Nelson Golf Club
According to Mr George Peper and Mr Malcolm Campbell, authors of one of our favourite golf book True Links, there are only 246 authentic links golf courses in the world. Nine of those true links courses are located in New Zealand, and Nelson Golf Club is one of those sacred grounds!
Nelson Golf Club was founded in 1897, about 2 years after it is said that a pair of sportsmen leased some land “for the purpose of playing golf”. While at the Club, Menekse and I had the privilege to view the historic photos located throughout the Clubhouse. The Club also invited us to read their copy of the Nelson Golf Club Centennial 1897-1997 book.
Like many old golf courses, Nelson Golf Club has gone through its fair share of changes over the years. Probably the most significant changes were related to the war effort of the Second World War, when the grounds were taken over by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
As the threat of invasion began to diminish and the golf course area was no longer required for military services, the golf course was handed back to the Club by the late spring of 1944. But “with large excavations cut into the hills, and the remains of gun emplacements… the land was considerably changed.” And the Club was forced to start over again.
A Knock Over Your Trolley Kind of Wind
Just as we were getting ready to play, it poured rain for a solid 45 minutes. And believe us when we say that that it was absolutely chucking it down as we waited in the car park in our camper van. So, once a break in the weather presented itself, Menekse and I went immediately to the pro-shop and checked in with Sean Riordan, the Head Professional.
“It could get pretty windy out there” Sean said with a wee smile as he told us that we could tee it up when we were ready. “Windy? We’ve played Carnoustie my good man” I silently thought to myself as we loaded our golf bags onto the trollies and made our way to the first tee.
Located on New Zealand’s South Island, Nelson Golf Club plays par 70 6568-yards from the Blues tees. With at least a 3-club wind, I decided to play it from the 6021-yard White tees, while Menekse played it from the 5799-yard Red tees.
Estuary, the 417-yard second hole is the quintessential definition of a great links golf hole. With some treacherous looking mounding protecting the left, the right half of the fairway is the prudent play off the tee in order to have the best look at this slight dogleg left par four. But with the ocean along the right side, it is imperative to find the short grass off the tee. Luckily, we both found the right side of the fairway both with solid tee shots. Just as Menekse prepared to hit her second shot, the wind blew over her trolley! And, with the wind absolutely howling, my second shot of 188-yards was well short of the green.
Sean was right; indeed, it can get quite windy at Nelson Golf Club!
The Corner, the 181-yard par 3 sixth hole, is probably the signature hole at Nelson Golf Club, a course with multiple signature hole options. With the wind blowing off the ocean located a mere 2 steps to your right, both Menekse and I landed short left of the green. But with a front left pin placement, our shots turned out to be not too bad. We both hit good pitch shots into the green. Menekse frustratingly left her attempt for par short, while I was able to make mine.
Hide Out, the 359-yard par 4 eighth is a shortish dogleg left that plays, yes you guessed it, back into the wind. It is possible to take a few yards off with a tee shot down the left side, but just be sure you miss the bunker guarding the shorter way.
Appropriately named Runway, the 549-yard ninth hole is a long par 5 that has a slight bend left to it off the tee. Be sure to keep left because right off the tee here is not the place you want to be. It isn’t so much the deep rough all along that side of the fairway that will intimate you. No, it is the runway of the Nelson Airport that will command your attention!
Cleared For Take Off!
In all our travels, we have never played a golf course this close to an airport before! Standing in the middle of the ninth fairway, you are literally a half wedge from the end of the runway. Now this is travel and golf all in one! There are even runway lights for the airplanes on the course! We have to wonder what the local ruling is for low-flying planes!
The 405-yard par 4 eleventh hole, Monaco, was probably our favourite hole on the golf course. A straight away hole seems benign enough at first glance. Until, that is, you notice the two deep pot bunkers placed right centre cut of the fairway! Normally a decision would need to be taken here whether or not to lay up. However, the good thing about playing in the wind on a course like Nelson is that it helps take the fairway bunkers out of play. Playing into the wind, there was no way for us to reach the bunkers off the tee. And playing downwind, they would never come into play. So out came the driver on eleven, and the bunkers remained safe. Perhaps another reason why we loved this hole was that we both made par!
The 362-yard par 4 twelfth hole shares a tee box plateau with the Hide Out, the eighth hole. We later learned one of the gun emplacements is buried that underneath this plateau. Apparently, the top of the emplacement was removed, and it was then filled in with dirt. The top was replaced, and the entire thing was covered over with more dirt. You would never know standing there however!
The twelfth hole at Nelson Golf Club is named Westward Ho!, which makes us wonder, just how many golf holes in the world are named after the oldest course in England? Guess we will have to continue traveling to find out!
Getting Tired but Grinding
By the time we reached Seaview, the 445-yard par 4 fourteenth, we were both tired. The relentless wind was beginning to take its toll on the both of us. Our tee shots were becoming more wayward, and we were both feeling mentally and physically tired. A pulled tee shot lead to another bogey, my second in the last 3 holes on the back nine.
Reaching deep down within, we both hit solid tee shots on Spion Kop, the 358-yard sixteenth. Named after the Battle of Spíon Kop of the Second Boer War, you will need to take an extra club on your approach shot to reach this short par 4 because, yes, that is the green way up there! This is another area of the golf course that was completely changed during the war. A huge mound was built and then cut in half in order to hide the war planes. After the planes left, the mound was levelled somewhat, and the sheer slopes reconfigured into their current shape. The mound is a good 5 metres high!
We, or maybe I should say I, often like to play the last hole imagining being the defending Club Champion with a 1 shot lead and having to make par to remain champion. Hey, we all like to dream, right! And I can’t think of a better finishing hole than Home, the long 412-yard par 4 eighteenth at Nelson Golf Club. With your mates watching from the clubhouse, not to mention the 120 passengers aboard flight NZ72 from Auckland passing above, there is no better place to grind out a par to defend!
Thank You Nelson Golf Club
The greens at Nelson Golf Club were some of the best greens that we experienced in our New Zealand travels. They were the absolute perfect speed for us. They were so good that it felt like every putt was possible- not that we made any, but it felt possible! And, being a true links course, we were able to putt from well off the greens. Add devilish pot bunkers to the large greens that invite you to run the ball up- perfect! We absolutely love playing links golf on the ground! All this in early October, which means that it was early spring in the Southern Hemisphere!
We would like to thank the Club President for presenting us with the opportunity to play Nelson Golf Club. We would also like to thank Mr McQuade for our pleasant conversations and for providing us with a history of the Club and golf course. Finally, we would like to say a special thank you to Mrs Sheehy for her kindness, concern, smiles, and for her warm welcoming hugs.
And, the next time we are faced by a wee wind at Carnoustie, we’ll be able to say to ourselves, Wind? Why, we have played golf at Nelson Golf Club!!!