Crows, kangaroos and wombat holes are just some of the unique hazards on the world’s longest golf course that snakes along Australia’s Nullarbor Plain.
The 1,365-kilometre golf course is helping roadhouses along its path recover from the isolation of two years of COVID border lockdowns that almost sent some broke.
It has been 20 years since the idea for the course was first cooked up over a bottle of red wine at Balladonia Roadhouse.
Thousands of travellers have since played it.
Eyre Highway Operators Association secretary and Nullarbor Links manager, Alf Caputo, said roadhouse owner Bob Bongiorno wanted a way to encourage travellers to stop and spend their money and avoid driver fatigue that was costing lives.
“Before people would jump on the Eyre Highway in Ceduna and get off at Norseman and wouldn’t stop,” Mr Caputo said.
“This has been absolutely brilliant for the Nullarbor.”
The Chasing the Sun golf tournament, held in September every year, peaked in 2020 with 75 competitors.
They returned this year, lured not by the quality of golf but by the charm of the course and the outback.
“We’ve had a lot of people playing Chasing the Sun from all over the world, come here just to play the tournament, just to experience that Australiana,” Mr Caputo said.
“There’s the emus and the kangaroos and snakes and all the stuff that’s Australian is here.”
Kalgoorlie resident Marg Donkin, 79 has played every year since the competition started in 2009.
Rough is rough
Mrs Donkin and her husband Eric have helped maintain the fairways for 11 years.
But she said knowing the course well was no advantage.
“The golf is definitely secondary — as long as you don’t want to score good, this is a great competition,” Mrs Donkin said.
“The rough is very rough.
She said it consisted of knee-high grass, bushes and shrubs.
“Nundroo has lots of rocks and you hit a shot and think ‘that’s a good shot’ and then it hits a rock and goes off, and no, it’s not a good shot,” she said.
“Usually if you hit a ball in the rough at Nullarbor, you hit another ball, you don’t even go look for it.”
She said her husband had lost balls down wombat holes and she had seen crows steal golf balls.
“It was on the green, a great shot and down came a crow and took the ball,” Mrs Donkin said.
“People have actually followed the crow – he goes over there and gone, nobody can find him.
“He must have a thousand balls, he must have a stack in, I reckon, a hollowed tree or down a wombat hole.”
While most of the competitors drove their cars from hole to hole, Queenslander John Daley was the first to fly the course, providing a bird’s eye view of the fairways and the expanse of the Nullabor.
“It’s comfortable, it’s easy, it’s scenic and you see a heck of a lot more,” he said.
Most of the roadhouses have airstrips and his plane has five hours of fuel to a tank.
“I love flying, I love golf and I thought why not combine to two?”
He said he had enjoyed views of whales at the head of the Great Australian Bight and flown along the majestic Bunda cliffs on his way to the next hole.
But the golf had been another story.
“Horrible. It’s heaps of fun of course but it’s nothing like a proper golf course,” Mr Daley said.
“There’s bushes all over it, artificial fake greens that are incredibly variable … you wouldn’t want to approach it with a view of getting a better handicap.”
Mr Caputo said more than 20,000 people had officially played the course and bought a scorecard that was stamped at the roadhouses along the way.
“But that’s just the ones we know about,” he said.
“Right around the world there’s been reaction to this golf course, immense reaction — our website gets 2,700 visits a week from all over the world.”
He said there was no income for the course during the COVID pandemic state border lockdown.
This year’s golf tournament was the first time in eight years there were no international entrants.
Mr Caputo said he expected numbers to rise as travellers returned to the Nullarbor seeking a uniquely Australian experience.
“The golf course is a golf course, and you’ve got to take into consideration if you’re expecting to play St Andrews, don’t come,” he said.
“It’s Australia’s outback — this is what the international tourists come for.”
He said client response forms showed many people were taking days to complete the Nullarbor section of the course, bringing economic benefits for the isolated roadhouses.