It’s late afternoon and Blackall Golf Course is bathed in soft orange light. Groups of Galahs screech and whirl around us, wood ducks ripple in quiet lagoons, kangaroos watch carefully from the fairways and a majestic-looking Sussex rooster follows us.

It’s a quintessential Australian bush scene and one that we’ll become familiar with as we tour the outback for the world’s most remote and richest amateur golf series, the Outback Queensland Masters (OQM) 2021. This afternoon we check out the course for the fourth round of the series and play a few holes in preparation for the rounds over the weekend. In each city, the first nine are played on Saturday and the second on Sunday.

PGA pro Darren Weatherall gives Edwina Robertson from Brisbane some sand-green tips in Longreach. PHOTO: Paula Heelan

That year the tour started in Biloela, followed by Charleville, Quilpie, Blackall, Hughenden and ended in Longreach. Prize money of $ 10,000 is offered for the first hole-in-one in each of the top five places, and a staggering $ 1 million is up for grabs in Longreach. It’s an event for players of all ages and abilities. My golf partner Matthew Smith and I have chosen four events including Charleville, Quilpie, Blackall and Longreach. Between the events, we meander through the outback with our non-golf partners.

Unlike our first games in Charleville and Quilpie, where the shock of playing on sand greens threw us off track, we plan to be ready for Blackall. As it turns out, local knowledge of outback courses is crucial. In every city the weather was similar with cool mornings, breezy days, cobalt blue skies and lots of sunshine. Perfect for golf. On challenging courses, there is a mixture of frustration and exhilaration when things go wrong. Laughing at disaster shots, it quickly becomes clear, is the ideal coping mechanism.

TO THE RIGHT: The sand greens of each course were different in color, texture and pace. PHOTO “Paula Heelan.

On each course we are accompanied by a few dogs that go for a walk with players and supporters; In the nearby paddocks we often see horses, cattle, sheep, kangaroos, abundant bird life and the occasional teenage girl on dirt bikes.

On the secluded sand greens of Quilpie, David Pennell, a member of ACT’s Murrumbidgee Country Club, did what every tournament player aspired to. He made a hole-in-one on the delegated hole for the $ 10,000 prize. The news quickly spread throughout the camp and national media. With the likelihood of an amateur making a 12,500-to-1 hole-in-one, the excitement was palpable. Pennell, who is on the 1,900 km journey with his wife Karen, says it was the toughest par 3 he has ever played.

“It’s my first hole-in-one in 51 years of golf,” he said. “The sand greens are so different from the grass greens I play on in ACT – I can’t believe that happened.”

Darren Weatherall presents David Pennell with his $ 10,000 hole-in-one check. PHOTO: Paula Heelan.

The concept for this annual event started with John Drummond from Queensland asking for an outback golf event. From there, OQM Executive Producer and Cre8ion Director Theresa Famularo, PGA Professional and golf coach Darren Weatherall and the Senior Manager of Golf Australia in Queensland, Luke Bates, came on board. And with contributions from local councils and golf clubs, a “tour-like” golf experience was created.

Weatherall says the intent is to redistribute the venues each year to support the local communities and provide players with new challenges combined with wonderful hospitality and adventure in the outback.

“The incredible landscapes and challenging conditions, combined with the encounter with friendly locals, make up the event,” he explains. “The event works well because it gives amateur golfers a professional experience. Players travel far to compete in six remote locations.

Masters players at Quilpie. PHOTO: Rhüben Nutt.

With an exciting mix of orange jackets for the top two winners (male and female) in each event, a leaderboard, signage, branding, automated scoring cards, the largest prize pool for an amateur event, great food and entertainment – and the The Trophy of the Australian PGA Championship – the Joe Kirkwood Cup – the overall experience is exhilarating.

During the six-week tour, golfers swing, cut and putt through gidgee, eucalyptus and mulga scrub, saltbush, spinifex, cobblers peg, dry and running gullies, soft red earth, cracked muddy soil, stony fairways and for laymen – impossible sand greens.

Many had never seen these punitive, so-called “Greens”. How hard can it be to pitch through the course and rake a smooth, slick path to the pin? First of all, the rake is no ordinary garden rake. It is made of steel and weighs more than 10 kg. You mark the path with the rulers, then turn it on the roller side and slowly drag it along to get a smooth, seamless trail.

