Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club is set on the Kapiti Coast, which is approximately 40 miles to the north of Wellington as the crow flies. Former Australian Open champion Alex Russell designed the course in 1949 and, for many years, Paraparaumu Beach has quite rightly enjoyed the title of the “best links course in New Zealand”.
Host to twelve New Zealand Opens, the first in 1959, Paraparaumu Beach is a New Zealand household name. “But Paraparaumu Beach Links is now also known for being the de facto home course of New Zealand’s wealthiest sportsman, Steve Williams.” Writes James Spence in his book, The Finest Golf Courses of Asia & Australasia. “Tiger Wood’s caddy grew up just along the road at Pukerua Bay and, before he could make a living out of golf, worked in the butcher’s shop in Paraparaumu.”
“Although Paraparaumu Beach is not flush to the shore, it has all the foils of a links course. There are no weak holes and in a fresh breeze, all manner of difficulties present themselves. The staff and members are a very friendly bunch and will want to engage you in conversation about the course as you fortify yourself with a deserving pie and a strong cup of tea.”
The book 500 world’s greatest golf holes by author George Peper and the editors of GOLF magazine features the 442-yard par four 17th at Paraparaumu Beach: “The 17th is a par four of notable length. which, when played into the wind, presents difficulties of distance and, when played downwind, presents difficulties of accuracy. Its demands are made more diabolical by a split fairway. The lower tier is easier to find from the tee and provides a shorter route to the green. However, two bunkers short and right of the green guard its entrance and demand that the approach be put up into the wind and dropped precisely on the putting surface. The upper fairway is more difficult to hit and hold from the tee. In addition to its narrowness, a steep slope falls off the left side and is generally shaved to exaggerate the punishment for inaccuracy.”
The course first came to the attention of many worldwide golfers in 1962 during one of the earliest “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” challenge matches when Bob Charles played Bob Goalby.
I can’t help feeling that Paraparaumu Beach remains one of the world’s most underrated golf courses. At one point it broke its way miraculously into the World Top 100. I’m amazed it had received enough visits from panelists to give it its due credit. I strongly believe that is indeed where it belongs, in the World Top 100.
This wonderful traditional links gem could have been stolen from the shores of Scotland, dug up and moved by ship over to Paraparaumu Beach. The course is situated in wonderful linksland close to the coast even though there are houses surrounding it now. It’s characterized by an excellent and unique routing with fast and firm playing conditions and wonderful natural green sites that in my mind demand a mastery of the ground game to score well.
“Pram” as the some of the locals call it, obviously because none of the tourists can pronounce the real name, has been gifted with some of the wildest land movements that fortunately were not ploughed flat when the course was built. This of course means that you can end up with some unexpected bounces but that’s links golf at its best. It’s no surprise that my favorite hole was the short par 4 10th hole. The fairway looks like something you might see at Aspen ski resort after a week of no snow when the moguls become the size of VW bugs. Standing on the tee you wonder how to play this gem, but the thought of having some crazy uneven lie in the fairway was enough for me to simply go for the green and bank on a short chip if I missed it.
The set of par 3’s are also world class requiring exacting shots to hold the greens. The 16th which is only playing 126 meters has a green that drops steeply off pretty much all around making it – hit a good shot or bring double or worse into play.
I’ll admit to expecting “Pram” to be a great course given all the good things I’d heard about it, after all that’s why I put it on the agenda, however, it definitely exceeded my expectations and even with the fact that I played in hard rain the entire round.
While I can’t comment on any other courses in the Wellington area, this one is for sure worthy of the trip. Not to mention the fact that Wellington seems to be a great little laid back city too.
Alex Russell, the designer of the golf course left the rumpled fairways as he found them and exercised restraint in his design choices. The result is a quirky links course with a dearth of bunkers and an abundance of table top greens.
A true links course, Paraparaumu has the feel of a course in the British Isles, although the weather is decidedly better here. Similar to Royal Lytham & St. Annes, you never actually see the water while playing. In addition to sharing the topography of Lytham, the course also has an element of the quirkiness of Scotland's Cruden Bay thrown in. There are a half dozen blind or semi-blind shots, including the 1st tee shot, and holes with some interesting greens, including the 11th, which is a punchbowl.
A collection of short par 4s, the 6th, 8th and 10th take full advantage of the dramatic natural land forms. They make up for their lack of length and bunkering by using the natural contours of the true links land, placing a premium on shot accuracy. Paraparaumu offers plenty of opportunity to be creative and bump and run the ball: a key consideration when playing in "windy Wellington."
One of the defining characteristics of the course is its appropriate sense of scale, with a continual change in hole direction. The dunes are perfectly proportioned, and Russell routed the course among them with skill. The front nine is routed further from the sea, which is about 500 yards away at its closest point. The front nine is nearer the water, with all but two holes on the course designed to play in a cross-wind.
In the same way that Whistling Straits is defined by its generous use of bunkers, Paraparaumu is defined by the absence of them. There are less than a dozen fairway bunkers on the entire course; and the 1st and 5th holes have none of any kind. The scarcity of bunkering is most pronounced on the par 3s. The two best, the 5th and 16th, have tabletop greens that fall off sharply on three sides. Anything less than the perfect shot will not hold them. As my host said in typical straightforward Kiwi fashion of the 155-yard 5th, "you are either on it, or you're not," meaning correctly, that there is a harsh penalty for missing. New Zealand native and Open Champion Bob Charles calls the 5th "equal to any short hole in the world."
