THE LONG­EST HOLE

Mon­go­lia might not spring to mind for your next golf trip. But it did for Adam Rol­ston and Ron Rut­land, who teamed up to play what has since be­come the world’s long­est hole.

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS MICHAEL CATLING PHO­TOG­RA­PHY AN­DREW KING

Adam Rol­ston’s jour­ney had taken him across frozen rivers, up and over glaciers and into the 40-de­gree heat of the Gobi Desert. Along the way, he had lost 135 golf balls, rid­den a camel and in­ad­ver­tently adopted a dog. Ev­ery­thing had been lead­ing to this mo­ment: A seven-foot putt on the 18th green at Mt Bogd Golf Club in Mon­go­lia. Watched by 200 spec­ta­tors, in­clud­ing his friends and fam­ily who had flown over from Hong Kong, Rol­ston sent his bruised and bat­tered ball crash­ing into the hole to en­ter the Guin­ness World Record books. It had taken him 80 days and 20,093 shots – just the 6,093 over par – to com­plete the long­est hole in golf.

Ac­com­pa­nied by his ‘cad­die’ and old rugby friend Ron Rut­land, Rol­ston had achieved what many thought was im­pos­si­ble. “I had doubters,” ad­mits the former Hong Kong rugby in­ter­na­tional. “But then it’s al­ways good to prove peo­ple wrong. It was phys­i­cally the hard­est thing I’ve ever done. I had never walked that far in my life. It was ex­tremely hard, but so sat­is­fy­ing at the end, es­pe­cially when I man­aged to two putt from 50 feet. I hadn’t putted in 12 weeks and I swear ev­ery sin­gle seven-foot down­hill putt that I’ve had in my life I’ve missed. I’m never go­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence win­ning the Bri­tish Mas­ters like Paul Dunne did, but it felt like I had cre­ated a win­ning mo­ment for my­self.”

For Rut­land, the feel­ing of ec­stasy and re­lief was one he had ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore after spend­ing 27 months cy­cling 26,700 miles. “I left Cape Town in June 2013 and cy­cled to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in the UK via ev­ery coun­try in Africa and most coun­tries in Europe,” he says. “That was the first big ad­ven­ture of my life and Adam had ob­vi­ously heard about what I’d done. When we re­con­nected in Kenya last Au­gust, that’s when he told me he wanted to do a golf ad­ven­ture.”

“I’ve al­ways looked at ad­ven­tur­ers and thought, I could do some­thing like that,” ex­plains Rol­ston, who plays o” scratch. “I had spent three-and- a-half years play­ing pro­fes­sional rugby and didn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve. I took up golf when I was 16 and never got the chance to play pro­fes­sion­ally. So, I think the grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion I showed play­ing rugby and the po­ten­tial skill I showed play­ing golf made me think that an ex­pe­di­tion was built for me.”

What started out as an idea over co”ee quickly turned into a re­al­ity, and within eight months Rol­ston and Rut­land were on a recce in Mon­go­lia, where they spent seven hours with a tour com­pany mi­cro-plot­ting their route and where their food and equip­ment drops were go­ing to be. Upon their re­turn home, Rut­land or­dered 150 pack­ets of de­hy­drated camp food from Ama­zon so he could stick to his ve­gan diet. Not that Rol­ston was too pleased once he found out they were all the same flavour. “That’s be­cause they were all on spe­cial [o”er],” laughs Rut­land.

Equipped with clubs and 400 golf balls from Tay­lorMade, they ar­rived at the base of Khüiten Peak, the high­est and most westerly point of

IT WAS PHYS­I­CALLY THE HARD­EST THING I’VE EVER DONE

Mon­go­lia, at 1pm on June 29 ready to tee o in aid of the Lau­reus Sport for Good Foun­da­tion and the South African Golf Devel­op­ment Board. “The Euro­pean Tour gave us an o€cial en­dorse­ment and recog­nised our chal­lenge as an o€cial golf hole,” ex­plains Rut­land. “That was im­por­tant in terms of our Guin­ness World Record ap­pli­ca­tion. They also pro­vided us with a yardage board and tee mark­ers, but it was only when we stood on the moun­tain ready to tee o that it re­ally dawned on us the ab­sur­dity of what we were at­tempt­ing.”

