Since crossing the ‘ditch’, finally, a true links course. Para’m, phonetically, as it is known to the locals, is situated adjacent to the coast in classic, undulating linksland. About an hour north of Wellington. In the lee of Kapiti Island to the west and Mount Hector, and the Tararua Range, as a backdrop to the east. A snow-capped visage in season, this day, a range literally shrouded in a ‘long white cloud’.
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.
Date: November 30, 2015