|Central Otago’s golf courses are as varied as they are challenging, offering some of New Zealand’s most unique golfing experiences. For a start, they’re about as inland as you can get in this country. They have stunning mountain views and are set amid arid and often rural landscapes in a climate of seasonal extremes, resulting in interesting and unexpected features. Best of all, they’re uncrowded.
Golfers come to Central to enjoy the natural unspoilt terrain and landscapes that are unique to this area in New Zealand. Central is about the original attitude to golf where the sport can be enjoyed where everyone can pick up a club and play at a cost significantly cheaper than resort Courses.
The Cromwell Golf Course is located strategically where touring traffic passes through the lower South island toward the neighboring Lakes District and will invariably be on your travel route.
The Cromwell course is 6,000m long and different again to other local courses in that it is uniquely situated on a sand belt away from the coast where you would normally expect this terrain. “An inland links course, a freak of nature”. The combination of course location, topography and climate deliver consistent playing conditions year round with course closure a rarity. Booking is not required but is appreciated.
Doug Harradine, former club manager, Otago representative and convenor of selectors has this to say, “It requires shot making skills, you’ve got to tailor the game to the terrain and use all the clubs in your bag”.
Recent course redevelopment in 2010 through world renowned consultant Gregg Turner have further enhanced the course providing enticing , demanding contours and the need for imagination around new green complexes.
“Play this course and you will not walk away unhappy or unchallenged”
Tarras Golf club, 20 minutes outside of Cromwell is a country club in every sense. The course transverses three farms and is set in what local winemaker Holger Reinecke says is typical local landscape: “People coming here would expect something raw; rugged.”
The club has an active membership of 140, with about 1,000 casual green fees a year. During the winter season the golfers are all local farmers. “I’m the exception here,” says Holger. The frozen greens don’t deter them, either. “The only time we don’t play, is if we have snow on the course,” says Holger.
Summer brings the holidaymakers. The club hosts a social tournament for local campers every year and enjoys overflow from the busy lakes district golf courses. “There’s plenty of room for everyone,” says Holger.
The club treats the course as an 18 hole; par 72 by having players go around twice, and there are challenges: “You have to contend with that water race a few times.” says Holger. Sheep sometimes wander on the fairways, too. The irrigated greens are protected by low fences that golfers climb over. “The ones that play on the flash golf courses love playing here. Of course they would consider it primitive, but you still have to hit a ball straight,” says Holger.
Just north of Ranfurly, securely wedged between the popular Otago Central Rail trail and State Highway 85 at Wedderburn is a private 9-hole golf course that dips and rises sharply on the Duncans’ family farm. Graeme Duncan describes it as a “fun” course: “It requires more luck in some cases, than skill,” he says.
The golf course preceded the Rail Trail and the lodge and cottages the Duncans’ have since added to accommodate holidaymakers. “We’re now adding the tourism industry to our farming portfolio,” he says. Most of the summer golfers are holidaymakers, but the course was originally created for the locals after a contractor on the farm suggested it would be a good place for one. “We already had the paddocks worked up, it didn’t matter to me,” says Graeme.
The short par 30 course has the distinction of having opened at the turn of the millennium with the first tee-off on the stroke of midnight. The greens are irrigated and cut during summer and its challenges include cliffs, creeks, the occasional sheep and the picturesque spring-fed pond, which was one of the original curling ponds in the district and a former coal pit before that. At least one golfer has been known to tee-off on the ice during winter when it freezes over.
Like all the Central Otago golf courses, visitors are welcome. “Anyone can play a green fee and have a round,” says Graeme.
Central Otago clubs are noticing a steady increase in the number of golfers visiting their courses. Players are discovering the tranquillity, challenges and beauty of playing in a mountainous region with a reliable, dry climate. It is the climate that necessitates attentive care and watering of courses; and it contributes to their special characteristics, as Cromwell Golf Club’s Doug Harradine points out: “Irrigation is designed to keep the golf course alive, but it is an arid landscape and we don’t want to change that,” he says.