Wainui Golf Club is the phoenix that rose out of the ashes of the Peninsula Golf Club. In 2009, Peninsula members voted to take the option of selling their Red Beach golf course to developers, who in turn provided them with a new golf course and clubhouse three miles inland. A new identity was also chosen – the Maori word ‘wainui’ roughly translates as ‘big water’.
Grant Puddicombe and his team at Puddicombe Golf were brought in to design the course (their previous portfolio includes Terrace Downs, Lakes at Pauanui, and the gradual renovation at Remuera). They were given a piece of rolling farmland to work with, punctuated by two streams nestled within wide gullies.
The new course opened in 2016, overlooked by the impressive new clubhouse from its perch above the 9th and 18th greens. The adventurous layout works its way around the undulating property, before twice heading back to lakeside holes to complete each nine.
A nine-hole par three course called Orchard is due to open at Wainui in late 2017.
This course's position in the rankings is a bit of a mystery. Some very good holes here but a lot of poor ones as well, course designers have obviously done the best possible job with what is a rather hilly situation and this is certainly a good course but would struggle to make my top 50 let alone top ten. Over half the course are doglegs but some good holes all the same, its a true test off the back tees with an impressive 6500 metres. Course is not always the best presented with some obvious well documented issues with fairways this summer, but good greens and an intelligent use of bunkers.
Having played Wainui 6 times, I’ve now got a decent understanding of the course, and this is absolutely one of my favourites in New Zealand. I’ve yet to see a review that adequately described what playing Wainui is really like, so here’s my take.
This is genuinely like no course I have ever played, it’s an epic and quirky, three dimensional roller-coaster ride. It can be incredibly punishing if you are not playing well and smart, so I can understand why it’s not to everyone’s taste. It has its flaws and you wouldn’t want every course like this, but what an exciting challenge. I was passed by a group of casuals in carts last week who were done for the day, as they ran out of balls on the 14th. This is not a course where you can head off with some beers and blaze away with your Driver from the tips. Almost every hole requires careful consideration of club selection, landing areas and approach angles. A little like Kinloch, if it’s your first time and you’re a decent player, you should be mentally tired when you finish.
One of the first choices is which set of tees to play from, Wainui does away with gendered or coloured tees, they have five sets ranging from 4532m to 6485m which are simply marked on distance. 45s, 50s, 55s, 59s and 65s. I’ve now played once from the 50s, four times from the 55s and twice from the 59s. Unlike most courses, where playing further forward is simply shorter and less interesting, each provides a very different experience and angles, the course is no less enjoyable at 5009m, you just won’t be using driver very much if you like golf balls.
At first glance the course looks like it’s going to play like a typical resort layout, and the 1st does nothing to dispel that with a gentle downhill opener. But when you are standing on the tee at the 2nd short Par 4 your decision making is immediately put to the test. Many don’t like this hole but it gives you three choices. Carry over a ravine to the widest layup area, leaving a mid/long iron in? Or try and carry/run it over the large hill in the middle of the fairway, leaving yourself only pitching distance? But the bottom of the hill is at most 15m across with hazards on both sides. Or for the longer hitters do you attempt to drive the green with a draw? Left is hazard all the way though, but right of the green is a bailout swale.
Wainui is very challenging and constant decision making golf, which is why I find it so enjoyable. To play well your first few times, you really need to consult the course guide or GPS regularly, and a laser helps. It has many resort golf elements, but the fairways are much tighter, more undulating and winding. It also has some elements of links, with the wind a big consideration on the front 9 that has very few trees. There are also holes that allow you to run the ball up, or use the various slopes to your advantage around the greens. I agree with Matt that the fairway bunkering on the 4th and the 9th are too far away. I can’t see anyone carrying them unless you are a long hitter playing forward. Unlike Matt though, I find Wainui plays shorter than the length on the card, if you keep the ball in play. This is due to there being so many downhill holes, despite the undulating terrain only 4, 9, and 18 play uphill.
The 6th is a Par 5 that gives you a good chance to go for the green in two if you can reach the downhill. Go back up the hill and check out the 65 tee… The green is undulating and protected on four sides by deep swales though, very hard to get up and down. Fairway position is important even if laying up, as even a short approach requires an accurate wedge. I love the Par 4 7th, a dog leg where fairway position and length is all important. Longer hitters can consider going for the green if the wind is on, but hazards lie short, left and long. Us mortals need to flirt with death down the left side of the fairway, but don’t stray too far right. This leaves you a long carry across a ravine to an elevated green, guarded by a steep front hill and bunkers. 8 is a good short Par 3 where the further back you are playing, the more the water and the steep drop off on the right comes into play.
