Coober Pedy golf club only one in the world with reciprocal rights to St Andrew's in Scotland

Coober Pedy Opal Fields golf course is strewn with rocks but players can keep any opals they find.

Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Club is the only one in the world with reciprocal rights for its members to play at The Royal and Ancient Golf of St Andrews – home to the British Open in Scotland.

This came from a 2003 satellite-link exchange, arranged by a film maker doing a opal mining documentary at Coober Pedy, between St Andrew’s general manager Alan McGregor and opal fields club president Kim Kelly. The humourous McGregor offered rights to St Andrew’s in exchange for an opal mine. Kelly promptly staked a mine claim near the course and sent off a few opals and a how-to mining brochure.

While the reciprocal rights are actually for the nine-hole Balgove Course, a Coober Pedy member who tested the privilege “with a few mates” was given the OK by McGregor to play on the revered Old Course.

The golf course is hardly an oddity in the context of Coober Pedy, 846 km north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway, renowned for its life below ground that extends beyond “dugout” homes to churches (the Serbian Orthodox and Catholic) and motels plus the 250,000 small opal mines.

The name “Coober Pedy” comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti: “boys’ waterhole”.

The first European explorer to pass near the site of Coober Pedy was John McDouall Stuart in 1858. The town didn’t start until 1915, when opal was discovered by Wille Hutchison. Miners first moved in about 1916. A law discouraged large-scale mining by restricting each prospector to a 15.3 square-metre claim.

In a desert climate, many residents prefer to live in dugout caves bored into the hillsides. A standard three-bedroom cave home with lounge, kitchen, and bathroom can be excavated out of the rock in the hillside for a similar price to building a house on the surface – with the need for airconditioning.

The three-roomed dugout at 13 Hutchison Street and the nearby underground Catholic church and presbytery are heritage listed.

Of the population of around 1,600, about 60% are from southern/eastern European migrants after World War II. More than 45 nationalities are represented.

The first tree in a town was welded together from scrap iron and sits on a hilltop overlooking the town.

Sometimes called the opal capital of the world due to the quality and size of its 70 opal fields, Coober Pedy has become a popular tourist stopover, especially since 1987 when the Stuart Highway was sealed.

The town’s Australian rules football club, the Coober Pedy Saints, established in 2004 and competing in the Far North Football League (formerly the Woomera & Districts Football League), must make round trips of more than 900 kilometres to Roxby Downs where the league’s other teams are located.

The result of a drunken decision in 1976, the par-72 18-hole sand trap golf course – mostly used at night with glowing balls, to avoid daytime heat – has no grass and golfers take a piece of “turf” for teeing off. Shots tend to ricochet off rocks strewn about the course but players can keep any opal they find. Putting surfaces, called scrapes, are rolled with motor oil.

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