IN the lead up to Christmas we took advantage of a free weekend to get back down to Barnbougle Dunes for an OCCM break up and a chance to play some rounds the way it was meant to be….
Until the early 2000’s we knew little of true links golf here in Australia. Playing by the ocean, navigating the wind and sand dunes over firm, bouncy, fescue turf. Sure we had courses by the ocean; New South Wales, The National courses, Flinders, Cottesloe and Narooma plus many other branded as links as part of their marketing campaigns. But a true links is much more than just a geographic description*
Some mistakenly see any course without trees as a links, but such a loose descriptor puts courses as far flung as Oakmont (now a tree-less ‘parkland’) or Yarra Yarra when it opened in 1930 in that category.
Whilst sand dunes and the coast are important (although not essential as Sand Hills proves) the critical factor is that the course must play like a links.
THE WEEK IN GOLF CHATS TO GEOFF OGILVY:
It must be firm, fast and have bouncy turf, helping promote the ground game. And here is perhaps the least appreciated aspect of true links golf – the grass type. Fescue.
Without a doubt fescue is the greatest grass to play golf on. Poa can’t compete, nor can Couchgrass or Bent.
Couch is grainy by comparison and in winter becomes sparse and tight which removes the temptation to chip for most of us.
Bent can be ‘sticky’ which makes it difficult to get a club or ball through, while Kikuyu, which offers perhaps the most inviting lies of any grass, is so spongy and coarse that it takes running shots almost entirely out of the equation.
At the time Barnbougle Dunes was built the grass choice was seen as being somewhat risky.
No other course in the country had used Fescue as the dominant grass for all greens, tees and fairways.
And whilst Fescue fairways may not always look perfect they are perfect to play golf from – which is an important distinction.
And to those who haven’t played a true links it might be hard to comprehend the difference this grass makes but the noise and feel that firm Fescue provides on contact with the ball is quite unique.
The club slides over the grass. There is no grain to effect contact so shots can be played in any direction and very quickly you learn to judge how a ball reacts on landing and on runs over humps and hollows. Far easier to judge than any other surface.
Only with firm Fescue fairways can you play such a variety of running approach shots.
With little rough between you and the flag you can legitimately hit every club between a 3-wood and a putter.
Rarely is a wedge the right play – especially on windy days – and this realisation typically comes three or four holes into the round when you start leaving seemingly straight forward chip and pitch shots 40 feet from the hole.
Whilst not a pre-requisite of links golf, a wonderful feature of the two courses at Barnbougle are the dramatic slopes around the putting surfaces – made all the more playable by the use of Fescue.
Using these backstops to coax a ball toward the flag has become many people’s favorite part of the experience.
Watching the light bulb moment when someone realises they can aim away from the hole but use the slopes to finish close is wonderful to witness.
Like the first time I suggested to my dad to hit the ball past the flag on the 13th….. when the ball sped past the hole I assumed he thought I was mad….only to watch in surprise as the ball tracked slowly backwards, eventually dropping in the hole.
For the rest of the round it was fun to watch him approach every green looking for alternative ways to get the ball near the hole.
Unfortunately Fescue, as a cool season grass, is difficult to promote as the dominant fairway or green grass on this this side of Bass Strait and so its use seems relegated to the courses of King Island and Tasmania.
So whilst you can travel to the coast in other states and play links-style courses, for the true British experience you need to travel South.
With more courses now to choose from than ever, this region has fast become a destination for purists seeking an authentic golfing experience on beautiful coastal sites.
*‘link-land’ or ‘links’ being an old term describing the ground between the arable farming land and the sea.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mike Cocking is an architect and partner with one of Australia's leading golf design firms - Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead. Click here for OCCM's website
Mike is currently spending his time at Peninsula – Kingswood CGC on major course improvements – a project especially dear to his heart, having joined the club as a 15 year old and representing the club for almost two decades.
After completing a Bachelors degree in Environmental Engineering in 1998, Mike gained a scholarship with the Victoria Institute of Sport's golf program.
Over the next few years he represented Victoria and Australia in various team events, winning a number of major competitions including the 2000 Victorian Amateur Championship. Travelling extensively for competition play also allowed Mike the opportunity to seek out and study many of the world’s best courses.
His passion for the game and his inquisitive nature fuelled his interest in golf course architecture, and in 2000 he launched his career as a designer. Major projects have included redesigns at Bonnie Doon (Sydney), RACV Healesville, RACV Torquay and Royal Canberra.
Mike is also a keen artist and a selection of artwork can be found on his website.