The world will be watching on as The Open returns to Northern Ireland next year and two Aussie golfers will be there experiencing Royal Portrush on the eve of championship week thanks to Golf Australia’s Play 9 series and the R&A’s nine-hole challenge.
Tasmania’s Jacki Lawson and Allan Lodge, from the Northern Territory, will play one half of the championship layout in the R&A’s nine-hole challenge alongside a full field of excited – and likely nervous -amateur golfers next July.
Lawson, a member of Ulverston Golf Club and Lodge, of Garden's Park Golf Links, sealed their tickets to Belfast in this afternoon's National Play 9 Final held during #AusOpenGolf after a qualification series that began in June at local clubs across the country.
Lawson, who qualified at her local club, is a regular nine-hole golf exponent.
"I’ve got lots of friends who still work and they can fit in nine holes easily compared to 18 holes, so I think nine holes is a brilliant idea," Lawson said.
"We have a competition called the 'Sunday Smash' at our club, so in the month of October apparently I shot some good scores that got me through!"
Lodge, who found The Lakes "cool compared to Darwin", will be in for an even bigger change of scenery when he heads to Royal Portrush.
"A links course, that will be something different. We don't have any of those up in Darwin so I’m looking forward to it!"
The R&A introduced the nine-hole challenge in 2017, at The 147th Open at Carnoustie, extending its commitment to promoting shorter and alternative forms of the game.
"We want to encourage people from all around the world to play quicker and to enjoy themselves," said Dominic Wall, Director – Asia Pacific for the R&A.
"We started it in the UK and it was very successful, but we’re growing on from it and we want to take it globally."
Wall says the two Aussies will be "blown away" by the opportunity to tee it up at The Open.
"They are going to see something that they’ve never experienced.
"How great it is to have someone from the top end of Australia and someone from way down south to represent the country!"
While the R&A’s nine-hole challenge is in its second year, 2018 marks the first time that competitors outside of the United Kingdom have been allocated starts in the challenge.
The two qualification spots were a huge coup for the Australian Play 9 series which, also in its second year, attracted 615 golf clubs and facilities to participate and host more than 11,500 nine-hole competitions.
As a result, nine-hole rounds have increased 20% compared to this time last year.
Click here for the full results of the National Play 9 Final held at The Lakes Golf Club.