An interview with Duncan Andrews, January 2022
By ausgolf editor Selwyn Berg
Duncan Andrews initiated the renaissance of links golf in Australia in 1995 when he developed THE DUNES Golf Links on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula
In light of recent ‘shots fired’ regarding the design of CAPE WICKHAM, we took the opportunity to sit down and talk.
Melbourne’s famed Sand Belt courses were built over a century ago when Alister Mackenzie visited. None are coastal links although Royal Melbourne is endowed with splendid sand dunes. Of the same era, Barwon Heads on the Bellarine Peninsula sports some classic links holes as does Flinders on the Mornington Peninsula, but it was not until local architect Colin Campbell built the original Cape Schanck course that the best links land – The Cups – was recognised and used for golf. Here Campbell’s next venture – Limestone Valley – went into receivership and was acquired by Duncan Andrews, whose golf course equipment supply company, David Golf, was a creditor.
Duncan was a keen golfer and a great admirer of classic Irish links golf. Once, off a handicap of four, he strung together eight birdies in the first 11 holes at Commonwealth for a round of 69 but had never countenanced the notion of course ownership or development. When talking to a fellow Metro member about his buying a ‘golf club’ he was asked if it was a driver. His mate took a bit of convincing that he was talking about a different sort of golf club. Duncan engaged his friend Architect Tony Cashmore to design The Dunes, importantly as a Public Access golf course. When The GOLF Course Guide produced its inaugural rankings of Victoria’s Public Access courses in 1999, The Dunes was number 1 with Barwon Heads number 2.
The Dunes had some great slogans such as “God made it, we just mow the grass”, but 25 years later Duncan is willing to agree the reality was a bit more than that - a couple of holes required the expensive relocation of huge dunes and the filling of the odd valley. In 2021 long-awaited accommodation was completed adjacent the club house but discretely out of site.
In 2001 Duncan again collaborated with Tony Cashmore to develop the Beach course at THIRTEENTH BEACH at Barwon Heads. The Creek Course designed by Nick Faldo followed. All courses are public access. Recently hotel accommodation has been added.
Around this time I was introduced by my great friend, links addict Paul Daley, to Greg Ramsay who had the vision to establish a world class golf links on a potato farm near Bridport on Tasmania’s north coast. Duncan declined to become involved, telling me that the area lacked infrastructure and needed several courses before it would succeed as an international destination for golf. “How wrong was I” he now admits. In 2006 BARNBOUGLE DUNES, designed by Tom Doak and Mike Clayton, was judged Australia’s top Public Access course and has been ranked inside the world top 20 by Golf Digest. In 2012 Barnbougle Lost Farm by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw opened to similar world acclaim. International golfers swarmed to Tasmania. Now there's a third, short course - 14 holes BOUGLE RUN designed by Bill Coore.
When golf course constructor Andrew Purchase acquired some land near the Cape Wickham lighthouse on King Island, and our colleague Darius Oliver saw the most spectacular dunes, ocean, cliff and beach combination during his ten years studying more than 1,200 layouts in 45 countries, Duncan was offered another opportunity to develop a world quality links. This time he committed to funding the development, subject only to gaining approval from the Tasmanian Government to acquire additional crown land.
American Architect Mike DeVries was engaged in 2013 and Cape Wickham links opened in 2015. Since then it has been ranked Australia’s best public access course by The GOLF Course Guide, second only to Royal Melbourne West by Golf Digest and Golf Australia Magazines and attributed as a design collaboration between Mike DeVries and Darius Oliver.
Duncan sold the development to the Vietnamese Vinpearl Resort Group in 2017.
