Every 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 With an unassuming Toronto office that feels more like a one bedroom apartment holding outdated computers from the early ’90’s rather than a design studio which fuels creativity and design, one begins to wonder how this man creates world class golf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
Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy
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.
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.
Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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