Crows, kangaroos and wombat holes are just a few of the unique hazards of the world’s longest golf course that meanders along Australia’s Nullarbor Plain.
The 1,365-kilometer golf course has helped roadhouses along the road to bounce back from two years of COVID-closed border isolation, some of which were on the verge of bankruptcy.
It’s been 20 years since the idea for this course was first cooked up over a bottle of red wine at Balladonia Roadhouse.
Since then, thousands of travelers have played.
Alf Caputo, secretary of the Air Highway Operators’ Association and manager of the Nullarbor Links, said roadhouse owner Bob Bongiorno said travelers stopped, spent money, and sacrificed lives. He said he wanted a way to avoid driver fatigue.
“Before people jumped on the Air Highway in Seduna and got off at Norseman and couldn’t stop,” Caputo said.
“This is very exciting for Nullarbor.”
The Chasing the Sun golf tournament, held each September, peaked at 75 participants in 2020.
They returned this year attracted not by the quality of the golf, but by the charm of the course and the outback.
“A lot of people have been playing Chasing the Sun from all over the world. They’re here just to play the tournament, just to experience the Australian vibe,” Caputo said.
“Emus, kangaroos, snakes, everything Australian is here.”
Marg Donkin, 79, from Kalgoorlie, has played every year since the tournament began in 2009.
“rough is very rough”
Mrs. Donkin and her husband, Eric, have been maintaining the fairways for 11 years.
However, she said that familiarity with the course was not an advantage.
“Golf is definitely secondary. Unless you want to get good scores, this is great competition,” Mrs. Donkin said.
“Rough is very rough.”
She said it consisted of knee-high grass, bushes, and shrubs.
“There are a lot of rocks on Nundroo, and when you hit a shot and you think, ‘That’s a good shot,’ it hits a rock and it’s off, and it’s not a good shot,” she said.
“Normally, if you hit a ball in the Nullarbor rough, you hit another ball and you don’t even go looking for it.”
She said she saw her husband drop a ball into a wombat hole and a crow steal a golf ball.
“It was on the green and it was a great shot, but a crow went down and took the ball,” said Mrs. Donkin.
“People were actually chasing the raven. The raven was going this way and going away, but no one could find him.
“He must have 1000 balls. He must have a stack under a hollow tree or wombat hole I presume.”
Most of the competitors drove from hole to hole, but Queenslander John Daley was the first to fly the course and get an aerial view of the fairways and expanse of the Nullarbor.
“It’s comfortable, easy, scenic, and you get to see so much more,” he said.
Most of the roadhouses have runways and his plane has five hours of fuel in the tank.
“I love flying, I love golf, why not combine the two?”
He said he enjoyed the view of whales at the head of the Great Australian Bight and flew along the majestic Banda Cliffs en route to the next hole.
But golf was another story.
“It sucks. Lots of fun, of course, but it’s nothing like a decent golf course,” Daley said.
“There are bushes everywhere, artificial fake greens that are incredibly variable…you wouldn’t want to approach it to get a better handicap.”
Caputo said more than 20,000 people have officially played the course, buying stamped scorecards at roadhouses along the way.
“But that’s all we know,” he said.
“The response to this golf course around the world has been tremendous. Our website is visited by 2,700 people a week from all over the world.”
He said the course had no income during the COVID pandemic state border closures.
For the first time in eight years, this year’s golf tournament had no international participants.
Caputo said he expects that number to increase as travelers return to the Nullarbor for a uniquely Australian experience.
“A golf course is a golf course and if you’re expecting to play at St Andrews, it has to be taken into account. Don’t come,” he said.
“This is the Australian outback. This is what international tourists are for.”
He said client response forms show that many people are taking days to complete the Nullarbor section of the course, providing financial benefits to the isolated roadhouse.