Golf folklore has it that in the early 1990’s, a group of professional golfers on a trans continental trek to Perth stopped for sustenance at a well worn pub in Kalgoorlie. Showered and refreshed, they adjourned to the packed public bar for an ale, only to be surprised to find a lone golfer not traveling in their group already occupying a spot at the bar.
They were somewhat more surprised at his choice of attire. Resplendent in tight fitting leather pants, an equally snug singlet and pointy black boots, he looked somewhat out of place amongst what might loosely be classified as a roughly hewn patronage of trenchantly blue collar leanings.
Two decades ago, Kalgoorlie was as equally unusual a place to set about testing rural Australia’s boundaries of tolerance as it was a port of call for touring pros. In one of our most famous mining towns, four and a quarter inch holes in the ground tended to be sneered at, and whilst the city had three golf courses, neither lent themselves to the notion of holding a prestigious professional event capable of attracting some of the land’s leading golfing lights.
This situation changed dramatically in 2010 with the opening of the Graham Marsh designed Kalgoorlie Golf Course, owned and operated by the City of Kalgoorlie Boulder. Three clubs became one in the process, presumably without a great degree of protest given the rave reviews that have greeted the challenging 6700 metre layout since its inception.
Bare dirt and sand greens were replaced by green grass, manicured fairways and impressive clubhouse facilities. The course was immediately rated in the Top 100 in the country by Australia’s No.1 golf publication, Australian Golf Digest. A stated goal of being regarded as one of the top ten desert courses in the world is also within reach as recognition grows of the quality of the layout. This combination of good press and strong word of mouth is validating Kalgoorlie as the unlikeliest of golfing destinations.
However, the ultimate imprimatur of Kalgoorlie’s improbable ascension to golfing relevance is the arrival in the goldfields this week of the PGA Tour of Australasia, hosting the first professional golf event in the city’s history. Come Thursday, 132 players will tee up, vying for a $110 000 purse and the title of WA Goldfields PGA champion.
It is a watershed moment for the city, its golfers, and the PGA. A successful and well publicised event in Kalgoorlie will bring both golfing tourists and a greater level of consciousness about the sport within the local community. It will also help to define a potential model that the PGA can promote to other isolated venues across Australia, with a view to growing professional golf’s footprint.
But if the big picture outcomes are ultimately of minor interest to the golfing majority, one positive will remain uncontested. There is now a reason to travel to one of golf’s farthest outposts for purposes other than a cold beer or a dress up.
A former Tour player, Grant Dodd is a renowned golf commentator for Network TEN in Australia, and ESPN Star for OneAsia. A columnist for Australian Golf Digest, he is also a wine lover and father of two.