You can jet between four of the world's best courses, just like a pro.
Golfers who travel in private planes between golf courses are generally called professionals. Or lucky. Very, bloody lucky. The Air Adventure people who run this tour call it The Ultimate Golf Trip. I think they're selling it short. I'd call it: The Greatest Golf Trip Anyone Ever Thought Up... Ever.
This is how it plays out: you'll join a four-day journey aboard an eight-passenger plane to play four of the top-rated golf courses on Earth; on courses in remote areas, so you'll have them almost entirely to yourself. There'll be no check-in queues, no waits at the baggage carousel, no queue to pay for your round at the pro shop, no waiting on golfers in front, and no golfers hitting up from behind. You'll stay in rooms a walk away from the course. At night, you'll tell stories of that birdie you made among people who actually know (and might even care) what you're talking about at bars and restaurants a few metres beyond the course. If that's not the definition of golf heaven, then you obviously don't play the game.
My journey begins at Melbourne's private airport in Essendon. We're flying first to Barnbougle on Tasmania's north-east coast, home to not one but two of the world's top 40 courses. The dream of a Tasmanian potato farmer (and pub owner) who set out to make a course that would become one of Tasmania's best, but ended up creating one of the best courses in the Southern Hemisphere, Barnbougle even has its own airstrip. After flying in on a glorious blue-sky day across Bass Strait, I'm only 10 minutes' drive from the course.
Barnbougle's Lost Farm and Dunes courses are ranked numbers 34 and 16 respectively by Golf Digest. They run out along the shoreline, built between sand dunes just like the old-world links-style courses of Scotland and Ireland.
The wind's just as notorious down here, too, and it can make these courses a living hell. But we golfers are sadists, we love to be brutalised, our stories of course humiliation oddly are the ones we share forever.
Two days of remarkable, crowd-free golf are interspersed with meals at a restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water, and communal drinks at clubhouses beside the 18th greens. I feel a glorious sense of contentment here, encased within all this golf gluttony. Probably because nothing (mortgages, bosses, kids) else matters.
We take off for King Island early on the third day, a 40-minute flight north-west. Now home to two of the world's best new golf courses, it's an awfully quiet island, made up mostly of dairy farmers and cray fishermen. It's the sort of place where drivers wave to each other as they pass - if they don't it's duly noted; not that we pass any cars on our drive to Ocean Dunes.
Ocean Dunes is built right out along the island's west coast. There's no clubhouse here, just a pro shop selling sandwiches, beers and golf bits and pieces, but this is one of the world's top 100 courses (though even on a sunny Saturday there are barely 15 players on it). In Scotland and Ireland, the world's most iconic courses are mostly tucked behind sand dunes with only glimpses of the sea (early golfers used wooden golf balls, then balls made out of feathers; imagine playing golf with feather balls into ferocious winds blowing off the ocean). But there's none of that here. Ocean Dunes is built so close to Bass Strait I regret not packing a mask and snorkel. On the best holes, I need to hit across beaches and rock platforms onto greens so close to the water there's sea foam on them when the waves get big. You won't find more visually spectacular ocean-front courses on Earth than this King Island pair.
We take off after our round to our final destination: Cape Wickham, Australia's top-rated public golf course. It's a lonely drive along winding roads beside King Island's famously fat dairy cows. We take a left turn that's barely signposted and drive beside a historic lighthouse (the tallest in this hemisphere). Eighteen fairways roll down to sand dunes and ridges above an angry ocean. Five-metre-high Southern Ocean swells crash onto the reef.
The sun's setting as we arrive and shift our gear into apartments built high above the ocean, linked by dirt road to a rustic clubhouse serving local steak and crayfish in a small restaurant serviced by a pair of friendly backpackers.
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There are as few golfers round here as there were at Ocean Dunes. And there's no fanfare: no course superintendent is here to tell us what time to tee off. Nor are there caddies, and there's certainly no fancy bar. But travel the whole wide world and you won't find a more picturesque setting for a golf course. All 18 holes incorporate the sea: eight holes are built parallel to Bass Strait, two holes have greens on the ocean and three other holes have tees right beside the water. Wedge-tailed eagles and white-bellied eagles patrol above, while tiger and copperhead snakes lurk in the rough off the fairway.
When we tee off next morning, the next four hours are pure golfing nirvana. I only see four other groups on golf holes so pretty and perfect I just wish I could've hit straight. On the final hole I have to hit from high above the sea from a craggy cliff, across a beach to a fairway built below the clubhouse. I hit the water, but even the splash is spectacular. And then, as quick as we came, we're whisked away, back to our private plane, across the water to the real world (Melbourne). While most other courses in the world's top 50 demand $500-plus-per-round green fees, and even require ballot draws just to secure a tee-time, here's a chance to play four of the best with just wallabies and tiger snakes for company.
The writer was a guest of Air Adventure.
What: Air Adventure offers four-day Ultimate Golf packages, which include flights; rounds at Barnbougle's Lost Farms and The Dunes, Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes; luxury accommodation; and transfers from $2750 per person (either book for a private group or Air Adventure will join you with a group). See golftoursaustralia.com.au
Explore more: barnbougle.com.au; kingisland.org.au/golf
Pictures: Adam Gibson; supplied