Pine Valley, Merion, St. Andrews, Riviera, and Ballybunion? 


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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

PuttView Golf Books

PuttView Books are detailed yardage and green maps designed to help golfers save strokes, especially under tournament conditions. They offer precise visual representations of courses, including topographic slope percentages, fairway arrows for slopes over 4%, and a dual view of greens accurate to the millimeter. The books are printed on high-quality waterproof paper, sized to fit traditional yardage book covers, and are USGA legal. 

Customers praise PuttView Books for their stunning detail, stylish presentation, and the confidence they instill in decision-making on the course. With 30,000 courses represented, your home course is bound to be available, as is Barnbougle Dunes!

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Videos

Barnbougle Dunes – Fore Play Golf
The Golf Show Getaway – Barnbougle
Barnbougle Dunes, No Laying Up

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