This article was published in Scout Magazine and is republished with permission.
In this ode to his old turf, our tireless golf course researcher Greg Turner explores more than just fairways and greens.
In the first issue of Scout my rough and ready-made golf guide for the north of the North Island was to be found – for reasons of balance I thought that for this issue I would go south to my home province of Otago.
I grew up in Dunedin and started my game days alternating between the hilly, tree-lined fairways of New Zealand’s oldest club (Otago Golf Club and its Balmacewen course) and the windswept dunes of Chisholm Links (a “left” is golf by the sea ) Course on sand dunes).
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In the club of the Otago GC.
The Otago Club has a lot of history to offer, so wander the clubhouse and check out yesterday’s photos.
While you likely won’t meet any members who saw Arnold Palmer ride the green on the club’s most famous hole, The Glen, there are some who could claim they attended.
It’s always interesting when you come back to a place that you know well but haven’t played in many years, especially when you want to watch the young Lions of today measure their skills. I recently did caddy for my son (well, I lugged his bag around to be more specific) and found the course shorter and the hills steeper!
Next to St Kilda Beach is Chisholm Links, a community owned public course but operated by the local golf club. This is true links-style public golf, with some of the holes around the headland known as Lawyers Head being as spectacular as any oceanfront golf in the world.
If you ever wanted to see a missed opportunity Chisholm would be a prime candidate. With relatively little investment, it could be a major tourist capital for the city, and golf tourism brings in much of the lucrative visitor market that the government has been campaigning for recently. The connections could certainly attract this audience, but with most of the profit going to other areas of the tourism industry, the club itself will never be able to make the necessary investments – its own asset would bring a great return to its constituents.
Unfortunately, at a time when Donald Trump is the most prominent cheerleader in golf, that’s hard to sell politically. However, for those who care about no less than pristine lawn conditions, the place is well worth a visit (although you want to avoid the days when a south front is due).
Once in Dunedin, head down the peninsula to Taiaroa Head and its famous colony of albatrosses.
This is the wild southern ocean coast where all the senses are stimulated at the same time. The combination of salt, algae, seals and sea birds creates a not unpleasant, but nevertheless unmistakable aroma. And toss your clubs in the trunk, because Ōtakou has a quirky little nine-hole link that can offer an hour and a half of golf intrigue.
Dunedin is known as the Edinburgh of the South, and Scottish ancestors can be found everywhere here. Return to Dunedin via the High Road and stop at Larnach Castle, where you will feel as if you have been transported to the Scottish Highlands.
A stroll through the old University of Otago buildings along the Leith Stream will instill a sense of science and I can never resist browsing the extraordinary University Book Shop.
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The university bookstore: plenty of intrigue.
If you’re like me, maybe you should take an hour or two to explore – and the Otago Museum across the street is hard to resist too.
Instead of rushing inland to experience the more temperate climate of Central Otago, take time to stroll. There are several routes to consider, and the most scenic is probably the Rail Trail, but the avid golfer may prefer to head south on the scenic south route along the coast and through the quaint community of Brighton. The Otago coast has some beautiful little coves with white sandy beaches and small rocky points that are well worth a short detour.
The route turns inland at Taieri Mouth (not many would realize that the Taieri River is New Zealand’s fourth longest as it snakes out of Maniototo) and soon you’ll be back on State Highway 1 southbound. You turn just past the rural service town of Milton and soon reach Lawrence, best known as the place where Gabriel Reid initiated Otago’s first gold rush.
Soon the rolling hills give way to a barren, rocky landscape, and fruit trees instead of sheep and cattle become the main companions on the roadside. Not far away, at the entrance to Roxburgh, a small rural golf jewel awaits you (you will soon see that it should be called “Rocksburgh”). Getting around the course at least without the occasional ricochet is a challenge, and while length is less of an issue here than in more well-known locations, accuracy is required. I suspect a bulldozer was only used here during construction to level the parking lot.
Don’t forget to stop by the locally famous Jimmy’s Pies shop across from the golf course.
If your timing is right, the bluff oyster and game pie is hard to get past (while the truth is, I was so in love with the award-winning ingredient, I can’t remember what came with the oysters!).
Continuing west will bring you to Cromwell, where the local golf course is off the main road. The golf course is set on a sandy, loamy soil reminiscent of the famous Melbourne Sandbelt and shares the characteristics of fast and real greens in general. I was lucky enough to be able to extensively rehabilitate a large part of the space and, while digging for a new green, was surprised to find that the normally sandy soil was a bit thicker. Fortunately, a longtime local arrived on site to let us know that the new green area was where the old “night car” released its cargo. So, if you notice that the 10th green is a little lower than its surroundings, you know that this is due to the displacement of some historical artifacts.
Cromwell is probably best known for its fruit production and there are plenty of roadside stalls where you can enjoy all kinds of citrus fruits. The area has become the hub of Central Otago’s burgeoning wine production and there are numerous wine cellars and restaurants well worth a visit. Petrolheads should head to Highlands Motorsport & Tourism Park, where the need for speed can be satisfied with a jaunt with a resident rally driver or a stroll through the museum.
Through the impressive Kawarau Gorge, you come across the original home of local pinot in the Gibbston Valley, and if you survive the impulse to jump off a bridge (with rubber bands, of course), you will become New Zealand’s home of the golf resort in the Wakatipu Basin.
You’ll have to bury your golfer’s head in the sand to be ignorant of the virtues of Millbrook, Jack’s Point and The Hills, but don’t miss a chance at the quirky but fulfilling Arrowtown Golf Club or the spectacular Queenstown Golf Club in Kelvin Heights.
It’s been a rough time for hospitality and outdoor adventure companies lately, so indulge yourself in one of the many great restaurants in the area and get your adrenaline rush on a jet boat or some backcountry adventure. If you prefer a quieter pace, take an evening to soak up the charms of Arrowtown. The cinema, bar and Dorothy Browns bookstore (a fascinating trifecta) exude charm and there are a number of quaint and authentic restaurants and bars along the main street to satisfy every appetite.
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Dorothy Browns: Movies and More.
Where to play
- Otago Golf Club
- Chisholm links
- Takou Golf Club
- Roxburgh Golf Club
- Cromwell Golf Club
- Jack’s point
- The hills
- Arrowtown Golf Club
- Queenstown Golf Club
What to do
- Taiaroa Head Albatross Colony
- Larnach Castle
- University of Otago
- University bookstore
- Otago Museum
- Highlands Motor Sports and Tourism Park
- Dorothy Browns
Where shall we eat