True Links Golf Courses of New Zealand
While Menekse and I were in Ubud Bali, we enrolled in a series of yoga classes, my first ever. I quickly came to enjoy our routine of waking up early, going to class, and then starting our day refreshed and relaxed. During each session, the instructor encouraged the class to meditate. Close your eyes, be mindful of your breathing, turn off your thoughts, and just listen to your body was the guidance. With spiritual new age music playing softly in the background, I attempted to turn off my thoughts. I did my best to listen to my breathing. I inhaled slowly, deeply, and intently. And with each exhale, I repeated the process. But I never could figure out this segment of the lesson because the more I attempted to turn off my thoughts, the more my mind inevitably drifted to golf.
But not just any golf. No, I specifically envisioned links golf. As I lie there with my eyes closed, it felt as though my senses were heightened. Well, my golf senses anyway. I could feel the wind on my face, and the grass under my feet. I could hear the ocean crashing, and the crisp sound of the sand when I raked a bunker. I could even hear the distinct sound of a ball dropping slowly into the cup. I realized then that links golf is my nirvana.
What is True Links Golf
In our research on golf courses in New Zealand, we found that there are 9 True Links Golf Courses of New Zealand. Mr George Peper and Mr Malcolm Campbell, authors of one of our favourite golf book True Links, have identified 246 authentic links golf courses in the world. With nine of those located in New Zealand, we made it our goal to play them all.
For us, playing golf on a true links golf course just feels different. Links style golf breaks the game down to its simplest form, and there is no doubt that it is the heart and soul of our game. The courses feel like they are designed by mother nature, and there is something magical, almost spiritual about the walk.
Our Golfabond Life
Our golfabond adventure brought us to New Zealand. Menekse and I traveled for three months in the early spring (September to November) of 2019, logging just over 6000 kilometers in Lorna, our campervan. We played our way from the most northern golf course all the way to the most southern and had many stops in-between.
Many of the true links golf courses of New Zealand aren’t located on the main routes of the country. Therefore, we knew upfront that it wouldn’t be our easiest objective. But many things that are worth doing take more effort to do. After all, it is challenges like this that led us to take the decision to quit our jobs, sell our stuff, and set out to travel the world with just our backpacks and golf bags. The advantage of slow travel gave us the opportunity to explore the remote tucked away corners of this extraordinary county.
Being able to play all the true links golf courses of New Zealand was exactly the type of golf experience that we have been searching for!
After all, somebody has to do it!
Beginning on the North Island and finishing on the South, we listed the golf courses below in sequential order.
Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club
Known as New Zealand’s ‘spiritual home of golf’, Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club will test every aspect of your game. Why? Because it is a course that offers more than one way to play every single golf shot. Add in wind and rolling fairways and no two rounds here could ever be the same.
Being a true links course means that sometimes we missed the firm and fast sand-based soil fairways but ended up in the middle. Similarly, however, at times we hit the fairways and ended up in the rough. We hit knockdown 5 irons and knock down 9 irons as often as we needed high 4 irons and high wedges.
The greens were very good; while hard and firm, we found that they still held well-struck approach shots. The speed was perfect, even on an early spring day when we played, which made us wonder how incredible they must roll in the summer! We also enjoyed putting from well off the greens, another hallmark of links golf.
Whakaponohia, which translates from the native Māori language as Blind Faith, is the only thing that is required as you step up to the fifteenth tee. The ardent target on this into the wind 372-yard par 4 is the black and white striped post. Menekse sailed down the left side of the post and I missed it to the right, but we finished the hole as firm believers.
The seventeenth is ranked as one of the greatest golf holes in the world and was our favorite! Named Taonganui, The Jewel is a 442-yard slight dogleg right par 4. With a pair of bunkers short left, I hit stinger 4-iron that found the second bunker, my only of the day.
