THE LONGEST HOLE: Interview with Adam Rolston

Adam Rolston and Ron Rutland, two retired Rugby players with love of adventure set out for an epic journey: playing the longest single hole in golf history. Their film “The Longest Hole” is part of the European Outdoor Film Tour 19/20. Adam Rolston – the golfer – told us how the adventure came to be, why he chose Mongolia as a destination and the unexpected joys of finding a pet in der wilderness.

How did you get the idea for this trip?

I always wanted to do some adventure, but when this idea came up I was playing Rugby. Ron had just finished a long-distance adventure and told his story to our Rugby team. I was inspired. I always had this little thought in my head of using golf like a vehicle for adventure: travelling forward by the use of golf and maybe creating the longest golf hole. How far could I play golf in a natural environment and maybe create a world record? So, I dove into that idea a little bit, and Ron wanted to be my caddy. We ultimately found the location for this golf hole: Mongolia.

How did you and Ron get to know each other in the first place?

I was a youngster playing in the Rugby Club in Hongkong and he was one of the older guys. He was doing these little adventures and stuff. We connected on a Rugby tour in Kenya. We hooked up again when I was playing Rugby for Hongkong and he was talking to us about his latest adventure. 

Why Mongolia?

It’s a country with no fences, the land isn’t divided up. It’s the perfect place to play this continuous golf hole. We created the golf hole from the most Western point of Mongolia all the way to Mongolia’s only Golf Club. We first found the end point, which had to be a golf hole and then we found our way as far away from this golf hole as possible – which was 2011 kilometers. Then we got it certified by a Golf Governing Body and then ultimately by the Guinness World Record. And then we were able to play golf from the border of Kazakhstan to Ulaanbaatar.

Why golf? Didn’t you say you were a professional Rugby-Player?

Yes, I played Rugby for about three and a half years. But I am a decent golfer, too. It’s a hobby, definitely.   

Which word would you choose to describe the experience?

It was definitely a surreal experience. It was a once in a lifetime trip. I don’t think I’m going to do anything as special as that ever again. The concept of the adventure is very unique. It’s one of those things where I don’t know whether I come up with a better concept than playing golf day to day across rural Mongolia.

How much time did you have to complete the journey?

We got to Mongolia, and then we spend four days in Ulaanbaatar sorting out our kits and getting all our equipment sorted out and then we flew across to the West. We were meant to start about three or four days earlier, but Andrew King (the director of the documentary, editor’s note) got delayed and so we had to wait for him to arrive. So, we lost four days of our journey and we ended up only having 80 days to complete 2000 kilometers. It meant that we had to complete an extra two to three kilometers every day. It was harder, for sure. I didn’t really know. Ron didn’t really tell me how many kilometers we had per day to do until we were in the West. He said: We have to do 26 kilometers every day for 80 days. And I thought: Oh my god. That is a long way to play golf.

How many golf balls and golf equipment did you bring to Mongolia?

We took 400 golf balls, but we didn’t carry all of them at a time. We had strategic drops throughout Mongolia at three of four post offices in those dusty rural towns. We would turn up and there would be a box waiting for us with dry food and gloves and new gas and things like that, just general supply units and also golf balls. But I only used 135 golf balls out of the 400. We overestimated how much we would need, which was nice.

Don’t you think it is some sort of environmental pollution to scatter those golf balls all across Mongolia?

Yes, you might be right, but it’s only 135 balls, and they are very rock-like. I don’t know if I’m stupid here – and yes, if I would do it again, I would buy degradable golf balls… Yes, we didn’t really look into that. We lost one golf ball every 16 kilometers. So, I dropped a pebble of plastic every 16 kilometers in a wilderness that’s the size of half of America. But we also walked the whole way, if you can offset what we didn’t use in terms of transport. I think we did well in terms of compensate the extent of our littering.

What would you say if someone found a ball? Would you be interested in getting it back?

100%! I was thinking the other day how long it would take me to find a ball if I walked the same journey. Whether I would actually find one. And I would say: I wouldn’t be able to find one. The thing is: by the time you lose one they just almost look like the environment, because they’re so beaten and battered. The shine and the plastic are so worn, that it is very difficult to spot them. But yeah, if someone found one… I couldn’t imagine what they would think. Finding a golf ball in the middle of nowhere? Like in the Gobi Desert, pretty surreal. The route that we took is slightly off beat as well. It might be quite difficult for someone to find it anyway.

For most dogs it is so much fun to chase balls or sticks of any kind. Did UB ever try to bring a golf ball back to you?

No, he was more interested in food and protecting us. UB was never interested in the golf balls. But he would get used to me hitting the golf ball. He would come up beside me and then sit down and wait for me to hit, beside the ball. Then he would get up and walk with me. He got into the routine of knowing what I was going to be doing.  He would follow me to the ball and then sit and then I would hit. He knew what was going on for sure.

Did you find out where UB came from?

He was a wild dog. He didn’t belong to anyone. In the beginning he was obviously lost. I don’t know where he belonged to whether he even did belong to anyone. You see all these dogs around Mongolia, wandering around and he was just one of those ones. And we ultimately fed him two or three days and then he realized: these guys have got food. And we started to love him. He realized that would regularly get food from us and then he just developed other skills he didn’t know he had like defending our cart and other things. It was a quite a unique experience for sure.