It is a brilliant place to play golf.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
The original designers were fortunate to have had such classic coastal terrain to work with and golf was first played over these dunes during the 1920’s. Their task, not so much designing the holes, rather, identifying them and laying them out on the existing topography.
Circa 1948, the club secured the services of Alex Russell, winner of the 1924 Australian Open, one time associate of the revered master, Dr Alister MacKenzie, and in company with one Douglas Whyte of R & A fame, identified and utilised the full potential of the available land to create the links we see today. The revamped Para’m, opened for play to accolades, in 1949.
Today, at PBGC, golfers are provided with a well balanced traditional links layout. The fairways are relatively narrow offering sometimes rather small targets at their conclusion. The prevailing wind seems to quarter from all points of the compass as rarely do two holes play in similar direction.
Paraparaumu Beach GC has hosted no less than twelve New Zealand Open Championships. And for good reason. I have been fortunate to have played the adjoining layouts of Royal St George’s and Royal Cinque Ports at Sandwich and state with confidence that ‘Para’m’ would slot most comfortably betwixt these two classic links.
On arrival, I received a warm welcome from mine host, GM, Leo Barber, and was provided with a most enthusiastic and comprehensive overview of the course and its antecedents.
This is a delightfully undulating tract of land, running adjacent to the coastline. I liken it to the great links at Rye, in England. There are five sets of tees on offer at PBGC and this course provides a tough but fair test of your game. From the tips, it measures 6014 metres, par of 71, 35 out and 36 home. Relatively short by modern standards and conservatively rated at 72.4 with a slope of 125.
Fairways; Every conceivable lie may be expected on these undulating, rolling fairways. The aerial route not often the optimal choice and the exponents of the ‘Pommie’ bump and run are invariably the more successful.
Greens; This is an extremely strategic course comprising sensational green complexes. Simply great putting surfaces, fast, true and receptive with all manner of interesting undulation. Get it wrong at your peril and big numbers appear, seemingly from nowhere.
Bunkers: Just great. In the classic Russell/MacKenzie style, most evident with the pot bunkers adjacent to the 3rd green – a real test of your skill with the most lofted bat in your bag. To ratify this fact, a quick triple jumped in on the par three second after an extended visit to the front left greenside pot which sports the ‘stepped’ face indigent to the old links courses of the south of England. Aesthetically delightful.
And, at last, a round in NZ where the climatic conditions were “only” characteristic of the accepted norm. Overcast, a blustery northerly, slipping along at a nominal 25 miles per hour, sporting a chill factor of 7 out of 10 but thankfully, no rain. Without playing PBGC under these ‘average’ conditions, one would never experience the full potential of this great course.
Didn’t get within a ‘bull’s roar’ of playing to my handicap – however – possibly due to my obvious predilection for links golf, by ‘a street’, the most enjoyable round, on, in my opinion, the best course encountered on this sojourn to ‘The land of the long white cloud’.
A brief aside – Alex Russell only designed four original layouts whilst tinkering and offering advice on several more. In 2014 these four clubs, Royal Melbourne, Lake Karrinyup, Yarra Yarra and Paraparaumu Beach met and formed the Alex Russell Society with the objective to “examine and foster the golf architecture” of the Society’s namesake. The first meeting was hosted in Western Australia, at Lake Karrinyup, a course that had recently undergone a restoration of the original Russell design. It’s Kiwi cousin Paraparaumu Beach will play host to the second meeting of the Society later in 2015.
Since last time, bunkers have been reshaped with steeply revetted faces, cart paths have been concealed in-between humps and ridges, and the 5th green has been made much more visible from the tee, after taking a few feet from the top of the intervening mounding. And what a green site to reveal – it’s a medium iron to a surface that drops away steeply on three sides, small doses of heroism needed to get up and down here. Actually, it’s the fascinating set of short holes that impressed me most of all – I remembered 5 and 16 to be classics, but 2 and especially 14 had escaped my attentions last time for some reason. What a treat to play a set of par 3’s that all ask stern questions, but only once stray above 150m.
Generally speaking, I felt much better about the place second time around, partly because of the changes to the set-up , but mainly due to an increasing understanding of what the design is all about – where to drive it to get 20m extra run, and where the fast and firm conditioning will leave you needing to land on a sixpence or pay the price of you’re coming in from the wrong angle (amongst others, I’m thinking about 8 here – a real wolf in sheep’s clothing).
I’ll be honest – I’m unusual, in that I’m someone who spends considerable (too much?) time, effort and money travelling around in search of the best golf, but I don’t find myself prizing links golf over other forms of the game, in the way that other enthusiasts and connoisseurs seem to. No point pretending otherwise. So whilst I undoubtedly had a very rewarding playing experience, Paraparaumu doesn’t stir my soul as much as it seems to for many others - I see things like the unremarkable stretch up the coast side of the property (10-12), and I can’t hand on heart say that I think there are any particularly memorable par 5’s. But on the flip side, there are some truly outstanding, highly original par 4’s (especially 8, 13, 15, 17), and the short holes are sublime. I feel a similar way about most of the famous British links courses I’ve played (barring my large soft spot for Royal St George’s), so I’m guessing that for links enthusiasts, I’d have to strongly recommend a game here, as it seems to stack up very nicely against its highly lauded British cousins. And of the 3 or 4 links worth anything in New Zealand, surely there can’t be any arguments about which one is the cream of the crop? Matt Richardson