Golf and New Zealand, the Other Land Down Under
By Sam Fullerton
New Zealand, the other land down under, has yet to attain the notoriety of its western neighbor, Australia. But like Australia, golf is a passion. And while the Aussies take great pride in the success of Greg Norman, the Kiwis exhibit similar fondness for Bob Charles and Frank Nobilo. It is truly a sporting country. While the U.S. has baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, Kiwis revel at the opportunity to watch cricket, rugby, and netball. Then there is golf.
Michiganders should feel a bond of sorts with the New Zealanders. Michigan consists of two peninsulas; New Zealand is two major islands. Michigan uses a simple designation - upper and lower peninsulas; New Zealand's
islands are officially known as north and south. Then there is golf. Michigan lays claim to some 800 golf courses. New Zealand's number is 400 for a population roughly half that of Michigan's. And both numbers
continue to grow.
Gulf Harbour, home of the 1998 World Cup, is one of the most talked about tracks in the country. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones, II. Gulf Harbour is often mentioned in the same breath with Pebble Beach. For visitors of New Zealand, it should be high on the list of "must play" courses.
While I enjoyed my round at Gulf Harbour and heartily recommend including it on your NZ itinerary, my personal favorite was Wairakei International Golf Course near the resort town of Taupo. It is also only an hour's
drive from Rotorua, one of New Zealand's most popular tourist destinations. It is in the heart of the North Island's geothermal area, so you are not far from geysers, boiling mud, and steam rising from fissures in the ground. The course is included in some lists (such as the 3rd edition of the World Atlas of Golf) of the premiere golf courses in the world.
Wairaki is a comparatively mature course - a bit of water, but well bunkered. And while walking is allowed, the hills and elevations changes make it a bit difficult.
Formosa is one of the newest courses on the North Island, and they are attempting to achieve a measure of prestige in the early going. The course is located in Auckland, though it is across an open expanse of water thus requiring more than a cross town commute to get there. It is a Bob Charles signature course, an attractive layout-well kept with good fairways, moderate rough, (some substantial rough), some nice views, and excellent clubhouse facilities. In fact, it has a conference center which would be capable of handling a medium sized business conference. In general, the course is reminiscent of the resort courses in South Carolina.
You owe it to yourself to visit the South Island; it is beautiful. And of the South Island destinations, perhaps the best is Queenstown. Your flight approach is between the mountains. The area's trademark is its deep, cold, glacier-fed lakes. Day cruises, jetboating and bungy jumping provide interesting diversions. Millbrook Resort is an exclusive, full service resort located about 30 minutes from Queenstown.
Millbrook is another Bob Charles signature course. The par 72 course (with a NZGA rating of 74) measures 7013 yards. From the regular tees it is much shorter (6255 yards) with a NZ Golf Association rating of 69 for men and 75 for women. It is a true resort course with amenities such as mountain bikes, spa pool, tennis courts, and children's golf programs. Peak season runs from October 1 through May 30 with prices about 30 percent
higher than the off season.
Located in Whakapappa Village in Tongariro National Park is the venerable old Chateau Tongariro, built in 1929. It is a 10 minute drive up a winding road that demands slow speeds and rapt attention to get to one of the two ski fields at Mt. Ruapehu. The Chateau is set between an active volcano and a nine-hole course. Mt. Ruapehu's fame is based upon its eruptions in 1995 and 1996. In fact, the hotel lobby has posted emergency
evacuation procedures in the "unlikely" event of another eruption. The golf course at an elevation of 9450 feet, is touted as the highest in the country and that is its primary appeal. The setting is beautiful; playing golf with a
rugged snow-capped volcano in the background is aesthetically appealing.At 3160 yards with two par-threes and two par-fives, it has some diversity. But as I stood on the first tee, I couldn't determine where the green
was - so take your scorecard and pay attention to the printed course layout.
Hamilton is the fifth largest city in New Zealand; with a population of 106,000, it is the largest non-coastal city in the country. It is the heart of the agricultural industry and the home of the University of Waikato. Hamilton is not the home of any significant destination or resort courses, yet it offers an abundance of golf opportunities. With a few mile radius, several clubs are easily accessible.
Lochiel Golf Club
Lochiel Golf Club, my home course while there, was an interesting layout. Running along the Waikato River, many of the fairways and undulations are the remnants of ancient river beds. The course is reminiscent of a Scottish links course though it is missing the trademark heather and gorse.
Hamilton Country Club
Another local course is Hamilton Country Club - or St. Andrews as it is often referred to. Opened in 1903, the course is one of few which has a comprehensive watering system. It is a relatively flat course measuring 6710
yards for men, 6375 for women, and it has a nice stretch of holes along the Waikato River. My one major complaint would be the lack of length or the par fours. Only one exceeds 400 yards while three or less than 340 yards. So if your short game is in order, you can score quite well at Hamilton Golf Club.
Ngaruawahia Golf Club
Twenty-five minutes north of Hamilton is Ngaruawahia Golf Club. The short par 72 course (6540/6200 yards) offers perhaps the finest and fastest greens in the area.. It is a quality course which represents a great value.
Cambridge Golf Club
Finally, there is Cambridge Golf Club which is about twenty minutes east of Hamilton. And, of course, it includes a stretch of holes along the river. The course currently plays at about 6200 yards with par of 71. The back nine is being given a significant face-lift which should ultimately result in a longer, more challenging course. It will continue to be a pretty venue which will offer opportunities to post a good score.
Things To Know Before You Go
Before departing for Auckland, you might opt to utilize one of the booking services to pre-arrange your tee times. "Golf Down Under" is one organization which will make your reservation. They also provide escorted
service to a number of private golf clubs and resorts, sell apparel, and rent top-line golf equipment. The central booking agency may provide peace of mind and reduce your burden in contacting several courses. "Golf Down Under" is located at 17 Albert Street in downtown Auckland. Alternatively, they may be contacted by phone at 649 307-7081 or via the Internet athttp://www.golfdownunder.co.nz. If you decide to call, remember that they are 16-18 hours ahead of Michigan (depending on daylight savings time).
Getting there is easy, even if it is long. A number of airlines provide service from Los Angeles to Auckland. United, Air New Zealand, and Qantas provide convenient schedules. One last word of wisdom. Auckland International Airport has great duty free shopping. Numerous shops sell the obligatory items, but there are stores that sell artwork, quality wood products, and a variety of other nice products. There is even a small Harrods's located there. And unlike other airports, you may shop duty free upon your arrival - not just your departure - in Auckland.
There are a multitude of reasons to head down under. Golf is one. It is a beautiful country inhabited by friendly people. If you're not a golfer, you might opt for water sports, skiing, bungy jumping, hiking (tramping), or just sight-seeing. No matter what you do, it will be a memorable trip. So book your return air, hire a car, put your clubs in the boot, and head down the motorway. And most of all, have a "g'day, mate." MG
August 2002 Issue Table of Content
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