Charleville has an annoying mix of sand and grass greens, and the sand greens are oiled, pitch black, terrifyingly slow, and smell like diesel. But we are Outback Masters. With ferocious determination and perseverance, the three who bet on almost every hole begin to subdue and the scores climb.

In each city, Weatherall has free coaching clinics for the local children who show up with enthusiasm and excitement. “It’s a great opportunity to introduce young people to golf and give them first-hand knowledge and skills,” he explains.

Edwina Robertson from Brisbane is the youngest adult player in the series. She says that with so much attention to detail and innovative, well thought-out organization, the event is the best she has ever seen.

“The effort, ingenuity and creativity that went into this is so impressive,” she adds. “Everyone is having a great time.”

Let’s go for a round. PHOTO: Paula Heelan.

Road trips between events make the trip as rewarding as any golf weekend. We know and better understand remote cities and remote train stations and the resilient people who live there. Driving through incredible, expansive landscapes across the country that you have never seen before is unforgettable.

With two weeks between our Blackall and Longreach weekends, we drove through the Barcoo Shire, across the heart of the Channel Country to the red sand dunes on the edge of the Simpson Desert. After the recent rain, the country is bursting with new life.

We stayed at the Charlotte Plains sheep farm near Cunnamulla, where we bathed in hot artesian baths; and we visited remote towns like Yaraka, Windorah, Birdsville, Bedourie, Middleton and Winton. We ate at one of the most remote pubs in the world, the Betoota Hotel, which reopened a year ago after closing for 23 years. In Boulia we stayed in glamping tents for the Boulia Camel Races, widely known as the Melbourne Cup of Camel Races, and flew over the city and the incredibly breathtaking landscape in a helicopter.

The last day and the participants say goodbye to the Outback Masters in Longreach. PHOTO: Paula Heelan.

Since many outback cities have golf courses, practice games are required between the main events.

At Cunnamulla in the extreme southwest, the golf course boundary runs along the Warrego River. On several holes, it is common for emus mobs to give way over fairways and greens to their watering hole. In Windorah, a population of 80, it looks like most golfers have left town. Although the course requires serious maintenance, we found enough holes to take some long practice shots on overgrown fairways and putts on some crumbled sand greens.

This July, the Outback not only hosted the OQM with more than 140 players plus crew in all six destinations, but also the Big Bash in Birdsville, which drew more than 9,000 people, the Queensland Music Trails and countless families traveling for school Holidays. With thousands on the streets, the outback has never been so busy. Some, like us, are in four-wheel drive vehicles, some in mobile homes and others pull caravans. Booking in advance for everything, especially accommodation, hairdressing or doctor appointments, and restaurants, is essential.

A sandy lie. PHOTO: Paula Heelan.

Bates says many OQM players attended the 2019 opening event this year (2020 was canceled due to COVID) and intend to play again in 2022.

“The majority signed up for all six events and many travel in groups. It’s like a traveling golf club where everyone creates memories together, ”he adds. “Friends and connections are made and many will be happy to come back next year.”

Blackall Club president and town baker Grahame Shoulder says the OQM is providing a welcome injection of cash for both the club and town.

“We are heavily dependent on tourism these days and we strive to do it well,” he says. “Events like this have a big impact on companies that have struggled through both drought and COVID.” And Grahame’s tip for dealing with the sand greens? “Chip and run with a 7 iron and throw it all the way to the flag.”

Famularo initially says that when he suggests members of small bush clubs take over the OQM, there is initially a little concern and a lot of curiosity. “But at the end of the day, the locals are in awe of their golf clubs transforming and their cities being full of people,” she adds.

“With world-class entertainment, dining under the stars at every event, and playing with someone new in every game, our golfers build new and lasting friendships.”

Hot artesian baths in Charlotte Plains, a sheep farm near Cunnamulla. PHOTO: Paula Heelan.

That year, the event ended with those who played two or more weekends and qualified for the $ 1 million hole-in-one. Against the wind, one after the other, the players took their shot. Nobody managed to pull it off. Regardless, the million dollar prize rolls over next year and most will come back to try again.

Among the six cities selected for the OQM 2022, which will take place on Jan.

For information on the Outback Queensland Masters 2022 and the results of this year’s event, please visit www.outbackqldmasters.com

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