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GOLF VACATIONS in NEW ZEALAND

by Lance Murray, Editor New Zealand GOLF Gazette (2000)

New Zealand is a small country. But it has long been famous as a scenic wonderland, with its unique thermal areas, glaciers, lakes and mountains and unspoiled National Parks. The country also has the longest coastline in the world for the land area involved, and, strangely enough, has more golf courses for the size of the population than any other country on earth.

That's because New Zealand is an agricultural nation. Much of this rich rural land, isolated from the large cities, was ideal for golf courses - and the locals would get together and shape their layouts literally with their bare hands. Today there are almost 400 golf courses in a land area roughly equivalent to the size of Queensland. Many of these golf courses are quaint country clubs with fenced greens to divert the attention of sheep. (There are plenty of those around - some 70 million, in fact). But the major club and championship resort courses, firmly entrenched along the tourist routes are equivalent to some of the best courses in the world.

New Zealanders have the Scots to thank (or blame) for introducing the disease known as golf to their chosen land. The first club was founded in1871 in Dunedin but the idea of starting golf began in 1863 with a simple classified advertisement: "Golf Golf Golf. Gentlemen desirous of forminga golf club as in Edinburgh, St Andrews, Blackheath, London, etc. address Robert Souter, office of this paper."

So Souter started the ball rolling towards the cup, as it were, 135 years ago. Now, of the 400 courses in these two beautiful islands, at least 50 of them are up to the standard you will find in the finest Australian courses.

Those seeking primarily a golf vacation in New Zealand should consider both the scenic value of their itinerary and the courses which will strain their handicaps. The variety of choice will be something to write home about because New Zealand features linksland, parkland, coastal, rural undulating and tree-studded sylvan settings. Here's a recommended list:

BAY OF ISLANDS - A famous tourist destination, it has a wonderful course at WAITANGI, close to a huge selection of motels at Paihia. The views fromthe coastal holes are excellent. While the course is not a true championship layout it is a fairly challenging track. Historic KERIKERI north of Paihia features a very good club course with several great holes.WHANGAREI- The nearest city south has a fine coastal course called THE PINES and three good inland courses, MT DENBY, SHERWOOD PARK and NORTHLAND.

AUCKLAND - New Zealand's largest city and one of four international airport destinations is naturally blessed with several fine club courses plus two new resort and country club courses adjacent to modern marinas,where charter operations can get you out to sea.

GULF HARBOUR COUNTRY CLUB - venue for the 1998 World Cup is situated 40 km north of the city at the end of the large Whangaparaoa Peninsula which jutsout into the Hauraki Gulf. This championship course by Robt. Trent Jones Jnr. features five sets of tees, the best greens in the country and spectacular coastal holes overlooking the Hauraki Gulf and it's Islands.The Country Club has all facilities: restaurant, driving range, practice areas, tennis, squash, gymnasium, saunas and spas and a 25 metre indoorswimming pool. Carting is recommended although it is permissable to walk the course if you can.

FORMOSA COUNTRY CLUB is also a scenic course and a true championship layout,scene of the 1998 NZ Open. Designed by Bob Charles, it's championship length is longer than Gulf Harbour. The greens are the biggest anywhere.It has no member's lounge but all amenities including a five star restaurant. Other recreational facilities are housed in a separate building. The club hosts conferences with golf as the theme. It also has accommodation in the form of modern bungalows and offers stay/play packages.It lies at Beachlands (near Maraetai) in the far Eastern suburbs ofAuckland, some 45 minutes by car from downtown Auckland.

REMUERA GOLF CLUB - nearest to downtown Auckland is a club course so it pays to arrange tee times outside of club priorities. It is a fine course with excellent facilities and only 10 minutes from town.

TITIRANGI situated among Auckland's Western suburbs has been the venue ofmany PGA events. This MacKenzie design is a masterpiece combining tall exterior trees, native bush, meandering streams with tight fairways and subtle greens.Other courses recommended are THE GRANGE, MANUKAU and PUKEKOHEall on the main route South while AVIATION CLUB will suit those on a short stopover at the airport.

If your safari includes the Waikato and Bay of Plenty districts, there are some of the best courses in New Zealand on the way. In Hamilton the delightful ST ANDREWS and LOCHIEL courses are well worth a visit.

On the East Coast of the North Island especially in Tauranga and Mt Maunganui, both popular tourist districts similar to the sunshine coast, there are some really great courses. The nearest to the city of Tauranga is GATE PA. At the surf resort of Mt Maunganui there are two fine courses, MT MAUNGANUI, usually bursting at the seams with visitors at peak times, and OMANU, near the shopping mall. Further down the East Coast are the beautiful TE PUKE and WHAKATANE courses.

These courses are recommended if you have your own vehicle and time to playthem because they are near coastal areas where sea excursions, swimming andsurfing are near at hand.

On through to the famous thermal wonderland of Rotorua. The most popularcourse is Arikikapakapa near the thermal tourist area of Whakarewarewa. The Lakeview and Springfield courses are also worth a shot if you have time forall three.

Just one hour south of Rotorua near the Lake Taupo resort area lies New Zealand's first resort course Wairakei-Tui International opened in 1971. Ithas recently been thoroughly upgraded and new lakes and bunkers (108) add to the challenge. The Wairakei Resort Hotel is only three minutes by car fromthe course. Wairakei features some of the greatest holes in the country and it should be a long-stay destination if golf is your main interest.

Down the main route (see directory) are several country courses. Nearer Wellington the Waikanae and Foxton links style courses are very good while Paraparaumu scene of several NZ Open championships is a "must play" course.

In Wellington right next to the airport is the famous Mirimar Golf Links also built on a sand based isthmus next to the long North/South runway.When the wind blows there the course can play 10 shots harder. This course has recently been re-designed by and boastsmany more bunkers to make it even more challenging.

Nelson at the top of the South Island is often referred to as the sunshine capitol of New Zealand. It's beautiful seaside links course, Tahunanui, has hosted many top NZ amateur championships. A little further south are the famous Marlborough vineyards and a number of fine courses; in particular the testy Marlborough Course.

The "garden city" of Christchurch boasts many good courses - none better than the Shirley and Russley courses. Both are championship standard and are the scene of many top tournaments including the World Eisenhower and the Expirito Santo events.

The popular tourist area around Queenstown is known for it's beautiful quality courses. The Bob Charles designed Millbrook is an international standard resort course located in the quaint town of Arrowtown a short drive from Queestown. The undulating and rolling fairways are set amidst aspectacular alpine amphitheatre providing a wonderful golfing experience.Also nearby, the Arrowtown Golf Course is an excellent golfing experience on the banks of the Arrow River with suberb views. Closer to Queestown the Kelvin Heights course is often dubbed the most picturesque course in theworld and is almost completely surrounded by Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables Mountains forming a backdrop.

In Dunedin New Zealand's oldest course at Balmacewan is one of the best inthe country. Surrounded by native bush the challenging championship layout is a test for the best. Also the St Claire Golf Club with it's suberb ocean views and narrow, undulating, tree-lined fairways is among a number of challenges well worth facing in this city full of Scottish heritage.

Good golf courses are still aplenty at the bottom tip of New Zealand. Near Invercargill the Otatara Links course is a fine example of a championship course and is rated by many as one of the top ten in New Zealand.

For NZ golf tours and travel advice email ausgolf at travel@ausgolf.com.au