Tenth hole, 410 metres; After the perils of the last several holes, the tenth’s warm inviting nature is a welcome sight. The spacious fairway encourages a bold free swing as does the elevated green, which is the most loosely guarded on the course as the large, handsome bunkers are well removed from the convoluted putting surface. Hitting the fairway and the green in regulation are not the same as getting a par; lots of three putt bogeys occur here. How Brian Schneider got the putting surface to drip down the hillside is the hole’s most impressive attribute.
Eleventh hole, 475 metres; Barnbougle Dunes was conceived in the early 2000s when most courses featured narrow fairways that precluded fun, option-filled golf. Over the ensuing fifteen years, things have changed but the pendulum may have swung too far; some holes are nothing more than a bomber’s paradise where mindless brute strength trumps precision and craftiness. On the surface, this reachable par 5 with its wide, friendly fairway seemingly falls into that category but trial and error shows there is much too admire here. Happily, the hole is often downwind and a manageable alley feeds onto the green’s right center. However, miss it a bit to the right and your approach – forlornly – curls away into the deepest greenside bunker on the course, leaving that wildly unpopular 40 metre long explosion. More irritating is how the left bank of the green works in perfect concert with that side’s less intimidating greenside bunkers. This terror is more subtle than the right but the effect is similar: the golfer leaves the hole wondering what in the heck went wrong.
Twelfth hole, 255 metres; One nice aspect about the twelfth is how well it fits into the Barnbougle experience. No one comes here for just one round. During your stay, you can experiment off the tee in the various winds with driver, three wood, hybrid and even midirons to determine what tactic works best. Unlike the fourth where the architects goad the player into having a go, this hole presents mixed signals. Yes, it’s shorter but the green is tiny, only 3,300 square feet and the smallest on the course. Some of the undulations in front conjure up images of the twelfth at St. Andrews and the back right shelf is particularly finicky to access. Play is diagonally across a ridge line and a tee ball flared right might well be lost in the tall dune grass. Indicative of the tricky winds here, this exposed putting surface was blown away more times during construction than another other green on the course. Schneider and team had to re-build it five times. This experience taught them to be more patient about finalizing greens, waiting until the irrigation is ready to come on line.
Thirteenth hole, 190 metres; This hole was always part of the design, even when the tenth ran east down today’s eighteenth. Why? This unbelievable green site was spotted early in the routing process. As a long time admirer of Alister MacKenzie, Doak has always envied MacKenzie’s famous Sitwell Park green. Here in the dunes off the Tasman Sea were undulations with a striking resemblance to that tumultuous putting surface. Tom proudly states that ‘this is one of the funnest holes I have ever built. Maybe the guy won’t like his score but for just plain fun, this hole is hard to beat.’ Clayton sums it up well when he writes, ‘In the end there are two sorts of golfers – those who love Barnbougle’s 13th green and those who hate it.’ For Schneider’s part, he recalls ‘ how my jaw dropped when I understood what Tom saw and just how bold this green was going to be. Plus, it made me appreciate Richard Sattler all the more. He trusted us entirely and let us do a lot of really cool things, including this green.’
Fourteenth hole, 510 metres; Large bunkers cut into natural up-slopes dominate the eye standing on the tee. There is no other visual quite like it on the course and the hole’s handsomeness carries it. Tillinghast loathed weak holes and the author imagines that he would be proud of how playing appeal was knocked into this one.
Fifteenth hole, 320 metres; Totally different than the third, fourth or twelfth, the final short two shotter features a long narrow green that poses a direct question: can he squeeze his tee ball between a central bunker and the dune right to gain a straightforward pitch down the length of the green? Having enjoyed such expansiveness off tees ten, eleven, and fourteen, the golfer might not be prepared to accept such a challenge (especially on a windy day). Many opt for caution, playing left of the central hazard which may lead to a blind approach over a dune to a green set at an awkward angle. Doak wasn’t always sold on the central bunker but Clayton fought hard for the Principal’s Nose feature which makes tangling with the hole several times in one trip a delight.
Sixteenth hole, 155 metres; When man began using heavy machinery more often in the 1970s and 1980s, the concept of perfect visuals was born. Tees were built up to give the golfer a clear sense – relentlessly so – of what to do from every tee box. It was all laid out before him. Of course, such a concept is anathema to those that love links golf. Variety trumps all. Just as Schneider went to great lengths to provide ideal optics of the putting surface for the uphill approach to the tenth, he endeavored to retain some mystery for the downhill shot to this one shotter. A bunker fifteen paces shy of the putting surface was built up just enough to hide the left front of the canted green. The old trooper delights in seeing his tee ball momentarily disappear from sight behind the bunker, only to re-emerge as it tracks along the ground – hopefully toward the hole. Judging how to play the slopes, especially when unseen from the tee, creates the hole’s elusive quality that is to be embraced, not shunned. Keiser himself suggested this hole, after Doak showed him the revised seventeenth.
Seventeenth hole, 400 metres; One would think that more holes of this ilk would exist. As you play west down the coastline, a large sandy hazard emanates from the dunes on the direct line from tee to green. This deceptively simple extension of the dune into the fairway creates a strategically sound dogleg right. Yet, the author struggles to think of other examples of such coastal holes around the world, particularly in the United Kingdom. Usually the dune lines are maintained in a linear fashion but with just a little artistry, something much more engaging like the seventeenth could emerge.
Eighteenth hole, 405 metres; Rumpled land completes the picture. More than anything, this Home hole screams that golf at the highest level is about how the ball interacts with the land. The message doesn’t have to be any louder – or more cluttered – and the lack of fairway bunkers is a welcome show of restraint. Clayton notes with a wry smile that his favorite way to play at Barnbougle is when ‘you are not allowed to land any shot on the green (except the 7th where it is almost impossible). You must play running shots all the way – it’s so much fun. Kids now just pull out the rangefinder and take the club which flies the ball to where they want to land it – and they play the same way no matter the course. They never even visualize the easier shot with straighter faced club to pitch and run a ball onto the green. To see a long approach into 18 bound over the humps and bumps of the fairway and then swing right at the green is a shot of great beauty.’
The term ‘minimalism’ has been pulled and stretched by architects and publicists to the point where it has lost meaning. Indeed, plenty of ‘minimalist’ courses exist that are as awful as they are boring (i.e. more land needed to be moved to lend playing interest). Minimalism at its finest is undisturbed great land that yields great golf. A most fortuitous confluence of events – great land, talented designers and shapers that shared and exchanged ideas, and a wise owner that let them flourish – is what happened here.
Indeed, to the author, this course represents the pinnacle of minimalism in the Southern Hemisphere. A few to zero courses in the Northern Hemisphere might rival the design for a global distinction. Regardless, the result is one of those dozen or so places world-wide where there is nowhere else that the golfer would rather be: the golf – and nature – are just that compelling. A plane flight from all corners of the globe is emphatically worth it; otherwise, you might not appreciate just how great golf can be.