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One hell of a drive; 850-mile golf course takes four days to go round by car, its..

Byline: JEREMY HART

MOST golfers take about four hours to complete a round - but those teeing off on Nullarbor Links in Australia will need at least four days to play its 18 holes.

At 850 miles, this par-72 is the longest golf course in the world.

Named after the vast and wild Nullarbor Plain in south-west Australia, it stretches across two time zones and takes in desert wasteland, savannah and salt lakes.

The course runs between the gold mining frontier town of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and Ceduna, a small coastal town.

To cover a similar distance in Ireland, you'd have to tee off in Dublin's O'Connell Street, and play holes in Meath and Offaly before cooling your clubs in the Atlantic when you reach Galway city.

CORK TO DONEGAL

Hole six would be in the Burren, as you golfed your way down to Cork. Then it would be straight up the centre of Ireland, with holes in Tipperary, Longford, and Leitrin, before you reached Donegal's Letterkenny.

Then, if you could still hold your club, you'd nip over for a hole in Belfast, before heading down the East Coast for a hole in Drogheda, Co Louth.

And you wouldn't be knocking back your 19th hole pint until you'd headed back down south again to somewhere near Killarney, Co Kerry.

Back in Oz, you can start Nullarbor Links at either end. I chose Kalgoorlie and, instead of a golf buggy, had a Mercedes E-Class to get me from one hole to the next.

The guy handing over the keys said: "Whatever you do, avoid hitting wombats. They'll rip off the front of your car."

And it's not only on the roads between the holes that you're in for a surprise or two. With its AstroTurf tee-off areas and unique Outback hazards, Nullarbor Links offers a golfing challenge unlike any other. I don't know what I was expecting - but rolling fairways and manicured greens this golf course ain't.

The first section of fairway at Kalgoorlie is simply bush. The green is brown and the clubhouse is a hovel.

I couldn't see any bunkers but, as there were so many animal holes to contend with, that hardly mattered.

Having played the first hole, it was time to set off east.

I'd been warned that kangaroos can be "a bit of a hazard" on the long, straight roads. This turned out to be a gross understatement, especially at dawn and dusk. And David Morley, one of my Australian travelling companions, painted a terrifying picture to make me even more anxious.

He said: "If a 'roo smashes the windscreen and joins you in the driving seat, you hope he's dead. If he's alive, he won't be best pleased. An angry 'roo can open a bloke up with his claws."

I was therefore pretty relieved to safely reach my next stop, Norseman, a tough par-four hole where I came across a local Aboriginal tribe in full warrior make-up, who welcomed me with a dance routine.

Their leader James Schultz said: "Ours is the oldest living culture on earth. We're proud to portray it. We're also very happy to have a golf course on our land. I play a lot. It keeps me fit."

The next stop is Balladonia - population nine. Comprising little more than a roadhouse, this dusty establishment is a magnet for passing truckers. After all, the next watering hole is more than 100 miles away.

The 175m hole is tricky and snakeinfested.

Just as I was about to tee off, a pair of hardened Aussies emerged from the bush. Brian and Ralph were unshaven and wore battered boots and worn rugby shirts.

Their approach to golf was pure Outback. They got their clubs from a rubbish tip and were using an old pillowcase as a golf bag.

Brian, offering some help, said: "If your first hit's no good, you're buggered."

As I fished my ball from the undergrowth, Ralph yelled: "There are probably tiger snakes in there."

Fearing that my waferthin gloves might not withstand a bite from one of the world's deadliest snakes, I grabbed the ball as quick as I could and finished off the hole in double-quick time.

A day or so later, I reached the Nullarbor Plain - a vast expanse of nothingness that measures nearly 700 miles across at its widest point.

It looks like the ocean floor - which it once was - and all you see is a kneehigh, blue-green scrub stretching to the horizon.

Early crossers of this plain stuck to the coast, where they extracted water from sand dunes. I t ' s a bleak coastline. The southern Nullarbor course ends abruptly with a 200ft cliff that drops into the Southern Ocean - as if part of Australia has broken off and sunk.

Having no trees to hit on the Dingo's Den hole here counts for little. Nature has found other ways to make the hole hell.

Wombat holes pepper the pockmarked and grass-free "fairway". Dingoes, as per the name, roam the rough.

GREATEST CHALLENGE

Teeing off, I quickly established the hole's greatest challenge. As my ball flew through the Outback sky, a crow swooped in, snatched it up and headed for the hills.

Local Adam Seeby commented "One family lost eight balls playing here'" Thieving crows? Tigers snakes? Wombat holes? Nullarbor Links makes the relative difficulty of some of the Irish links look like a round of pitch and putt.

Average distance between holes is 41 miles and Nullarbor's shortest hole, Brumby's Run, is only 137 yards long.

A 575-yard par-5 is named after a local colony of Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombats.

The amazing course took five years to build.

Course took 5 years to build.. and spans two time zones

A 757-yard par-5 is named after local colony of Southern Hairy Nosed Wombates

Average distance between holes is 41 miles

Nullarbor's shortest hole is only 137 yards long

CAPTION(S):

A FAIR WAY TO GO Jeremy Hart tees off at Nullabor in Australia. Left, wombats plague course ROUGH JUSTICE Jeremy tackles natural obstacles PROUD Aboriginal leader James Schultz shows how it's done. Below, Ngadju tribesmen perform their ritual dance
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Feb 1, 2010
Words:1020
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