Barnbougle Dunes – a wondrous golf playground like no other

Barnbougle Dunes
Barnbougle Dunes was once a strip of land along the coast of a potato farm on Tasmania’s north east coast. Credit: Jacob Sjoman

Love at first sight is a fickle concept in golf, but Barnbougle Dunes had me at ‘good morning.’

I had arrived at this fabled golfing destination in the dead of night. Through the darkness I found my way to my bed and fell asleep dreaming of what lay in wait. I was awake at sunrise, pulled back the curtains and was immediately flushed with awe.

Towering dunes, a tumbling fairway, wild green complex and gorgeous views of Bass Strait – I had awoken in a cabin next to the 15th hole of the Lost Farm course, which was there to greet me as I opened my door, was all its natural, rugged beauty. There are few greater joys in life than rolling out of bed onto a golf course, but that’s exactly how my Barnbougle love affair began.  

Barnbougle Dunes
Barnbougle was designed by renowned golf architects Tom Doak and Mike Clayton. Credit: Jacob Sjoman

What followed was 20 hours of golf of three glorious days, during which playing  Barnbougle Dunes became something of an out-of-body experience. Each night I crawled back to my room, blisters and all, infused with the energy and inspired by the creativity that can only come from a place like this.

On that first morning, it all laid before me. As the sun rose over Barnbougle Dunes, I reflected on my journey here and knew then, it had all been worth it. This was, I thought, one of those few places that has an almost magnetic pull on a wandering golfer. It had felt like a pilgrimage, a journey to the Northern tip of the Australian island of Tasmania where golfers come in search of moments, they’ll carry with them. Barnbougle is not a place you will stumble on. It takes a concerted effort to get here, but your reward for doing so was already unfolding before me early on that memorable morning.

Barnbougle consists of three courses – The Dunes, the Lost Farm and Bougle Run. Credit: Jacob Sjöman

Looking back, I am almost ashamed to admit how little I knew about the golf courses at Barnbougle Dunes on that day beyond the awards, the rankings, and the acclaim. Both the Tom Doak and Mike Clayton-designed, Dunes course, and Bill Coore’s Lost Farm course sit comfortably within any list of the Top 100 courses in the world – these are no hidden gems. The 14-hole Bougle Run course has opened to much acclaim and as much as I wanted to remain skeptical, to come to my own conclusions. it took all of four holes for that skepticism to melt away. By then I was captivated by Barnbougle Dunes, enthralled, and besotted. I couldn’t take my eyes off what was in front of me.

The 4th hole perfectly encapsulates the ethos of Barnbougle Dunes – natural, breathtaking wonder, coupled with a challenge that offers something for everyone. On this drivable par-4, for instance, you might be tempted to take the ball over a towering blown-out bunker or lay back to leave a short but challenging approach. The buffeting breeze and the pin position can drastically change this hole from one day to the next – it’s every bit as possible to card a three as it is an eight. You have been warned.

The magnitude and beauty of Barnbougle Dunes speaks for itself. The sheer scale of the property and the routing took me one of golf’s great walks, threading between and over dunes, pulling me ever closer to the sea – at times it felt like I could jump in and at no point was I far enough away to halt the sound of crashing waves. Nothing looked out of place, each hole had been crafted in tune with the landscape and Mother Nature’s had created a pure links, a rare commodity south of the equator. 

Barnbougle Dunes
Barnbougle Dunes is set amongst the wild and dramatic landscape. Credit: Jacob Sjöman

I found myself inspired by the challenge, as carved out shots I hadn’t previously thought myself capable of, sought out slopes I might never have previously seen, and squeezed every possible piece of joy out of this extraordinary property. This was not about my scorecard, it was about seeing, feeling, and then hitting shots which fuelled my golfing soul. I hit shots which I may never hit again, and the more I played, the more I wanted that challenge. 

Of all the many magical moments, it was the stunning view across the picture-perfect par-3 7th hole, aptly known as Tom’s Doak’s ‘Little Devil’, that might just endure above all else. Measuring 120 yards, it’s diminutive only in length with a flag teetering on a handkerchief of green. Anything short, long, left or right is doomed to race away into the abyss. But Barnbougle was serving up golfing ecstasy at every turn and I couldn’t get enough. Technical thoughts were blown away by Tasmania’s prevailing wind and my imagination was firing on every shot. For the first time in my life, golf was now about reacting to the elements and the shape of the land before me, not a rangefinder. It was incredible.

Barnbougle Dunes Scorecard
The scorecard for The Dunes Course at Barnbougle

On my last evening at Barnbougle, my non-golfing partner who had never struck a ball in anger, requested an evening stroll. In all honesty I thought she just wanted to go for a walk and maybe putt a few balls, but once she started, I couldn’t stop her. She chipped her way around all 14 holes of Bougle Run, loving every second. For an hour, our smiles were equally wide, we laughed, and, for the first time, we played golf together. The magic of Barnbougle Dunes had drawn her in – it is a memory that will stay with us both forever. When darkness fell, we raised a glass to the experience we had shared.

When you can spend as many hours as I did playing here, without a minute of ordinary, that’s where the magic lies, and the lessons are learned. It’s not hyperbole to say that three days here had changed the way I see the game of golf. I had lost the need to compete and re-discovered my love of playing the game in the purest sense. This was about shot-making, moments, and magic. That was what the spirit of Barnbougle Dunes had given me – reconnection. It’s truly one of golf’s great playgrounds.

If I ever find myself in a golfing rut or out of touch with the soul of the game, I know that I can find it on the island of Tasmania. As the dunes faded in my rear-view mirror, I found myself planning my next escape. I know it isn’t a question of if, but when I return to the school of Barnbougle.

*For more information visit barnbougle.com.au

A commercial property analyst by trade and a rookie in golf journalism, Matt is an avid traveler having backpacked Europe and the USA out of a 6kg backpack. Based in New Zealand, he is travelling the country to uncover the best golfing experiences and some hidden gems along the way

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