If you’ve had trouble with the front, then buy more balls at the turn, as the Back 9 is where it gets really exciting. This winds its way up and down through the bush, quite a different feeling to the front. The 11th is an beautiful drop Par 3 that has many elements come into play. Hazards, swales, hills, fescue and a green where being on the right tier is all important. 12-16 is an epic section of Par 4s and 5s, where you need to do your best to simply not blow the round completely. Depending on tees, 12 sees a carry to the fairway where position is very important. Push your drive as far forward and right as possible while avoiding the hazards right and long to leave the shortest second carry from an elevated fairway to the green below. The approach could easily be a 3 wood though if you play it too safe from the tee. How much risk do you want to take on? That’s the question you are asked again and again in the next stretch. You also have the option of driving directly to the lower fairway in front of the green, leaving a pitch in. Again I feel this is just far too risky for anyone to contemplate seriously though unless you are off a shorter tee box.
13 and 14 are two of the most unusual Par 5s you’ll ever play, where some big numbers are possible. If you are not in just the right place on the 12th fairway, your second shot will be blind with drop offs and hazards to the left, OOB to the right and some extremely narrow landing areas if you get too greedy on your layup. 13 gives you the possibility of getting there in two for the longer hitter, but with plenty of risk on both shots. You need to being able to play a very accurate drive that draws down a chute of trees to catch the speed slot. It’s a very demanding three shot hole as well, with an EXTREMELY tight and twisty downhill middle section, with hazards both sides. The approach is excellent, angle and distance from the hole is all important to have a clear look, and the surrounding slopes able to be used imaginatively if you don’t. You can see by other reviews there are some players who hate these holes, they require some real thought and multiple plays to unlock the best results.
15 is the shortest Par 4 on the course with a semi blind dogleg, a green protected by trees, and an interesting split fairway - upper and lower. It can tempt you in to driving for the green if you have the length, but you need to be accurate. The upper fairway gives you a clear look but you ened to decide how much to take on. The lower fairway is easier to hit and only leaves a short iron, but the shot will be uphill and totally blind with a lot of trees to content with. You don’t want to be stuck in between the two either.
16 is a hole that really challenges your Driver confidence the further back you play. The angles change to the point where from the 59s or 65s you cannot see the fairway at all. You really need to commit to a blind line over a hill, which is tough if you’ve been beaten up over the previous stretch. There is more room than you think though when you get down there. I would note that this hole and the course in general, has got significantly easier over the times I have played, as they have cut the rough and fescue further and further back, to effectively widen the area you can land without losing your ball. This was to keep the members happy, who were finding it far too difficult initially.
18 is a heroic finish, with an intimidating looking uphill carry over the lake that increases in distance and difficultly depending on the tees. It’s a bit of an optical illusion however, the carry really isn’t that far at all, and when you get to your ball the green is much closer than it appeared. Unless you are off the 65s, where this hole is a beast. You’ll need all of 210m carry to reach the fairway, then you’re left with 180m uphill to the middle. Relax afterwards in the fabulous clubhouse which has great food and drink, and an incredible view out over the course.
There are a number of comments below about poor conditioning of the fairways recently, the issue is simple. January 2018 was the hottest month in 150 years in New Zealand, followed by two months of further hot weather and high humidity. Wainui has 80% Colonial Browntop fairways which require a lot of watering, and the huge lake that holds the supply essentially ran dry in January. They had to make the call to save the greens or the fairways, and they could pull just enough bore water to save the greens. Every club in Auckland struggled and was in poor condition, I played a lot of places this summer that had lost multiple greens entirely to the heat and disease. Unsurprising, considering I was told that Wainui was spending $4k a week on spraying over this period, not many clubs could afford that. They have been reseeding the fairways and they are coming back, but it’s going to be clean and place for some time unfortunately. Prices have been reduced over this period to reflect this.
2016 was quite a year for New Zealand golf courses, with three impressive new layouts opening within twelve months of each other. Most of the attention has been garnered by Tom Doak’s new links at Tara Iti, and to a lesser extent by Windross Farm securing an LPGA event at such a fledgling stage in its life.
Wainui has not had quite the headline grabbing factors present with the other two, but it should definitely not be overlooked. Grant Puddicombe has put together his best piece of work in New Zealand, a clear stretch better than Terrace Downs, and for me, arguably sneaks into being one of the best ten courses in New Zealand.
