HAYES: Postcard from Walcha – where golf plus sand equals fun

This postcard is coming at you from Walcha.

I’d never been to Walcha before this week and, frankly, I’m not sure it would have jumped on the holiday radar any time soon.

But courtesy of Golf NSW and the revolutionary World Sand Greens Championship, here we are – and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Walcha itself is a lovely little town; wide streets, good amenities, hospitable locals and, as it happens, one hell of a little golf course.

In fact, little might not be doing it justice.

While some sand green facilities can be compact and straight up and down in terms of layout, this one is expansive with a wide variety of strokes and shot shapes to play it well.

But more of the course later …

This week will bring an anticipated financial injection of more than $175,000 into this New England township – a massive win for the local economy, and courtesy of the innovative livestream broadcast on seven plus, a likely boost from the stunning visuals alone of around $100,000.

From a golf perspective, there are 59 professionals pegging it up when this ground-breaking event begins in earnest on Wednesday. Best guess, 55 of them have never tried this predominantly Australian version of the sport.

Players from Korea, Japan, Thailand, Colombia, Wales, the USA, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, South Africa and Indonesia have joined our own WPGA Tour stars and while the world crown is up for grabs, make no mistake about it, these girls are bonding over one of the great tournament experiences imaginable.

The golf is fun, the atmosphere is sensational – and they all know they’re doing something unique.

Moreover, back to the course, it’s one of the great mysteries to every one of these elite players that the very skills they’ve honed for years are suddenly rendered approximately 80% useless.

They are watching lofted approaches bounce on a green and then scurry 25m through.

They are watching bunted pitches land short of a green and hop sideways or nestle down in an unpredictable weave of kikuyu on the surrounds.

They are completely mystified by the “smoothing” procedure; that is, the raking of the green before putts are attempted.

They see some of the obstacles as quirky, but absolutely not to the point of complaint. Rather, they are appreciating that sand greens courses have different forms of defence to the “normal” pristine courses they play on week in and week out.

They are laughing. Loudly. Loving every single minute of it.

The recently crowned Women’s NSW Open champion, Mariajo Uribe, is a great example of the joy being brought to Walcha – and the spirit she’ll take away.

The Colombian LPGA Tour star sat with American caddie Andy in the clubhouse after today’s pro-am and you could almost see their minds ticking along the lines of, “Can you possibly imagine that we’re sitting in the middle of regional New South Wales playing on a surface we’ve never seen?”.

They did a lot of work on course, as you’d expect of a world-class player, to adapt to the new challenges presented and plan a course of attack for when things become serious tomorrow.

But they took the lumps and bumps entirely on the chin.

So much so that Uribe said she was surprised that such golf – partly done for financial and maintenance reasons in small rural towns – is not played more expansively around the world.

She said she could imagine how many more people could be exposed to golf at a viable price if the focus on fun and accessibility prevailed over what invariably becomes an in-vain quest to produce another perfectly green and manicured masterpiece.

Prompted by one wag, she joked later that she could take sand greens golf back to South America and create her own “Andes Sandies Invitational”.

Sure, it’s just a joke and may never eventuate.

But the principal is very simple to understand.

A whole new experience for elite players in a venue that has never hosted anything even vaguely of this magnitude.

What an amazing concept, unique to golf and to this wide brown land.

I’m pumped to be in Walcha this week.

We’re going to crown a world champion and so many people are going to take away a far more rounded view of what life in Australia is actually about. Oh, and little Walcha is loving it.

Bring it on.

Bring on so much more of this type of event and the foresight of its organisers to take a risk on something that is distinctly different and deserves its moment in the global sun.

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