18 Aug 2015
Greg Turner and New Zealand Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Key, at the opening of new Milbrook Golf Course in Queenstown
My appreciation of the New Zealand golf on offer was not immediate. Like most kids, I took for granted my surroundings, both from a physical and social sense. That golf was a relatively inexpensive and accessible activity was just normal; and that the many courses that were available to play occupied such stunning surroundings was likewise just “the way it was”.
Roll the clock forward to today and that realisation is entirely different. Having spent much of the last 30 years of my professional life traveling the world playing golf, I am far more appreciative of our own golf landscape. We are blessed with a surplus of golf, spread far and wide and occupying the full range of locations and, just as importantly, open to the public at a very reasonable cost.
The majority of NZ courses are home to local golf clubs and are very welcoming to visitors. For a generally modest green fee these courses are accessible to all and it is very seldom tee times aren’t available. Understated and unpretentious are the two words that perhaps best communicate golf in NZ.
Golf alongside the seashore has become increasingly appreciated across the golfing world. Where the “linksland” upon which golf was founded was once considered ideal for golf BECAUSE it wasn’t fertile, those marginal strips are now, quite rightly, regarded as precious. In NZ we are fortunate enough to have one of the longest coastlines in the world and therefore, while still precious, golf has been permitted to co-exist in these delicate ecosystems. As a consequence NZ has more true links golf than anywhere (outside of Great Britain & Ireland of course) almost all of which are publicly accessible and generally inexpensive.
But variety of topography is perhaps the best explanation of golf in NZ. You needn’t move more than a few hundred metres from the coast in most of the country and you are into the type of countryside which has fostered New Zealand's reputation for primary produce. Parkland golf of one form or another is the bread and butter of the golf experience. Lush grasses and a wide variety of flora characterise most of the golf played near but not on the coast. Whether you are in one of our cities or just passing through small towns and villages, parkland golf exists seemingly everywhere.
But also we have our inland, alpine golf experiences. In the south island the land has generally been sculptured by ice and water and as a consequence some of our most spectacular courses are surrounded by snow-capped peaks and crystal clear alpine lakes. New Zealands adventure capital (Queenstown) can reasonably also claim the title of our “golf capital” having hosted many of our international events over the past decade. Here there are a group of courses that range from the friendly, member facilities through to the most exclusive resorts and championship layouts.
The topography of the north has been shaped by very different forces, with volcanoes (both active and extinct) having produced some very distinctive landforms. Indeed in the central north island there are courses where steam rises from below and, in Rotorua, you will even come across boiling mud pools as a very unusual hazard!
All and all golf in NZ has something to offer everyone. There has been significant investment in some of our most stunning locations to produce golf of a truly international standard accompanied by the type of facilities and service you would expect in the most exclusive of locations. But far and away the majority of courses are member run, unprepossessing and brilliant value for money. Seldom will you find more than a few vehicles in the car park nor will you have to wait too long for the tee to clear. You’ll also be more than welcome to share a beer with the locals afterwards and relive golf as it may have been decades ago.
NZ golf professional Greg Turner in partnership with his son Jack at the 2015 NZ Open at Millbrook Golf Resort.