The Otago Golf Club
Dunedin New Zealand’s sister city is Edinburgh, and the Scottish influence here is evident. The main streets of George and Princes Streets were named after the main streets in Edinburgh. Even the town name is derived from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh. So, it should come as no surprise that The Otago Golf Club, New Zealand’s oldest golf course, would be founded in Dunedin.
We played The Otago Golf Club on a dark and rainy day, weather fitting to its Scottish roots. The golf course measures 6413-yards from the Men’s tees and 5645 from the Women’s. But wearing rain gear, it felt much longer.
The Oldest Club in the Southern Hemisphere
The game of golf was introduced to New Zealand in Dunedin in 1871 by Mr. Charles Ritchie Howden who would become known as the Father of New Zealand Golf. Originally named the Dunedin Golf Club, The Otago Golf Club was forced to change locations a couple of times in its formative years. The last move from the Club was in 1896 when it moved to Balmacewen, its present location.
We were honored to have been shown around by Ms. Shelly Duncan, the Director of Golf. I was mesmerized by the Club’s long history as well as the impressive trophy case. The case is home to the St Andrew’s Cross. Dating from 1872, it is the oldest golfing trophy in the Southern Hemisphere. Also on display is the original Club Rules book, which was printed in 1871. The Balmacewen Course has hosted the New Zealand Open on multiple occasions. The legendary Mr. Peter Thomson won the Championship here twice, first in 1953 and again in 1971.
We could have spent hours exploring, but with the sky darkening, we decided it was now or never if we wanted to play golf.
The Front at The Otago Golf Club
The second through the fifth holes are across a small road and are some of the oldest on this old course. Balmacewan, the 405-yard par 4 fifth is the namesake hole and was our favorite of the bunch. With a slight slope in the fairway, the optimal tee shot is down the right side which should take advantage of the downhill slant. I found the lite rough on the right side and had a flier lie that flew just over the green. But I was relieved to have saved par.
The eighth hole is, for some, a drivable par 4. Gary Player had a hole in one when he played the 304-yard Ridge in 1958. Thinking an ace was not likely for us today, neither Menekse nor I brought driver to the tee. With good course management, Menekse hit a good pitch shot into the long narrow green. With a steep grass slope lining the right side of the green, I hackendly learned where the name Ridge comes from. (Yes, we realize hackendly isn’t a word, but no word paints a more accurate picture of what happened down there!)
As the name may imply, you aren’t able to see the green from the tee on Camel’s Back. Hitting towards an uphill fairway, it isn’t until you reach the top before you see the green on the 406-yard par 4 ninth. I made a better swing and found the fairway, my first in the last few holes.
The Back at The Otago Golf Club
Named The Glen, the 386-yard par 4 eleventh is the signature hole at Balmacewen. We read that in 1966 Mr. Arnold Palmer drove the green and had a 2-putt birdie. With OB left and more trouble right, driver was not my choice today. I hit a 5-iron not very confidently down the right side, which found its way into the trees. Menekse graciously pulled her tee shot left so that we would be able to see the entire hole.
There is more room left than it appears from the tee because we found Menekse’s tee shot in the middle of the fairway. We found mine in the trees where I was forced to hit a knockdown 9-iron under the branches. Escaping tree trouble, it landed in the left green-side bunker but I was able to get up and down to save par! I played the hole more like Seve Ballesteros, hitting it everywhere but the fairway, but still managed to make par!
This was also the last hole where we did not employ our rain jackets full time.
Lite Rain Turned to Hard Rain
With rain coming down, we probably should have gone to the clubhouse when we were standing on the thirteenth tee, which was just a short wedge away. However, the long downhill 594-yard par 5 Tipperary, the number one handicap hole on the course, was beckoning. Hoping not to lose my grip, I swung driver more relaxed and rocked one down the middle of the fairway. My tee shot was about 2 steps short of reaching the steep slope, which has the potential of adding another 50-yards or more. We will blame the newly wet fairway!
We made a mad dash to the clubhouse after putting out, which ended up being the right decision. Because just as we entered, the skies let loose a downpour of rain and a thunderclap that echoed loudly inside!
Maintained to very high standards, the fairways at The Balmacewen course were some of the best we played. This says something considering the amount of rain that we experienced traveling throughout New Zealand. The greens rolled true and were a perfect speed, and Menekse putted particularly well on them. With the cups painted white, we felt like a final Sunday twosome.
The Otago Golf Club will celebrate its 150-year anniversary in November 2021 and the R&A has been invited. Perhaps we need to make our arrangements to return!