It will be a decade in December since Tasmania's famed links golf course Barnbougle Dunes opened at Bridport - it is now the 11th best course in the world. COREY MARTIN takes a look at the platform Barnbougle has established, grown and the potential for a destination golf tourism boom.
BEFORE Barnbougle Dunes became Australia's number one public golf course, it was the coastal strip to an established potato farm in Tasmania's North- East.
Since it opened in December 2004, the Bridport course has been a massive hit and is now the big brother to 20-hole links course Lost Farm on the same 5300-hectare Barnbougle Downs property at Bridport - land owned by millionaire tourism developer Richard Sattler.
Barnbougle Dunes was designed by architect Tom Doak and former Australian professional golfer Mike Clayton after a vision from golf enthusiast Greg Ramsey, while the $10 million Lost Farm, was built by US company Coore and Crenshaw and is accompanied by luxury accommodation and restaurant.
Earlier this year, US sports journal Golf Digest named Barnbougle Dunes the 11th best course on the planet and ranked Lost Farm 23rd worldwide.
The two courses, Mr Sattler said, dragged in 80,000 visitors a year, numbers he never dreamt of when the development began 10 years ago.
"They both come as one now, our brand is Barnbougle and there is the Dunes course and Lost Farm - everything is run as one," he said.
"Mostly [visitors come] from the eastern states and an equal amount of international as there are Tasmanians.
"I think they have worked really well together and they are both in the top 25 in the world.
"I didn't think it would be this successful, [but] you really hope for it.
"Once I got involved throughout the project I sort of changed the business model to actually make sure we did our research and we got the very best product we could.
"We did put a lot of research into making sure that we found out what actually the expectations of the customer were and exceeded them."
Barnbougle is a big employer in the North-East and Mr Sattler said about 80 per cent of its business was repeat, with most people visiting for three or four days.
He said there was plenty of scope to expand on the North-East Coast, however, he said nothing would come to fruition without solid demand from consumers.
Mr Sattler has laid turf for a world-class polo field in a bid to add diversity to the business.
"We will certainly look at it but we will wait until the financial viability is proven before we do it," Mr Sattler said.
"We needed two [courses] to make it a destination and now it's a destination.
"There is plenty of scope, plenty of good sites but you have just got to make sure that what you build is what the customers want."
Tassie on course to become a golfing mecca
TASMANIA has the potential to become a golfing "mecca" - the number one golfing destination in the Asia Pacific.
The Tasmanian Visitor Survey for the year ending in March showed that more than 27,000 visitors played golf while in the state and Premier Will Hodgman believes the sport would play a big part in his government's target to attract 1.5 million tourist a year by 2020.
"Tasmania's twin- courses underpin a niche tourism sector that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to our island state every year, and there's plenty of room for more golfers on our fairways," Mr Hodgman said.
Bridport's Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm already make a destination.
Two Links courses - Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes - are scheduled to open on King Island in 2015 and are expected to be world-class to form another.
Tasmania has heritage courses like Quamby Estate and Ratho Farm. Developer Greg Ramsey is behind a litany of grand proposals for the East Coast and South.
Mr Ramsey said the $130million Solis development at Louisville Point, near Orford, which includes 620 residential lots and a golf course had received $3million from the state government to assist with infrastructure, but no date had been set for works to begin.
Plans to double the size of the Bicheno Golf Club's nine-hole course have been postponed due to a flat real estate market and Mr Ramsey said there would be an announcement about the $85 million Claremont Golf Club redevelopment in coming months.
Mr Ramsey said construction could start on the crown land multi-use South Arm peninsula project in the New Year and Ratho Farm's additional four holes and facelift would be unveiled in November.
"Orford will end up being the major regional centre on the whole South East Coast because Solis will link Triabunna to Orford ... it will take 20 years, but it will be 20 years of homes being built, 20 years of new jobs and economic investment in that area," Mr Ramsey said.
"We [Tasmania] have the opportunity to be the number one golf touring destination in the whole Asia Pacific area.
"Everywhere you go to place like Bicheno, St Helens and Orford we have all got places as good as Barnbougle - the hardest thing here is access to capital but we have got approvals now for a range of projects."
There are also plans to incorporate a golf course into the planned $185million Musselroe Bay eco-tourism resort, to build one south of St Helens called Piano Coves and a Tasmanian professional golfer wants to develop a $15 million course and residential development at Seven Mile Beach.
The Break O'Day Council has engaged economic consultant Robert Noakes to assess the feasibility of sealing roads from Priory to Musselroe Bay and a proposal to link the proposed Musselroe Bay, Piano Coves, Bicheno and Orford golf projects. This would be an ideal formation for a week-long golfing itinerary.
There are more the 65 golf courses in Tasmania.
However, Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm operator Richard Sattler said there "is lots of talk but I don't see much action".
"It [destination golf] is a speciality field and the real facts are that golfing membership numbers are dropping drastically.
"Australia is full of broke golf courses, very few make money because they never match the capitalisation of their potential earning ability.
"There is a lot of people getting close to building them and then realising that the figures don't stack up.
"Expectations are fairly high and they won't travel for an average course."
Cape Wickham developer and owner Duncan Andrews said destination golf was solid.
Construction of his $20million course on King Island's northern tip, under Australia's tallest lighthouse, is complete and in the "grow-in" stage.
Mr Andrews said early indications pointed to it being one of the best courses in the world.
"Destination golf is really strong, what's weak in golf is club golf at the not top end of the market - plenty of people want to go and play exciting, exotic golf courses," he said.
Ocean Dunes architect Graeme Grant added that his $7 million course outside of Currie, together with Cape Wickham and Barnbougle, would kick start golf tourism in the state.
"I have the view that in the future this coast on King Island is going to become a golf mecca, there is just too much good land along here for golfers not to realise it," Mr Grant said.
"The variety you get between Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes will make it so people that come here will have to play both golf courses." Both King Island courses plan to build luxury accommodation.
Mr Andrews said it was inevitable that either tour operators or airlines would begin to offer packages for golf tourist to play courses in Melbourne, King Island and Barnbougle.
Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said visitors to Tasmania to play golf jumped by 33 per cent in March-April ending 2014 to 26,547.
However, he said the figure could be clouded as it may not include people flying directly in and out of Barnbougle.
Mr Martin said while the figure was nowhere near the thriving bushwalking figures of 160,000 people, there was an opportunity for golf to match it, or better it, as more world renowned course are established in Tasmania.
"Barnbougle has captured a concentrated market of people who come in and come out ... but for the state as a whole the opportunity is to get people to stay in the state longer," he said.
"Getting one or two of those [proposed developments] up is a critical opportunity and that will encourage people to see the state as more of a destination."
Mr Hodgman said Tourism Tasmania was working with Tourism Australia to promote the state's world- class golf experiences through its Great Golf Courses of Australia marketing program.