What's your ultimate golf trip? Mine would involve a helicopter setting down beside the first tee at Augusta National, whereupon I step out and smack a drive straight down the lush fairway to the approving roar of a packed gallery.
It will never happen, of course – to play Augusta you need to be either a member or a member's guest, or a touring professional of the Adam Scott ilk. Oh, and be able to hit a golf ball well.
So here's a thought: how about touching down in a privately chartered plane next to a golf course consistently rated Australia's best public layout, and stepping almost directly from the runway onto the first tee?
The course in question is Barnbougle Dunes, near the town of Bridport on Tasmania's rugged north coast. The plane is a 10-seat Cessna Conquest that takes 45 minutes to get there from Melbourne's Essendon Airport. And unlike my impossible Augusta dream, anyone can do it.
The trip is the brainchild of tour operator John Dyer, who has added Barnbougle to a list of adventure travel destinations already serviced by his company, Air Adventures Australia, that includes Cape York, the Kimberley, Lake Eyre and Kangaroo Island.
Previously, a trip to the acclaimed Barnbougle typically involved a commercial flight from Melbourne to Launceston, followed by a 90-minute drive north to Bridport. Dyer says his clients can be halfway through their first round before airline customers even arrive.
Richard Fellner, the editor of Inside Golf magazine and a fellow player and traveller, says stepping off the plane - which usually lands next to Barnbougle's second fairway - and straight onto the course is an "unbeatable" advantage.
"You come out on a trip like this, you're landing right on the course and it's a five-minute cart ride to the first tee, you can't beat that versus flying into Launceston followed by a 90-minute drive," he says.
Dyer's three-day trip departs Melbourne at 8am to allow customers two full days and nights to play as much golf as they wish on Barnbougle Dunes and its neighbouring course, Lost Farm.
On the third day, a one-hour flight lands on rugged King Island in the middle of Bass Strait, where the King Island Golf Club's more basic but still challenging nine-hole layout awaits along with lunch and a visit to the famous King Island Dairy to stock up on cheese at factory prices. Then it's a 45-minute hop back to Essendon.
Golf is very much at the heart of the trip, and the Barnbougle/Lost Farm duo serves up all the challenge any player this side of a touring pro needs. Stereotypical links courses, they nestle in sand dunes alongside a dramatic coastal fringe that can expose players to the best and worst Mother Nature can dish out.
And Mother Nature provides, spectacularly. Dyer's plan to land on the handy Barnbougle grass airstrip is thwarted by one-in-20-year rains a few days prior that mean we instead have to revert to a tarmac strip at George Town, 50km away.
He maintains such an imposition will be far less likely during the warmer months when he hopes to run frequent trips. Nor later in the year are numerous fairways on both courses likely to be dotted with the deep, wide ball-catching quasi-lakes that confront us.
But there's still every chance at any time of year that a biting wind will howl off the Strait and blow saturating rain showers sideways across the largely exposed layout, sending even the most mild-mannered of tee shots veering off at wild angles. This is Tasmania, after all.
We're doing a “lite” version of the proposed schedule, compressing three days into two and confining ourselves to the less challenging and more luxurious surrounds of the Lost Farm complex. That includes accommodation in a suite room, a restaurant and bar with jaw-dropping coastal views, and a spa centre for relaxation.
In some respects it's a shame the Barnbougle layout a few kilometres up the beach will go untried on this trip. Fellner has played there several times and assures us it is vastly more challenging, with heartbreakingly narrow fairways that frequently require a long, straight tee shot to carry the intervening grassland.
"It's a bit more difficult so it will appeal to the golf tragics," he says. "They do have different tee boxes so different levels of players can all enjoy the course."
At the risk of inviting complete emotional breakdown, it sounds like the sort of course every keen golfer should play – once. Maybe one day.
Back at Lost Farm a 20-hole layout awaits; two spare par-three holes are pressed into service when rolling maintenance is required and can alternately be tackled as additional holes for nearest-the-pin contests.
In true links fashion, every inch of the course that isn't fairway seems to be lined with dense clumps of golf ball-swallowing marram grass. They joke around here that lost balls are not counted by number, but in kilograms.
This is especially true with puddles in play that are deep and wide enough for your ball to remain out of reach of even the longest golf club in your bag. Impressively, though, any part of the fairway not actually underwater remains perfectly playable, so good is the drainage.
Our first 18 holes serve up a mighty battle against both course and elements, with the latter winning the day as we scurry for cover a few holes shy of 18 to avoid a horizontal downpour.
Soaked but undaunted, we rise for a cheeky nine holes the following morning before our departure for King Island. Blue skies and just the gentlest zephyr of a breeze provide a welcome contrast to the previous day's scramble.
The greatest challenge now is trying to beat the thieving crow on the 10th fairway that habitually steals golf balls before their owners can reach them. To no avail; Dyer's ball was added to what is no doubt a highly impressive collection somewhere in the overlooking sand dune.
Reboarding the Cessna and settling into its plush leather seats we take off bound for King Island, which has also received record rain and appears half-submerged as we approach the runway near the island's main town of Currie.
The weather has closed in again so we make a beeline for the King Island Dairy for cheese tasting and purchases, followed by a barbecue lunch at the Boat House – a community space overlooking the main harbour that is shared by Island residents.
The rolling showers have temporarily abated so we beat a path to the golf course, which is altogether more spartan than its Tasmanian counterpart but not much less dramatic, with ocean views on almost every hole.
Correspondingly, exposure to rolling showers, a cyclonic gale and a number of “blind” holes – where you tee off without a view of the green (and in some cases, the fairway) – serve up a mighty challenge. But it's worth the privations just to play the third hole, a mid-length par three with a high-set tee shot into the howling wind to a low green set off by the sublime view of Bass Strait pounding the coastline just metres behind it.
In years to come King Island will be home to two new golf resorts that are soon to begin construction and which Dyer is keen to build into his schedule, but for now the nine-hole King Island public course provides a suitable exclamation point to a memorable trip for those afflicted with the time-honoured yet vaguely ridiculous urge to try to knock a tiny white ball into a small hole hundreds of metres distant.
I'd still dearly love one day to at least visit Augusta National to soak in the mystique of so many US Masters triumphs and tragedies, having already made the pilgrimage to the game's spiritual home in St Andrews, Scotland.
Until then, a charter flight to one of Australia's greatest links courses will do very nicely.
Air Adventure Australia will charge $1790 for the three-day, two night trip which includes all transport and transfers, twin share accommodation, breakfasts and 36 holes of golf at Barnbougle Dunes/Lost Farm and nine holes at King Island. For bookings and inquiries phone 1800 033 160 or visit the Air Adventure Australia website.
Steve Colquhoun travelled to Bridport and stayed at the Lost Farm resort courtesy of Air Adventure Australia.