Nelson Golf Club
Just as we were getting ready to play Nelson Golf Club, it poured rain for a solid 45 minutes. Once a break in the weather presented itself, Menekse and I immediately went into the pro-shop and checked in. “It could get pretty windy out there,” the Head Professional 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.
Named Estuary, the 417-yard second hole is the quintessential definition of a great links golf hole. With treacherous mounding protecting the left, and the ocean along the right, it is imperative to find the short grass off the tee. Just as Menekse prepared to hit her second shot, the wind blew over her trolley! We quickly learned that indeed it can get quite windy at Nelson!
Monaco, the 405-yard par 4 eleventh hole, was probably our favorite hole on the golf course. The straightaway hole seems benign enough at first glance. Until that is, you notice the two deep pot bunkers placed right-center cut of the fairway! Normally a decision would need to be taken here whether to lay up or not. However, one advantage of playing golf in the wind is that it often helps take fairway bunkers out of play. Into the wind, there was no way for either of us to reach the fairway bunkers from the tee. And downwind, they almost never come into play. So out came our drivers, and the bunkers remained safe. Perhaps another reason why we loved Monaco was that we both made par!
Takaka Golf Club
Located near Abel Tasman National Park, Takaka Golf Club is a 9-hole golf course that is a long way from, well, almost anything. Situated directly at the Tasman Sea, we arrived at the smell of the ocean, plenty of seagulls, and an empty car park.
Hump, the straight 413-yard par 4 second was our favorite hole on the golf course. With the beach and ocean to your right, you won’t find a better view in all of golf! The fairway has a mound that lends its name to the hole and runs perpendicular to the ocean. It also causes your approach shot into the green to be blind.
Takaka Golf Club was an absolute joy to play. And it was evident that she is loved by all who make the effort to get here!
Westport Golf Club
With two on the front and two on the back, Westport Golf Club has a marvelous collection of par threes. Ranging from 126-yards to 197-yards, each playing in varying directions, the wind always needed to be considered. Airport, the short 126-yard par 3 second, was our favorite of these par threes. Aiming towards the Tasman Sea be sure you take enough club to account for the wind. If not, there are two small hungry bunkers short that will devour anything short. Menekse escaped trouble by playing to the left of the green. There are a couple of short pine trees long of the hole, but they didn’t block enough of the wind. I hit a wedge that unfortunately flew too high and ended up short, in the left bunker.
There was something different about the final two holes at Westport. With fewer trees than the others, the closing holes had more room to breathe. The openness allowed the wind from the ocean to become a factor once more. Looking around the surrounding area, the only trees around were those on the golf course, so you know that they weren’t here naturally. Westport Golf Club has huge potential. With a major tree removal project, the golf course could be restored to a truer links feel. With sand-based soil that dries quickly and fairways that have some beautiful movements in them, Westport possesses everything that it needs to be an excellent golf course.
Karamea Golf Club
Driving to the far north of the West Coast of the South Island on Highway 67 was one of the most beautiful drives that we have taken in New Zealand. Or anywhere in our travels for that matter! This part of the country is off the beaten track for most tourists. But, with a true links golf course located in this remote corner of the country, it was our next stop! Just getting to Karamea Golf Club will test anyone’s golfing conviction, but it is so worth the effort!
Karamea rests in a valley between a cow pasture left of the first and the Tasman Sea on the eighth. While the golf course doesn’t offer direct ocean views, you can hear the surf pounding the shore on every hole. Rough in spots, the rolling fairways were full of humps and bumps and were a blast to play. The greens were small, but with fairways cut short, they seemed to be more receptive to missed shots.
Tasman, the 526-yard par 5 eighth, was easily our favorite hole on the golf course. Running parallel to the dunes that border the ocean, it is the longest hole on the course. With the day slowly coming to an end, I hit a solid tee shot safely down the right side. Struggling for much of the day, Menekse hit a great tee shot, missed a couple of fairway woods, but finished the hole with a great two-putt.
