For most people experienced in world travel, Auckland will seem like a very uncrowded city (indeed, the stats on its population density back this up). What strikes the visitor is that despite the relatively small commercial and financial centre, there is a huge suburban sprawl, stretching 20 miles from top to bottom. Dotted around the suburbia are a number of very worthy golf courses, including The Grange Golf Club, which sits next door to its illustrious neighbour, the Royal Auckland Golf Club.
Very much in the style of a traditional parkland layout, the tree-lined fairways ensure some narrow corridors to aim at off the tee, particularly the doglegged holes. A central lake is very much in play on holes 6 and 7, with the latter arcing left, crossing the water twice before reaching the small and well protected putting surface.
In recent years, the club has made moves to upgrade the course, with five new greens having been completed after input from Chris Pitman, an architect who received unanimous acclaim for his redevelopment/restoration work down the road at Titirangi.
The Grange Golf Club is probably best known for hosting the New Zealand Open five times between 1970 and 2004, won along the way by such notables as Bob Charles (1970) and Rodger Davis (1986), and New Zealand’s own David Smail in 2001.
In 2017, The Grange Golf Club merged with Royal Auckland Golf Club to create a new club called Royal Auckland and Grange Golf Club. An estuary separated both courses and there was no physical link between the two layouts, so two bridges and a new clubhouse, sited on the estuary, will be built to join the properties. Land on both sides of the original 18-hole courses was sold to finance a new 27-hole layout and the associated infrastructure. Chris Cochran from Nicklaus Design is responsible for the course layout.
The statement from the new club follows: “The project will be carried out in two phases, the first being the construction of the 13 holes on the Grange property, the bridges and clubhouse. These elements will be completed in early 2019. Phase two will see the balance of the holes constructed on the Middlemore property, along with the driving range, all to be complete in early 2021.”
There's something very dull about the archetypal Kiwi club course. It's as if someone, somewhere, I'm guessing about 100 years ago, went round New Zealand convincing people that if you wanted to build a golf course, you found some rather dull and (often) flat paddock and planted lines of trees to separate fairways, and that was pretty much what it took. Maybe a couple of bunkers here and there - you know, one or two round the greens, and the odd fairway trap (but obviously not too deep - heaven forbid). A century later, those trees have grown. And have rarely been chopped down, leaving these avenues of mature trees, suffocating any thought of options or strategy. Yes, there's a left and a right hand side of the fairway, but it makes little difference which side you're on, especially as it's probably only 20m wide, and anyway, there's bunkers symmetrically front right and front left of the green, so why muck about? Course management strategy can be boiled down to three words - HIT IT STRAIGHT. If you're on this website, I do not need to explain to you that this equals boring golf. Trying to play strategic golf is like taking a racing line down State Highway 1 / the middle lane of the M1 - pointless over-elaboration.
This type of course is EVERYWHERE in this country. Which I find amazing - I'm no expert on types of grass or soil, but surely New Zealand being as epic and intriguing a landscape as it is, there must be parcels of land with amazing potential round every corner. Yet we've got all these courses built around this restrictive template.
To lump The Grange in with that stereotype is a little harsh, because it's better than that. But not by much, and it's not that different either. And it certainly left me with the feeling that I'd just played 'another Kiwi track'. Totally uninspiring. I know some people champion this place, but I just don't get it. The fact that the front left / front right bunker configuration applies to 13 of the 18 greens speaks volumes for me. Google Earth it if you need confirmation of that. Not much else to say on the matter. If you're going to Auckland, I can only advise that Titirangi is pretty much the same green fee and is in a different world, quality-wise. Matt Richardson