Mind the sand trap

Play the world’s long­est golf course across the Nullar­bor

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SHIRLEY LaPLANCHE

I know this is the out­back when I stand on the first tee of the Kal­go­or­lie Golf Course, a premier club in Western Aus­tralia, and see green grass fair­ways bounded by red ochre sand and dirt. I don’t re­alise I will not see green grass again un­til I reach the 18th hole of the Nullar­bor Links, the long­est golf course in the world, 1365km away at Ce­duna, South Aus­tralia.

To many Aus­tralians, driv­ing the Eyre High­way across the Nullar­bor Plain is a bucket-list item. To golfers, there is the added at­trac­tion of 18 well thought out, but quirky holes to play along the way.

My hus­band Lex and I don’t want to rush our trip so we al­low a few days in Kal, as the lo­cals call it. The city is all about gold, from the glit­ter in shop win­dows, to men in big boots, to the Su­per Pit ini­ti­ated by Alan Bond in 1988. It’s mind-blow­ing to stand on the edge of a man-made pit so big that mas­sive dump trucks look like toys.

Golfers need to buy a score­card and have it stamped at all 18 holes to qual­ify for a Cer­tifi­cate of Com­ple­tion. If trav­el­ling east to west you buy it at Ce­duna. In Kal­go­or­lie the card is for sale at the his­toric Town Hall. Step out­side to the statue of Paddy Han­nan who found the first gold here in 1893. Take a drink from the wa­terbag he holds and ap­pre­ci­ate it be­cause this wa­ter has trav­elled 600km along a pipe from Perth. You have just started a jour­ney where wa­ter is so scarce it nom­i­nally be­comes more pre­cious than gold.

Af­ter holes one and two at Kal­go­or­lie we play the third, a Par 4, at Kam­balda where we have our first ex­pe­ri­ence of a syn­thetic tee and a sand green. For­tu­nately we have been told to keep the caps from our wine bot­tles to tee up be­cause it’s im­pos­si­ble to push a nor­mal tee into the syn­thetic grass. Also, you’re al­lowed to tee up on the fair­ways that from here to Ce­duna have been left nat­u­ral and are rock hard. To­day’s tinny wine bot­tle caps don’t last long when be­ing whacked by a club, so we agree we must keep drink­ing to top up our sup­ply.

This area is part of the Great Western Wood­lands, the largest tem­per­ate woodland re­main­ing on Earth — 16,000,000ha and larger than Eng­land. It’s a “car­bon bank’’ with an es­ti­mated 950 mil­lion tonnes stored in veg­e­ta­tion and soil, and a haven for many rare an­i­mals. We play two holes at Norse­man, then start our east­ward jour­ney along the long­est, straight­est, flat­test high­way I have driven.

The road is named af­ter Ed­ward John Eyre, the first Euro­pean to cross the Nullar­bor in 1840-41. From Norse­man to Ce­duna, road­houses and farm stays pro­vide ac­com­mo­da­tion and meals. Af­ter Eu­cla the high­way crosses the Nullar­bor (Latin for “no tree’’) and the scrub is the sil­very colour of blue­bush and salt­bush, which sur- vive well in the arid, salty con­di­tions. I find my­self peer­ing into the scrub hop­ing to see a kan­ga­roo, camel or one of the south­ern hairy nose wom­bats that thrive in th­ese con­di­tions, but none ap­pears. Oc­ca­sional fences in­di­cate cat­tle or sheep sta­tions, but I hardly see any of th­ese an­i­mals ei­ther. Sadly, the only wildlife I spot is road kill.

The golf course holes have names, not num­bers, and at ev­ery tee there is a no­tice­board telling the story of a lo­cal event or le­gend. The Golden Horse is named af­ter the prospec­tor’s steed that pawed the ground and ex­posed a gold seam; Sky­lab is where the US space sta­tion broke up and fell to ground and US pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter apol­o­gised to Aus­tralia while the shire ranger handed the di­rec­tor of NASA a lit­ter­ing ticket (later with­drawn). Brumby’s Run is where in the 1870s horses were bred for the Bri­tish Im­pe­rial In­dian Army; and d Nullar­bor Nymph is where a story orig­i­nated, af­ter a fewew beers in the bar at Eu­cla, that a half-naked woman with long blonde hair was run­ning wild with the kan­ga­roos. aroos. The story at­tracted jour­nal­ists from around the world. Tourism boomed and lots of money was made; un­til the hoax was ex­posed.

The con­cept for the course was the brain- child of two en­trepreneurs and a politi­cian. Bob Bon­giorno, man­ager of the Bal­lado­nia Road­house, needed to cre­ate a rea­son for peo­ple to stop and spend a lit­tle money. He came up with the golf-course idea and ap- proached Alf Ca­puto, chair­man of Kal­go­or­lie e Gold­fields Tourism, who had been try­ing for years to get tourists to turn right at Norse­man n (to Kal­go­or­lie) not left (to Esper­ance and the beach).each). They talked to lo­cal politi­cian John Bowler who saw merit in the idea and se­cured enough money y for a fea­si­bil­ity study, which came in pos­i­tive.

He re­ceived a grant of $341,000 from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, enough to build 11 new holes at par­tic­i­pat­ing road­houses and farms along the high­way, and up­date two greens at Norse­man. With two holes each at the Kal­go­or­lie and Ce­duna golf clubs and one at Kam­balda, they had their 18-hole, 6133m, Par 72 golf course. It was launched in 2009.

The first overnight stop in our camper­van is at Fraser Range Sta­tion, 105km east of Norse­man. It pro­vides ac­com­mo­da­tion in the old shear­ers’ quar­ters and self-con­tained cot­tages as well as a pleas­ant camp­ing ground where the pow­ered sites have bushy di­viders for pri­vacy. Next morn­ing we drive to the back pad­dock to play Sheep’s Back, a Par 3, pleas­antly placed on the flat with low hills be­yond. Fu­ture holes be­come more prob­lem­atic. At the next, Sky­lab, an­other Par 3, the green is out of sight

• nullar­bor­links.com • aus­tralias­golde­nout­back.com • birdlife.org.au • ce­dunacar­a­van­park.com.au

Kal­go­or­lie Golf Course, the western start of the Nullar­bor Links, main; pygmy pos­sum in a plas­ticpipe haven at Eyre Bird Ob­ser­va­tory, above; whales sur­face at Head of Bight, be­low right; the au­thor pre­pares to play the Dingo’s Den hole, be­low left.

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