When alluvial gold was discovered in Kalgoorlie in the 1890s, tens of thousands rushed to Western Australia trying to strike it rich. More than 120 years later, it’s golf drawing people to this historic region of Western Australia.
There is something quite extraordinary about desert golf. The contrast of green fairways carved out of a sand-covered horizon is golf’s version of yin and yang.
And sure, we’ve all seen postcard images of the Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis Course or Las Vegas’ Rio Secco.
But golfers never forget the first time they set eyes upon Kalgoorlie Golf Course. The combination of jaw-dropping vistas and a deep sense of Australian heritage never fails to excite golfers before they even step foot onto the first tee.
But first, a little research on the WA goldfields will make your trip to Australia’s largest outback city that much more special. Knowing that if it wasn’t for Irish prospector Paddy Hannan discovering alluvial gold at Mt Charlotte, you may not be playing golf here. When Hannan typified the ‘luck of the Irish’ in 1893, one of Australia’s gold rushes occurred and led to the development of infrastructure and wealth. Today, it remains the city’s main industry and includes the Super Pit – Australia’s largest open cut gold mine.
The golf course at Kalgoorlie is not ashamed to live off its stunning aesthetic appeal. In fact, it is actually a motif of Graham Marsh’s desert design.
At first, the golfer’s visual sense tingles looking at each hole surrounded by red ochre sand and dirt. The juxtaposition of beautiful green couch fairways and vast red sand (left as natural as Marsh could afford to), with towering wattle and gum trees, is on the right side of overwhelming. Depending on your tee time and cloud coverage, the sky can add a dramatic backdrop to your round and makes for an incredible photograph.
“This is the only true desert course in Western Australia, but that’s not the only thing that makes it unique,” says Kalgoorlie club professional Paul Breuker.
“The course has that very distinct feature of defined fairways bordered by semi-rough with no edges and red dirt, so it is really easy on the eye. The combination of endless red ochre sand and dirt and blue sky makes for a very picturesque golf course.”
When the aesthetic appeal settles, an appreciation of Marsh’s design sets in. Kalgoorlie stays true to desert course design philosophy – only a single cut of semi-rough protects your golf ball from rolling into the scrub.
As you can expect with Marsh courses, the bunkering is a signature element regardless of surrounding terrain. The fairway sand hazards are visually appealing in their design – multi-bay bunkers with rounded shapes – but are a fair test as reasonable lip heights allow for better ball strikers to take on the greens with longer irons. Those around the greens are deep and place a premium on lofted bunker shots. These traps don’t just ask questions of your game while you’re in them; Marsh has also used them to intimidate the golfer’s club selection from the tee – particularly on the par-3 eighth and par-5 ninth holes.
While Marsh courses are first recognised by their bunkering, the green complexes steal the show at Kalgoorlie. With only flat terrain to work with, these perched green complexes do well to give the course an almost synthetic variety in elevation.
This is particularly true on the ninth, which many golfers agree is the standout hole of Kalgoorlie. As Australian Golf Digest architecture editor Darius Oliver noted, “This might be the most adventurous and daring green site that Marsh’s company has ever designed.” Indeed, this triple-tiered green complex [inset on previous page] is a gem. Positioned at a 45-degree angle to the approach shot, the green tumbles away dramatically from a high front section down to a middle and bottom shelf. Feeding golf balls down the slope from the front of the green is the only way to get it close to this flag. This hole is certainly a test at 538 metres from the back tees, with a fairway wonderfully divided in two sections to demand strategic drives and second shots. This genuine three-shotter represents the demanding overall distance of Kalgoorlie at 6,760m from the plates.
However, Marsh did not intend to make golfers feel inferior, insisting it was part of the design brief from the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder council, which partly funded the course’s development with the help of the State Government.
Shorter holes also complement this layout, especially the fourth and 13th. The par-3 fourth can range from 161m to 192m depending on the tee box, and requires a carry over wasteland and fairway to a gorgeous, hourglass-shaped green complex guarded by bunkers short, left and right.
The 13th, named ‘Afghan Delight’ also requires a carry over wasteland and fairway but is much shorter at 144m from the black tees. The closing holes at Kalgoorlie are tough. At 202m off the black, the par-3 17th requires your most accurate long-iron or hybrid shot of the day. “The 17th is my own personal favourite – to me it’s the signature of our course,” Breuker says. “Our par 3s are all class, but the 17th is visually the most intimidating and beautiful hole on the property.” The par-4 finishing hole is a 425m par 4 with four bunkers placed in the driving zone and is a wonderful end to your round.
With an aesthetically magnificent piece of land to work with, it was fitting that Marsh was chosen as the designer – Kalgoorlie was his birthplace, after all.
“Obviously with Kalgoorlie it was a project that was special because I was born there,” Marsh says. “And it is probably Australia’s first true genuine desert golf course. It is unique in that regard.”
Breuker speaks on behalf of Kalgoorlie-Boulder golfers when he says Marsh’s design allows the course to constantly refresh itself.
“Kalgoorlie is so isolated we don’t have the opportunity to play too many different courses. But with such a versatile design and so many different pin options, each time the ground staff make subtle changes it feels like a new course. I’ll be happy to play here for the rest of my life.”
How To Get There
If you’re travelling by plane, it’s only a one-hour flight from Perth and Qantas and Virgin Australia operate daily services. If you’re getting the TransWA train, be sure to stay the Quality Inn Railway Motel & Function Centre – directly opposite Kalgoorlie train station (railwaymotel.com.au). Situated only 650m from Kalgoorlie’s central business district, this unique, 4-star motel has 95 rooms and six self-contained apartments (located off-site) ranging from Standard, Deluxe and Spa rooms to Superior Spa suites. During your stay, test out Kalgoorlie cuisine with a delicious meal at Carriages restaurant.
Away From The Course
When you’re not teeing off at Graham Marsh’s desert creation, immerse yourself in the rich Australian history of Kalgoorlie and Boulder. Both town halls were built in 1908, and depict the architectural style of the gold rush days. Boulder Town Hall boasts the renowned Philip Goatcher stage curtain, The Bay of Naples. The drop canvas is believed to be the only surviving theatre curtain by Goatcher and illustrates a Neapolitan scene, with Mt Vesuvius in the background. While you’re here, the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Racing Club’s season stretches from March to September, and the Golden Mile Trotting Club in Kalgoorlie ranges from August until New Year’s Eve. The popular Kalgoorlie International Speedway welcomes drivers from all over the region, as well as state, national and international-level competitions. For those looking for some relaxation, enjoy a scenic picnic among the native birds at Hammond Park.