The location of Southland Golf Club’s Oreti Sands course is about as peripheral as it gets on the golfing map, seeing as it lies at one of the most southerly points on New Zealand’s South Island, near the city of Invercargill. Such is the remoteness of the course and its exposure to the elements, it’s rare to play the course with the same weather conditions two days running.
When the respected golf journalist John Huggan talks about how impressed he was after playing such an “elusive hidden gem” then you are bound to sit up and take notice, as Mr Huggan does not hand out plaudits lightly! With two loops of nine that each return to the clubhouse, this 18-hole layout is routed over wonderfully free-draining, sandy soil and features some of the most enormous greens to be found in the country.
Southland was Sloan Morpeth’s architectural swan song and the links opened for play in 1971. In a very positive step for the long-term future of the course, Southland engaged the Turner Macpherson golf design company (Greg Turner, former Kiwi pro turned designer and Scott Macpherson, his assistant) to update the course. Four new holes were created (2,3,4 and 17) and four holes were changed substantially. Two further holes received new teeing grounds (creating tee shots to angled fairways). The outcome of this redevelopment was completed in March 2009 and many expected to see Oreti Sands climb even higher up the national rankings.
Two of the new holes are par threes. Off the club tees the 3rd, called “Tuapuke”, with Stewart Island in the background, measures a mere 148 metres and the signature 17th, called “Oue”, is 176 metres from the tips, but both holes require very accurate and lofted tee shots to elevated greens. Watch out for the water on 17, which waits to catch anything hit too far left.
Sadly Oreti Sands closed in 2018 after Southland Golf Club went into liquidation. The club issued the following statement: "The small membership and low income from green fee players has forced a difficult decision on the Executive to merge with the Invercargill Golf Club at Otatara."
Having read that piece about the possible closure of Oreti Sands, I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to play it, because it really is a magnificent throwback to golf of days gone by. If you're reading this and can get there before April, please make the effort, just in case the chance is lost.
I played in a three club wind with showers blowing over the course throughout most of the round and I think even some of the 20 or so friendly members playing their competition that day might have walked in early. But it made the hot drink and simple fare in the small rustic clubhouse maybe the most welcome food and drink of my life. I gave up trying to keep score when my soggy scorecard was blown in half by a gust, but that just left me to admire the landforms and think about the pure, completely confectionless golf. And wasn't it majestic.
I believe this is the southernmost 18 hole (grass) course in the world. A few years ago I found myself in Tromso, in northern Norway and tried to play the northernmost equivalent but alas, even in May, the course was still a little too frozen to have opened for it's brief season.
Yes is now closed >>> so Te Anua now makes the SI list ??
Today I played Oreti Sands golf course (Southland Golf Club) near Invercargill in South Island New Zealand which is No 14 in your NZ Top 100 and also features in "True Links of the World" as the world's most southerly True Links.
That area of New Zealand suffered an extended period of drought earlier this year and the club's water supplies dried out so the course became completely burnt, with significant cracks on the greens. Today the best greens had less than 50% green grass, although the fairways had recovered well. Membership has decreased to less than 50 members and I believe the club/course is expected to close permanently after Easter. A sad end to an excellent and significant links which was redesigned and improved only a few years ago by famous Kiwi pro Greg Turner.
Absolute stunning hidden treasure here... a must play in NZ..
I was very lucky to get a morning start during a warm sunny winter's day last week..with a touch of NW sea breeze bringing with it a smell of the sea and crash of the swell on the local beach only a lob shot from some of the closer beach holes...(Yet never once could you see it ...a real teaser)
Now as it's really just a extremely good club field ...forget seeing staff around or any facilities (Is a well stocked clubhouse at the other beach side Invercargill Golf club only a few minutes drive down the road)
The Green's surfaces were slow and soft and average in some places did take me some time to adjust ..and attack the pin more so>>(was mid winter so should be much better during the rest of the year)
what gets "Oreti sands" the top dot from me is really everything else
One would think God's own hand had shaped the course ...
A+ to the team that designed the layout and recent upgrades ....I lost 5 balls purely from playing too aggressive and not respecting distances off the tee ..
I only saw a few other players on the back nine otherwise felt I'd be dropped into my own Golfing Heaven ... a real tactical course you'd be wishing you could play that last shot again >>
If I could show one picture ...it would be on the 17th hole of the lone tree in the open in it's twisted horror of the storms it must see from the WEST ...
