BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Hit a few loose shots or three-putt the first green at Nullarbor Links and you’ll have plenty of time to think about your errant ways before teeing off at the second.
That’s because No. 2 is 42 miles down the highway.
Billed as the world’s longest golf course, Nullarbor is set to open next month – an 842-mile trek through the desolate Outback of Australia’s Nullarbor Plains, starting at Ceduna in the state of South Australia and finishing at the mining town of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.
The course is a novelty, for sure, but its organizers reckon the par 71, which includes holes borrowed from existing golf courses and others built from scratch near motels and tourist attractions, is sure to bring out the adventurous player.
“I don’t think there is any two ways about it, it will be unique,” Alf Caputo, the course’s project manager said in a telephone interview from the western city of Perth, where he is organizing the finishing touches on the course for a planned Aug. 15 opening. “The scenery along this stretch of the Eyre Highway is unlike anywhere else in the world.”
Ditto the golf course. The seven holes taken from existing golf courses include some with sand greens that are raked, oiled and then rolled to maintain their smoothness.
The first two holes are among them, and they have natural grass fairways, but the 11 holes that are being built for Nullarbor Links will have synthetic tees and synthetic greens – the most workable plan from a maintenance standpoint due to the lack of rainfall in the flat, dry land of south-central Australia.
“In between the tees and green, we’ll leave it as natural terrain, although we’ll clear the debris,” said Caputo, a former local council member. “We’ll leave trees and natural hazards there, because we don’t want to do anything to affect the beautiful scenery.”
The cost of the course came in at a relatively reasonable $640,000, with about a third of the funding coming in a grant from an Australian government department which promotes tourism.
“It sounds like a bit of a pipe dream, but when we checked it all out, it was so basic,” Caputo says. “It doesn’t involve any million-dollar spending. We had the infrastructure at some of the holes already, and we’ll pass along proceeds from the green fees to the roadhouses and motels to ensure that maintenance is kept up.”
When the course opens, green fees will be a modest $40. A certificate will be issued from tourism centers at Ceduna in the east and Kalgoorlie in the west to those who have their scorecards stamped for all 18 holes.
Bob Bongiorno, a former roadhouse/motel manager at Balladonia, which will host one of the holes, came up with the idea for the course.
“I first thought about it nine or 10 years ago,” Bongiorno told the AP from Kalgoorlie. “I had lived on the Nullarbor for 10 years, and I always felt that people just connected east and west along our highway, and traversed the distance quickly.
“They endured rather than enjoyed the trek. They missed what I called a lot of the ‘self-find’ stuff along the way. The whole idea was to try to create something to slow people down, and make it part of the holiday.”
So far, so good in that department. The golf course’s Web site had more than 15,000 hits in the three days after word of it first appeared in local media.
The idea took shape when Caputo and Bongiorno, now good friends, sat in a bar and brainstormed “over a glass or two of red wine,” Caputo said. “All good ideas come out of a glass of red, don’t they?” Out of that session came the setup of the course and the thought of working with local motels and tourist attractions.
Caputo says the average group of golfers will take about four days to complete the course, which, at its most eastern point at Ceduna is 1,300 miles west of Sydney. More than 250,000 tourists annually make the trip across the hot, arid Nullarbor on the Eyre Highway, and there soon could be more: Caputo says a British travel promoter wants to put together a 10-day package which includes Nullarbor Links and topflight courses in Adelaide and Perth.
Included on the Nullarbor journey is the longest stretch of straight road on any highway in Australia. After golfers leave the par-4, 340-yard hole at the Caiguna roadhouse, they won’t have to turn their steering wheels for 90 miles.
When they arrive at the next hole at the Balladonia Motel, they can take a side trip to an area commemorating the July 1979 fall to earth of the NASA research laboratory Skylab, which landed in fiery chunks around Balladonia. U.S. President Jimmy Carter is said by locals to have phoned the motel’s manager to apologize, and the area’s shire ranger, David Somerville, was photographed giving a NASA official a littering ticket, which the council later waived.
The next hole is a par-3, 155-yarder at the Fraser Range – home of the largest eucalyptus hardwood forest in Australia, some trees more than 100 feet tall. There’s also a working sheep station nearby.
Since the holes are designed to be played from either direction, they are not numbered. So the hole at Caiguna near the long stretch of road is called Ninety Mile Straight, followed by Skylab, and then Sheep’s Back.
And don’t forget Caputo’s and Bongiorno’s favorite hole – the 19th.
“We’ve got a great bar at either end in Ceduna or Kalgoorlie, but the beauty of this course is that every hole has a 19th hole,” says Caputo, laughing. “Some just steps from the green. How good is that?”
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