Get­ting there was no easy task ei­ther, and in­volved hitch­ing a lift in a jeep be­fore pack­ing their equip­ment – golf cart in­cluded – on top of a camel. “After that, four horses took us to the top of the moun­tain,” says Rol­ston. “That alone was five hours of plod­ding along. When we fi­nally ar­rived, there was a glacier to our right and a river val­ley about 60ft be­low us. I hit a tee shot and it just dis­ap­peared. Luck­ily I hit a pro­vi­sional ball be­cause we lost the first. I lost five balls that day. We came to the con­clu­sion that Ron would have

WE HAD TO PLAN FOR NOT SEE­ING AN­OTHER HU­MAN FOR FOUR OR FIVE DAYS, SO WE WERE CAR­RY­ING UP TO 60 LITRES OF WA­TER

to walk ahead and I would aim at him so we could see the ball land.”

The enor­mity of the chal­lenge fac­ing them was made clearer when they spent the first four days ne­go­ti­at­ing the White River Val­ley. “It was prob­a­bly the worst golf con­di­tions we faced be­cause of the grass length, rocks and how ex­treme the de­scent was,” says Rut­land. “We orig­i­nally wanted to walk 2,000km in 80 days, which works out at 25km a day. But in­stead of walk­ing 5km an hour, we were prob­a­bly do­ing half that. I was tow­ing a cart which weighed be­tween 100 and 150 ki­los. It was sleet­ing and snow­ing, and I had to wade through swamps which were knee-deep. The con­di­tions were su­per-tough.”

By the end of the first week, they had al­ready re­paired their golf cart twice – once when the wheels came o„, the sec­ond when the tyre came o„ the rim. “That was su­per nerve rack­ing,” ad­mits Rut­land, “be­cause if the cart wasn’t fit for pur­pose, plan B was pretty dras­tic. We started think­ing about hir­ing a camel or buy­ing an old Rus­sian jeep. We were con­sid­er­ing all sce­nar­ios, but for­tu­nately the con­di­tions did im­prove.”

The re­pair jobs and the “end­less search­ing for golf balls” meant that they were well be­hind sched­ule, and faced the pos­si­bil­ity of their visas ex­pir­ing be­fore the ex­pe­di­tion was com­plete. “The rea­son we chose Mon­go­lia as the long­est hole is be­cause it has very lit­tle in­fra­struc­ture,” says Rol­ston. “There are no fences or walls and it al­most looks like a fair­way. But we didn’t just pull the cart across flat land. We must have crossed over 100 rivers and there were times when I was hit­ting golf balls while Ron had sta­bilised him­self on a moun­tain with walk­ing poles. Once I played a shot, I was help­ing Ron to push the cart up the hill inch by inch. We were do­ing that an hour at a time, creep­ing up these hills. It was pretty bru­tal.”

Their mood wasn’t helped by an un­wanted com­pan­ion tag­ging along, and stay­ing with them for the du­ra­tion of the jour­ney. “After three days, a stray dog joined us,” ex­plains Rut­land. “That ini­tially caused a bit of ten­sion. Be­fore we started, we had counted the num­ber of socks so we could keep the weight down and then all of a sud­den we were car­ry­ing 10 ex­tra litres of wa­ter and a bit of food for the dog.”

“It wasn’t ideal,” adds Rol­ston, “but the dog pro­vided so much more than what we were giv­ing him. He be­came part of the gang; we called him UB. He ac­tu­ally ended up be­com­ing a bit of a celebrity in Mon­go­lia, and there was a Face­book cam­paign to find him a home. We ended up find­ing him a home with a cou­ple in’the Terelj Na­tional Park, which was quite an emo­tional mo­ment.”

Be­yond car­ing for the dog and adapt­ing to the con­di­tions, one of the big­gest chal­lenges was deal­ing with in­juries. Rut­land, a former banker from South Africa, was left nurs­ing an in­flamed hip and a swollen an­kle, while Rol­ston started su„er­ing back and neck spasms with two weeks to go. “I ba­si­cally had to sleep up­right against all my bag­gage,” says Rol­ston, who hails from North­ern Ire­land. “I was in so much pain and try­ing to hit 300 balls ev­ery day slowed the re­cov­ery. In the end, I was flick­ing shots about 60 yards.”

The dan­gers of the jour­ney were laid bare once they reached the Gobi Desert, which Rut­land de­scribes as “the most in­hos­pitable en­vi­ron­ment you can imag­ine”. “We had to plan for not see­ing a hu­man be­ing for four or five days, so we were car­ry­ing up to 60 litres of wa­ter,” he says. “Though we had a cam­era­man who joined us for two or three sec­tions for our doc­u­men­tary, it was just the two of us (and the dog) for the ma­jor­ity of the time. It did feel like we had the whole world to our­selves, but I was sur­prised how con­nected we were. We didn’t go longer than four days with­out any cell­phone con­nec­tion.”

