Thursday, March 3, 2016

35. Tasmania, February 26-March 1, 2016

Tasmania, February 26-March 1, 2016

Tasmania is one of 8 states and territories in Australia.  It consists of the island of Tasmania and King Island and Flinders Island (as well as some smaller islands) south of the State of Victoria and Melbourne.  Pat and I flew to Tasmania in 2012 to play the two courses at Barnbougle built in the last 15+ years.  We have wanted to return and this desire was strengthened by the recent (and ongoing) construction of two courses on King Island:

--Cape Wickham—recently completed, and
--Ocean Dunes ---still a work in progress.

Cape Wickham GC Feb 26-28, 2016:  We flew a puddle jumper from Melbourne to King Island the morning of 2/26.  After a 15-minute drive to our hotel, we drove about 45 minutes up to Cape Wickham GC.  The island is very rural, beautiful and relaxing…and windy (located in the Roaring 40’s…referring to the latitude).  Cape Wickham opened for play about 4 months ago.  It is located on the northern tip of King Island, and sits close to a 52 meter (170’) high lighthouse.  To say that it is exposed to the elements is one of the great understatements.  It is the creation of golf writer Darius Oliver (Planet Golf) and architect Michael DeVries (Kingsley Club and Greywalls in MI, and restorations of Siwanoy in NY and Meadow Club in CA).  I had the pleasure of meeting Darius last summer during a dinner on Cape Cod, and can testify that he has a wonderful sense of golf architecture and a great “eye”.

I played CW three times, in 20-25 mph winds on 2/26 and 10-15 mph winds 2/27 and 2/28.  Simply put, I do not remember ever having as much fun on a golf course.  Every hole has a view of the Southern Ocean (better views than Fisher Island).  The fairways are wide wide wide (in some cases as much as 60+ yards wide), which is necessary the way the wind blows.   The greens are appropriately large (for the same reason) and are beautifully shaped and placed.  Every hole feels different from the other holes, yet they all integrate perfectly into a very special flow.  I played my best on 2/26 (79) and got worse from there (81 and then 88).  During my first round, I got a lot of really good breaks and bounces…making me wonder if the course was too forgiving…but the round on Sunday (88) put that thought to bed.  I was a bit tired (having walked Ocean Dunes that morning…more later) and made a bunch of mental mistakes and paid the price each time.

Pat joined me on 2/27 and 2/28 and loved the course just as much for very much the same reasons. On 2/27 we were joined by Alex D. and Kevan W. of ISAGS (Intern. Senior Amateur Golf Assoc.) who were on their way to an ISAGS event near Brisbane.  Our foursome has handicaps ranging from just above scratch to almost 20…and we all loved the course.

Do not know where to begin to describe the holes as there are so many great ones.  First time playing it I was in love with it after playing 4 holes…and then discovered that the real course doesn’t really begin till #9!!  Plays firm and fast…hit a 205 yard 7-iron 25 yards over green on #4 in first round…and also nailed a 6 iron 115 yards on #5 into the wind.

In terms of reminder holes…#9 (sharply downhill par 5) reminded me of #11 at Arcadia Bluffs in MI, #16 (my favorite) reminded me of #11 at Ballybunion, and the views and drama of the whole place reminded me of Old Head…but golf course so so much better than Old Head as CW is a pure links course.  

Yes it is only 6765 yards from the Blue tees (not sure what it measures from the tips), but note how windy this place is…and we all know that shots into the wind lose a lot more distance than shots with the wind gain.  Also, the name of the game on firm fast courses is distance control in the air, AND ON THE GROUND.

Holes #3 and 11 gave me fits, but I conquered #10, 13, and18 big time…on 18 hitting fairway and green all three days for one birdie and two pars.
Most memorable holes follow…yardages are from long but not championship tees:

#1—365 yd par 4 with Victoria Cove looming off right side and a huge fairway which was deeply appreciated on my first round as wind was blowing left to right at about 30mph…hit good drive starting down left edge of fairway which first drifted right and then bounded right all the way into the light rough…almost over the cliff.  Slightly elevated green in a wonderful setting.
#2 CW from tee...note fairway bunker to negotiate in middle of FW

#4---435 yd par 4 with blind tee shot over a crest…hitting line is for the distant lighthouse.  Approach shot had to successfully negotiate ground as wind was straight with you…bounded 25+ yards past pin first two rounds and finally figured it out in round 3.  Front 2/3rds of green slopes toward back and rear of green slopes to front.

