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.
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.
When all’s said and done, I could see both why architecture buffs deride it, and pros rate it. Regular punters will probably enjoy it too. I’m teetering heavily between awarding a 4 or a 5 ball rating – I’ll give a 5, but that’s generous as hell. Best course in Christchurch? Without having played Shirley, I can’t make that call yet, but I certainly favour it over Terrace Downs and Russley.
A very important PS – Clearwater has not been affected by the recent earthquakes, and is fully operational. Matt Richardson