Occupying a beautiful 130-acre coastal site between the small towns of Waipu and Ruakaka, the Uretiti Links course at Waipu Golf Club overlooks the islands of Taranga and Little Alice in Bream Bay and fairways have been set out over a landscape of sand dunes, wattles, gorse and mature pines, with the odd bony ridge of sandstone thrown in for good measure.
Scottish settlers laid down roots in the area back in the 1850s so, with the sporting influence of descendants from the Home of Golf, it’s no real surprise to find out that the game has survived in Waipu for over 150 years. The club itself was founded in 1934 but members had only a number of elementary farmland courses in play until their first, formal 9-hole layout was opened in June of 1966.
Within twenty years, the course was expanded to a full 18 holes, a new clubhouse was built and irrigation to the greens installed. The last of these developments was a major step forward, allowing Waipu to remain open during the long, hot summer months.
Further course improvements are being made on an ongoing basis, with a new par three introduced at the 17th by Alex Glasgow of NZ Sports Turf Institute during 2012. Holes were also re-sequenced with the signature par four 1st (where big hitters are tempted to go for the green) becoming the new 10th.Thanks to Julie Gordon for supplying information for this article.
Sometimes, without any real clear objective reasons for it, a golf course can just give you a good feeling. You just like it. And if you’re asked to name the great holes subsumed within, you can only point the finger at two or three, but the overall experience across the 3-4 hours of the round left a palpable glow. Here lies the arguments in course architecture circles about whether the quality of a golf course is just an aggregate of 18 holes, or whether it’s more about the overall flow of the journey.
To quickly describe it more objectively, Waipu is set on a property where the rolling hills of Northland tumble down to the ocean, with a strip of linksland bordering the beach. Obviously, a better course could have been created from a longer and thinner parcel of land by the shore, but this was not to be. We have what we have.
The routing is in some ways genius. A relatively gentle opener, a par 3 2nd that then provides an immediate test of ball striking, and then onto the best hole of the lot, the short par 4 third. In terms of the level of thought required, the strategic options, and the craft of the green placement, bunkering and shaping around the green, I’m guessing any of the world’s top architects would be proud to have created it. Then we flow onto two of the better ‘inland’ holes, followed by a couple of cracking links stanzas, before heading back up to the house at the half way stage.
This ebb and flow between inland and links, with each hole giving us something new to chew on, carries on until the 12th green. From then on, the routing mostly just takes us down the hill, back up, back down, back up. Aside from the new 17th (a great hole, but a little incongruous with the rest of the course), it suddenly turns into a slog. By the time you get to the 18th, you’ve had enough, you’re done, and the magical feeling that had built over the first 12 holes has dissipated somewhat.
And here’s where Waipu is one of the best examples of how a good routing will create a narrative for the round. It takes you on a voyage for 12 holes, but after that, it’s like going to the shops and back – mundane. Yet the individual merits of the last 6 holes do not pale in comparison to the first 12 by any stretch. There must be very few clearer examples of how a course is more than a sum of its parts.
This is absolutely in no way a negative review. Waipu is a club course, with modest membership and green fees, and it punches FAR above its weight. Discussions of the vagaries of golf course architecture are normally reserved for the greatest courses in the land, but Waipu becomes part of that conversation. If its flaws could be addressed with any sort of investment / re-routing, we might be talking about whether it was a Top 10 course nationally. If there is anyone coming over to play Tara Iti and / or Kauri Cliffs, and wants to see Kiwi club golf at its best, skip Mangawhai and come here. One of the country’s true hidden gems.
Hear hear excellent review. Waipu is a gem and the setting and views are exquisite. With enough money to grow good fairway grass and refinement of the course set up it would be a candidate for the one of best courses in the country.