In December 2021, prompted by publications in Australia and America that had dropped his name from the designer attribution, Darius chose to publish the inside design story on his own website. He sets out in some detail the design elements that he contributed to Cape Wickham. He also acknowledges Mike’s role in the routing, for some green designs and for fairway shaping work upon his return to the site in mid-2014 after Mike had been in America during the final 10 months construction. The response from the online golf community was swift and for the most part derogatory Shots Fired - Who designed Cape Wickham. Tom Doak made a couple of contributions, including this reference to ausgolf’s initial review in which we cited Darius as consultant and co-designer: “Well, that contemporaneous account might also be a little biased, as Darius used to be a partner in the firm that wrote the review, and they were certainly more likely to print what he told them. They even said as much in the first two paragraphs!
The only semi-neutral person you could ask about it is Duncan Andrews, who told me himself that he funded the project because he wanted to see it happen, but that he would turn around and sell it as soon as it was ranked and before it had a financial history to drag down the price. :) So, I'm not sure I would believe everything he said, either!”
Duncan Andrews: “That’s simply a silly comment. Darius deserves credit for a great deal of the wonderful result achieved at Wickham. Mike DeVries seemed a bit overwhelmed. In hindsight this is not really surprising given the complexity of building something from scratch, in a foreign country and at a site which was in the middle of nowhere.” Having said that, Duncan acknowledged that there were also instances where Mike was right, and some of Duncan’s hole ideas were impractical. “As far as the sale to Vinpearl was concerned I certainly told Tom that running a resort on King Island was a nightmare, and the degree of difficulty was far greater than I imagined. For example, it was not unusual to receive a phone call to report that we had ten international guests for the night and the chef had failed to turn up, or there were no cleaners on site. It just wasn’t what I’d set out to do – I just wanted to build a world class golf links.”
As for Tom’s comment “I suspect the business plan as a consultant was more to (a) make money from developers who had no idea whom to hire, and (b) find a couple of architects who "owed" Darius for his help in finding bad clients in Asia, that he could piggyback to a co-credit. He's not the first golf writer who has used this approach and he'll probably not be the last.” Duncan’s reply is “Tom, that’s a cheap shot. Speculation over who did what at Wickham is disappointing. The simple fact is that Darius’ input into Wickham was very significant, and his article is quite accurate. Unfortunately, he has been put in position of having to defend his role. That should never have been necessary. Both guys contributed and it should be left at that”.
The other obvious party involved was Andrew Purchase, whose team was constructing the course. His version of events aligns precisely with Darius and Duncan’s. Whilst there was great collaboration on the routing with Mike, difficulties emerged with construction. Mike even suggested bringing over American shapers. There was an occasion when Mike independently made construction alterations to the sixth hole after the others had departed. Andrew found Darius far more communicative and felt that his smaller, rugged bunkers were far better suited to such a windswept site.
Tom went further: “Darius clearly considers himself a golf course architect now. Taking credit for Cape Wickham has always been part of his plan, but now he's trying to compete directly with Mike Clayton & Mike DeVries so he has staked his claim publicly. And I don't read it as taking part credit; I think he tried to take most of the credit, and labeled (sic) his co-designer as "difficult" for good measure. [I am somewhat familiar with such slurs.]”
I read Darius’ article differently. He notes that Mike struggled to accommodate collaborative input, and that it was working on course that was very difficult, rather than Mike himself. He cites the huge areas of sand exposed to the winds during winter as an example. In fact, what struck me during my discussions with the Australian parties was how they all respected each person’s abilities and contribution, including Mike’s, and that they were all immensely proud of the course.
Darius also states “Make no mistake, Cape Wickham is in discussions with Sand Hills as the premier modern course in the world” to which Tom responds “LOL”. Given that Australian course ranking panels all place Cape Wickham just behind Royal Melbourne West and above Kingston Heath it seems outrageous that American Golf Magazine places RM at 7, KH at 22, Barnbougle Dunes at 38 and yet Cape Wickham at 70! Golf Digest America likewise places Wickham below both Kingston Heath and Barnbougle Dunes. We beg to differ and look forward to the return of International golfers including course rankers in the post-Covid era.