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Tobiano. Canada’s Best New Course.

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The Green at Hole No. 8, Par 5Every now and again we are reminded why golf course architecture is an art. In his new masterpiece Tobiano, Thomas McBroom has reminded us once again that the architect must have the eye of an artist, experience of an engineer and all the while remain a golfer at heart.

Situated 15 minutes outside Kamloops, British Columbia, the golf course is part of an $800 million project that will include a lake-side marina, three hotels, over 1000 residential units, equestrian facilities and more. Inheriting its name from the Tobiano painted horse, the course thematic draws upon the site’s ranch land history- from the tee decks to the clubhouse detailing. 

Desert courses with their lush green grass contrasting rough and brown landscapes can easily be more eye candy than a test of the game. Fortunately, Tobiano side-steps this trivial design gimmick, boasting both stunning beauty and strategy. Shouldering bluffs situated above the lake, fairways are nestled into the rugged dunes with mountain backdrops. Adding a bunkering style that gently pulls away the surface of fescues and cacti, the result is a test for golfers of all abilities.   

Three years ago as a Landscape Architect student, a University project led to my having the pleasure of meeting McBroom. With an unassuming Toronto office that feels more like a one bedroom apartment holding outdated computers from the early ’90’s rather than a design studio which fuels creativity and design, one begins to wonder how this man creates world class golf courses from a selection of air-photos and pencil crayons. 

Yet McBroom’s method is tried and proven with more than 60 internationally acclaimed courses. With several more underway, McBroom has risen to the top of the game in golf course architecture in Canada and around the world. In 2006 he had 12 courses ranked among the top 100 in Canada; and in 5 of the last 13 years he’s been responsible for Canada’s Best New Course of The Year.

Open for play in July 2007, Tobiano’s official grand opening was last month and looks poised to earn McBroom another award. Four additional courses in the province planned and underway has made McBroom a clear leader in BC’s golf boom which has several new courses from the likes of Nicklaus, Couples, Player, and shortly Annika Sorenstam. In what will be her debut new course design in North America, Annika is pairing her passion for the game with none other than McBroom himself.

As a new course, the bentgrass fairways at Tobiano are nicer than some of the local Vancouver courses’ greens I’ve played, and McBroom’s innovative white silica sand lends great feel and consistency to the traps. Fairways ripple and wave creating many kinds of lies. And though the front nine’s fescue my seem difficult to overcome its length and density will likely decrease as the course becomes more established, requiring less irrigation. The greens putt fast and true with many opportunities for exciting pin placements. Though the course measured them to 11 on the stimpmeter, they were a pleasure to play.

The course itself displays a routing rich in diversity. The par 72 layout tallies to 36 on both nines, with the back having three par 5’s and three par 3’s. Using wind wisely, at least one par 3 points to each direction of the compass; while the par 5’s capitalize on natural topography and the par 4’s, playing long and short, test all clubs in the bag. 

With the wind at your back, No. 2 lets you think about going for the green off the tee, while bunkering at a hundred yards from the green protects against laying up for an easy wedge approach. A well scripted grass swale in front collects any shots short of the small green, also protected by more bunkering. Although one of the easier, and probably less memorable holes on the course, it displays a textbook execution of architecture fundamentals. 

Arriving at No. 7 you’ll find a par 3 that plays like a 155 yard island green without water. Into a fierce wind, dropping off into sage and sand, hitting the shallow green perpendicular to the angle of approach is sure to build your confidence.

If there is one thing to be learned from course architecture it’s that retrospect is the mark of a good golf hole. And after playing the par 5 No. 8 it’s easy to look back and recount several different ways to play it next time. Starting with a demanding 220+ yard carry into the wind, a second shot must find the fairway which veers sharp and blindly between bunkering on the left and a steep desert crevasse at right. Finally, the approach is protected by bunkering left and right while falling sharp right and behind into a fescue ridden area you would rather lose your ball than have the unfortunate fate of trying to hit out of. Combined, this three shot par 5 demands appropriate club selection and skillful execution, making it easy to see why it is the number 1 handicap on course.

