How competition on Australia’s roughest golf course is driving Nullarbor tourism

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-kilometer 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.

The links course has plenty of spectators.(Supplied: Marcus Scott)

Thousands of travelers 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 travelers 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.”

Man in yellow shirt with both arms outstretched in from of large Kangaroo, sign post with lots of direction signs and roadhouse
Alf Caputo says the unique course attracts international tourists.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

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.

Woman in navy shirt wearing white golf glove holding up golf ball in hand and holding golf srick in other in front of scrub tree
Marg Donkin won the women’s competition for the fifth time.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

rough is rough

Mrs Donkin and her husband Eric have helped maintain the fairways for 11 years.

A golf score card with some signatures on it.
Players fill out the score card as they go.(supplied)

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.”

A photo of a road sign, a photo of a golf player taking a swing and a photo of a golf course sign.
Players come from around the world to try the rugged course.(Supplied: Marcus Scott)

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.

Golf ball in front of hole in the dirt, a wombat hole, with grass at its rear.
The holes at Nundroo and Nullarbor include wombat holes as hazards. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

“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.

Man in cap sitting on wing, refueling aeroplane, shed in background, sunny day, pilot looking at camera
John Daley was the first competitor to fly to each hole.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

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.

A photo of a wombat, a photo of a dingo, a photo of a snake and a photo of a kangaroo
There is plenty of wildlife for players to see along the way.(Supplied: Marcus Scott)

But the wave 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.”

Golfer hitting a ball in front of a setting sun.
John Daley enjoys a sunset round at Mundrabilla as part of the tournament.(Supplied: Marcus Scott)

Tourism draw card

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.”

A man smiling holding a ball and golf sticks in from of trees
John Hunt searches the shrubs for a wayward shot.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

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 travelers 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.

Close up of a man's hands stamping a scorecard with map of Australia and ticked boxes
The holes are named after landmarks or characteristics.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

“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.


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