CW #4 tee shot...aim for lighthouse on this blind drive

CW #4 approach shot...very easy to run thru green
CW #5 2nd shot...need to come in from right...note small mound guarding front left...since this is links golf (ground game), you must avoid this mound.

#6---495 yard par 5 doglegging right to elevated green setting and a green with a deep swale back right…hard to keep third shot on top of swale when pin is left.  Beautifully shaped hole.
CW #6 second shot on par 5...difficult green to hit and hold...given swale back right of green placement of 2nd is key

CW #6 third shot...this is view from 80 yard out.  I kept this one left of pin.

#7—150 yard par 3 slightly uphill to deep narrow green angled from front left to back right, protected my high mound in front of front edge, mounds to the left of the green, and a deep deep swale of right of green.  Played w wind and tee shot required high shot landing on downslope of front mound or front of green.  Great creative par 3, that almost plays like a dogleg and is a “semi-reverse Redan” but without fall off behind and swale but no bunkers in front (no bunkers on hole).

#8—par 4 420 yds with blind tee shot (but you can just see the green from the tee (I think just the top of flagstick from back tee) to forgiving fairway where tee shots left and right funnel right and left respectively to center of fairway (but tees shots too far off line are gonzo).  Approach to raised green in neat setting with false front, bunker protecting front left, and sharp fall off back and left.  Safe shot in is right at back right bunker…but your mind has a tough time doing that!  Neat architectural trick.

#9—here it starts…540 yard par 5 with drive over a crest to catch a big downhill slope.  Second shot must cross a large swale if you go for it…or be hit well right over a large dune if you layup (there is room right but it is blind).  If you don’t hit second well right, third will be off sidehill lie to a raised green…not fun.  Green protected my large sand mound/dune at front right and fall offs in front and back.  Great hole that got the best of me.
SW #9 tee shot...need to clear mound in middle of fairway to get big roll downhill

#10—straight par 4 only 325 yards (drivable) heading sharply downhill into the Southern Ocean…views on this hole are amazing…you can just see top of flagstick from the tee…and the flag looks like it is in the ocean.  Played dead into wind and great fun to play.  Very well contoured green with shelf back right falling off to swale front left.  Could play this one forever without getting bored.
CW#10 tee shot...heading directly toward Southern Ocean!!

CW#10 second shot...and don't bitch about quality of photos (or lack thereof).

#11—150 yd par 3 with green sitting down on the rocks…back tee is elevated and middle/front tees are lower.  I wonder if over time storms will wipe out the lower tees as they are only about 10-15’ above sea level.  This hole ate my lunch trying to get the tee shot near a front pin position with a following wind.
CW #11 from back (upper) tee...this hole ate my lunch...note front right pin placement

#12—325 yard drivable par 4 uphill dogleg left with left side of fairway overlooking high ledge over Southern Ocean.  Unless you go for it, requires a mid iron off the tee and then a precise shaped a little like #10’s and there ain’t much room on right to shoot for if the pin is on right side…but that seems fair to me on a short pat 4.

#14—425 yard par 4 slightly uphill dogleg left…drive looks heroic with 5 deep fairway bunkers guarding left side of fairway.  Approach shot is great fun to a punchbowl green that results in a blind approach from the wrong angle.
CW #14 tee shot (heroic)...note line of 5 bunkers protecting left side...I hit into the right most bunker twice!!

#16—simply brilliant 425 yard par 4 uphill off tee with lots of room left, but that is the long way on the hole that turns right and sharply downhill to the green on the approach…with Victoria Cove very very visible in the background…similar in look and feel to #11 at Ballybunion (Tom Watson’s favorite hole).  With the wind in your face (as it was to some degree all three days for me), the second shot is something to behold, and laying up w a nine iron can be a very wise option.

