Ex-Hong Kong rugby player Adam Rolston embarks on 14,000-shot golf odyssey for charity, adventure and a world record

The 28-year-old and mate Ron Rutland plot 2,000km course across ‘final frontier’ in a bid to raise US$100,000 for charity

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 9:06am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 9:50am

Eighty-two days, 14,000 shots, 400 golf balls, US$100,000 and 2,000km across Mongolia’s deserts and mountain ranges.

It’s not your ordinary adventure dreamed up by two mates, but it’s what The Longest Hole has in store for former Hong Kong rugby player Adam Rolston and friend Ron Rutland when they set off on June 28.

The Longest Hole – which will see Rolston play golf from west to east across Mongolia, with Rutland as his caddie – is a world record attempt, a charity initiative and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Life is meant to be an adventure and there is so many reasons not to go and do something like this, like work you could be doing,” says Rutland, a South African who spent time living in Hong Kong and met Rolston while playing rugby at Valley.

“Cool stuff happens in life and you have got to put yourself out there and get out of your comfort zone.”

An idea that was spawned on Hong Kong’s tour of Kenya last year – which Rutland attended as a consultant – has grown into something much more, with the duo getting a taste of what they are in for on a recent 10-day recce.

They are hoping to raise US$100,000 for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, a global charity that uses the power of sport to end violence, discrimination and disadvantage among young people, and the South African Golf Development Board.

“If we come out of this and have had an adventure of a lifetime and gone through the ups and downs, but at the end of the day have actually been able to make a tangible contribution to someone like Laureus, it gives it so much more of a sense of purpose,” says 42-year-old Rutland.

On top of that, they are attempting to set a world record for the longest golf hole ever played, a new category which has been accepted by Guinness World Records thanks to the European Tour officially sanctioning the concept.

For 28-year-old Rolston, the chance to do something out of the ordinary came about after his contract with the Hong Kong Rugby Union ended.

Watch: The Longest Hole recce

He last played for Hong Kong on the 2016 tour of Kenya, having played both 15s and sevens at national level.

“Finishing up my contract with the union, it is sort of that transition period in my life where I have to get a real job, so I think this is the only time in my life when I will have the opportunity to do something like this,” he said.

Having played golf at school and at university in Cardiff when he “got sick of the culture” of rugby, Rolston describes himself as “low-handicap golfer”, having at times played off scratch.

He expects to hit 180 shots a day using predominantly a seven or eight iron to ensure the ball is as easy as possible to find, while at times he’ll be forced to play much shorter when faced with mountain rock and the like.

“You go to a range to practise and you hit 100 or 150 balls back-to-back and my hands are used to that,” he said. “I’m hitting a ball and then walking two minutes or so, so I don’t think blisters are going to be that much of an issue.

“The seven and eight are the clubs we have worked out to be the clubs of choice. We want to keep it at a distance that we are comfortable with, which is between 150 and 180 yards basically.”

Rutland is no stranger to outlandish quests, having spent 27 months cycling 42,000km from Cape Town to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, passing through all but four African countries on the way.

“I love the pure simplicity of life on the road and being able to do it with somebody else this time, because last time I spent two-and-a-half years on my own,” he said. “One of the things I thought about was how cool it would have been if someone was there.”

The adventure will start at the base camp of Khuiten Peak – the highest and most western point in Mongolia – and will finish on the 18th green of the Mt Bogd Golf Club in the capital Ulaanbaatar.

The Mongolian PGA is supporting the effort and friends and family will join the pair on the final day of their epic 82-day journey, with their 90-day visas ensuring there is little room for overshooting the mark.

Depending on how well they follow the route they have had professionally mapped out to ensure the best possible terrain, Rolston and Rutland are expected to cover between 1,850km and 2,000km.

“It works out to roughly 23km a day and it’s the relentlessness of having to hit this mark every day,” Rutland says. “There will be times when we make mistakes and take a wrong turn.”

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After starting in the mountains with the possibility of lingering snow and ice, the duo will tackle soaring temperatures in the barren Gobi Desert, as well as more mountain ranges.

“There could be six to 12 days of nothingness passing through the northern Gobi Desert and that is probably going to be the toughest period,” Rolston says.

Another challenge will be the wet-season rain, with July and August by far the wettest months of the year in Mongolia, and Rutland is dreading “the monotony of waking up, getting out of your tent and everything is wet”.

Even the trek to the tee block is an adventure, with a three-day trip from Hong Kong culminating in a one-day camel ride to base camp.

Accommodation will be made up mostly of the tents Rutland will pull in a specially designed cart, although there may be some slightly more comfortable options along the way as the pair pass through small settlements.

“The nomadic people are notoriously generous and they usually have summer residences littered around, so if you find a ger [traditional tent] that is empty, they are used for travellers to stay in. If no one is in there, you can stay there and leave it as you found it,” Rolston says.

First-time Hong Kong captain Ed Rolston ready to write his own script after rugby intermission

Dry food such as rice and noodles will be the order of the day, although some local cuisine will be available, for Rolston at least, while the pair will have to carry up to 70 litres of water at a time, which will often be sourced from rivers.

“I’m a vegan, so it’s going to be challenging as the locals diet pretty much consists of cheese, milk and meat,” Rutland says.

Because the trip is being treated as one golf hole and has been officially sanctioned, Rolston must follow official rules and an app on his phone will record the GPS location of every shot he plays along the par-14,000 hole.

One way the pair is raising funds is by selling the 400 balls before they go for a recommended donation of US$100, and the app will also record every time Rolston requires a drop.

“When your ball is in play you will be notified with a photograph of where it starts, and then a secondary notification of how far your ball travelled,” Rutland says.

“We are a long way from anywhere in the middle of nowhere, but the fact we will have connectivity gives us a unique opportunity to share the story.”

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The ball that is in play the longest will win a money-can’t-buy prize from Laureus, while companies can also pledge to donate money for every shot under par that Rolston finishes.

As for the decision to choose the dust, heat and snow of Mongolia: “It’s the country without fences and it’s probably the last frontier,” Rolston says.

“It’s flattish, it’s scarcely populated and it’s one of the last countries in the world that has a truly nomadic lifestyle.”