As a re­sult, Rut­land was able to send pic­tures of his swollen an­kle to his doc­tor in Hong Kong for advice while Rol­ston up­dated their story on so­cial me­dia. They had plenty of time to do so, as it was too hot to even con­sider play­ing golf after 9am with tem­per­a­tures spik­ing to 40 de­grees in the desert. “We were wak­ing up at 3.30am, just when it was light enough to hit a ball 100 yards into the dis­tance,” re­calls Rol­ston. “We’d play un­til 9am, lie un­der tar­pau­lin on our camp­ing mat­tresses for be­tween six or eight hours and then get up and play un­til dark.”

Once they re-en­tered civil­i­sa­tion, they would often leave the dog to guard the tent from wolves and 700lb goats and walk to nearby vil­lages, where they drank Rus­sian vodka with lo­cals and taught them how to play golf. “That’s prob­a­bly the one thing we’ve taken from the jour­ney; how sport tran­scends lan­guage and brings peo­ple to­gether,” says Rol­ston. “We took golf out of its nor­mal en­vi­ron­ment and took it to a place that has never seen it be­fore. They all gave it a crack and were pretty good at it.”

In re­turn for the lessons, Rol­ston and Rut­land were in­vited into their “gers” (no­madic tents) and pre­sented with meals. “We had a magic let­ter which ex­plained who we were and what we were do­ing,” ex­plains Rut­land. “We used Google trans­la­tor to trans­late it into Mon­go­lian and Kazakh – the two main lan­guages. But it al­most be­came em­bar­rass­ing try­ing to ex­plain to them that I didn’t eat meat or dairy. The whole con­cept of be­ing a veg­e­tar­ian was un­heard of in their cul­ture. So, I ended up los­ing 13 or 14 ki­los while Adam took one for the team and drank the fer­mented horse’s milk.”

Not con­tent with liv­ing o’ two-minute noo­dles and local del­i­ca­cies, Rol­ston tried to source his own food by fish­ing in the sur­round­ing rivers. “He was so adamant he was go­ing to catch a fish,” laughs Rut­land. “He tried ev­ery bit of wa­ter and the one day when he caught three fish... well, the joy on his face was in­cred­i­ble. You would have thought he’d won the lottery.” “I didn’t even have a proper rod,” adds Rol­ston. “It was like a pole with fi shing wire tied to the end. Hon­estly, it prob­a­bly ranks in the top five mo­ments of my life.”

As they neared the fin­ish line on the 18th green at Mt Bogd Golf Club in Ulaan­baatar, they were joined by friends and fam­ily for the fi­nal 15 miles and played the last 500 me­tres dressed in tra­di­tional Mon­go­lian robes. “We started out as golfers and fin­ished as Mon­go­lians – that was a nice way to end it I thought,” says Rol­ston. “I ended up tak­ing just over 20,000 shots and we raised $20,000, so it worked out at around a dol­lar a shot. We set the par at 14,000 and based it on me hit­ting full 8-irons across the coun­try, which was a bit stupid. We didn’t re­ally fac­tor in the ball find­ing a muddy lie or a rocky crevice, so I was 6,093 shots over par! But apart from that, there’s noth­ing I re­gret from the trip at all. There were times when we were naive in what we were try­ing to ac­com­plish at the be­gin­ning, but we knuck­led down and got it done.”

“When we started, I don’t think peo­ple be­lieved in our dream,” sus­pects Rut­land. “There were times when we thought where the hell is the fun in this. It was the hard­est thing I’ve done in my life. I’m still a bit of a wreck even now. But we are both stub­born peo­ple and, bar­ring a bro­ken leg, Adam and I made up our mind that we were go­ing to do it.

“The last time we’d seen the golf course it was brown, but when we ar­rived, it was in its green glory and there were so many peo­ple wait­ing for us, cheer­ing us on. It was a real fairy­tale end­ing and the fact we were do­ing it for char­ity gave the jour­ney an ex­tra sense of pur­pose and mean­ing.”

Ex­tremes

Though Mon­go­lia en­joys 250 days of sun­shine a year, tem­per­a­tures can plum­met to -30 de­grees in the win­ter.

Now that’s a wa­ter haz­ard! Rol­ston and Rut­land had to cross more than 100 rivers.

Sup­port team Tay­lorMade sup­plied the clubs and 400 golf balls.

Up­hill strug­gle: The duo clocked up 2,000km with their furry friend in tow.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.