“You suddenly find yourself at the top of a two-storey volcano staring down at a 50-metre pool of water and you’re about to launch on a flying-fox towards a massive solid pole, and if you don’t hold onto this pole, you lose a shot and then fall into eight feet of water.”

So says Jayden Lawson [pictured below], a 40-year-old from Brisbane and a past A-grade club champion at Royal Queensland Golf Club. He’s not describing some macabre golf dream, but a real encounter he had as a contestant on the Seven Network’s new mini-golf TV series. “Holey Moley” will hit our screens this month as golf ventures into prime time under host Sonia Kruger, with a commentary cast comprising former Olympic sprinter Matt Shirvington and American actor Rob Riggle, with a dash of Greg Norman thrown in for good measure.

As Lawson alludes, this is mini golf with a difference.

Billed by Seven as “extreme family fun”, being a great putter is only half the challenge on the 15-hole Holey Moley course. Contestants also have to pass physical tests that are decidedly un-golf. Think of it as “Wipeout” meets mini golf. You’ll see players knocked sideways by misjudging the spinning blades of a windmill, scorched by fire from a dragon’s mouth, electrified, or drenched in the deep swimming pool Lawson confronted.

The competition itself resembles an elimination matchplay bracket familiar to most golfers. In each episode, eight players will go head-to-head in knockout matches to decide a winner to progress to the grand final and win the golden putter and plaid jacket as that night’s champion. The overall series winner collects $100,000.

Follow Jayden Lawson on Instagram: @JaydenLawson
Looking the part

Lawson was tipped off by a family member to enter, and part of the application process was to develop a look and persona to be carried into the show. Lawson submitted an application video that presented him as a freestyle drone pilot under a “Top Gun” theme. He called himself “The Phoenix”, a name his golf mates bestowed upon him for always ‘rising from the ashes’. Lawson also took the initiative to paint his Nike putter bright pink in order to stand out, and mentioned to the casting folk at Seven that he’d once won a putt-putt competition aboard a P&O cruise and taken lessons from Charlie Earp. Between all that, his passion for golf and the Norman/Earp/Royal Queensland connection, they liked what they saw. As you’ll see, Lawson maintains the Top Gun look throughout his time in the series.

Fittingly for a madcap golf concept, it is an eclectic group of Holey Moley contestants vying for the title. Including good golfers was clearly a must, but so too were characters with panache, as well as some familiar names and faces. In some episodes are a range of celebrities: Barry Hall, Mat Rogers, Steven Bradbury, Denise Drysdale, Ian “Dicko” Dickson plus various contestants from “The Bachelorette” and “Big Brother”. A handful of professional and top-tier amateur golfers are also part of the series: Becky Kay, Henry Epstein, Montana Strauss, James Carr and Colette Norton – the top-ranked mini-golfer in Australia.

We won’t give away the outcome but can reveal Lawson goes a long way in the competition, so he has plenty of insights to share. One celebrity tries to pinch Lawson’s pink putter and, completely unrelated, that same celebrity is later injured. There is sledging, as in, big-time sledging – even in players’ backswings. Former speed skater Bradbury is at one stage gifted a walkover win in a fitting re-embodiment of his 2002 Winter Olympics victory. There are extraordinary holes-in-one.

Filming took place in Brisbane over several weeks in October, but always at night as the set required complete darkness. Residing in the Queensland capital helped Lawson, while others travelled there for the duration of the competition. One of the difficulties, according to Lawson, was staying ‘up’ for each match, literally and figuratively. As all the filming was done at night, he might complete one match at 10pm then not compete again until 3am. Late in one session, he holes a great putt to win his match shortly before 5am, which drew instant praise from the camera crew because it meant they could go home.

“I had to be ready by sunset every day until pretty much sunrise,” Lawson recalls. “And often I’d go and compete on a hole at about 7pm or 8pm or something, and then I’d have a wait. And sometimes I’d have fallen in the water and I’d be freezing cold. That was actually quite a challenge. You had to try to stay ‘in the zone’ even though sleep deprivation was a real factor. I brought a whole heap of healthy snacks to keep me awake and I also went for little runs around the tents, because it was like a little city that they’d set up in Brisbane – all sorts of production tents and temporary demountables and things. I’d just go for little runs in between the tents and do some push-ups to keep the blood flowing. Most of the other competitors, they weren’t really doing much of that, so I think I had a slight edge in that department.”

