New Golf Course Hazard: Chinese Tourists Chasing Kangaroos
Tourists invade Australian course in quest for photos
ANGLESEA, Australia—Playing for an eagle or birdie on the 16th hole at the Anglesea Golf Club near Melbourne, Bernie Dilger was confronted instead with a kangaroo.
He wasn’t worried about whacking the animal, which hopped across the course moments before he swung—kangaroos have lived on the course for years. Mr. Dilger’s main concern was harming a different, non-native species found on these fairways. Tourists, many from China, sometimes randomly wander onto the course to see the animals.
“It’s just one of those things that you have to be conscious of,” Mr. Dilger said. “We have to actually yell and warn them.”
Kangaroos hang out on many Australian golf courses, munching grass and lounging under trees. In 2013, a marsupial mob interrupted the Women’s Australian Open at a golf club in Canberra, Australia’s capital. Most golfers just play around them.
The real problem is the growing number of tourists from countries where the game isn’t as familiar.
At one point, “major tourist buses would pull up alongside the course,” said Les Cooper, a retired human-resources manager who used to be on the Anglesea club’s board, “and 50 people or more would just spill out, walk across the golf course, set up their picnic rugs.”
The Nelson Bay Golf Club northeast of Sydney hosts kangaroos and offers roo-watching tours, which helps keep tourists off the fairways. A few months ago, Phil Murray, who organizes the tours and goes by “Kangaroo Phil,” spotted a Norwegian family on the course, told them they could get hit by a ball and suggested they take a tour.
“If you’ve never played golf,” Mr. Murray said, “you don’t realize that a golf ball can come at you from 150 meters away.”
At the Anglesea Golf Club, many of the interlopers are Chinese. The club sits near a scenic thoroughfare, called the Great Ocean Road, at the center of Australia’s recent tourism boom.
In Australia they seek out beaches, cities and, invariably, kangaroos. Golf doesn’t have a mass following in China, where the Communist Party once banned it as too bourgeois.
Anglesea golfers say some Chinese visitors think the course is a park where they are free to roam. Arguments can erupt because visitors don’t understand why they aren't allowed on the course. Golf games can be ruined.
“My wife was playing down here on the 10th, and she happened to hit a ball a little bit astray, and all of a sudden a tourist pops out: ‘I found your golf ball!’ ” said golfer Paul Taylor, a retired mining executive. “You don’t do that in golf. A golfer’s got to find his own golf ball and hit it.”
Michael McMahon, another retiree, was playing the 10th hole near the clubhouse and parking lot a few years ago when some Chinese visitors approached as he was teeing up.
“We said, ‘Hang on, what are you doing there?’ And they just smiled at us,” Mr. McMahon said. “They’re not too worried about the golfers, because they’ve only got one interest, and that was to see the kangaroos.”
The golf club has tried to reduce the aimless wandering. It put up signs. Some years ago it put up fencing—not to keep the kangaroos in, members like to say, but to keep the tourists out.
The club sensed a business opportunity last year and started kangaroo tours it now offers on a six-seat golf cart with a green sign in the windshield: “ROO TOURS.” The club charges 10 Australian dollars (US$7.46) for an adult and A$25 for a family.
The tours have been a hit, and the golf club said it welcomed its 10,000th attendee this week. Tour guides are club-member volunteers. They know where the kangaroos like to hang out and can prevent tourists from disrupting games or getting hit by balls.
Kimi Cao, a visitor from Guangzhou, China, who recently took a tour, felt safe from golf balls. He was wary of the kangaroos before he saw they were generally unperturbed by the tourists.
“In China, you will see a lot of wild animals far from anywhere, but here you can see they’re close to people,” he said. On Chinese golf courses, “you will see butterfly, you will see mosquito, you will not see kangaroo.”
During the Lunar New Year holidays this February, more than 100 people came for the tours some days. Guides had to ditch the cart and take people onto the course on foot.
Jay Niu, who is from China and now lives in Singapore, walked past the Anglesea clubhouse on a recent Saturday and was heading toward the course. He attracted the attention of golfers waiting to tee off on the 10th hole, who told him not to go out and to buy tour tickets at the clubhouse instead.
Mr. Niu, visiting with his wife and young daughter, said he came to the course five years ago and didn’t need to take a tour. He bought tickets this time and ultimately recommended the tour, though he thought A$10 each was a little expensive.
“That guy was like shouting at me,” Mr. Niu said later. “Maybe it can be improved with some signs.”
After a morning spent as a tour guide, Mr. Taylor was relieved by his wife, Julie, on the afternoon shift. Walking into the clubhouse, he stopped to tell an inquiring visitor about the tours. “It’s all day,” he said. “It’s mind boggling, really.”
Tourists still slip onto the course. Ian Burgess, the club president, was playing on the fourth hole several weeks ago when he noticed people—he thought they were Indian—milling about on the fairway edge. He asked them to leave.
He was shooting into the green, so an ill-conceived shot could have gone wide, potentially hitting someone. “Your shot’s going to be bad,” Mr. Burgess said, “if you hit a tourist.”