By Mike Hogan
Editorial supplied by Air Adventures –
A Golf Correspondence’s experience
Having read so much about how northern Tasmania and King Island were developing into the new golfing mecca for Australia, I leapt at the chance to join a small group hosted by Air Adventure Australia and Sharp Airlines to experience the region…..and what a trip it was!
Our journey commenced at Melbourne’s original major airport Essenden (a 5 minute free transfer from Tullamarine, Melbourne’s current major airport). As an aircraft buff it was fascinating to be shown around the old main terminal by Malcom Sharp, owner and founder of Sharp Aviation, who co-own the aircraft we were flying on with AAA. The entire building is heritage protected, and all thecheck in counters, cupboards, drawers, desks etc were exactly as they had been left when all the major airlines moved to Tullamarine in the early 70’s. Only a handful of small regional airlines and charter operators use Essenden now, so it is a very quick and painless checkin and boarding procedure.
Within 20 minutes of arriving we are weighed, clubs sorted into small light “pencil” cases (space is a premium on our Cessna so clubs travel via these cases, but Air Adventure have full size bags waiting for us at each course), boarded ….and then off in our “pocket Rocket” for the 40 minute trip to Barnbougle. The aircraft is pressurised so cruises at 22,000’ and nips along at a speedy 360 knots. We land on a gravel strip no more than a 5 iron from the 1st tee of our first destination, The Lost Farm course at Barnbougle.
Frist impressions were a reality check that we were definitely in Australia! The pro shop, whilst as well appointed and stocked as any top quality one should be, was manned by a quintessentially Aussie bloke…”G’day mate, howzit going” etc etc…when I asked for the lunch pack we had pre ordered I was told “For bloody Kiwis we have the bread and dripping sambo’s specially prepared”
Then to the changing rooms which, in complete contrast to so many top resort courses with their marble, thick carpets, gold taps etc, was functional to the extreme with painted block walls, simple hooks along each side and a basic bench seat …was just like being back at high school!
I popped into the bar for a look around prior to teeing off and loved what I saw….a classic Aussie bar with leaners, tap beers, pokies & a TAB. Again no gilt, no glamour, but a very friendly and laid back welcome after a hard round. I actually found this whole ambience a refreshing change from the palatial atmosphere of most top rated resort courses….at Barnbougle the courses do the talking, not the changing rooms, and what courses they are.
The courses? In a word, stunning. The original Barnbougle Dunes, designedby Tom Doak and Mike Clayton, meandersthrough, around and over the dunes in a beguilingly gentle way. In true links style no steep climbs, the fairways are generous, but trouble anywhere off them. Its sister course The Lost Farm is “similar but different”, more alongside the dunes than within them. Both boast superb greens, immaculate fairways, and in most cases golfers have to make multiple choices for best angle to attack the green. When playing either course you really appreciate that golf truly is a game of strategy. Once on the green that can be the start of your adventure. Many are contoured in tune with the tumbling land around them, and feature a combination of slopes & ridges through the putting lines. One green especially brought back memories of the famous (or infamous) 11th on the old Muriwai layout…for readers old enough to remember that.
The list of accolades each course has achieved is quite extraordinary for example:
• #2 course in Australia by Australian Golf Magazine
• #11in the world by US Golf Digest
• #2 Public Course in Australia Golf Australia Magazine
• #3 Course in Australia (Golf Australia)
• #23 in the world by US Golf Digest
These awards are extraordinary, especially for 2 courses set in relative isolation at the top tip of Tasmania, but so richly deserved in both cases.
There is excellent 4* accommodation at both courses, and 2 high quality restaurants. We had a superb dinner at The Lost Farm, with a delightful setting overlooking Bass Straight.
After 2 days in Barnbougle we were off to King Island for two of the newest and most talked about courses in Australia, Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes. Only a short 35 minute flight from Barnbougle, King Island is in the middle of Bass Straight and surprisingly large (64 x 35 k’ms), and is renowned for its dairy products (especially cream and cheeses which are exported worldwide). An easy 45 minute drive took us to our first course, Cape Wickham. I have been lucky enough to play both Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs, love them both, and all I can say is this course is right up there with them both. Stunning cliff top setting, superb greens, immaculate fairways, and views to die for. It boasts one of the most spectacular (and tough!) finishing holes in golf….395m off the back tees, long carryto tight fairway, and the beach on the right (approx. 15m below the fairway) is in play! The course had only been open 5 weeks when we played it and already in tournament condition.
Our next and final stop was Ocean Dunes. At the time we played it (early Dec last year ) there were only 9 holes in play, but the back 9 is expected to be finished by early May 2016. A true links style course, whereas Cape Wickham is mostly clifftop, Ocean Dunes hugs the shore line (as well ashaving some spectacular cliff topholes), and a couple force golfers to play over the ocean. One par 3 (the 4th) is bound to become iconic. Whilst only 135m …you have to hit across the ocean to a tight green with very few bailout areas, and if the wind comes up anything up to a 3 wood may be needed!
We met the management team (2 delightful Scots), and their passion and enthusiasm for “their baby” was as infectious as the sheer beauty of the course was.
Acommodation is being built at both courses, and expected to open mid 2016, however very comfortable accommodation is available now in the townshipof Currie on King island
After a 5 minute drive to the airport, another 35 minute flight and Air Adventure Australia had us back at Essenden Airport. All in our small party of 8 felt we had experienced something very special in our short but so rewarding visit to a region I am sure will become a golfing mecca. In fact one team member (a very experienced golfer and traveller) said “the last few days are right up in the top 3 experiences in my life…..andcan’t remember what the other 2 are”