The following is an edited extract from Remarkable Golf Courses by Iain Spragg:
“A resort town established in 1978, Matarangi has a resident population of just 350 people for most of the year but between the summer months of December and February that number swells to more than 7,000. Many of them head directly to The Dunes to enjoy a round on the sandy Coromandel Peninsula.
Laid out against the stunning backdrop of Whangapou Harbour, the white sand of Mataragi beach and Castle Rock, The Dunes was designed by Bob Charles, and although it only stretches to a modest 6,162 metres because of the restricted space on the panoramic peninsula, it is nonetheless a par 73 challenge.
The course’s signature hole is the 1st, a par four which affords uninterrupted views of Mercury Bay from the tee. The 3rd through to the 8th holes all feature water to varying degrees, the par three 7th is the pick of the bunch with its prolonged carry over a substantial manmade lake.
The mystery of how such a seemingly short course in terms of yardage can be rated a par 73 is solved on the back nine. The 10th is the first of a quartet of par fives on the way home and although The Dunes finishes with a par three, it is all about the distance on the closing holes on the very furthest tip of the Coromandel Peninsula.”
What a bizarre golf course. And I don’t mean in a charismatic, quirky, fascinating type of way. It’s actually pretty conventional in many ways. My use of the word bizarre relates to my thoughts about the overall flow of the golf course, and some of the architectural decisions made along the way. It’s as if someone had 4 jigsaw puzzle boxes, dropped them all on the ground, couldn’t be bothered to sort all the pieces back into their constituent boxes, and then cobbled together one jigsaw out of what they found on the floor.
The 1st – now that’s a good hole. Great green complex with links-like pot bunkers surrounding an upturned saucer of a putting surface, all abutting a beautiful sandy beach. My interest was heavily piqued at this point, thought I had found a hidden gem. Then you turn 180 degrees to see this arrow straight but ridiculously tight corridor through the pines - Google Earth has the gap between the trees at 20m, pretty much all the way down. The fairway was even narrower. Not a bad hole otherwise, but so many trees need to go – just a complete schoolboy error.
The next 5 holes are from the American 1990s parkland / resort / housing development type of cookie cutter. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fine, but they’re nothing like the rest of the course. And whilst I have played amongst many housing developments in my time, I have never felt so much like I was playing in someone’s back garden or from their front doorstep.
The last 11 holes are at least all played on the same terrain, and feel like a coherent golf course. This is sand-based seaside golf, played in a beautiful climate with stunning scenery all around. And for these reasons, it all feels like such a wasted opportunity. Again, as a golf course (11 holes of it anyway), it’s fine, but it could be SO much more. There’s just a lot of bogus design decisions – the clumsy use of water on 8, the placement of the trees in the middle of the 10th fairway, and the fairway bunkering on 13. Only one hole feels like it made optimal use of the property – the short 11th. And when I got to 18, my jaw dropped – an absolutely authentic links pot bunker, but at the back of the green, facing the clubhouse! Hilarious.
I have heard a rumour that Bob Charles has attempted to distance himself from being known as the designer here, which (if true) seems like a smart move to me. I assume it's been changed since he was involved? Must be a bit embarrassing. I would think that with some modest investment and the hiring of a savvy architect, Matarangi could be way more than it currently is. Unfortunately, I cannot see anyone wanting to chuck money at a course that will always have such a split personality.
Still, despite the imperfections, I can’t deny I had fun. And that’s something.