To mention the Coober Pedy Golf Club in the same breath as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the world’s oldest and most prestigious golf club, may seem odd to many. Yet, in 2003, St Andrews did something it had never done before – it granted reciprocal playing rights to another golf club, the Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Club.
If St Andrews had been waiting for a truly unique golf club with which to partner, Coober Pedy Golf Club fitted the bill. It was founded in 1976 as a nine hole course in scrub land adjacent to the Coober Pedy Racing Club. In its early years, a derelict shed was used as a clubhouse. The course was extended to eighteen holes in 1996.
It is a bespoke golf course, adapted for the desert. Greens are known as scrapes. They are created from quarry dust mixed with waste engine oil.
There is no grass on the fairways at all. They are dressed with fine local sandstone which is rolled following infrequent rainfall. Players carry six inch squares of artificial turf which may be used on fairways to protect golf clubs from damage.
However, as at St Andrews, there are days when more people come to join the gallery than to play golf. Tourists gather daily to photograph the course and its idiosyncratic local golfers. Taking a photograph of the ‘Keep of the Grass’ sign is de rigueur.
In 2003, Kim Kelly, president of the Coober Pedy Golf Club and Alan McGregor, General Manager of St Andrews, got to know each other via a satellite hookup organised by a documentary producer.
After Kelly raised the matter of reciprocal playing rights a number of times, McGregor indicated that he might be able to accommodate Kelly if he were to give him an opal mine.
Kelly wasted no time in staking a claim close to the course and sent McGregor photos of the claim, some opals and a how to mine guide.
Shortly thereafter, Kelly received a letter from McGregor granting reciprocal rights. “I cannot describe how delighted we are,” he wrote. “The trustees were completely speechless, probably in admiration.”
There was a caveat, however: playing rights were limited to the Old Course at St Andrews, in winter. Even so, Coober Pedy Golf Club remains the only club in the world ever to be extended such a privilege.
So, there you have it. If you elect to join the Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Club, you will enjoy reciprocal playing rights at St Andrews. The fees are:
$25 Social membership
$75 Full membership (Adult)
$25 Junior Member
If you would prefer to play a casual round of golf without splashing out on full membership, Green Fees are ten dollars per round plus club hire. A small square of artificial turf is included in the price and you get to keep any opals you find.