Along the back nine the plot builds and the beauty increases. Climbing up ranchland terrain, yeilding panoramic views, each hole is a fair test, while retaining potential to score. The toughest is No. 12, a 232 yard par 3 bunkered left and right. As the holes move on the fescue lessens and the required carries diminish making a more pleasurable golfing experience. 

If there was one thing to improve upon at Tobiano it would be the way in which the play ends. While there is nothing wrong with any of the holes which form the closing par 5,3,4 sequence, none are what I would call strong finishing holes. Being a modest hitter, and playing from the spur tees, downhill and downwind I hit the par 5, 16th in two with a pitching wedge in hand. No. 17 is a short par 3 at 143 yards, and No. 18 is a matter of one well-struck shot off the tee.

As a golf enthusiast and armchair architect at heart, I can only hope that Tobiano will push the level of golf course design to new heights. Contrasting wisping visual lines with rugged contours, Tobiano is a three-dimensional piece of art expressively instilled with the passions of experienced artistry and golfing brilliance by the McBroom design team. Even with the development planned to take place, Tobiano will remain a core course in its typology; uninterrupted by, all things considered, minimal housing lining the course itself. Though I imagine some of the vistas, in particular those of the lake, will be spoiled in the name of real estate the course is unquestionably a work of art surrounded by a surreal landscape.

Undoubtedly, Tobiano is the best new course in Canada.

 

 

For a flyby tour of each hole, check the website, http://www.tobianogolf.com/golf/coursetour.php 

Tee    Yardage    Course Rating/ Slope Rating

Iron     7328      75.2 / 134

Spur    6835      72.8 / 127

Lake    6241      70.2 /125

Sage    5289      65.7 / 111

 

    Tobiano   |   Hole No. 1, Par 5

 

   Tobiano   |   Hole No. 6, Par 4

   Tobiano   |   Hole No. 15, Par 3

 

   Tobiano   |   Hole No. 17, Par 3

 

   Tobiano   |   Clubhouse Patio

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Courses

The Long and Winding Road to The Old Course

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St. Andrews holds a special and historic place in every golfer’s imagination. Anyone who has the faintest chance to play St. Andrews should do whatever it takes to get there. My journey to The Home of Golf was a circuitous one, filled with random twists and colorful characters along the way. It all started with a wedding. This is my story.

Palm Desert, California 2006. I was living the charmed and unglamorous life of a club professional. My soul was slowly being crushed by too many Couples Twilights and Ladies’ Guest Days. The love I once had for the game was waning and I needed something authentic to rekindle the passion. One day my friend Aaron called from Minneapolis with some exciting news: “Dude, my cousin Paul is getting married in a castle in England next month and we…” I cut him off with a quickness. “Forget the castle. We have to go play St. Andrews.” My response didn’t surprise Aaron one bit. His mind was already heading in the same direction, and he knew what I was going to say before he picked up the phone. We started forging a plan for the trip.

Aaron and I were both fairly seasoned travelers, but we weren’t without our limitations. There were family and work obligations to consider, as well as Aaron’s recently rebuilt knee. He was going to be a game-time decision for every round. I’m not saying Aaron is Brett Favre, but he’s a pretty tough guy so I felt good about our chances.

Our limited itinerary called for a Friday arrival, a Saturday groom’s dinner and a Sunday night wedding — all in the company of the wildly entertaining Reid and McIllrick clans. After that, if we survived, there would be golf: Monday at 7 a.m. on the Old Course, Tuesday at Carnoustie and Wednesday’s game at Loch Lomond before heading home. The difficult feat was going to be leaving from the wedding on the outskirts of Leeds, England around midnight and getting to the first tee at St. Andrews by 7 a.m. the next morning. Make no mistake; this was going to be intricate work.

You should know a little bit about the cousin/groom Paul Reid. A successful aviation executive and a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, he is perhaps best known for being the older brother of former Hibernian Football Club Goalkeeper Chris Reid. As teenagers the Reid brothers would visit their Minnesota cousins, and we all became fast friends. Paul and his bride-to-be Kay didn’t actually invite me to their wedding, but they knew I was coming as a guest; albeit a guest with ulterior motives.