Hokitika Golf Club
We were excited to play the Hokitika Golf Club because many people had told us that it is an unforgettable golf course! We often asked locals at the courses we play where we should go next, and Hokitika came very highly recommended.
Why was it so highly recommended? Well, because Hokitika is a true out-and-in golf course! While the greens are not shared, it can be easy to get lost playing the course. Just remember to play the red flags first and then the yellow, consult the map on the scorecard, and to have fun!
Our favorite hole on the outward nine was Seaside, the 348-yard par 4 ninth. Luckily there is more room left than it looks like off the tee because I pulled my tee shot. Menekse drove down the right side which left her with an uneven lie for her second shot. Keeping her head down, she made solid contact with her three-wood on her way to another net par.
Hokitika Golf Club was an absolute blast to play. Just be sure to check your map a few times during your round. And don’t forget- it’s red then yellow!
Oreti Sands Golf Club
Our quest to play the world’s most unique golf courses brought us to Oreti Sands Golf Club. Unfortunately, it brought us here 18 months too late. Due to dwindling membership and lack of funding, the Club closed in April 2018. Oreti Sands was once the southernmost true links golf course in the world!
With greens or bunkers no longer visible, we walked through what had to have been a wonderful golf experience. We also found stairs that lead to tee boxes, but the tee markers were long gone. With the sun shining down, we walked around and between some incredible dunes! There was something peaceful strolling around these links even though we couldn’t play golf. And the more we walked, the more we could tell that this was once a true golfers golf course.
Otakou Golf Club
Otakou Golf Club probably adhered the least to the traditional guidelines of a true links golf course. This was due primarily to the number of trees that framed almost every hole on the property. Rather than being located directly at the sea, the course is located on the bay of the Otago Peninsula. This explained why the usual true links smell of the ocean was replaced by the smell of pine trees.
Also absent was the wind. While at the Royal Albatross Centre, we learned that albatross require strong winds to fly, which is why they live in this area. But, today was a calm day, and so we didn’t see any albatross in flight. Likewise, the flags at Otakou Golf Club lay flightless. But they were absolutely tattered, evidence that it can get windy here.
It was late in the day and was probably the best weather for golf that we had since Asia. The sky was blue, and the birds were singing, which made walking the course in our shorts and t-shirts even more enjoyable.
Our favorite hole by far was Fieldwicks. With an intimidating looking tee shot, I hit driver on this 363-yard straight away par 4. The tight fairway was full of humps and bumps that had some magical looking undulation to them.
Chisholm Links Golf Club
We completed our journey at the unforgettable Chisholm Links Golf Club. Before our round, Mr Allan Court, the friendly Head Professional told us about a secret tee on the eleventh. Rather than follow the signs to the right off the tenth green, he advised us to walk up a narrow path on the left side. A secret tee box? We knew that we had to play from there.
After putting out on ten, we found the path that Allan had told us about that leads to the secret tee. Named Downhill, the eleventh is a par 5 that is a dogleg left from the secret tee. With the ocean to your left, the target is a white marker located on the far side of the fairway that is difficult to see. While here, be sure to take a moment to breathe in the ocean views.
With a fantastic variety of holes, a memorable mixture of short and long par fours, and a beautiful diversity of par threes, I hit every club in my bag. The greens were in great condition, and even in a very wet spring, the course played dry and true. We absolutely loved the golf course and it was easily the most underrated course that we played.
As we finished our journey and thought back to our yoga class in Bali, we realized that our experience was exactly what we envisioned. With wind burnt faces, our golfing souls were alive again. Having the time to do something like playing all the true links golf courses of New Zealand was nothing but a dream a few years ago. It is having opportunities like this that make us realize that Puttering around the World was absolutely the right decision for us!
We are relishing this golfabond life of ours!! And we have reaffirmed our belief that links golf IS our nirvana!
Namaste New Zealand for sharing your true links golf courses with us. Namaste!