In recent years, the course at Arrowtown Golf Club has jumped from relative obscurity to being hailed as one of New Zealand’s Top 10 golf courses, collecting ardent fans along the way including Tom Doak. It is an incredibly natural golf course, laid out by the early settlers in the South Island, with an astounding routing weaving its way between schist rock outcrops across the incredible topography of the Central Otago region. Weighing in at just under 6,000 yards, the balance between quirk and playability is well observed, lending itself to some of the most enjoyable golf to be found anywhere on Earth.
Now that Arrowtown has been discovered, it raises the question of whether there are any other golf courses of its ilk in the area, across the unique terrain found here on the South Island. Fortunately the answer is yes, although less than one might hope for given the geography available.
Having had some role in spreading the Arrowtown word, we'd now like to introduce Roxburgh Golf Club for intrepid golfers who are looking for something a bit different. Roxburgh lies almost exactly half way between the historic seaside city of Dunedin (home to the Southern Hemisphere’s oldest golf club, Otago) and the burgeoning resort town of Queenstown, where you will find the tightest concentration of quality golf courses in New Zealand, including Arrowtown.
If Arrowtown is known for its quirk and lack of length, Roxburgh is like its younger cousin, shorter and arguably with more extreme quirky moments. The par 68 course only stretches to 4,781 yards (4,372 metres), and works its way through around and over all the schist rock that litters the terrain, particularly during the first eleven holes.
Perhaps the craziest moment is the short 4th, 137 yards (125 metres) a Postage Stamp hole of sorts. The tiny green cuts into the top of a steep slope, with a rock face behind acting as an unforgiving backboard should you overshoot, ricocheting the ball to who knows where.
Don’t drive past without popping $25 in the honesty box and giving it a whirl … you won’t regret it.
It would be pretty easy just to describe Roxburgh as a mini Arrowtown, and in some ways that’s true. Short, quirky, narrow corridors, wild undulations, schist everywhere – the resemblance is clear. Like Arrowtown, it’s also a course that has two distinct playing areas, with 12-16 on a flatter, more parkland-type area. Clearly, the more wild section is more interesting – it’s a delectable moonscape of a course in places. But the strongest parallels that can be drawn between the two courses are about enjoyment – it’s just plain fun here – and sheer character.
A word to the architectural purists – the design is not on a par with Arrowtown. At Arrowtown, you can barely believe that those two guys, who do not seem to have designed a course before or since, came up with such a sublime routing, encompassing all those beautiful green sites and maximising gameplay out of such a small property. Here, you get the feeling you could have figured out the routing yourself, and maybe bettered it in places. That’s not to say that there are no good golf holes – quite the contrary – but there’s no feeling that a genius was at work.
To comment on individual holes; the short par 4 3rd, eminently driveable, left me utterly ambivalent about pulling driver, which seems to be a sign of some thought going into the risk/reward decision during the hole’s construction. The crazy short 4th – possibly a little too crazy? The green is so tiny, and the penalty for missing so harsh, but there are many heralded short short holes that you could say the same thing about. I think one’s round is richer for having one moment of madness, and it certainly gets the adrenaline pumping on the tee. 2, 8, 9 and 10 are all fun adventures in the rocks too. I also appreciated that some of the holes in the parkland area also seemed to make decent use of contours to add interest and strategy (e.g. 12 and 16).
My other thoughts about Roxburgh is that it could snugly sit in an immensely enjoyable budget tour of Otago’s raw and naturalistic club courses. Start in Dunedin with the cracking 9 holer at Otakou (take cash for the honesty box) and the renowned links at Chisholm, then play Roxburgh the next day on the way to Cromwell. The next day, play Cromwell before moving on to the piece de resistance at Arrowtown. Could be done in 3-4 days, and would cost you less than $200 for all five rounds.