I really hope Oreti Sands doesn't close as it's the best course in Southland and would be a major loss for the area:
It’s hard to sum up Oreti Sands in a nutshell – it is indeed a true links, but it travels through some very distinct phases. It feels like this is partly a reflection of the fact that Turner and MacPherson only created or reworked some of the holes, but mainly because you have three different landscapes all within the same course – the rugged dunes to the south, the wetlands to the east, and the patches of pine forest scattered throughout the centre of the land.
The first 6 holes are classic linksland territory, with 2, 3, and 4 being the new holes. You could easily be in Scotland here – you can’t tell the difference, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from its UK counterparts, and of similar quality. I say you can’t tell the difference, but that’s until you hit it in the rough. This is not the wispy brown rough you’d find near the coastline at somewhere like Royal Dornoch, this was the thickest and deepest rough I ever saw in my life. This was ‘don’t even bother looking’ rough, even if you saw exactly where it landed. Some of it was only 5 paces from the green apron. I found it interesting to read on the Turner MacPherson website about their distaste for deep rough and penal golf, because that’s exactly what they’ve created here. It may be that this distaste was superseded by a wish to create a course that doffs it cap to the way golf might have been played more than a century ago – it’s not manicured, and you have a strong feeling that it’s not meant to be. This seems even more likely when you consider the number of blind or semi blind shots on offer, especially from the tips. The new 3rd hole is a case in point – from the championship tees, its 148m to a green that looks like it’s a dune with the top sliced off; a severe plateau. Not so much the upside-down saucers of Dornoch, more a Chinese soup bowl. A truly classic and intimidating green complex. But it’s claustrophobically surrounded by ‘don’t bother looking’ rough, and from the tips, all you can see is the top of the flag. This seems a particular shame, as if you’ve got such a wonderful green site, you probably want to show it off (and fortunately, the members and ladies tees get a good look). But maybe this near contradiction is also what is charming about the place.
Having said all this about penal golf (and you’ll probably have your own opinion about it), Oreti is not an unfair course – the fairways are generally pretty wide (although there’s little semi rough), and the fairway undulations are not the sort that kick a well struck drive into the cabbage. The greens are large and fairly flat in the main. And the penalties for waywardness are not quite so severe in the back nine. If you’re straight and long, you’ll get your just desserts – this place is only merciless on the wayward. Nor is the design without its strategic value. Lots of different questions are asked of your game – from 573m double dogleg par 5’s to near a driveable par 4 up against the wetlands; a shortened take on the ‘Cape’ blueprint. Some architectural tricks are used more than once, such as asking for a driving line tight to one side of the fairway to avoid a blind second (2 and 13), or a tight and highly penal entrance to a long par 4 or reachable par 5 (4 and 9). The squeezes into those par 4½’s led me to using some of the more defensive course management I’ve ever managed to humbly accept in myself. This is not a course for the gung-ho cavalier.
A quick word about the final par 3, the new 17th. Off the backs, it’s a mid to long iron to a green nestled above the wetlands spanning the left and front. What’s I loved about it was that it was a perfect example of how to place a water-dominated, ‘target golf’ par 3 into a links course without even spotting the seams. The hole looks like it’s been there forever. Beautiful.
The condition of the course is not fantastic – if you’re expecting the sort of pacey greens and tight lies of an Open rota links, you will be disappointed. There is only one full-time greenkeeper here, and apparently the members help out with what was reported as ‘vintage equipment’. The greens were on the slow side when I played, but I cannot fault their trueness. Fairways were a bit scrubby, but better than can be seen on Southland’s website. But to be honest, I’m not sure any of this really detracted - the rustic conditioning felt fitting, given the type of throwback that this place is.
Overall, it’s a very worthy addition to the links courses of the world, with its diverse elements, challenges and decisions (and I played on a fairly still day). If you compared it with the links courses of Britain and Ireland, you’d have to like it as an Open Qualifying venue if the conditioning was more in line with that type of tournament. I feel confident in saying that it is the best bona fide links course in the South Island, to my knowledge (it leaves Nelson and Chisholm Park far behind in its wake), and although I have not played places like Muriwai and Kaitaia, I would imagine that it is must be second only to Paraparaumu Beach in the whole of New Zealand, and perhaps not by too much either. And I would also be very surprised if there was a better course in the world with a green fee of £20 (and only £8 if you’re an NZ affiliated golfer). But unless you’re near scratch, stick to the white tees, keep your new Pro V1’s at home (I recommend your practice balls), and as a recent e-mail to Top 100 suggested, ignore the stroke and distance rule. Apparently the members pool all the lost balls and take from them when needed - I’m not surprised, it would cost them a fortune otherwise. Matt Richardson