Founded in 1895 and designed by Samuel “Mure” Fergusson, New Zealand Golf Club is a top-class course located within the famous Surrey heath belt. New Zealand was laid out on the estate of H.F. Locke-King, who also built Brooklands, the world’s first motor racing circuit, on his property.
Following in the footsteps of nearby Woking Golf Club, New Zealand’s design was innovative, being one of the earliest courses to be routed across dense heathland. Fergusson continued to improve the layout for another thirty years during his long-term secretarial position at New Zealand Golf Club. In 1931, after Fergusson’s death, Tom Simpson (aided by Philip Mackenzie Ross) was commissioned to perform a major redesign of the course, which included significant bunker modifications.
According to Bernard Darwin, "New Zealand is sui generis. It does not compete with other courses, but it sets its own standard and lives up to it. If anyone wants to play a friendly game, uncrowded and unseen, to have a good lunch in pleasant company, and get home early to London, there is no place like New Zealand."
Not a long course by today’s standards, at a little over 6,000 yards, but with a lowly par of 68, it represents a challenge; six of the par fours are more than 400 yards long. Needless to say, accuracy rather than distance is important from the tee. The course plays through avenues of trees and there is plenty of heather to catch the wayward ball. New Zealand really is a stylish golf course and it’s a privilege to be able to play a round at this engaging golf club.
Most of the holes are isolated from each other by the trees; it’s an intimate feeling and a great place to play golf with friends. The 9th hole is about as far away from the clubhouse as you can get and it's the first in a cluster of three holes which are located on the other side of Martyrs Lane – so make sure you have everything you need in your bag before you start your round.
In 2015, New Zealand Golf Club commissioned Frank Pont of Infinite Variety Golf Design to return some of the course’s lost architectural features which, according to IVGD partner Ed Cartwright, “include returning the green complexes to their former glory by restoring Simpson’s laced/diagonal fingered bunkers and their asymmetric aprons.”
Because both courses are fairly flat the bunkers take on a more prominent strategic role and may explain why the architects seemed to take great care in creating thoughtful hazards which in the best of traditions guard rather than frame greens. While admiring the strategy and beauty of the bunkering one’s appreciation for New Zealand can increase imperceptibly. There is a fair amount of wonderful architecture that is more often than not dismissed as "flat" and therefore uninteresting. This sort of attitude will lead golfers to miss out on one of the true gems of London.
Much of New Zealand is the product of Mure Fergusson's 1895 design which was unique for its day in that it was carved out of a forest. Fergusson continued to make refinements over the following 30 years as secretary of the club. Not long after his death Tom Simpson was called in to make significant changes. Being a former partner of Herbert Fowler and a member of Woking gave Simpson first-hand knowledge of good design principles. Among the alterations were the addition of the great green complexes for #s 17 & 18, the short 3rd hole and a grand bunkering scheme for the entire course. Consequently it is fair to state that New Zealand is the product of both these gentlemen.
New Zealand offers a score of cracking holes to be admired and perhaps the long one-shot 7th best illustrates caliber of the course. There can be no flatter hole in all of England, and the green too appears to have no movement. This though is a deception, in fact, the green runs right toward what is one of the finest hazards of the heathlands. There is plenty of room to hit a tee shot, but the indecisive golfer who leaks a shot right must answer to the genius of Simpson; a large bunker with a heather mound resting in the middle. Often times, it can be difficult to hit a recovery toward the hole. However, the primary bunker is set some 10 yards or so short of the green on the left. It protects the direct line to a back left hole location and pinches the kick in for more central pin placements. Time and again the golfer will encounter bunkers which sustain interest by creating angles and choices.
The clubhouse has bags of charm and the course is demandingly honest, but the vital statistics will often surprise golfers; par of 68 and a breath under 6000 yards. These numbers may strike many as a bit on the light side, however, don't be deceived. The story of New Zealand is discovered in its playing and with six holes which can take some reaching, only one of which is a three-shotter, and two long par 3s, New Zealand offers plenty of challenge. This sort of configuration is a wonderful example of how to combat flat bellies yet offer respite for the less gifted players. The course isn't blessed with the rolling property, but New Zealand does drain exceedingly well. The flatter landscape offers a pleasantly cunning game and is a comfortable walk. For any interested in seeing how a cleverly conceived bunker scheme can transform a golf course, New Zealand is well worth a visit.
Bernard Darwin encapsulates the qualities of the club and course like no other can; "New Zealand is sui generis. It does not compete with other courses, but it sets its own standard and lives up to it."