Can you describe the scene when he turned up for the first time?

In the film there is a scene where he just comes and walks up behind us. That’s it. That’s actually it. Like this dog just walks by and just follows us just like 30, 40 meters behind. Maybe he’s crying a little bit, making little whimpering noises and he just kept following us. And then he just came closer and closer and closer. I tried to put him in two or three vans driving past, because he was following us for two days, he’s gone now 60 kilometers away from where he was. We were trying to get him back. But no one wanted to take him, so we thought, we might as well now bite the bullet and have him. He was like a nice dog and we didn’t realize that we would spiral in such a big story.  

Have you ever had a dog as pet when you were a child?

I never grew up with dogs. That’s the funny story as well. I had pets but not dogs, because I was allergic. I didn’t not like dogs. But I never had this kind of connection with a dog before. That was pretty new to me. I never imagined really owning a dog because I hadn’t before. And then Ron has never had a pet. So that… I think the difference is that I’ve always looked up to animals and he hadn’t. But I never had a dog so that relationship was pretty new.

Are you still in contact with the family, the farmers that took the dog in at the end of the journey?

In December me, my brother and a few friends went to Ulaanbaatar. We went back to Mongolia to visit the dog – in minus 35 degrees with snow on the ground. And that was really nice, he was really healthy and happy and everything like that. It was quite emotional seeing the dog again. But sadly, I heard last month, that actually the dog died. Yes, it’s quite sad, UB actually died last month. (June 2019, editor’s note)

Can you remember the worst and the best day of the whole expedition?

For sure, yeah. There were a few worst days… I would say, in the beginning, probably day 2 or day 3 when we were struggling so much, we were in the marshes and the cart was breaking and the golf wasn’t going well, it was raining, it was freezing… At this point we thought it could work, but we didn’t know if it would work. The uncertainty of that was pretty hard to get your head around. It was everything with the weather and the golf and the conditions…

It was really hard and we were only going five kilometers per day and we were meant to do 25. By day 4 we were already 60, 70 kilometers behind schedule. And without the experience of knowing that we can catch up with those kilometers, that was very hard. When you do something for so long you gain experience and you understand: Don’t worry. We can make this up, we have time. But in that moment, you don’t know whether you have time to make this up. That’s a big deficit.  

And then the mosquitos were just bad. Anyone has any idea… Ron cycled through every single country in Africa and the mosquitos weren’t even like five percent of what we went through in Mongolia. Luckily Ron bought mosquito nets for our heads so that was a thing that we really needed. But we wore full trousers and long-sleeved shirts, but Ron got bitten through the net on his head.

Who suffered more? You or Ron?

Ron suffered the most. He needed a full hip replacement after the trip when he got back to Hongkong. During the last month of the trip he didn’t walk without pain. It was definitely much harder for him. Even in the beginning he had an ankle issue that was probably there for about two weeks and then just vanished. The body just got rid of its injury. Then his hip started up playing about ten weeks in.

But I had a fair few issues, too. I thought I had a fracture in my leg. I probably had that for two or three weeks, a stress fracture. From walking the whole time. And then I had a really bad back for two weeks, where I would sleep basically sitting down… Other than that, when I finished I was perfect, I didn’t have anything sore at all. That was good.

Were there any thoughts about quitting?

No, definitely not. I don’t think Ron or I ever mentioned giving up or quitting at all. It think, it was too much on the line to ever think about that. We were never gonna give up, regardless how long it would take. That was more what it would be, it was more about how long it would take to do it. But there was definitely times where we had to think about a plan B for Ron, maybe getting him a horse or a motorbike or something to help him pull the cart. But in the end we didn’t. He pulled that cart, every single inch through the country was pulled by him. That’s contribute how strong mentally he was.

Did you ever switch roles between golfer and caddy?

It was purely caddy and golfer. I would push him as well, anytime he needed help I would hit my golf ball and then push the cart up hill and things like that. It was definitely a joined effort but he had the harder task.

What about your golf handicap? Are you better right now after 2000 kilometers of practice?

I’m better now because I played more golf since but definitely not after this trip. Immediately after playing I was definitely not as good as I was. I had a backpack on the whole time. So, I was carrying like ten kilos in my backpack while hitting shots. It wasn’t like a normal round of golf.

This adventure was like a gap year between your professional Rugby career and “something else”. So, what are you doing for a living these days?

It was a nice transition from what I was doing in Rugby and then my next chapter. I think, it was an ideal time to do an adventure in my life. It was the perfect moment to go out and do something before I started something else. At the moment I am doing a teaching degree and I produced the documentary. I spent sort of three or four months last years with Andrew King producing the documentary and then doing screenings on couple of film festivals ultimately trying to sell it. Now I’m doing a teaching degree and Andrew and I have another film project with Ron. They are cycling from London to Tokyo to the Rugby World Cup, the are cycling the whistle on behalf of DHL. So, we are filming along with DHL. There’s a few things we are up to.

Did you ever think you could have accompanied Ron on this trip as well?

No, no. I’ve hung my adventure boots up for now. I think I actually am joining them – for filming. So, I’m with them – in a way. Me and Andrew, we are visiting them every six weeks and ultimately, we’re creating a documentary about that cycle trip.