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How to play outback golf

Heading into the great Aussie outback? Don’t forget to pack your golf clubs.

By Simon Webster
Published: 30 November, 2017

Tee off in the outback: from the longest course in the world, to a top-notch championship layout, to a desert course where you’re more likely to find opals than grass.

Play the world’s longest golf course

Nullarbor Links, Ceduna, South Australia

If a golfer tells you they’ve played a long course, they’re probably referring to a track that stretches about 6400 metres (7000 yards) or so. But the world’s longest course is an altogether different kind of challenge. Nullarbor Links starts at Ceduna in South Australia, and ends at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia – 1365 kilometres (848 miles) away.

You can play it in the other direction if you like, but it still ends up the same distance. With 18 holes stretched across the famous Nullarbor Plain, this is a course that takes three or four days to play, rather than three or four hours, and it attracts golfers from all over the world.

“Golfers are tragic – they’ll go anywhere to play,” says course manager Alf Caputo. “Some are serious. For others, it’s a hit and a giggle. If you’re travelling the Nullarbor, this is a great way to slow down and really enjoy the area.”

It’s a fairway to go

Nullarbor Plain, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

The Nullarbor Links course starts and ends with holes on relatively conventional golf courses (more on these below). In between, holes are attached to roadhouses and towns along the vast Nullarbor Plain, one of Australia’s most iconic road trips.

The Nullarbor holes have artificial tees and greens, and fairways featuring natural outback terrain. You wouldn’t exactly call this a manicured resort course, but the maintenance team does get out there with a slasher every couple of months to keep the outback grasses down. If you miss the fairway, you’re in scrub and in trouble. In this way, it’s a bit like a classic Scottish links course, except a bit warmer. “I call it Australian golf,” Caputo says.

Every hole has accommodation at roadhouses or caravan parks, as well as clubs for hire, though ideally you’ll bring your own. Just remember to count them after each hole – you don’t want to get to the 17th and realise you left your sand wedge back at the 3rd.

Finish (or start) at a great public course

Kalgoorlie Golf Course, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

Nullarbor Links attracts all sort of players – including one who walked the course (which takes about 30 days), dressed as a stormtrooper from Star Wars. There’s no doubt the course is quirky, but it’s still a good golfing challenge.

“The main difference between this and a normal course is that they have a 19th hole [a bar] at the end of the course; we have one after every hole,” Caputo says.

Nullarbor Links starts and ends with holes on more conventional courses. Ceduna Golf Club, in South Australia, is very much an outback course: it’s semi-grassed, with sand greens requiring ‘scrapes’.

But Kalgoorlie Golf Course, in the famous mining town of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, is different again. Home to the private Goldfields Golf Club, but also open to the public, Kalgoorlie Golf Course was designed by the renowned golf course architect Graham Marsh. It’s a championship layout with the added bonus of spectacular surrounding scenery.

“People always comment about the colours of the course,” says golf operations assistant Tom Kiely. “The red dirt against the green grass is unique.” It may be in the outback, but Kalgoorlie is ranked No.18 in Australia’s top 100 public access golf courses.

Both Kalgoorlie and Nullarbor Links have recently been added to the Great Golf Courses of Australia collection, which is full of inspiration for any golfer planning a trip Down Under. 

Carry your own grass in Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Club, Coober Pedy, South Australia

For a completely different outback golfing experience, head back over the border to South Australia and the opal mining town of Coober Pedy. The town is famous for its subterranean lifestyle – people live underground to avoid summer temperatures that often rise above 40 degrees Celsius (104F). But golfers don’t let a little thing like that put them off.

They play just about all year round at the Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Club. They’re having a little break at the moment but from January they’ll be back out there on Friday nights, playing with glow-in-the-dark balls to avoid the summer daytime heat. “We’ll have glow sticks down the fairway,” says club captain Stephen Borrett. “We get out and have a bit of a laugh.”

There’s no grass here. Players carry a little patch of fake grass on which they tee up the ball in the fairways, and the greens are “scrapes” made from fine gravel, sand and sump oil.

Players have been known to find opals during a round at Coober Pedy. And membership comes with privileges: Opal Fields claims to be the only club in the world to have reciprocal playing rights with the “Home of Golf”, St Andrews Links, in Scotland. 

Curious to see what else you can do in the Australian outback? Take a look at these 8 unbelievable outback experiences.