To be honest, the course takes a little while to get going, with a gentle handshake to open, a very plain short 3rd hole, and not much to write home about up until the 6th tee. But it picks up from there, I enjoyed the original little par 4 7th, turning sharp left over a deep gulley to a green nestled high in the ramparts.
The back nine is a far better proposition, with the standout holes 14 and 15. 14 is a rangy arcing par 5, with the opportunity to rifle a draw through the chute formed by mature trues, and use the natural contours to get a turbo boost, leave an opportunity to reach in two. 15 is probably my favourite. Very little scope to do anything with this land, but Puddicombe has produced something unique - a split fairway made of two terraces for the sensible, with the possiblity of a death or glory tee shot for the talented or foolish (or both?). I've not seen another hole like it anywhere, which I always appreciate - with the feeling that something has been created out of nothing. Every other hole has something to recommend it on that back nine.
Be warned - it is tough, and plays considerably longer than the card suggests. If the wind is up, don't go longer than the 55 tees unless you are a low handicapper. Reports are that some of the members are struggling, but I bet the better players love it. I do think that there are a few flaws, in particular the fairway bunkering on 4 and 9 was a little baffling (OK, it was into the wind, but we played with Michael the pro, who's got decent length, and he was 10m or more from clearing either of them off the 55 tees, which are more for members). Far too huge, and difficult to understand how they added any strategic value given the overall shape of those holes. But I think decent routing decisions were made overall, so maybe there is scope for some changes without too much upheaval.
For me, not Auckland's number 1 - that honour has to remain with the master craftmanship on offer at Titirangi - but clearly the next best. A fantastic and worthy addition to New Zealand's ever expanding crop of great courses.
Interesting review, I found the course rubbish. Very one dimensional in how it is played. Too penal for wayward shots, fairways dying with no grass. The greens were silly with too few pin placements (and very slow too). 13,14,15 are terribly designed holes with far too many blind shots.
Wouldn't make my top twenty courses here.
Clubhouse a white elephant too
I thought the review was very fair and it is a course that needs to be played more than once. Over time it will get better.
It does require a some thought - Driver is not always the best option form the 55 tees and the same for the 59s. The 65's are a different story.
Golf is supposed to be a challenge and Wainui is that which I believe is what makes it so different to the traditional tree lined New Zealand Courses.
If all you want is easy then there is the par 3 9 hole course as well.
The view from the Clubhouse looking over most of the Course is certainly different and it offers a different perspective.
Different should be applauded at Wainui.
Bizarre! How anybody could think this deserves a ranking in Auckland or even NZ is incomprehensible!
Practically the course is in very serious trouble. I cannot imagine any course at all in NZ with worse fairways - clearly they have some agronomical problems - after 2 years an even cover of decent grass should be a given.
Design wise Puddicomes were given a very difficult site which probably was ok for a sheep farm. It’s more than undulating with steep tight gullies and significant changes in elevation. Consequently many holes feel very tight and constrained and quite”blind”. Directions of dolegs and distances to the landing areas are often very unclear. Often the humps and hollows are extreme and the room given inadequate to be genuinely playable. The 14 th is a prime example and one of the most bizarre holes I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know how much could have been done with the property so it’s hard to judge their work fairly. However it’s not a great advertisement and one is left feeling that they would do well to read books by MacKenzie and Doak for example and visit some great golf courses to get an ideas how it’s done.
Definitely not worth a visit or a rating.
I read the comments by James Downey and then checked to see what he had shot on what must have been one of the most terrible days of his golfing life.
Nothing posted on Dot Golf so I presume then if he did play he is one of those who does not hand his cards in or I found the wrong fella.
Have played all the top tracks in NZ apart from Tara Iti I can safely say when they sort out the issues with the course and get it back to where it was before it opened it will be well worth another visit.
It was a Dairy Farm before it opened and having seen it with cows on it before the course was created I have an appreciation of what Grant Puddicombe and his team achieved.
And having played the Course a few times with Golfers who have played the best courses in the World including Pine Valley, Augusta National, and Cypress Point (to name a few and some are McKenzie designs) I tend to listen to them on design issues. One compared the 11th to what you would see at the US Open Course this year - Shinnecock Hills. High praise from those who know what they are talking about.
So I think you are being a tad harsh. Would love to know what you shot as it can be a challenge as Golf ought to be.
At least this winter James we will be playing Golf at Wainui on sand capped fairways unlike you poor sods who pay to play Golf, in the clay of Auckland.