Wellington Golf Club (as it was known until it gained “Royal” status in 2004) dates back to 1895, when a group of like-minded golfers formalised their sporting pursuit when they established a golfing society.
A decade after its foundation the club moved to a 120-acre site (Silverstream Farm) that was purchased from the Barton family. Once members had drained a few areas of marsh on the property, a course was ready for play.
This layout remained largely unchanged until the club purchased some additional land, and in 1972 a new championship course was completed, with a 9-hole academy course adjoining. This new layout hosted the New Zealand Open four times over the next 23 years, adding to the three occasions that the previous incarnation had hosted the event between 1912 and 1954.
Despite the prestige associated with hosting multiple national opens, there was an acknowledgement within the club that their course was a little ordinary for a club of their standing. Michael Clayton, the ex-European Tour pro and co-designer of Barnbougle Dunes, was originally commissioned to create a masterplan in 2006. The club was initially going to use this design, but the decision was overturned in 2010, when Greg Turner and Scott Macpherson (Close House, Millbrook) presented alternative ideas to the club. Click here to read the full story.
Their Heretaunga course (named after the local suburb) was completed in 2013, and is largely a brand new layout, as opposed to a renovation. As far as we are aware, only three holes occupy the same land as their predecessors, with other holes following the reverse direction along the same tree-lined corridors, and some brand new holes constructed after the felling of a pine forest near the Hutt river.
Royal Wellington Golf Club will host the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in 2017.
The Club exudes old school charm in the vein of the upper echelon clubs recently visited in the UK. Officially opened in 1895 and relocated to the present site in 1908, the club was granted Royal Status in 2004. RWGC is a classic parkland layout blessed with century old flora and boasts a Kahikatea tree, known to be in excess of 700 years old.
After a warm welcome from Golf Operations Manager, Dylan Lindstrom and his staff, a quick bite in the beautifully appointed old clubhouse – to the fray.....There are five tee options and as is my practice, went forward to the member’s blue tees, which measure just over 6100 metres. After a relatively comfortable start, the 3rd is the first of the par 3’s, 193 from the back blocks and a real tester into the prevailing wind.
The 500 metre 4th is a great strategically designed, risk/reward par five. Both a stream and the lake come into play and both ‘young lions’ and ‘crafty old stagers’ are offered the opportunity to post a good score. But, get it wrong at your peril......it is justifiably rated as one on the card.
The design variety of the remainder of the front nine is great. It culminates with the strong par 4, 9th which sports a testing ‘valley’ running through its centre. The back nine commences with a great 500 plus metre par 5 which concludes with a testing green complex comprising several ‘interesting’ bunkers and cunningly disguised undulations.
15 is a strong par 4, the longest on the course, measuring 477 from the back blocks. Length off the tee is essential to carry the fairway bunkers and par here is a good outcome. The longest par 3 on the course, 16, at 215 metres is a superb hole and surprisingly rated at just 14.
Due to recent heavy rain, the fairways were ‘heavy’ providing little run but coverage perfect, and lies, good. As a general comment, the green complexes are quite large, reasonably undulating and the variety of ‘interesting’ pin placements infinite. In particular, the 18th, which must be over 100 metres, front to back, is profiled against the magnificent backdrop of the grand old clubhouse.
I am comfortable with describing this course as the epitome of a great parkland layout. The work undertaken by Turner/McPherson has transformed RWGC from a good old track into a great course which offers the player a variety of strategies from hole to hole. Their design offers golfers of all standards the prospect of an enjoyable round.
The revamped Royal Wellington G.C. parkland layout is, to my mind, well deserved of its prime position in New Zealand golf. The Club has the honour of being chosen by the Masters Tournament, The R & A, and the Asian Pacific Golf Confederation to host the 2017 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships. Described as being the biggest golf event ever to be staged in NZ, the tournament will showcase the course, Wellington and New Zealand to the 160 countries to which the event will be broadcast.
Just a little aside; I hit it fairly well around the front, and almost played to my handicap and I credit the following primarily to flaws in my proficiency with the flat-stick and the wonderfully subtle undulations on the massive greens…45 around the back under circumstances never before encountered in a hundred or so years of playing this most character challenging game; score comprised nine fives – pars on both par fives, double bogies on both par threes and bogies on each par four. Putted for five birdies and three putted the lot. Must be some form of record.
It was also pretty much mandatory cartball, given the conditions. Normally I hate cartball, especially when visiting courses for the first time. It’s like learning your way round London by only walking two minutes from whatever tube station you happen to have emerged from. You see the sights, but you don’t get a feel of how it all fits together.
Chuck in the fact that they had cored the greens only a couple of weeks previously, it was not the ideal way to experience one of New Zealand’s best new courses (although, on the plus side, I played out of my skin). Nevertheless, it was clear that Greg Turner and Scott MacPherson have put together a fascinating parkland layout – far more of a manicured garden than their other recent work. There is certainly little in common with the pair’s work at Oreti Sands – if you didn’t know, you’d never suspect that the same minds were behind both, which speaks to their versatility.
T & M’s design involved taking down a pine forest near the river, and adding some brand new holes there. The remainder of the course generally occupies the same land as the original layout, with some holes following the reverse direction down the old tree corridors (only a few holes are mere modifications of the originals). T & M’s trademark undulating greens are again in evidence, with surfaces more utilising tiers, steps and swales than tilt.
Sometimes when I sample a new course, I just have a general feeling that the people that built it knew what they were doing. You can see what you’re aiming for, but you have to really think about the best way to get there, and it’s because everything’s in the right place. This doesn’t look like this was a great canvas to work with – it’s a fairly flat property with lines of trees separating many of the holes, but it really got my interest, which is entirely testament to the design. I’d have to say that I preferred the section of the course that was previously not a golf course (down by the river), and the new holes close by, possibly because it wasn’t so tree lined. I wondered if one party or other wanted to preserve some of the trees from the original course during construction (as trees go, there’s some nice specimens), but I think when those rows are present, it makes some of the holes a little conventional and ordinary, despite the best efforts of the architects to create some interest e.g. with contour. For this reason, the narrative of the course peaked a little early, as I felt the best stretch was 2-5, plus 7, with the short par-4 13th also catching the eye.
But these are just reasons why you couldn’t apply the moniker ‘world class’ to Royal Wellington – I definitely feel my appetite was whetted, and would love to go back one day, to sample what it’s like when the greens are running faster and the ground firmer. Hell, I’d just like to play when the word ‘storm’ is not an accurate description. Deserving of a top 10 ranking nationally, for sure. Matt Richardson