In the last 30 years or so, Queenstown as a destination has become world famous as the self-proclaimed adventure sports capital of the world. Also, more recently, Queenstown has started to lay claim to being the golfing capital of New Zealand, with three of our Top 10 New Zealand courses in the area. However, some (particularly locals) feel the town has become too overburdened with tourists, and seek a more peaceful retreat up the road in Wanaka – an equally beautiful place, surrounded by quality ski resorts, but without the bungy jumping and all-night partying.
The golf may not be quite up to Queenstown’s stellar standards, but the Wanaka Golf Club plays over one of the more charming golf courses you will find anywhere. The club was established in 1922, initially playing on a course on the common, before moving up the hill in the 1930s to a site approximately where the current front nine sits, with the back nine being added over the road in 1967.
The most striking aspect of the course is the scenery. From its position high on the hill, the views across the town and lake to the majesty of the Mount Aspiring National Park are some of the best on any golf course anywhere in the world. But that’s not to downplay the course itself. The two nines are very different; the front nine full of undulations, the green sites artfully perched and nestled amongst the rolling terrain. The back nine is flatter and considerably longer, falling under the shadow of Mount Iron. Throughout, greens are small and bunkering sparse, often leaving the natural fall of the land to create the challenges.The club has in recent years commissioned Darby Partners to renovate the course, with plans to change a number of holes, some subtly and some more significantly, most notably a reshaped 4th and a lengthening of the 7th to a double doglegged par five.
The front nine is undoubtedly the strongest. The routing appears excellent, with some huge gullies used to great effect, and green sites are often sublimely chosen. But there’s one big hideous exception. You get the feeling the architect(s) found a fitting route for the first 3 holes, could see something even better for the 5th to the 9th, could not fathom how to join them up, and deluded themselves that you could make a nice hole out of the ugly sideways camber left over for the 4th. Easily the worst hole I’ve played in New Zealand. I shall rant no further – it’s been a year or two since I played here, and I can tell from the club’s website that they must have also seen it as a festering sore, because it looks like it is no more – good on them. It looks like Darby Partners are going to revamp the hole, and the club has installed an 88yd / 80m par 3 as an interim (better than keeping it as it was?).
The back nine is a more sedate affair, but there are a couple of elegant touches, like the artfully placed 11th green, nuzzled snugly into a shoulder of land. And the finishing hole is a delight – a tempting question off the tee (how much corner to cut?), and another delicately placed green site, allowing a drawn approach to feed off a back slope into any pin tucked to the left side.
For the serious enthusiast, it might just be a little tame (and flawed) to really float your boat. As a fun holiday course, it’s everything you’d want. With a new 4th, I’d be tempted to award 4 balls, but for now, I’ll just edge towards 3. Matt Richardson