Designed by John Darby and Bob Charles, Clearwater Golf Club hosted the New Zealand Open championship in 2011 and 2012.
Laid out within a massive 465-acre property beside the airport, to the north of Christchurch, the golf course competes for the attention of residents and hotel guests on site with other sporting activities such as fly fishing, tennis, archery and cycling.
The course is routed around several man-made lakes and streams, bringing water into play at more than half the holes on the card. If modern American-style parkland golf is your thing then Clearwater is just the place for you! Don’t expect a walk in the park though as many think this is one of the toughest tracks in the country.
A couple of holes are worthy of special mention. The par four 3rd is the pick of the holes on the front nine as it’s tougher than it looks. A waste bunker sits on the right as the fairway doglegs in that direction and it will catch many who hit an over aggressive tee shot. The par four 18th is regarded by some commentators as one of the best finishing holes in the country, playing from an elevated tee to a green that sticks out into a lake, bringing water into play on three sides.
Something I have not seen before anywhere in the world is the way Clearwater adapts the competition course with the changing conditions. Wind is a big factor and with the course quite challenging at times, and so much water in play, it is important that the tees and pins are placed appropriately for the conditions of the day. They have different cards for the different wind directions, fully utilising the different length tees to make each hole playable on the day.
There is also the 30/30 course devised by Bob Charles which offers a combination of short par 4 and par 3's adapted from the full course to play as a short and sporty par 60 course for members after a bit of fun – but without taking too long.
Clearwater is a parkland course somewhat reminiscent of the popular resort courses in the USA. Water is the dominant hazard, and a majority of the holes are framed by water, or require water carries.
The front nine is more open, and only really fires up on holes 8 & 9 when suddenly the proliferation of h2o requires your full attention.
The back nine is a much stronger nine in my opinion and includes a number of memorable holes. The closing stretch – 16,17 & 18 is indeed a championship finish.
Clearwater has a pedigree for hosting championships. You need to be on your game to bring home a score here!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I’d heard some pretty diverse opinion on Clearwater before I came. A lot of pros seem to like it, but if you read the discussion group on a certain high-brow architectural website (if you’ve been there, you know the one), it seems that taking pot shots at Bob Charles' design prowess is all part of the fun.
But you never know until you actually smack a ball round what you’re going to think of a place. Sure, it is pretty flat – it doesn't feel like it had a good canvas to paint a picture on, if you know what I mean. Early on, I know I won’t be able to love it – even with all the lakes, there’s not enough drama. But the question remains - is this is really such an architectural travesty? There’s no doubt you can pick holes in it, if you’ll excuse the pun – e.g. the back 9 has water to the left hand side on every drive (rather unfair on the pullers and hookers, is it not?). Also, I really don’t get why some of the bunkers are where they are. Case in point - there’s 3 new bunkers on the par 5 5th. From the tournament tees, Google Earth tells me they’re at 440-470 yards, from the medal tees it’s 370-400 yards. In other words, they’re not going to catch anyone’s tee shot, or anyone’s second shot, unless they can’t clear 400 yards with their second shot. We’re not supposed to be penalizing these people. I could continue with the nit-picking without breaking too much sweat. But a travesty? – I think that’s way too harsh.
But I have other questions – would a visionary architect have really done so much better with such unpromising land? They were never going to make a World Top 100 golf course here. And is it a decent test? I thought it was, and I can see why professionals like it – it’s rational, it’s fair, and you need to hit clean golf shots. And although water is a little overused, it will at least get your adrenaline going a few times.
Apparently there had been a recent decision to cut back the rough and shave the run-offs round the green. Although I had not played the course before, I can only imagine that this has produced a quantum leap forward, introducing much more strategic options, and creating more of a 'second shot' golf course. What also gets surprisingly revealed is that there is some quite decent shaping on those green complexes, which now gets brought into play.
A very important PS – Clearwater has not been affected by the recent earthquakes, and is fully operational. Matt Richardson