Home » On Tour: Digging Deep – Australian Golf Digest

On Tour: Digging Deep – Australian Golf Digest

The Mining Towns Series through Central Queensland is a showcase of professional golf and community spirit

There’s an episode of “Seinfeld” in which Kramer repurposes a discarded fly-screen door and installs it in his Manhattan apartment. It is, of course, completely redundant. But it is his way of creating a slice of “Anytown, USA” in the centre of the concrete jungle that is New York City.

For the clubs, members, sponsors and billets who provide the backbone to the Onsite Rental Group Mining Towns Series on the PGA of Australia’s adidas PGA Pro-Am Series, hosting a tournament connects them to the world of professional golf.

Starting with a two-day tournament at Moranbah on June 11, some of Australia’s most talented golfers will compete for $135,500 in prizemoney over the course of two weeks, with the lure of a further $6,500 for the best performer across the six events. In the current landscape of world golf, that may seem a pittance, but these events are about more than money.

Middlemount (population 1,899), Tieri (1,129), Blackwater (4,702), Clermont (2,952) and Emerald (14,906) will all proudly host tournaments, showing off not only their golf courses but the hospitality that can be found 900 kilometres north of Brisbane and close to 300 kilometres west of Rockhampton.

Yet speak to those at the literal coalface, and hosting a leg of the Mining Towns Series represents a banner event, just as it would be at any other golf course anywhere else in the country.

“These are the equivalent of our grand finals,” says Daniel Davis, captain at Moranbah Golf Club for the past five years and superintendent for pre-stripping the open-cut mine for BHP.

“Things like our Open, we get quite a few from around the place, but when it comes to the pro-am, it’s almost like club champs. It’s all the people that look forward to it every year and it’s a line-up to get in, so you don’t miss out.

“I’ve had people asking me when that’s going up for weeks now because they look forward to it. They take annual leave from work, or whatever. They save up for the time to have off so that they can make sure they’re in it.”

‘We treat them like kings and queens’

The Mining Towns Series is not a charity drive for the 47 professionals currently entered to play this June. There is good money to be won for those without playing opportunities overseas and this year there are five WPGA Tour of Australasia members listed in the field.

The golf courses exceed the expectations of essentially every player who makes the trip for the first time. And with free accommodation at many of the towns and a seemingly never-ending supply of free barbecues, costs are kept to a minimum.

“You sort of blow them away a little bit with what the clubs produce, what they put on for them,” says Brendan Smith, a PGA professional who now mixes playing with a full-time position as warehouse supervisor for the Oaky Creek coal mine outside Tieri.

“We try to treat them like kings and queens, really, because we want them to come back. If they don’t come back, we’ll still have an event, but it wouldn’t be the same.”

Smith is in a unique position in that he met his current employers while playing at the Middlemount Pro-Am, guiding the team to a win on sponsors day. That relationship led to Smith being offered a job a few years later while affording the freedom to continue to travel to play tournaments both on the pro-am circuit and the occasional Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia event.

“Normally, I finish work on a Tuesday or Wednesday and fly straight down and tee up and then pretty much get back on the plane and work,” he adds.

Originally from the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, the Mining Towns Series offers Smith the opportunity to play closer to home and be actively involved in the JET Group Tieri Pro-Am that was named Regional Tournament of the Year at the 2023 Queensland Golf Industry Awards.

“Our Tuesday sponsors day will be massive and then I’ll be out in the morning helping Wayne cut the greens before the event and then every day before I tee it up,” Smith says. “We put on other things, too, to make it a bigger event. We get the physio down to the golf club for the three days for the pros if they need it, we get the hairdresser to come down for three days for a free haircut, or whatever. Just little different things that we do.”

Through the success of the tournament, Tieri Golf Club has been able to update some of its machinery, yet for others the experience is the greatest reward.

“It’s probably not as important financially as it is for the members, really,” Davis adds. “It’s more for the members and the exposure. For a small town like us to get 50 PGA players coming through is a pretty big deal. You talk to people that have never been a part of it and they think you’ll get 10 to 15 pros. When I tell them we have to cap it at 50 because there’s more that want to play, that sort of blows them away a bit.”

‘It means so much to the community’

No golfer has benefited more from their support of the Mining Towns Series during the past decade than Tim Hart. Raised in Tamworth before moving to Brisbane as an 18-year-old, Hart has been playing the Mining Towns stretch since completing his PGA professional qualifications in 2014.

That year he won the Blackwater Pro-Am and the $5,000 Mining Towns Series bonus. He has since won the Mining Towns Series a further six times (including the past five years straight) and has wins at Moranbah (four), Emerald (three), Middlemount (three), Blackwater (two) and Tieri (two).

From that first stretch a decade ago, Hart felt right at home on the golf courses found in each community.

“All my junior golf was on remote sort of golf courses anyway, so I guess I had a comfortability factor when I went up there,” Hart says. “I know as touring pros in Australia, we’re not the best in the world, but they love having pros come back and play at any level. They really enjoy putting the event on and it’s a massive event for them. The guys at Blackwater, they put it on every year, and they get emotional when they’re doing their speeches because it means so much to the community and the golf club.”

And like that proverbial fly-screen door that lets a piece of the world in, Smith wants pros and club golfers alike to know that golf in the mining towns need not stay undiscovered.

“All the clubs just want people to have a good time and go back and tell everyone, ‘Hey it it’s not a bad place,’” he says. “If you’re driving past, call in and have a game.”