We landed in Glasgow and drove to York, England (mistake) to meet up with the rest of the wedding party. The first two days was a boisterous blur of pints and greasy fish ‘n’ chips. I don’t remember much, but I do recall a few things; most notably, the groom’s dinner that featured a James Bond soundtrack. Not James Brown: James Bond. I’m a pretty solid dancer, but there’s only so much you can do with “A View to a Kill.” But it’s the groom’s night; if it’s Duran Duran he wants, then it’s Duran Duran he’ll get.

When Paul and Kay’s wedding finally came, it was a beautiful and lavish affair. Truth be told, I couldn’t get out of the place fast enough. When the clock struck midnight, Aaron and I hit the road. We were stone-cold sober and in front of us lay a cold, wet, five-hour drive through the dark Northern night. There was no place else in the universe I would have rather been.

The road less traveled

It didn’t take long for doubt to start creeping in. Keep in mind, back in 2006 the car rental GPS systems were suspect. We were rolling through the rural countryside with MapQuest print-outs on the left side of the road in the driving rain. And don’t forget we were powering through a 3-day hangover fueled solely by adrenaline. This was nothing short of a herculean challenge.

Every good road trip has a soundtrack, right? Somehow, somehow, the only CD we had was by a band called Granddaddy. “Rear View Mirror” was their only jam. Late night/early morning Scottish radio offered little relief as “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley was on every time we sought refuge on the FM dial. There was no Belle and Sebastian, no Big Country, no Simple Minds (thank God) and not even Teenage Fan Club. Just Gnarls Barkley every single time. I’m not making this up.

Three hours into our journey, we were starting to fade hard. Luckily, we came across a roundabout that had a 24-hour gas station/convenience store. Stepping out of the car I realized that what I thought was a light drizzle was actually rain. It wasn’t enough to keep you from playing golf, but it was a legitimate stop-a-Little-League-game type of rain. And it was cold. I bought a few extra-large coffees that tasted about as bad as you would expect rural Scottish gas station coffee to taste at 3 a.m. and headed back to the car.

Then it happened. As I hastily scrambled to get back into the car and away from the freezing rain, I fumbled the coffee. Not in the parking lot, not the side of the car, not even in the floor of the car. I ham-fisted all 32 ounces of java directly into Aaron’s lap. Talk about furious. Aaron was sleep deprived, had a right knee as swollen as Frank Gore’s and was freshly soaked with a gallon of lukewarm coffee. To rub salt on the wound, the only MapQuest sheet that we needed was also ruined. We would have to make the last two hours to the Old Course on feel, and I wasn’t sure our friendship would last that long.

We found our way to town around 5:30 a.m. We had rented a few rooms in a house about 10 minutes from the course and the plan was to change clothes and go play. The schedule was all working out, but the weather wasn’t. It was still raining, windy and maybe 40 degrees. But we changed and headed to the Old Course, hoping at least one of the elements would relent.

It’s not easy getting the 7 a.m. tee time at The Old Course. As the saying goes, “It’s who you know that counts,” and a friend of mine who was a member of an exclusive club that somewhat guarantees members tee times at courses all over the world had set it up for us. I had no confirmation or booking number — just an email from my friend telling me to be at the first tee by 6:45 a.m. If you knew this guy, you’d realize this wasn’t as risky as it sounds. So as we parked the car and started to walk to the historic first tee, only two things were going through my mind:

  1. It is still lightly raining, windy and cold
  2. Considering it’s 6:45 a.m., there are a lot of people here

As we approach the first tee and the Ellis Island-like crowd that surrounded it, the sense of place really started to sink in. Then suddenly, like Moses parting the Red Sea, two men split the crowd and walked toward us.

“The professionals from California, I assume?” said the shorter dark-haired fellow named Robert.

“Yes sir,” I replied.

We stumbled through introductions and Robert went on to say that everything had been handled. There would be no need to pay for anything. Then he asked if we’d take a few singles to play along in our tee time. We happily agreed.

As I went to put my peg in the ground, I could hear whispers from the de facto gallery: “Look! He’s the pro from California!” I wanted to turn and tell them, “No! Look away! I’m just a hack club professional and I haven’t slept in two days! Look away!

