Over the course of two decades, the Apple Isle has emerged as a world-class golf holiday destination, with the quality of its courses matched by the incredible food, cool climate wines, award-winning whiskies and natural attractions.
Two years ago, Tasmania was named the world’s best ‘undiscovered’ golf destination. The 200 judges for that award simply validated what Australian golfers have known for at least two decades.
Leading the way, of course, are the Barnbougle courses, Dunes and Lost Farm, as well as King Island’s dynamic duo of Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes – all of which are ranked by Golf Australia magazine in the top-10 Courses in the nation.
But it is the rising quality of Tasmania’s other layouts, Royal Hobart, Tasmania, Launceston and Ulverstone (just to name a few), which should entice you to extend your golfing holiday to Tassie from a few days to, perhaps, a few weeks.
No golfing trip to Tasmania would be complete without a round or two, or three, at Barnbougle Dunes or the neighbouring Barnbougle Lost Farm – both of which have been ranked in the top-30 courses in the world that are found outside the United States.
The Dunes course put Tasmania on the international golfing map as soon as it opened in 2004. It was ranked Australia’s No.1 Public Access Course by Golf Australia magazine for 13 years, before being pipped at the post by newcomer Cape Wickham in 2017.
Located four kilometres east of the small town of Bridport, about one hours’ drive north east of Launceston, Dunes was designed by American Tom Doak in collaboration with Mike Clayton. It is a brilliant layout covering land that was deemed unsuitable for farming by its owner, Richard Sattler, which is exactly how some of the great links courses of Scotland came to being. In fact, treading this course early in the morning or late in the day, with every little bump and hollow exposed by the low hanging sun, is exhilarating. It makes you feel that if all golf was like this every one would be playing.
A round opens with a strong par-5 and par-4 combination but the real fun begins at the 271-metre par-4 4th, which is known as Homestead as the ruins of the original Barnbougle homestead lie beneath the dunes on this hole. The prevailing wind is into your face here but long hitters might be tempted into blasting a drive over a massive bunker on the right edge of the fairway in a bid to find the punchbowl green. It is a huge risk but the reward is an almost certain birdie if your drive is long enough.
The opening of Lost Farm in 2010 further transformed this six-kilometre stretch of Tassie coastline into a powerhouse golf destination. The contrast between the two courses – in terms of design and visual appeal – is what makes Barnbougle such a fantastic golfing destination. You could play both courses numerous times over a week and never play the same shot twice.
“The opening of Lost Farm in 2010 further transformed this six-kilometre stretch of Tassie coastline into a powerhouse golf destination.”
Where the Dunes layout offers dramatic visuals at seemingly at every turn, Bill Coore’s creation at Lost Farm offers spectacular holes where the design looks to challenge your strategic and shot-making skills.
One of the highlights of any round at Lost Farm is the quality of the par-3s, of which there are six that expand the layout to 20 holes. The diminutive 4th hole, which sits above the beach and overlooks the ocean, calls for a short iron (when the prevailing wind isn’t too strong) to find the dramatically sloping putting surface wedged between three bunkers – one short, another left and a small one to the right. Playing this hole is worth the price of the green fee alone.
For many visitors, the gateway to Barnbougle is via Launceston, which also boasts Tasmania’s oldest 18-hole course at Launceston Golf Club.
This fine par-72 plays to a tick over 5,800 metres from the back pegs where the challenge lies in keeping your ball on the fairway between the long stretches of heavily tree-lined rough.
Launceston’s opening hole, a gentle 242-metre par-4, offers no real indication of the challenge that lies ahead. The course bites back at the next – a sweeping dogleg right par-5 of 526 metres. A good drive to the corner of the dogleg must be followed by two accurate approach shots along the fairway, which is so narrow from this point that its gives the appearance of a chute between tall stands of pines and gum trees. The final approach must be precisely clubbed as a shot hit too strong or slightly wide of the putting surface will bound down a steep slope into thick Fescue grass rough.
Bunkers are the main hazard on the memorable par-3 13th, which is known as ‘Spion Kop’. It is not overly long at 152 metres from the championship markers, but the key is to judge the prevailing left-to-right breeze from the shelter of the tee. Correct club selection is vital to carry the valley between tee and green, while avoiding the deep bunkers left, right and short of the putting surface. The safest bail out here is long and right of the slightly angled green.
While the design is interesting and challenging, your fondest memory of a round here might be the quality of the superb playing surfaces.
