Taupo itself sits on the shores of Lake Taupo, which occupies centre stage in the volcanic Central Plateau area. It’s the jumping off spot for Tongariro National Park, home of one of the world’s great walks, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It has also become an unlikely hub for high quality golf, especially after the construction of nearby Kinloch (opened in 2008), but Taupo Golf Club has been here a lot longer than that.
The club officially opened for business in 1931 and golf was played over a 9-hole course that is now part of the club’s second string Tauhara course which was extended to 18 holes in 1954 due to popular demand. Further expansion of the town, due to burgeoning tourism, farming and other businesses saw the construction of a new course, the Centennial, completed in 1973 (three years after its higher profile neighbour, Wairakei).
Designed by two-time New Zealand PGA Championship winner Ernie Southerden, the Centennial itself is a fine example of a classic Kiwi inland course, set amongst the thermal activity prevalent in this region. The majority of the holes (1-15) meander through parkland, although they are not as remorselessly tree-lined as at many club courses in this country, and the occasional use of wasteland brings welcome variation. 16 and 17 skirt some of the thermal wastelands before taking the golfer back home with a challenging short hole to finish.The Centennial course has been the venue for the NZ Amateur twice, in 1986 and 2004.
This course significantly exceeded my expectations. Whilst there are some trees, it feels quite different to most kiwi "country" courses in that there is typically quite wide fairways, decent area of rough/wasteland before the trees become a significant factor. There are some exceptions (the short par 4 first for example), but generally it felt to me more like a moorland course than a parkland - particularly with the firm nature of the turf despite playing it in mid winter (July 2021).
Compared to its neighbours, it clearly has fewer greenstaff, but the conditioning was perfectly acceptable - probably assisted by the natural well draining nature of the underlying geology. Speaking to the locals, the recent irrigation improvements mean that the summer conditioning is improved on what it was in the past.
All in all a really good test. Off the back tees it isn't long by Major standards, but at over 6,900 yards its not short. Value wise at $55 for 18 (NZ Affiliated) its undoubtedly the best value in the region.
And I think this sums up Taupo for me. It’s got something a little different from that tedious tree-lined template, but not a great deal. After a reasonable short par 4 opener (I like a half-par to start, to mix something psychological with a swing that’s not yet trusted), bland Kiwi parkland golf takes over until the 9th, where the use of wasteland rather than trees provides some welcome change. I think from then on, the quality trends upwards as you go along, i.e. 10-12 are unremarkable, but 13 and 14 have something to encourage a bit of shotmaking. 16 I like, a dogleg around some volcanic badlands, with a super little green site. With a tempter of a short 4 and a strong one-shotter over a valley to finish, you leave with a decent enough taste in your mouth.
Ultimately though, the (golfing) reason to come to the area is Kinloch, and to a lesser extent Wairakei. Taupo (the club) must see more than a few visitors come on the back of those esteemed neighbours. It’s an obvious choice – no golfer should come to Taupo just to play Taupo, but if you’re in town to play the two big guns, and you fancy a warm-up somewhere close by, a swift 18 might serve your needs well. Matt Richardson