Instead, feeling every ounce of the onlooker’s expectations, I pulled driver because it had the greatest chance of getting airborne. I swung as hard as I could and snap-hooked a line drive about 230 yards (85 yards of carry) into the 18th fairway. I was strangely content with the result. Just as we were about to walk off the tee, Robert approached and we shook hands as if to say thanks and good bye. He suddenly pulled me in closely and whispered, “At the conclusion of your round, there will be a silver Range Rover parked behind the green. Get in that vehicle.” Then he just turned and left. It was weird. The whole thing felt very covert. There was something about Robert and his sidekick that had my radar up. I wondered if the James Bond soundtrack from the groom’s dinner was a premonition of things to come.

We were paired with an Englishman who was a very solid player and another man from Houston, Texas, who was far less capable. The Texan, as we came to know him, probably shot over 150. To call him eccentric would be a gross understatement; he made Bill Murray look like Tom Kite. He sported a big, bushy gray beard and a flannel button-down shirt. The only thing guarding him from the elements was a picnic blanket he wrapped around his husky frame. My guess is he slept on that same blanket the night before, probably on the first tee. Whether The Texan was entirely there mentally was a topic of hot debate. “Nice shot,” I untruthfully said to him once. He looked back at me (through me?) for about 10 seconds before uttering, “They all are.” Curious words for a man who just shot about 150.

People will often tell you how great the caddies are at The Old Course, but they didn’t have my man Stevie. Again and again, I asked Stevie not to read the greens for me because I wanted to figure them out myself. I also asked him not to club me, but rather to just give me yardages. As we approached the 10th green, I was pleading: “Stevie… please, for the last time, please don’t give me a read unless I ask for it, OK? I really want to read the greens myself.” His reply: “You got it, sir. Sorry, sir… You got it.. This one’s right to left, sir. About half a foot.” He hands me a putter, walks away and grabs the pin.

By the time we reached the historic Road Hole, my relationship with Stevie (not his real name) was beyond frayed. A good drive left me in the middle of the fairway. I asked Stevie for a distance and he clubbed me. “Just the raw distance, please, Stevie.” He clubed me again. And then again. I asked one more time and he finally relented. I took 8-iron — one more club than Stevie recommended — and hit it pure leaving a ball mark about five feet past a middle pin. The problem was the ball ended up well over the green on gravel. Triple-bogey seven. Stevie was right. The shot called for a 9-iron hit short and right of the sucker’s line I had played.

As we reached the 18th green, we all shook hands and gave our thanks, good lucks and goodbyes. I embraced Stevie as if asking for his forgiveness. I looked up and there it was, the silver Range Rover. Robert and his accomplice jogged out to meet us, grabbed our bags and loaded them in the back. “Off to the castle for lunch now,” Robert said. It was not a request, but a requirement. Our golf bags were like hostages so we followed orders.

The Mysterious Castle

Again, we didn’t know these guys from Adam and the whole scene was just a little north of uncomfortable. Defenses were slightly up. I knew Robert and his cohort wanted something from us, but I wasn’t sure what. Robert told us we were about five miles away from “the castle” where we could “have lunch and discuss a proposition.” When we got there, it was more clubhouse than castle. There was a garden, a pool and stables. It reminded me of an Oasis video. I was half-expecting Liam Gallagher to be passed out on a billiards table in the parlor.

As it turns out, Robert was just trying to sell us memberships into the club, which would be like joining all of the world’s finest clubs. It would guarantee us tee times “anywhere but Augusta National” as Robert reiterated half a dozen times. Instead of calling him to the carpet on the false promise of global tee times, I explained that I wasn’t in the market to join any club and thanked him for his hospitality. After a nice lunch and few beers, they drove us back to our car.

Aaron and I hadn’t slept in well over 24 hours and we were spent. We had plenty of daylight to play more golf, but we just didn’t have the energy. Kingsbarn, The Jubilee, maybe even a replay of The Old Course; it was all right there in front of us. But instead we went back to our rooms to warm up, dry up and rest; a decision I’ve regretted ever since.

