Ladies and gentlemen, Australia has spoken. Well, Australian Golf Digest’s 83,000 Facebook followers have spoken, voting Barnbougle Dunes’ 100-metre seventh hole as the greatest par 3 in the country via our online poll.
The knee-knocking one-shotter – designed by Tom Doak and Mike Clayton, and aptly named “Tom’s Little Devil” – held off Melbourne Sandbelt royalty like the fifth at Royal Melbourne (West), Kingston Heath’s famed 15th and the picture-perfect sixth at New South Wales Golf Club, among dozens of other worthy contenders, to claim top honours.
At first glance, it was somewhat of an upset … perhaps more of a reflection of its undeniable aesthetics than its architectural superiority. But upon further review, our readers may well have nailed it.
My first experience at Tasmania’s flagship golf facility came more than a decade ago when I played 18 holes with owner Richard Sattler. The Tassie spud farmer took great pride in telling me how his backyard was artfully transformed from grazing dune land to golfing wonderland like nothing we’d ever seen on our shores.
As we approached the seventh tee on the Dunes course in his personal golf cart – the only golf cart on the property as it happens (it’s too dangerous to let golfers navigate the terrain on four wheels themselves) – Sattler gave me a nudge and said: “Wait until you see this next hole. She’s a beauty!”
I had barely got over thinking about the previous six holes, all otherworldly in their own way. But Sattler wasn’t lying. As I stepped up onto the tee box of hole No.7, I was immediately paralysed by what I was staring at.
“Wow. I feel like I could literally throw it on,” I said. Sattler gave me a cheeky grin and chuckle. I knew right there and then that there was more to this hole than meets the eye.
Truth is, I probably could have thrown it on that day. In fact, I wish I had of. Mother Nature was turning it on – glorious sunshine and just a light breeze. The Bass Strait was as calm as ever. I saw no reason not to take a wedge out of my bag. Sattler then took the opportunity to recall the time he gave Greg Norman the same tour. That day he watched the former world No.1 hit a 3-iron to pin-high. A THREE-IRON… A LITTLE MORE THAN 100 METRES… GREG NORMAN! I thought Sattler was pulling my leg but it was no joke, as we both watched my well-struck wedge land woefully short.
Yet the elements form but one intrinsic piece to this heart-raising puzzle that’s clearly resonated with golfers far and wide. Is it appropriate to call something “the greatest” in such a subjective contest? Maybe not. But here’s why Tom’s Little Devil is unlike any other short hole in the country, if not the world.
IT WAS JUST MEANT TO BE…. LOOK!
Take a careful look at the grainy picture above. See that green complex sitting there, like a chameleon in its most natural state and surrounds? It’s an extraordinary image in so many ways, not least how it showcases just how little earthmoving was required to carve this into the showstopper it is today.
“That image is as it was in 2003 … just sitting there … waiting,” says Clayton. “The choice was either this hole or playing from the same tee but swinging further right and hitting straight towards the ocean.”
In the end, weight of numbers determined its final routing. Doak, his Renaissance Golf Design colleague Brian Schneider and Clayton were all standing on what’s now the tee when Doak asked: “Should it go that way (pointing to the current green site) or that way (directly towards the beach and much closer to the eighth tee). Schneider and Clayton both suggested the first option, and Doak concurred: “OK. That’s where we’ll build it.”
The rest, as they say, is history. It proved to be a masterstroke.
“(Because of its location) the wind makes it the most varied par 3 in the country,” says Clayton. “I’ve hit every club, from 4-iron to sand wedge, on this hole on any given day.”
How many holes can you truly say that about?
NO POINTS FOR MISSING
My mother dished up Sunday roasts on plates bigger than the green here. It’s tiny, but that’s where the mind games begin. Hit and hold your tee shot here and a makeable birdie putt, at least in distance terms, awaits. Miss in the wrong spot and you’re, ahem, cactus!
“It’s an easy 4 for bogey players if they go right,” says Clayton. “Miss in the bunker left, though, and it’s almost a guaranteed bogey – as it should be. Any great tiny hole has to have a place you can’t miss. Think the front-left bunker at Kingston Heath’s 15th or the 13th at The Lakes, where you can’t really miss anywhere and get up and in easily.”
There’s perhaps never been a more intimidating tee shot under 110m, simply because you spend more time thinking about the consequences of missing a green you think you should hit 99 times out of 100, than you do the reward for actually hitting it. And just look at those slopes … ready to take your ball away from the dancefloor and into a dungeon.
While other par-3 designs venture down the artificial route to create sink-or-swim scenarios, here that very prospect is au naturel.
There can be no denying it – the seventh hole at Barnbougle Dunes is stunningly beautiful, more so than its sandbelt rivals. If you’re not distracted by the crystal-blue waters of the Bass Strait in the background, the whipping fescue and natural array of colours of the surrounding dune land will certainly take care of that. Some par 3s rely on aesthetics to win over a crowd, others rely on their architecture. This hole has both, in spades, and it delivers it in such an exposed part of the property that it’s equal parts impressive and intimidating.
THIS IS NO THOROUGHFARE
Asked where he rates the hole in the grand scheme of great designs, Clayton was hesitant to give it its due. “These sorts of rankings will always be subjective but this hole is no better than at least 10 other par 3s in the country. I’d pick Royal Melbourne (West) 5 and Kingston Heath 15, at least, ahead of it.”
But it’s what ‘Clayts’ said next that will perhaps change people’s perception of one-shotters moving forward.
“Par 3s are often little more than beauty contests,” he says. “Par 4s and 5s are the real substance. Obviously that’s not entirely true but Kington Heath 15 and Royal Melbourne (West) 5 are just great ways to get from 14-16 and 4-6. In that way, short holes are really convenient for architects. It’s why the best course in the world only has two of them!”
If Clayton and Doak were intending to make the seventh at Barnbougle nothing more than a nice stroll to the eighth tee, they failed miserably. Truth is, it has gone on to become one of the great signature holes – a term universally hated by course architects – in golf, and so often the talking point on plane trips home for visitors.
THE FINAL VERDICT
I reckon there’s a handful of holes that have truly left me in awe when I stepped on the tee – the opening tee shot at Ardglass in Northern Ireland and the 12th at Augusta National among them. They’re holes that tickle your senses as much as they traumatise your decision making. I get the same feeling when I step onto the seventh at Barnbougle Dunes. Whether it calls for a wedge, 7-iron or a 3-iron like the Shark, getting to that decision is all part of the fun of playing golf the way it was intended to be played, a process we rarely get to enjoy as much as we should. One moment Barnbougle No.7 demands brain over braun. By the time the following group reaches the tee, it’s suddenly calling for braun over brain.
There’s no doubt it’s the greatest 100-metre hole in the country. And while Clayton may be correct in suggesting there are one or two sandbelt masterpieces with their noses in front (for what it’s worth, I personally prefer Kington Heath 10 over 15), I’m afraid his humility has got in the way of the truth on his next statement. There is no way – NO WAY – there are 10 other short holes on par with this little devil.