Waverley Golf Club
Our day at Waverley Golf Club almost didn’t happen. It was on our original bucket list, but we felt a little time pressure to get to the South Island. We are so happy we made the worthwhile decision to stick to our plan and play a round of golf that we will never forget!
Waverley might not be on your bucket list. In fact, you most likely haven’t even heard of it. And, to be honest, I don’t remember how I came across it a few years ago. But I had found some golf courses that were quite unique in character in the New Plymouth area of New Zealand, and Waverley Golf Club seemed to be the cream of crop!
As we made our way down from Auckland, at each golf course we asked the local pros where we should play golf. To our astonishment, Waverley kept being mentioned. In fact, it was recommended by both The Kinloch Club and by Cape Kidnappers. And, while we were at Cape Kidnappers, we learned that Waverley is in one of The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses books by Tom Doak.
There It Is
As we started traveling through the North Island of New Zealand, I wanted to learn more about this incredible country, so I had begun reading The Penguin History of New Zealand, by Michael King, one of the country’s leading historians. I was particularly interested in the oral historical stories passed down from generation to generation about the discovery of these beautiful islands by the Māori people.
After an extremely long day’s journey, Menekse was the first to spot Waverley Golf Club in the distant wispy white clouds. “There it is, there it is!” she exclaimed excitingly as we got closer. Paddling our JUCY campervan into the car park we felt like Kupe, the ancient Polynesian voyager who along with his wife Kuramārōtini discovered Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, known now as New Zealand. As we slowly drifted into the car park, it was like we had discovered a place unseen and untouched by anyone before us. Welcome to Waverley Golf Club!
Waverley Golf Club is an 18-hole golf course that has one set of tees measuring in at 6055 yards and plays to par 72. We slid our green fees into the honesty box (15 NZD, 8,61 Euro, 9.65 USD) and stood there with our mouths hanging wide open. There were sheep as far as the eye could see, and a golf course that we had only seen and played in our dreams.
Yes, sheep! You are introduced to the sheep with your very first shot. Unsure of what we should do, we concluded that the sheep would take care of themselves and decided to play the hole as we normally would, and we hit driver off Panorama, the par 5 opening hole!
Devil’s Elbow, the 323-yard par 4 sixth is, as you can conclude from the name, an uphill sharp dogleg left, and requires you to hit your tee shot directly over the fifth green lying slightly below. With a good draw to my tee-shot, I was surprised to find it on the far-right side of the fairway- which undeniably proves that the Devil has quite an elbow indeed!
The 392-yard seventh was without doubt our favourite hole on the front nine. Canyon, as it is named, is a straight-away par 4 that is framed on both sides with large dunes that lend the hole its name. They also help funnel wayward shots back into the short grass fairways. Reaching the green, you find yourself at the furthest point of the golf course.
When we arrived at Waverley Golf Club, we were greeted by Ricky, the keeper of the greens. Noticing that there were no small fences surrounding the greens, we asked him why the sheep don’t damage the greens by walking on them. He told us that since their teeth aren’t long enough to eat the short grass of the greens, the elder sheep don’t go on them because they are not a food source. And since the elders don’t walk on the greens, the younger ones don’t either!
Ricky also told us that Waverley is a working sheep farm first, and a golf course second. There are 300 sheep, 1 goat, and 2 chickens. And 100 golfing members!
Talk About a Free Drop
And in case you were wondering, Waverley Golf Club does have a few local rules as related to the sheep. As a player, you can lift and drop the ball without penalty when, well, any sheep ‘free relief’ interferes with your stance.
Just as important as the local rules related to crappy lies, we learned quickly that you really need to watch your step at Waverley! The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but that might not always be the cleanest option! Another aspect quite unique to Waverley is that you should rather pay particular attention when replacing your divots!
We also have to mention that 300 sheep are quite noisy! But the smiles on Menekse’s face as she watched the baby sheep made the crowd noise well worth it!
In a word, the inward nine at Waverley Golf Club were spectacular! With a view of snow-capped Mount Taranaki in the distance, the 328-yard twelfth hole Tom Thumb was a golf hole that we will never forget. A straight slightly uphill tee shot sets you up for your approach to a small green that is enclosed by amphitheatre stadium like dunes. Upon reaching the green, make sure you take a minute to look back down the fairway and be rewarded with one of the most memorable views in golf. Tom Thumb is going down on our list of greatest golf holes we have ever played!
By the time we reached Ladies Mile, the par 5 514-yard fourteenth hole, we realized that this is probably as close as we will ever get to true historical golf as we will ever find. With glimpses of the Tasman Sea in the distance, a golf course shaped by mother nature, and sheep ever present, we wouldn’t have been surprised if Old Tom Morris himself would have walked up and asked if he could join us.
Some courses make us stop and realise what an incredible adventure that we are embarking upon- and Waverley Golf Club was certainly one of those places. Waverly IS raw golf! It is something that reminded us of the fabled Links of Burningbush that Michael Murphy so eloquently wrote about in Golf in the Kingdom.
Playing golf here feels as though time stood still. Waverley breaks golf down to its simplest form, its spiritual soul, and we are confident that if it was in Scotland it would be on everyone’s list. This is exactly the type of golf experience that we have been searching for!
Don’t Tell Anyone but Tell Everyone
Afterwards, with our faces still rich with wonder, we made our way into the clubhouse where we were warmly greeted by some very passionate members. We told them of our journey, and why Waverley Golf Club was on our list. Their reaction was really something. Knowing what they have, some said to us to not tell anyone, while others were just as excited for us to tell everyone! As we were reciting our shot by shot redition of the unforgettable twelfth hole and telling them about our list of golf courses we wanted to play, we noticed a member who got up to grab a pen and a piece of paper. As we bid our found farewells, he slipped the note that he had written into our hands. “Dear xx, These guys deserve a complimentary round of golf. Best regards, xx. “. In all our travels, we have never received something so unique as this.
When we made it to that course, we thought “Why not?!”, and, shyly handed the note to the Director of Golf. Wondering what the note was, he read it first with a quizzical look, which turned into a big smile and a hearty laugh. And he even took a picture of the note! We are so proud and happy to report that it worked! Thank you Waverley Golf Club!
As we rowed out of the car park, and as the golf course faded into the long white clouds of our rear-view mirror, we were so happy that we made the extra effort to play here, because Waverley Golf Club is one of the best golf courses that you’ve never heard of!