After recharging, we dragged ourselves back into town and drank half a dozen pints as we recounted the day. There were so many surreal quirks that we had to take a mental inventory. Was that the hardest five-hour drive ever? Did we almost crash into a few roundabouts? How horrible does a lap full of coffee feel at 3:30 a.m.? Did that scene at the first tee really happen? Is The Texan is still alive? Was he even real? Was being shuttled away from The Old Course by strangers in a silver Range Rover to a castle for lunch with two kind of strange guys we didn’t know the most James Bond move ever… or the least James Bond move ever? Who knows.

But I know one thing: I’ll be back at St. Andrews someday, hopefully with my daughter if she chooses to play. I’ll show her where my smother-hook on the opening hole ended up. We’ll laugh at stories about The Texan. Maybe I’ll birdie the 18th again. As we’re standing on the green hugging, I’ll pull her close and whisper: “If you see a silver Range Rover behind the green, don’t get in. They’re just trying to sell you something.”

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Courses

Cape Wickham Links: The Treasure of King Island

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After catching an early morning flight from Auckland, we did a short stop in Melbourne before our flight down to King Island. In Melbourne, we had to store almost half of our luggage in a storage locker so we could fit into a significantly smaller plane taking us further down south to King Island and Cape Wickham Links.

Cape Wickham Links was finished late in 2015 by American golf architect Mike DeVries and Australian golf writer Darius Oliver. It was ranked the 24th greatest golf course in the world by Golf Digest (U.S.) in 2016. As a newcomer, it’s very rare to receive a ranking that high, and the course was one of the real highlights in our golf trip.

12th hole. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

When we later flew in over King Island in that small plane I could almost hear the Indiana Jones theme buzzing in my head as we approached that short airstrip and prepared for landing. The airport at King Island is very small, as you would expect, but everything worked out smoothly and we got our golf clubs from the plane directly. A gold Nissan X-Trail then carried us forward on some bumpy roads before we finally reached the northwest tip of the island and Cape Wickham Links.

Hole No. 1 (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

King Island is a fairly small island with roughly 1600 inhabitants. I found it to be very charming and friendly, and I strongly believe King Island soon will be on every golfer’s bucket list. It has two excellent courses, the other being Ocean Dunes.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The first thing we saw when we approached Cape Wickham was the majestic lighthouse, which is also the tallest lighthouse on any golf course in the world. This lighthouse from 1861 serves as an icon for Cape Wickham, and it can be spotted from most of the holes throughout the course.

Since I am a big fan of courses positioned on remote locations and always speak highly of the road less traveled, I really wanted to play and experience this golf course. We were fortunate to play it twice. It has so many key features, thrilling challenges and interesting twists. As a golf course photographer, it was also dream to capture through the lens.

Locals can often be spotted out on the course (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Cape Wickham Links delivers some truly fantastic holes on a beautiful location along the Bass Strait, a stretch of the Australian Seacoast that once shipwrecked many voyages. It’s not a secret that the weather can often be quite challenging, but don’t let that fact scare you off. You need to try this world-class course, as it’s one of the best golf experiences you can find anywhere.

Your round of golf starts out with a big bang as you hit your first tee shot from a tee box flirting with the ocean. It’s one of the most scenic opening holes I’ve ever came across. Just look at the view.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The routing is also brilliant, starting first along big rocks. It lets you hit your golf ball just next to the roaring coastline where the wind usually plays a big role. Then you are moving more inland at the 6th before returning to the ocean edge at the downhill 10th. After you’ve hit some tough shots among the large dunes, you will ultimately face an incredible finish with Nos. 14, 15, 16, 17 and foremost the 18th curving beautifully along Victoria Cove beach. If this does not entertain you, I don’t know what will.

The 18th hole from above. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

I also had a quick little chat with one of the designers of the course, Darius Oliver.

“The golf course routing takes you to all points of the compass,” Oliver said. “The four par-5s play four different directions, and the grass is wall-to-wall fescue on greens, fairways and tees so it’s easy to maintain the traditional links surfaces. In fact, we only have a Super and five staff down at Wickham, and they do a wonderful job. There are more than 30 hectares of turf to maintain, so twice the average area of a Melbourne Sandbelt course, and the annual maintenance costs are half the Melbourne Sandbelt. We always wanted it to be easy to keep and sustainable, which we think has been achieved.”