CW #16 second shot...from about 175 yards out...straight down to green...scary shot

CW #16 send shot from about 120 yards out...still tough.  18th fairway and green in background
#17—downhill 180 yard par 3 with Victoria Cove to your right…green slopes sharply from back to front and is a daunting target.
CW #17 tee shot

#18—sharp dogleg right cape driving hole 435 yards (slightly downhill off the tee) on this hole that goes around Victoria Cove.  Plenty of room left off the tee but the approach shot is tough and you must decide how much to bite off with your drive.  You can be fooled by lack on wind as fairway is protected from prevailing Southwesterly wind by huge sand dune lining the left side of fairway (green probably 90’ below clubhouse).   I hit fairway and green all three rounds and ended up with one birdie and two pars…while I hope to play Cape Wickham again, not sure I want to face this hole again!!
CW #18 second shot...hit this fairway and green all three rounds for 1 bird and 2 pars...revenge for #11!! And the beach is in play!!

As you can tell from the pictures, some of the fairways are not quite ready…but the ones that were seeded early are in wonderful condition and all are very playable.  Assuming this course is maintained properly (and I would be shocked it is wasn’t) this is a sure World 100…only a question of how high.  And like the question of Kingston Heath vs. Royal Melbourne West, raising the question of Tara Iti vs. Cape Wickham.  To be sure, there is a very impressive group of courses that have opened in 2014-today.  I have seen the following superb tracks in this “class” (listed alphabetically):

            --Bluffs at Ho Tram, Vietnam
            --Dismal River (Doak), USA
            --Cape Wickham, Australia
            --Tara Iti, New Zealand

and…I won’t see Cabot Cliffs until this summer!!  No question that this is the New Golden Age of Golf Architecture…with one common theme throughout the great new courses built the past 20 years…built it anywhere and “they” will come.  Because of the high cost of land, anywhere ends up no longer being in the suburbs of cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Melbourne, etc etc.  Anywhere is now:

--the Nebraska Sandhills,
--high cliffs overlooking the Pacific in Oregon,
--Northeastern Colorado
--the Pacific coast of the North Island of New Zealand
--Bridport, Tasmania, Australia
--Hainan Island, China
--Cape Briton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
--King Island, Tasmania, Australia.

End of speech…if you are fortunate enough to have the time, access, and $$...go see some of these places…they are simply something to behold…and all of them are firm and fast (most are pure fescue), returning the game to its roots and making it fun again (guess it wasn’t “end of speech”).

Ocean Dunes GC, February 28, 2016: Located about 3 miles from the King Island airport and 25 miles from Cape Wickham (on King Island’s west coast) Australian golf architect Graeme Grant has designed this course encompassing 285 acres and stretching to about 7050 yards from the tips.

This is a fabulous piece of land, with sweeping views of the coast line.  The course is set with the front nine in a loop south of the clubhouse location, and the back nine in a loop north of the clubhouse location.  The front nine was open has been open for play for the past couple of months and the back nine is about to open (at least part of it).  I played with Hong Seh Lim of CA who followed me as #26 on the list of folks who have completed a Golf Mag World Top 100.  Hong Seh is a member of ISAGS and the Outpost Club and was on an Outpost trip and then going on to the ISAGS event in Brisbane.  I very much enjoyed meeting him…we have been corresponding by email for about 16 months or so.  I played only 10 holes and Hong Seh went on to play about 14…I had to pick up Pat so that we could get in another round at Cape Wickham (my third and Pat’s second) that afternoon. 
OD #2 second shot...short par 4...very wide green and mound/bunker left protects blind shot to left half of green, forcing player to flirt with right side of fairway (and beach) off tee.  This is best hole on front 9.

Ocean Dunes is at least 6 months behind Cape Wickham in terms of condition, but even adjusting for its earlier state, I do not think it will be an equal to CW…but in terms of “two courses make a destination” (as per Mike Keiser) it will definitely enhance King Island.  Problem is, IMHO, the fairways are too narrow and the course is too tough and punishing…as opposed to the “fun” aspects of CW.   Time will tell as lots of work remains to be done (and I only played 10).

That evening it was back on to a puddle jumper from King Island to the northern coast of the island of Tasmania.  We landed at Launceston, had dinner in town, and then arrived at Barnbougles around 10:30pm…greeted by Roscoe Banks, the indefatigable Head Pro at Lost Farm whom we met four years earlier.  Looking forward to this return to booth Lost Farm (a Coore Crenshaw) and Dunes (a Doak).

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