How hard can it be to play a Par 72, 18 hole golf course spread over 15 different locations and more than 1,350 kms of desert?
Always up for a challenge, John was keen to play the Nullarbor Links golf course as soon as we first heard about it. And so we factored five days into our ‘Big Lap’ itinerary to play the course that extends from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia.
The course can be played in either direction, starting in Kalgoorlie or Ceduna. The score card has to be stamped at each location for each hole played and, when complete, a certificate is issued at the visitor information centre where the 18th hole is played.
The idea for the Nullarbor Links golf course, which recently marked its tenth anniversary, was first conceived by several of the route’s roadhouse owners, looking for a way to encourage drivers to slow down their trip and take regular breaks. And rumour has it that road traffic incidents across the Nullarbor due to fatigue are down since the golf course commenced.
We’d heard that this course was pretty rough and ready, so we decided to leave the good clubs at home rather than drag them all around the country. That meant hitting the op shops in Kalgoorlie, in search of some pre-loved golf clubs. The trouble is, when clubs are donated to the op shops, they walk out again just as quickly – such is the trade for clubs at both ends of the golf course (ie Kalgoorlie and Ceduna). But we were in luck, as when John paid the $70 ‘green’ fee to play the course at the Kalgoorlie visitor information centre, the helpful staff found him two clubs out back (a 4 iron and a putter). We also managed to find a suitable wedge and a 5 wood at an op shop in Boulder. Set up with four mismatched clubs (most of them too short for John’s 6’2″ frame!), and a quick trip to the local sports store to pick up balls and tees, and we were set.
Each hole presents its unique challenges, including fairways covered in low scrub or trees, many with tees and greens covered in artificial grass.
And so it began.
Hole 1: Kalgoorlie Golf Course
– CY O’Connor (Par 4 – 356m)
The Kalgoorlie course was a real surprise. In the midst of a harsh, dry and dusty environment was a verdant course, with smooth grass fairways, excellent greens and plenty of bunkers. And the weather was perfect for golf, warm with light winds. The pro shop provided John with a few clubs for his use on their course, including a driver.
The first swing of an unfamiliar driver was always going to have an interesting outcome, and provided the first trip into the rough, setting the scene for 9 strokes for the hole.
Hole 2: Kalgoorlie Golf Course
– Golden Mile (Par 5 – 502m)
With his confidence building after a sub-10 score on the first hole, John was more than happy with a 7 for this one, including the driver behaving, and also getting out of a deep bunker onto the green!!
End of Day 1, we drove just 10km and played two holes, and stayed overnight in Kalgoorlie.
Hole 3: Kambalda Golf Course
– Silver Lake (Par 4 – 392m)
The next day we headed off to Kambalda, some 65km down the Goldfields Hwy to play the third hole. The difference between the Kalgoorlie and Kambalda courses was stark, as this one was as dry and dusty as they come. We were privileged to meet the volunteer manager there, who was previously responsible for maintaining the entire Nullarbor Links course, which entailed driving to Ceduna and back every three weeks for eight years.
There was no lawn to be found here, and the ‘greens’ were black sand. Still getting the swing of the ‘new’ clubs, John was pretty happy with a score a 7 for the hole.
Hole 4: Norseman Golf Club
– Ngadju (Par 5 – 463m)
We headed 129km down the highway to the Norseman Golf Club to play the next two holes. By now the south-westerly wind had arrived with gusts up to 50 km/h (which was to plague us for days to come!). The fourth hole was relatively straight forward, with a late dog-leg left, and sand on the artificial turf green. It was here that John discovered that ‘chip and run’ approach shots don’t work well on these sorts of greens, and he just managed to avoid double figures with a 9 for the hole.
Hole 5: Norseman Golf Club
– Golden Horse (Par 4 – 385m)
Despite the challenge to keep the ball in sight and find it amongst the tallish grass, John was able to get through this one with a 7.
Hole 6: Fraser Range sheep station
– Sheep’s Back (Par 3 – 141m)
Back in the car for the 106km drive to Fraser Range sheep station to play the next hole.
This looked like such an easy hole, a short straight par 3 with only a tree in the way – but directly into the strong gusty wind. Four approach shots followed by three putts made a short easy hole into a score of 7.
Hole 7: Balladonia Roadhouse – Skylab (Par 3 – 175m)
And into the car again for the 117km trip to the Balladonia Roadhouse for the next hole.
This was a neat little hole, with native scrub in front of the tee, opening out to cleared dirt closer to the green. Even so, it still took 5 strokes.
Next, we headed towards Caiguna Roadhouse, and free camped overnight about 25km east of Balladonia.
End of Day 2, 440km and five holes for the day.
Hole 8: Caiguna Roadhouse
– 90 Mile Straight (Par 4 – 310m)
We started the day driving 130km to the next hole at the Caiguna Roadhouse, along part of the ’90 Mile Straight’ (the longest straight road in Australia).
We arrived at the the 8th hole with a 35km/h south westerly wind blowing, gusting 50km/h. Despite numerous trees on the fairway, John was able to use the wind assistance to his advantage, managing a score of 5 for the hole.
Hole 9: Cocklebiddy Roadhouse
– Eagle’s Nest (Par 4 – 347m)
We set off to drive the 65km to the next hole, the 9th on the course. Here the cold heavy gusts were headwinds, but the fairway was clear of hazards, and John scored a 6 for the hole.
