WHEN the British Open was last staged at St Andrews a few years back, the target green speed for each four rounds of the championship was 10 on the stimpmeter.
That meant the ultra elite field had to hit their putts quite a bit harder than normal, and that’s a really tough adjustment to make within the space of a week no matter how many tournaments or major championships you have won.
Players competing week-in, week-out at the highest level of pro golf condition their minds and bodies through years of practice and competition to rehearse a certain stroke for a certain distance. This is especially important when lagging to tap-in range to avoid the dreaded three-putt.
But this conundrum got me thinking. Why would the Old Course greens (consisting mainly of a fescue grass) be quite slow for such an important championship?
Stimpmeter readings on golf courses the world over generally range from seven feet to 13 feet (2.13 metres to 3.96 metres) depending on many factors including ground contours, type of surface, seasonal weather variations and more.
That means the greens at St Andrews were right in the mid-range of speed for Open week and often in the slower category for the rest of the year (including the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship played each September when they routinely run at around 9.5 feet).
Scotland would certainly be described as cool climate even by UK standards. And only a certain type of grass can thrive in sometimes hostile coastal conditions in sandy soil where temperatures are quite low for a fair chunk of the 12-month cycle.
Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm are two relatively new courses built on farmland near the small fishing port of Bridport, a 90-minute drive from Launceston.
They are two of the few 18s with wall-to-wall fescue, a grass with little tolerance to excessive low mowing.
This grassing strategy was chosen to complement course design—ensuring everything appeared as natural as possible while providing a high-quality surface that recovered from divots quite quickly. And fescue on fairway slopes creates an element of friction, restricting roll.
Both Tassie layouts were hydro-seeded with varying blends of fescue with the aim of producing a seamless cover where the height of the cut delineated the rough, fairway ( eight mm estimated) and green (4.25mm estimated).
The greens on both courses putt at a similar speed to St Andrews, but what are their other redeeming features and how do they stack up against each other?
The newer Lost Farm has steeper sand dunes than its older ‘sibling’, 20 holes instead of 18, much wider playing corridors (1500 sprinklers compared to Dunes 900) and a more diverse design plan.
Barnbougle Dunes follows a figure-eight routing while Lost Farm’s holes change direction a lot more. Where the par 3s and short par 4s of Barnbougle Dunes are the stars, the longer holes at Lost Farm wow you. Green complexes at Barnbougle Dunes are exceptionally bold; the set at Lost Farm are a bit more traditional.
Few holes can match the sheer drama and brilliance of the short par-4 4th hole at Barnbougle Dunes, a pictorial favourite used on much of the marketing collateral.
Strategy is all about avoiding the massive amount of sand on the direct line to the green. Options include laying up short, to the left or attempting the carry, which if successful earns a straight-forward chip or eagle putt.
The par-3 7th is a little monster measuring just 110 metres with a tiny green and cavernous bunkering. It causes its fair share of headaches and can ruin a scorecard in a heartbeat, but is arguably the best one-shotter on either course.
The 13th is a much longer par 3 with an expansive putting surface boasting probably the craziest putting contours I’ve ever encountered. The humps and hollows of this green complex are reminiscent of The Himalayas (a dedicated putting course at St Andrews located on the walk to the clubhouse of the New Course) but possibly even more pronounced, if that’s possible.
Lost Farm, on the other side of the estuary, has lots of marram grass like Barnbougle Dunes, but also a gorse-like vegetation.
The 5th hole is a monstrous par 4 yet at the same time thrilling to play. Anyone hoping to reach the green in two needs to fire the tee shot directly over a 20-metre dune with water not far off the ideal line. A successful carry is rewarded by landing on a downhill slope and getting additional bounce and roll. The perched green is the perfect complement with all the parts combining to produce what is a phenomenal golf hole.
The 7th is a ripping par 4 too, not as long, but with a fairway that is conservatively 100 metres wide. Strategy is dictated by a central ridge forcing players to aim at the left side of the fairway, by far the best option but narrowing to about 25 metres in the landing area. The right side has double the space to land the ball but reaching the angled green from here is really awkward with a huge bunker directly on your line of play to be carried while also disguising what lies ahead.
Another gem follows on immediately in the form of a really strong par 5 crossing the side of an exposed dune before tracking to a wonderful green site surrounded by sand.
The 18th is a great closer that hugs the water and provides one final test before arriving at 18A, the tiny betting hole, before heading back to the clubhouse.
The name Barnbougle originates from a castle in Scotland of the same name and the Scots certainly enjoy a tipple or two.
Anyone booking in for green fee play at Barnbougle Dunes or Lost Farm should be prepared to walk with a pull-buggy as carts aren’t allowed given the need to ensure dune stability. The other alternative is to carry your own bag, like me, which is an even easier assignment when negotiating some sections of the rugged terrain.
Golf is much more interesting when players choose a path that best matches their ability level, bravery and conditions served up on the day or even the hour. So another good tip is to choose the appropriate tee boxes that bring into range some of the heroic shots. Just make sure there are enough balls in the bag if the swing goes awry during the round.
Reading greens correctly is an important part of being a consistent putter. When approaching the green, look for overall slope and drainage patterns in the putting surface as well as around the green itself. You will generally find that greens drain rainfall away in three different directions, which will reveal the subtle yet important contours that are a big help in judging the aiming point of a putt.
A green’s size also often provides a preview of its contours—small greens usually have mild contours while larger versions allow the shaping of much stronger rolls and slope. When assessing a larger green look to see if it consists of two or more ‘component greens’ that are attached together. Doing this type of reconnaissance helps determine which section of the green the hole is cut, as ending up on the wrong section increases the chances of three-putting or worse.
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