A genuine challenge

Mini golf in the non-television realm is a big deal these days from a design perspective. Experienced course architects are being called in to design mini-golf holes and there is a high degree of intricacy to their look and playability. While windmills, ramps and the like are part of the Holey Moley course, the holes the contestants face are equal parts challenging and gimmicky.

“They were on an insane scale. Everything was oversize and larger than life,” Lawson says. “And not just for your putting, but also for the physical element where you had to run through things or run over things. One time I was set on fire by eight-foot dragons breathing out 10-foot flames. It was bizarre and fun and exciting and a little bit scary all at the same time.

“There were some genuine challenges, but some of it was a big gimmick thing for TV. One of the holes, it’s called ‘Polcano’, and you had to putt up a 45-degree angle – even higher, I think – to try to get your ball into the tiniest of gaps out the back of this volcano. That was a real challenge. If you missed this tiny little gap, your ball fell into a matrix that left where your ball would end up to chance. It did require a lot of skill, but if you stuffed up it fell down to chance.

“There are a number of holes where you can just get smashed and knocked into the water, and it added a bit of pressure to your putting and focus because if you were equal [with your opponent] for running across things and not getting knocked in the water, that put extra pressure on your putting. You’d lose a shot if you fell in the water, for example. And if you did fall in the water, you’re drenched, you’re soaking wet and then you’ve got to step up again and focus on your putting while you’re dripping and you’ve got things flopping all around the place.

“It was especially tricky when you did fall in the water and then you had to wait around for a couple of hours. I distinctly remember stepping up to a putt and my feet were just sloshing and squelching, and thinking, What the heck am I doing? It was an insane experience.”

Lawson is in little doubt about the craziest thing he saw: “It would’ve been the hole called Frankenputt, where the competitors had remotely activated shocking devices strapped to our arms and legs. If you missed a putt, the entire park’s lighting would dip and flash as it drew enough power to shock you. The set was massive and to see all the lighting on every hole flash all at once was a sight I’ll never forget.”

Then there were the other competitors, some of whom tried on anything for an edge.

“Most of the people were fine, but there were a few who really tried to put you off during the backswing.” Lawson says. “There was this crazy clown who got under my skin a bit, yelling out through my backswing, and what not. But I got my massive revenge on that clown by knocking him out [of the competition] later.

“There was a lot of smack-talk behind the scenes. The show wanted you to have quite a bit of banter before you played each person. They had the two competitors each time in a golf cart driving to the hole, and they wanted you to dish out a bit of sledging before you stepped up. It was mostly in good fun, but the clown took it a bit too far, in my opinion. With me, anyway. But I got him back. I got him a good one.”

Not all the contestants were adversaries, however.

“A tough aspect of the show was becoming genuine friends with other contestants, and then competing against them in a sudden-death playoff, sometimes requiring the loser to leave the show immediately and head directly to the airport,” Lawson says. “Becky Kay was the first contestant I met, and days later we had to face-off in quite an unbelievable fashion. I became good friends with another contestant, Amy Morris from Toowoomba, and when learning that one of us might be playing the infamous ‘Uranus’ hole – where you putt around an elevated ring of a giant planet – we travelled to a nearby driving range, drawing attention from puzzled golfers who wondered why we were putting off the tee. The unorthodox practice method paid off for one of us in a big way, as you’ll see when the Uranus episode goes to air.”

Co-hosts Matt Shirvington and Rob Riggle.

While Norman was not physically on-site during the filming (his involvement will likely be added in the post-production phase), Lawson loves the idea that one of his childhood heroes might actually wind up commentating on his play.

“Because Greg’s from Royal Queensland and I have met him a couple of times, it will feel very odd to have him commenting on my shots. It’s going to be fantastic. The same with Rob Riggle and Matt Shirvington. The whole thing was a strange experience, but it was also very odd just to be walking around and Rob and Matt would walk past saying, ‘G’day Jayden. Nice playing! Keep it up!’ I didn’t even talk to them or see them beforehand, so obviously they’re heavily involved with the commentary, talking your game up or talking your shots up behind the scenes.

“I had to just put all that sort of stuff out of my head and focus on each putt. That was another element of it. You’re just trying to forget all the craziness and all the meaning of the show and just focus on the actual putt.”

“Holey Moley” begins on Seven from Monday, February 1 at 7:30pm.


The Holey Moley holes

Dutch Courage

Dragon’s Breath

Putter Ducky


Slip ’n Putt

Hole Number Two




Putt the Plank

Fowl Play

Surf ’n Turf

Clowning Around

The Distractor

Tomb of Nefer-Tee-Tee