Our country is very remote in these parts, with far more stray animals than there are people!
The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) is a godsend in outback Australia, and is often the only health service for hundreds of kms. While most roadhouses along the Nullarbor had their own airstrips, the highway can also become an airstrip in emergencies.
Hole 10: Madura Roadhouse
– Brumby’s Run (Par 3 – 125m)
Another 90km of driving brought us to the 10th hole, and the cold blustery southwesterly wind was still blowing. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, there was a Silverline caravan parked right in front of the tee, across the fairway, necessitating shortening the hole to avoid accidental damage to the van. It was hard to believe anyone would park there, given the warning signs. Despite shortening the hole a bit, John scored a 4 for the hole.
Hole 11: Mundrabilla Roadhouse
– Watering Hole (Par 4 – 315m)
A short 116km drive then brought us to the 11th hole. The crosswind straightened John’s tee shot, which was followed by a neat chip and single putt for a PAR!!!! John will be able to dine out on this for years!
Another 66km saw us pull into the Eucla caravan park for the night, as a few of the free camps we checked out along the route would have turned to mud with the rain forecast overnight.
End of Day 3, 466km and four holes for the day.
Hole 12: Eucla Golf Course
– Nullarbor Nymph (Par 4 – 315m)
The 12th hole was just outside Eucla, some 6km from our overnight stop. The fairway went straight across the front of the shooting range (thankfully, not in use when we were there). It was raining and very windy with the southwesterly continuing to blow hard. Thanks to the rain, the dirt fairway was rapidly becoming a thin layer of mud which collected on the bottom of our shoes. Against all odds and, again, assisted by a strong tailwind, John carded a 5 for the hole.
Hole 13: Border Village Roadhouse
– Border Kangaroo (Par 3 – 160m)
As the name implies, this hole is at the WA/SA border. Hello South Australia!
This 13th hole was just a short 17km drive from the previous one at Eucla.
A narrow path through the trees in front of the tee led to the ‘green’, and supported (yet again) by a tailwind, John managed to card 4 for the hole.
A bit of a diversion from the serious business of golf!
The next scheduled stop for the 14th hole at the Nullarbor Roadhouse, was 184km away. Most of this part of the highway hugged the cliffs overlooking the Great Australian Bight. We enjoyed numerous short side trips to view the cliffs, marveling at the views time and again.
Sadly, it remained wet and windy most of the way, with the showers occasionally giving way to blue skies, when we snapped as many photos as possible.
Hole 14: Nullarbor Roadhouse
– Dingo’s Den (Par 5 – 538m)
We finally arrived at the Nullarbor Roadhouse, still on a high after the majesty of the Great Australian Bight cliffs. For this hole, we had to walk the length of the fairway to the tee, and then play back towards the green near the roadhouse. Despite the conditions, which by now could only be described as feral, John was able to record a 6 for the hole.
We bunkered down for the night at the Head of the Bight free camping area, some 22 km past the roadhouse.
End of Day 4, 207km and three holes.
Hole 15: Nundroo Roadhouse
– Wombat Hole (Par 5 – 520m)
First stop this morning was the 15th hole, 122km away at the Nundroo Roadhouse. This hole was a long dog-leg right and into the wind. (Ah yes, it is still blowing a gale!) Managing to stay on or close to the fairway, John scored 8 for the hole.
Hole 16: Penong
– Windmills (Par 4 – 260m)
Another 80km along the Eyre Hwy brought us to the 16th hole, beautifully situated alongside the town’s historic windmill museum. This was a relatively simple hole which John finished with 6 strokes.
Hole 17: Ceduna Golf Club
– Denial Bay (Par 4 – 370m)
With the end in sight, the last two holes were just 72km away at the Ceduna Golf Club. The 17th hole was straight forward and took 7 strokes.
Hole 18: Ceduna Golf Course
– Oyster Beds (Par 5 – 485m)
The 18th hole was also straight forward and took 6 strokes.
End of Day 5, 274km and four holes.
And the end of the Nullarbor Links golf course – the longest golf course in the world. We did it!
So it was off to the Ceduna visitors centre to have the final two holes stamped on the score card, and … drum roll, please … to be presented with a certificate of completion by the lovely lady at the visitors centre. (You can tell she really loves this part of her job!)
As the only op shop in town was closed on the weekend, we donated our ‘new’ clubs to the Ceduna visitors centre, only to see them being carried out a short time later, no doubt by a golfer about to start the course in Ceduna and head west. That didn’t take long!
So, what are the take-aways and stats from playing the expansive Nullarbor Links course?
- Play it for the fun and experience of doing so – don’t take it seriously!
- Laugh a lot – it seems to make it easier
- Short cuts across the rough don’t tend to work
- Despite expecting to lose a few balls along the way, we finished up with 4 more balls than we started with (3 of which were found on the ‘fairways’!)
- Leave your good clubs at home – saves them from potentially being damaged
- Factor a number of days into your travel plans to complete the course
- Current High and Low scores for the Par 72 course (as advised by the lovely lady at the Ceduna visitors centre when we received the certificate of completion): High – 479, Low – 70 (the low of 70 was scored by a professional female golfer just a few months ago). Against these figures, John’s 111 looks pretty good!
- Over 17 thousand people have paid to play the Nullarbor Links course in the ten years since it started, and it is estimated that at least the same number of people have played some or all of the holes without formally registering.
With the golfing experience behind us, our next adventure is to explore South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.