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.
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