TASMANIA, Australia - Close your eyes.
If I told you to picture the best international golf resort in the world, what image would pop into your head?
If you said 'the lighthouse at Trump Turnberry', kudos to you for being a savvy and well-educated golf traveler. It's an iconic golf landmark at a fantastic resort. But when I close my eyes, I see the stunning dunescape of Barnbougle in Tasmania.
Tamania, a rugged island of just half a million people south of Australia, might as well be the moon for American golfers. I took a 15-hour flight to Melbourne, and then a week later, jumped on a small plane from Sharp Airlines to Launceston, a tiny Tassie regional airport about a 75-minute drive from a resort that exceeds its tremendous hype. Although Barbougle Dunes ranks among the top 50 courses in the world, it's still worth debating if Lost Farm is actually better. To my surprise, I quickly discovered that Bougle Run, a relatively new 14-hole short course, is the best short course in the world...by a wide margin. The pictures and videos you've seen of Barnbougle online and on social media don't do it justice. Seeing for yourself is the only solution.
The golf courses of Barnbougle
As much as I hate to make the comparison - I'm doing it for the sake of perspective - it makes perfect sense to consider Barnbougle a younger sibling of Bandon Dunes. The most celebrated course at each is a links by Tom Doak: Barnbougle Dunes rivals Pacific Dunes for oceanfront scenery and compelling holes. The best short course at each is by Coore & Crenshaw: The 14-hole Bougle Run features two dynamite short par 4s as a brawnier version of Bandon Preserve, where all nine holes can be played with only a putter. And just as C&C's Bandon Trails might actually be the best course at Bandon, so, too, their Lost Farm might be Barnbougle's most inspiring round. The golf at both resorts is walking-only. Like Bandon, the weather at Barnbougle can be contentious and will, in all likelihood, determine how you score and what tees you play. The word Barnbougle translates to 'wind warning' after all.
With Australian Mike Clayton providing an assist, Barnbougle Dunes, a par 71 of 6,138 meters (roughly 6,723 yards), debuted in 2004, five years after David McLay Kidd's original Bandon Dunes course and three years after Pac Dunes. Lost Farm's addition in 2010 really made the long journey by Americans worth the trek. The two complement each other so well. C&C's sensibilities in playability pairs well with Doak's complex green sites. In terms of views and epic holes, golfers can almost flip a coin: 8 holes on Barnbougle Dunes touch the dunesy shores, with Lost Farm counter-punching with 7 oceanfront holes cut through more dramatic dunes across the Great Forester River. A pair of extra cool par 3s - 13a and 18a - might tip the scales toward the 6,503-meter (roughly 7,111 yards) Lost Farm.
Wide fairways and rugged, natural-looking bunkers decorate each routing, but the one you'll forever remember splits the fairway on the short par-4 fourth hole at Barnbougle Dunes. It's the largest bunker in the Southern Hemisphere. Talk about the true definition of risk vs. reward.
The 2021 addition of Bougle Run changed the game for visitors. I played Bougle Run on the day of arrival and again the following day. It's that fun, a mini-me of the championship links without the wear-and-tear on the ego or the feet. It climbs to the highest point of the property to deliver grand views of Lost Farm and Anderson Bay. The two short par 4s give it a 'big course' feel, where you can bang a driver if you dare.
The Barnbougle resort experience
Barnbougle is essentially two resort campuses in one. Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm each have their own clubhouses, accommodations and restaurants. Because the river separates the two, it's about a five-minute shuttle/car ride between them. I felt fortunate to snag a room at the Lost Farm Lodge. It was massive with a living-room-like setup and a balcony overlooking the course in the back half. The lodge felt more convenient than a stay in the ocean villas and cottages at Barnbougle Dunes. It is just steps from the spectacular Lost Farm Restaurant, which sits atop a coastal dune high above the course and coast. It's a magical spot at sunrise for breakfast and sunset for dinner.
I didn't have time for any extra curricular activities, although the resort can entertain non-golfing spouses with a spa or a tasting at one of 7 local wineries. With an extra half day before my flight home, I hiked the stunning Cataract Gorge in Launceston. It ended up being one of the best travel discoveries of my life.
Still can't justify the long flight to Barnbougle when Bandon Dunes is so much closer? Digest this: Playing Lost Farm and Barnbougle Dunes might be the biggest bucket-list golf bargain on the planet for Americans. Their green fees of $225 (Australian) translate to less than $150 per round. An ALL DAY rate for $256 (Australian) translates to merely $162 in U.S. cash! That's a steal when you consider how many of America's top resort courses - Shadow Creek ($1,250), the PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass ($900), Pebble Beach ($625) and Bandon Dunes ($400 day rate/$350 resort rate) - all raised their green fees this year.
Maybe those dollars and sense will help American golfers realize that golf's greatest international resort isn't all that far away. All I have to do now to return is close my eyes.