The 15th green in front of the lighthouse. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

During our conversation, Oliver also pointed out that it was very important to create a world-class course that people would like to return to since it’s very remote. And looking at at it, I can only say they’ve been successful so far. We have also to keep in mind that this course is still very young and will most certainly evolve over time.

A important thing to remember while you are playing Cape Wickham Links is that in most cases you should not try to go for the pin… and if you do you will probably end up long and off the green. The best thing to do is calculate your bounces landing short in front of the firm greens and use all of your imagination and creativity to master the tricky slopes. Sometimes you will need to aim left or right to let the ball bounce onto the green. That’s why I recommend you to play it at least twice so you can study and learn the course properly.

The 17th green, followed by the 18th hole that wraps around Victoria Cove (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Both my friend Johan and I lost a lot of golf balls during our first round when we were struggling hard in the wind and figuring out how we should play the course correctly. Johan even ended up hitting a ball into the WC at the 9th! Despite our bad golf, we still adored the course. It’s a true masterpiece that clearly brings something new and fresh. We would definitely like to visit again… and again.

Up next: Ocean Dunes on our very last day at King Island. A course that is rumored to look like Barnbougle Dunes on steroids.

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Courses

Cape Kidnappers: The Ultimate Bucket List Course

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After 7 hours of driving down from Tara Iti, we finally arrived to a big gate that said, “Cape Kidnappers.” A big dream seemed to finally get real for us. It’s a course that has been designed by one of our best golf architects of our time, Tom Doak. I’d seen it in so many glossy golf magazines for more than a decade. Now it was within reach. My heart was beating faster with every passing second.

We gently pressed the button at the front gate and a polite voice answered. We said our names and nervously added “from Sweden” for no reason at all. It was completely quiet for a moment. I remember thinking maybe they wouldn’t let us in after all.

Five seconds later, the gate slowly started to open. We soon found out that we needed to drive for another 15 minutes in order to reach to Cape Kidnappers. It was like a film trailer, building up our expectations even more. Driving through the beautiful landscape on swirling roads that climb up to the top of the cliffs where Cape Kidnappers sits comfortably 500 feet over the sea is something I’ll never forget. The scenery was seriously off the charts and the word dramatic hardly describes it.

Upon our arrival to the club house, we received a warm welcome from the friendly staff. Quickly, we were all set and out on the golf course in a golf buggy. Our tee time was scheduled for the next day, and I guess we should be thankful for that because the winds were now blowing like crazy. While I tried to capture some photos at the famous Pirate’s Plank hole (No. 15), a brutal par-5 on the ridge of a big cliff, I accidentally dropped the scorecard. It probably flew farther than all my drives together during the trip.

The next day the wind was still there; it was quite rough, but not at a storm level like the previous day. It sure felt like we were alone on the course when we teed off, and the first five holes prepared us for bigger battles.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

We played Cape Kidnappers from the blue tees (6532 meters). The course obviously requires good shots to be successful, but also keep in mind that the fairways are pretty wide. If you are playing strategic golf and hit the ball solid, you can shoot a good score.

So what’s my opinion about Cape Kidnappers then? To me, it was a solid and great golf experience. It sure felt like that bucket-list course in the A category. I particularly enjoyed the last nine, which is maybe a bit more flat compared to the first nine. But still there are breathtaking holes like No. 15, Pirate’s Plank, and the magnificent tee box on No. 16.

“Some of the most tempting green sites at Cape Kidnappers were on the ground below the No. 6 and No. 13 greens,” Tom Doak told. “It would have been super dramatic to hit a shot to them, but there was no reasonable way to get down there to putt out and [get] back to the next tee. If someone ever perfects the jet pack, I have a couple of holes there I will redesign. The other part of it is that people have seen so many photos by air and almost none from ground level. It’s much different to play than expected.”

Was it the best golf course I’ve ever played? No, but it’s probably one of the coolest spots in the world where you can build a golf course. This course needs to be on your bucket list; I simply don’t believe you can’t leave it out.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next stop for us will be Cape Wickham Links in King Island. It’s one of the most interesting courses that has been built in recent years, and I can’t wait to see it.

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