“A little out of the way: A lot out of the ordinary” is the slogan on the official Mangawhai business development website. The reality is that the seaside town of Mangawhai Heads is a located a mere 90-minute drive to the north of Auckland, but many golfers will bypass Mangawhai Golf Club on their long journey up State Highway 1 to play the fabled Kauri Cliffs course. Compared to Kauri Cliffs, Mangawhai is positively accessible and is well worth making a short detour.
Situated a couple of hundred yards to the west of Mangawhai Harbour, the golf club is a quintessential gem which measures a modest 5,466 metres from the tips. It may not appear to be championship length, but what it lacks in yardage it certainly makes up for in difficulty. Mangawhai Golf Club was established as a nine-holer in 1979 and was extended to 18 holes in the mid 90s. At one stage the course was officially rated the most difficult in New Zealand from its back tees.
Managwhai may well have lost its “most difficult” tag in recent years but it remains a stern test for most golfers with its fast running fairways and large, slick greens. One of New Zealand’s most talented amateur golfers, Ted McDougall, is synonymous with Mangawhai and became resident club professional in 1995. In an article published in the New Zealand Herald, McDougall said; “the difficulty off the blue tees is the result of subtle penalties rather than extreme length.” He went on to cite the example of a young pro playing in a 2003 pro-am: “On the par-five first, he drove far enough to take a five-iron for his second to the green. The ball failed to hold the green and from a downhill lie he hit his third into a drain close to the green. He took a penalty, hit his fifth over the green, chipped back and three-putted for a nine.”
Perhaps the best hole on the course is the 2nd, a 387-metre par four and the toughest hole on the card. The hole doglegs to the right and is protected by a swamp on the left and dunes on the right. It’s a brutal hole to face so early in the round, and, even if you find the centre of the fairway, hitting the elevated green with your approach shot is easier said than done.
Fairly described as an inland links (although it's located less than a kilometre from the sea) and built on sand, Mangawhai is billed as an “all weather course” on the official club website. In actual fact, that’s the only information available on the Mangawhai site. We really do think they should promote themselves a little better… the course truly deserves it.
Mangawhai separates itself from the majority of well-conditioned, tree-lined parkland courses in New Zealand by virtue of its changing character. Whilst there may be several mundane parkland holes, there is some form of journey as you go along, most notably in and around the huge sand hills at the far end of the course. The pinnacle of your round will be the par 3 13th, with its wild rollercoaster green, highly reminiscent of some quality seaside golf.
Quite a number of the other less conventional holes are also quite satisfying, such as 5, 14, and 17. However, some feel like a bit of an own goal. The 2nd, for example, is a long par 4 curving around the sand hills – this would be a fine hole if it weren’t for the exceptionally penal width of the fairway – an exceptional drive is needed just to have any decent chance of par. The tee shot to the 3rd flies over the corner of a lake, which would make it a decent cape hole, except that trees have been allowed to grow all along the edge of the water, leaving a drive where one can only see the furthest sliver of fairway, but is actually less mentally challenging than if the lake were visible – I didn’t see the point of this. I would love to see some chainsaw work here.
I’d say that half of the holes are decent / interesting, the other half are either bland parkland offerings or very long and penal challenges. I don’t really have loads more to say than that, which should tell you what you need to know about its memorability and its ability to inspire. I’m always happy to play golf, and it’s not controversial to say it deserves to be ranked in a national Top 50, but that’s about it.
Hi Matt. Delighted to tell you that the club dug out all the swamp cypress trees around the wetland surrounding hole 2 and 3. Really opens up that area and only the one hazard now. Please come back and have a look - while you play another round.