FOR some people driving across the Nullarbor Plain presents them with a challenge – how quickly can they get from one end of it to the other.
But some clever-thinking people in the Goldfields have flipped that idea on its head by giving travellers something to slow down for – a round of golf.
And not just any round of golf – 18 holes on the world’s longest golf course, spanning 1365 kilometres from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia.
The unique par 72 golf course features one hole in each participating town or roadhouse along the Eyre Highway, giving travellers an excuse to stop along the way rather than staring at the wide expanse of the desolate highway for hours on end.
The idea had its beginnings in 2004, when eventual project manager Alf Caputo, in his role as the chairman of Kalgoorlie Goldfields Tourism, had dinner with Balladonia Roadhouse manager Bob Bongiorno.
Mr Bongiorno, the chairman of the retail-based community organisation Eyre Highway Operators Association (EHOA) at the time, floated the concept of using golf as a way to get people to slow down and spend more time in the region, as well as boosting local tourism.
The idea gathered momentum with the backing of the EHOA, which was able to secure funding to complete a feasibility study in September, 2006.
The study gave the proposal an overwhelming green light and funding was secured, including $341,000 from the Federal government.
Five sites along the proposed route already had a golf course – Kalgoorlie, Kambalda, Norseman, Eucla and Ceduna, while the remaining holes at roadhouses along the Eyre Highway had to be created for inclusion in Nullarbor Links, integrating them into the natural environment.
The first hole is Oyster Beds, at the Ceduna Golf Club, and ends at CY O’Connor at the Kalgoorlie Club, although the course can be played in the reverse order if travelling the other way.
It is from Ceduna to Kalgoorlie that the annual “Chasing the Sun” tournament runs over a week-long period, the first of which officially opened the course in October 2009.
Mr Caputo said the eighth running of the event year this, was again successful.
Despite competitor numbers being slightly lower than the 75 players in 2015 and 55 participants in 2016, Mr Caputo said a wonderful group of people, ranging in age from 35 through to 82 years, took on the challenges of each hole, as well as indulging in special entertainment and meals along the way.
Some players traverse the Nullarbor purely for the opportunity to compete in the tournament, however the overwhelming sentiment in comments left on the Nullarbor Links website is that the course is having the desired effect on many travellers – making them slow down to take in the native flora and fauna along the route, and discovering places that may otherwise be just another petrol stop.
They don’t even have to carry their own clubs, as they are available for hire at each hole for $5 per set.
The first two holes of Nullarbor Links are located at the Ceduna Golf Club.
Hole 1 is par 5 over 485 metres and is named Oyster Beds after the local oyster trade which is world-renowned, while hole 2, also at the Ceduna club, is par 4 over 370m and named Denial Bay after the first settlement and port in the area.
Hole 3 is a 70km drive along the highway away at the Penong Golf Course, where the par 4, 260m hole is called Windmills.
This is due to the 26 windmills on the eastern entry to the township, locally known as Windmill Flat, that residents rely on to access a small underground basin that supplements their water supply.
Penong is also close to the highly-acclaimed Cactus Beach, which attracts surfers from all over Australia and overseas and would certainly add another dimension to stopping off there along the way.
Another 78km west along the highway is Nundroo, which as well as having the biggest population of Southern Hairy Nosed Wombats in Australia, is also home to the fourth hole – a par 5, 520m challenge aptly named Wombat Hole.
The next stop on the Nullarbor Links course is the Nullarbor Motel stop, where hole 5, known as Dingo’s Den, is par 5 and 538m.
At Border Village, just 50m east of the WA checkpoint is where the Border Kangaroo has been constructed as hole 6, and is a bit smaller at 160m and a par 3.
Now 13km over the border into WA, the next stop on the course is the Nullarbor Nymph hole at Eucla Golf Club – a par 4 and 315m.
About 62km further west is the Mundrabilla Motel hole, where golfers can stop to play hole 8, known as Watering Hole, which is par 4 and 330m, and is just 30km from one of the first sheep stations to be settled on the Nullarbor Plain, and only 20km north of the Great Australian Bight.
Hole 9, Brumby’s Run, is found another 115km along the highway at the Madura Pass Motel, and is a par 3 over 125m.
The remaining nine holes of Nullarbor Links are located at six sites, with the next one on the list being Eagles Nest, a par 3, 347m hole at the Cocklebiddy Motel.
The local area has gained an international reputation in recent years due to a unique cave system which has been touted as one of the biggest in the world.
Almost 70km further to the west is the 11th hole, a 310m, par 4, aptly named 90 Mile Straight.
This is because the site where the hole was constructed at Caiguna Motel is the beginning of Australia’s longest straight road – 90 miles, or 146.6km of road without a single bend.
Although the next hole also has great historical significance – hole 12, a 175m, par 3 known as Skylab is located at Balladonia Motel.
This is where the United States National Aerospace Agency (NASA) space research laboratory Skylab landed in fiery chunks in July, 1979, having re-entered the atmosphere.
About 90km further west is Fraser Range Station, a working pastoral station which naturally calls hole 13, a 141m par 3, Sheep’s Back.
This area is also home to the world’s biggest Eucalyptus hardwood forest, consisting of blackbutt, salmon gum and gimlet trees.
The next two holes are both at the Norseman Golf Club – hole 14, Golden Horse, is a par 4 and 436m, and is named after a local legend that a horse called Norseman unearthed a gold nugget there back in 1894.
Meanwhile hole 15, a 354m par 4, is named Ngadju in recognition of the Ngadju people, the traditional owners of the land at Norseman.
Hole 16 represents the second-last stop in the Nullarbor Links journey and is located at the Kambalda Golf Club, 130km north of Norseman.
Silver Lake, a 392m, par 4 hole, is in close proximity to Lake Lefroy, which is widely used for land sailing and in the past has been the site for Australian land speed record attempts.
The course comes to an end just 55km further north, in Kalgoorlie. Here, hole 17 at the Kalgoorlie Golf Club, which is 339m and par 4, is called Golden Mile which is a nod to the discovery of gold by Paddy Hannan in 1893.
The final hole is named
CY O’Connor, and the 365m, par 4 hole, also at the Kalgoorlie Golf Club, is a tribute to the pipeline designed by
CY O’Connor that was built to carry fresh water from Mundaring to the Eastern Goldfields town in the early 1900s.
For those who accept the challenge of completing the course, a score card can be purchased at either the Kalgoorlie Visitor Centre, Kalgoorlie Golf Course Golf Shop or Ceduna Visitor Centre.
Players who get it stamped at every hole at the visitor centres or roadhouses can take it to either the Kalgoorlie or Ceduna Visitor Centres on completion to receive a free Nullarbor Links certificate.