Little more than 10 minutes’ drive to the west and you will find the Country Club Tasmania – a sprawling 300-acre resort boasting a casino, hotel and villa accommodation, restaurants and bars as well as a Peter Thomson and Mike Wolveridge designed par-71 golf course, which celebrated its 35th year in 2017.
The course stretches to 6,053 metres and offers a quality test. Gums and pines line relatively wide fairways, which are punctuated by water hazards and strategically placed bunkers that will challenge even the best players. That said, the forward tees here present a more enjoyable experience for the golfer more skilled on filling an inside straight in the casino than carding birdies on the course.
The Thomson and Wolveridge trademark of providing players with a risk-and-reward option on many holes is apparent here. The pair designed the course placing a priority on course management. If you think your way around this course you will avoid the water that comes into play on 12 holes and the bunkers spread throughout.
Devonport is the gateway to the mainland, via the Spirit of Tasmania ferry services, and offers an excellent 18-hole layout, known locally as ‘Woodrising’.
It is a great period of change for the Devonport Golf Club, which has merged with the Devonport Bowls and Croquet Club as well as the Spreyton Bowls Club to become known as the Devonport Country Club.
Central to the combined $8.5 million redevelopment will be a new two-level clubhouse, the addition of two croquet lawns, three bowling greens and extensive upgrades to the golf course.
In the meantime, the course remains open to visitors, who will be impressed by the layout that hosted a number of Tasmanian Opens and national amateur events.
Heading further west via the Bass Highway will lead you to one of Tasmania’s most underrated layouts, Ulverstone Golf Club. This hidden gem is a 20-minute drive from Devonport and can be a little tricky to locate in the hills away from the town centre, so keep an eye out for the signs or program the GPS for Lobster Creek Rd.
Designed by the late Al Howard, Ulverstone is a wonderfully undulating course carved out of mature stands of eucalypts that has been rated in Australia’s Top-100 Public Access Courses.
While many of the other courses mentioned among these pages may be described as “heavily tree-lined”, none come close to Ulverstone for shear majesty in the size and number of trees that abound across the layout. This is hardly surprising considering the par-72 is surrounded by thick Tasmanian forest.
These massive trees and dense bush totally surround arguably the prettiest offering at Ulverstone – the 158-metre par-3 5th hole. The tee shot here must be played over the edge of a lake to an almost square-shaped green that is surrounded by a wall of trees. Correct club selection is the key here, especially when the wind is blowing across the tops of the trees as you feel sheltered on the ground below.
Howard’s routing takes full advantage of the rolling topography, which means you are unlikely to face the same shot twice – in distance or lie – during a round.
After playing across the top of the Apple Isle, it was time to head south towards Hobart.
The state capital is easily reached within two and a half hours from Launceston via the Midland Highway. However, for the purposes of this feature I took the scenic route, via the Highland Lakes Rd and the Great Western Tiers Conservation Area, to Bothwell – home of the Australasian Golf Museum and Australia’s oldest golf course, Ratho Farm – in the picturesque Clyde River valley about an hours’ drive north of Hobart.
Housed in the town’s visitors centre, the museum is a must for any golf fan with interesting equipment exhibits, photographs and paintings as well as donated equipment from some of our best players including Peter Thomson, Ian Baker-Finch, Adam Scott, Mat Goggin, Graham Marsh and Tasmania’s first golfing star Peter Toogood.
More importantly, the museum traces the history of the game including its introduction to Australia, on a property known as ‘Ratho’, just a few minutes’ drive from the museum. Alexander Reid, a Scot, played on Ratho with featheries in the 1820s and three generations of Reids followed in their enjoyment of the links. The great-grandfather of golf tragic Greg Ramsay, who has been involved in several Tasmanian golf projects including Barnbougle Dunes, bought Ratho in 1936.
A round at Ratho Golf Links is a memorable one because it is as if time has stopped here. Sheep graze across the fairways and tees, while fences keep them from venturing onto the square greens found on most holes.
In recent years Ramsay has been working with designers Neil Crafter and Paul Mogford to restore the now 18-hole course to its true origins.
Ramsay now plans to tap into the creative mind of amateur designers by running a competition to redesign a loop of three holes of the Ratho Farm course. The three back nine holes near the edge of the property need to be re-routed to make them safer with the increased play of the course. For more details check out Ratho Farm’s advertisement on page 95 of this issue or get a copy of the December issue of Golf Australia magazine, which will also provide guidance on how to design a golf hole.