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Whistling Straits: The perfect course for a father-son trip

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Like many siblings born into a golfing family, my brother and I have always had a healthy rivalry with our dad on the golf course. His dominance during our childhood has faded some with our transition to adulthood, but there’s no denying that dad is always the one to beat.

His family record of 67 on our home course and five holes-in-one (to our combined none) are marks that my brother and I will likely never match. And while the three of us have each made our way to some of the great courses in the game individually, from Bay Hill to Firestone to Pebble Beach, we have never taken a true father-sons golf trip.

This year we resolved to change that in a very big way. The three of us were going to take on Whistling Straits — together.

Not only was this our first real father-sons golf trip, but it was our first time flying together as well. As we boarded the plane, I soon realized that despite our shared DNA, the three of us have very different travel personalities. There was dad, the over-packer. My brother, the nervous flyer. And me, the jaded travel writer. It was right about then that I was glad we had chosen to ship our clubs rather than lug them through the airport.

We entrusted Ship Sticks with getting our most prized possessions to Whistling Straits. Ship Sticks is run by golfers, for golfers, and the service was top notch. The round-trip ground fare ran about the same as the checked bag fee on Airtran, and it was nice knowing there was someone besides an airport ticket agent to stand behind the service if something went wrong.

When we began planning this adventure, I maintained that if we were going to do this thing, then we were going to do it right. By that, I wanted us to experience all that Whistling Straits had to offer, even beyond the golf. That meant a stay at the Forbes five-star rated American Club Resort, where the posh, yet comfortable, accommodations had us feeling like kings for the weekend. It also meant a visit to the world-renowned Kohler Waters Spa for massages before our round on The Straits. Visiting an award-winning spa with my dad and brother — definitely another first.

The next morning we boarded the shuttle to Whistling Straits, along with a group of eight guys on an outing of their own. As the minibus made its way through the cornfields of Wisconsin, none of us could believe that the third-ranked public course in America — and host of multiple major championships — was located in what could only be described as the middle of nowhere. But alas, it proved true, when the unassuming sign and narrow path to the clubhouse appeared at the end of the two-lane country road.

After failing miserably in our attempts to patiently wait out the 90 minutes until our tee time, the four months of anticipation for this moment had finally arrived. We were acquainted with our caddies — also a pair of brothers — and our playing partner from Japan who was teeing it up on The Straits for the third time in less than a week. The starter gave a brief introduction to the course, then at long last we began the trek across the ravine that separates the clubhouse from the first tee.

The next five and a half hours — no, that’s not a typo — were spent in various states of awestruck, frustration, wonder and satisfaction, often all at the same time. Things got off to a fairly even-keeled start, but from No. 2 until the finish our group was on a veritable roller coaster of golf.

There were pars and a few birdies — followed up immediately by doubles, triples, and yes, even a few that were higher. Whistling Straits, you see, had a funny way of throwing us a bone when we needed it, but it always snatched it right back. A good lie in the deep rough might be offset by an overlooked pot bunker by the green — one that can only be exited by playing backwards.

Whistling Straits 2

What it really came down to at Whistling Straits was a total lack of margin for error. For three guys accustomed to wide-open, resort-style golf in Florida, seeing halfway decent shots punished so severely was dejecting, to say the least. And yet, it was impossible to not appreciate the masochistic beauty of the moment, because with every hack out of the rough or blast out of a fairway bunker came a reminder of the improbable beauty which surrounded us.

About midway through the round, my brother asked how Whistling Straits stacked up against Pebble Beach. Always aware that the latest memory is often deemed the greatest because it is fresh, I thought about it for a hole or two before giving an answer. The thing is, Pebble Beach is, well, Pebble Beach. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, but really for only eight or nine holes; the rest of the golf course is relatively boring. Whistling Straits, on the other hand, was a masterpiece from start to finish — what it lacks is a century’s worth of history to go along with it. No doubt that will come, in due time.

Whistling Straits 3

As we trudged down the 18th fairway, stopping for a look at Dustin Johnson’s “bunker” — for the record: it is definitely a bunker — there was a good mixture of defeat and accomplishment in our steps. I was reminded of the former one last time, when my second shot stopped in the lip of a tiny bunker, requiring me to literally putt the ball two feet backwards. And yet, in spite of our many challenges, Whistling Straits had surpassed all of our expectations. Of course, so did our scores, but I don’t think any of us cared. It was one of the best days of each of our lives, in a place of near indescribable beauty, but most importantly, we had spent it together.

There were many firsts during our adventure to Whistling Straits. It was our first flight together. Our first time to Wisconsin. The first taste of cheese curds. A first visit to the spa — with our dad. A first time three 9’s were carded by a single player in a single round. The first time we nearly ran out of golf balls — thank you Blackwolf Run. And just for good measure, the first time anyone in my party has been hailed over the airport PA system — tip: don’t forget your boarding pass at security.

But for all of these moments, the visit to Whistling Straits gave the three of us something far more valuable — a shared adventure on one of the greatest golf courses on the planet. The rough was long, the bunkers were plentiful, the scores were high, but the memories — those are forever.

It was a trip of many firsts, but hopefully it was just the first of many.

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D.J. Jones is a lifelong golfer and plays to a 6 handicap when he’s not too busy pursuing his other great passion – travel. Tag along with his golf and travel adventures on his blog, The World of Deej.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Dave String

    Sep 2, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Was it your brother who left his boarding pass with security?

  2. Luanne AShlock

    Aug 30, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Awesome story! Sounds like a fabulous place and fabulous bonding trip.

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Courses

Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real

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We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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Courses

Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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Courses

Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf

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We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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