The Best Golf Courses You've Never Heard Of: Tasmania

Tasmania has been content in its splendid isolation for centuries but recent arrivals may change all that. Curtis Gillespie heads halfway around the world to check out the world’s ultimate golf destination.



Golfing in Tasmania

The sole Tasmanian reference point I carried with me into middle age was the Looney Tunes character of the Tasmanian Devil: the whirling, snarling, unintelligible yet also weirdly likable creature Bugs Bunny tormented for my viewing pleasure on Saturday afternoons in the 1970s.
It took about three decades for a second reference point to present itself, when the word “Barnbougle” (itself sounding vaguely Looney Tunes-esque) began to come up in golf-related conversations. Like Tasmania itself, the word was shrouded in a certain mystery: Barnbougle. Have you heard about it? Do you know anyone who’s been there?

Golfing in Tasmania
Tasmania may be getting nods for its fancy new MONA museum (above) but our writer didn’t have time for such diversions. He was here for one thing: to experience the soon-to-be legendary golfing at the pair of Barnbougle golf courses.

As a seasoned observer of the game, I think it’s fair to note that Tasmania had until recently rarely moved the needle on golf (or anything, really). The intrigue has been centred on two primary factors. First, that the setting was so remote that few people had actually played the Dunes (which opened in 2004) or Lost Farm (which opened in 2010), and, second, that those returning from the Antipodes were all saying the same thing: the tracks were damn-near perfect.
Such was the grand total of my knowledge when I recently booked a flight and packed a bag. Next thing I knew, I was in a rental car in north-central Tasmania during a Biblical storm, listening to the panicky voice of a radio host begging for listeners to heed her advice. “If you have yard animals or pets of any size,” she said, “do not leave them outside today. Please.”

It was halfway between Launceston and Bridport—the charming seaside village a couple of kilometres from Barnbougle and near which J. K. Rowling is rumoured to have purchased land—that I had to start swerving to avoid downed trees on the road. At the bottom of one small valley, a narrow torrent had washed out the road. My rental vehicle was not a Land Rover but a small sedan with the same approximate clearance as my lawnmower. I popped the clutch, hit the gas hard, and plunged in. A fan of spray went up, and I was blind until the wipers revealed I’d made it through. When I pulled into the parking lot at Lost Farm about an hour later, the weather had improved only in that it had stopped raining. A little spit was still in the air, but the wind was flag-shreddingly stiff and a mere four degrees Celsius, according to the car’s dials. Battalions of gunmetal clouds powered across the sky at blimp height.

“Shocking,” said Roscoe Banks, the head pro at Lost Farm, when I entered the pro shop. I was the only person at the course. “Haven’t had a day like this in… well, ever. I’ve never seen it this cold, that’s for sure.” The Australian Weatherzone was reporting that, what with the winds gusting up to 58 km/h, it “felt like” 0.3 degrees.
In other words, perfect golf weather. I was from Canada, had travelled from one end of the globe to the other to play these golf courses, and I wasn’t going to let a bit of weather stop me. I headed for the first tee, toque pulled low over my forehead.

Tasmania Golfing
Barnbougle Golf Course.

Richard Sattler is the owner and creator of Barnbougle. Sattler, a large and shaggy man with a friendly grin and a vise-like handshake, walks, talks and looks like the farmer he is and was when he bought the 13,000-acre Barnbougle farm 20-odd years ago without knowing that he was purchasing one of the greatest pieces of pure golf links land left. Originally from the Hobart area, Sattler and his wife settled in the region with the plan of doing some farming and perhaps opening a small hotel one day. They still run a working beef farm on the property, but the beef, while very good, isn’t world- famous. Barnbougle Dunes and
Barnbougle Lost Farm are world-famous. Ironically, Sattler is not much of a golfer, or at least he wasn’t when the idea took hold that his land was something special in golf terms.

“I hardly ever played,” he told me when I met him later my first night at Barnbougle, after I’d thawed out. “I still don’t really. Maybe once a month.”

I expressed surprise at this. He offered a shrug. “It’s not about me, it’s about the land. It’s just meant for these golf courses.”

The first smart thing Sattler did, once he realized the extent to which he’d lucked into some of the world’s purest remaining links land, was speak with Mike Keiser (the man behind the justly celebrated Bandon Dunes in Oregon). Keiser advised Sattler to hire the lauded architects Tom Doak and Bill Coore to create Dunes and Lost Farm, respectively. At the Dunes, Doak created a difficult yet not punitive golf course, one that requires strategy over brute strength, and with the kind of views and hole routing that are so “right” you feel it in your bones. The course opened in 2004. Almost from the day it opened, the Dunes has featured in the Top 100 courses in the world in all the major golf publications. When Sattler decided to give another artist a chance to sculpt something unique with the next piece of land down the coast, he hired Bill Coore, the gentlemanly North Carolinian best known for his collaborative design work with Ben Crenshaw. Like the Dunes, Lost Farm immediately entered the list of the world’s best courses and both are now viewed as “must-plays” by the game’s most ardent followers.

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