New Zealand Golf Club
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Despite the many elements which combine to make the course better than its sum parts, it is the bunkering which is New Zealand’s standout feature. It has long been my belief that Walton Heath’s bunkers are the best in the heathlands. According to Patric Dickinson “They are curiously, aggressively, artificial looking.” While not nearly as austere as Walton’s Heath’s pits, one could say that New Zealand’s are alarmingly charming, but just as effective and thus the equal of Fowler’s maiden design. Because both courses are fairly flat the bunkers take on a more prominent strategic role and may explain why the architects seemed to take great care in creating thoughtful hazards which in the best of traditions guard rather than frame greens. There is a fair amount of wonderful architecture that is more often than not dismissed as “flat” and therefore uninteresting. This sort of attitude will lead golfers to miss out on one of the true gems of London.
Much of New Zealand is the product of Mure Fergusson’s 1895 design which was unique for its day in that it was carved out of a forest. Fergusson continued to make refinements over the following 30 years as secretary of the club. Not long after his death Tom Simpson was called in to make significant changes. Being a former partner of Herbert Fowler and a member of Woking gave Simpson first hand knowledge of good design principles. Among the alterations were the addition of the great green complexes for #s 17 & 18, the short 3rd hole and a grand bunkering scheme for the entire course. Consequently its fair to state that New Zealand is the product of both these gentlemen.
Holes to Note
The 1st, a tough opener which uses the angles well in shaping the strategy of the hole. The golfer can immediately see the relationship between the turn of the fairway and the placement of the bunker just shy of the green. This is a repeated theme throughout the round.
The 6th used to feature one of the several camouflaged bunkers to be found at New Zealand in the right heather. The bunker is now more visible from the tee, but still menacing. Just shy of the green is a swale which shoves approaches right. There are several holes which showcase this “dead ground” style of architecture.
#7 is a great par 3 among a fine set of short holes and a good example of what can be achieved on flat land. One well placed bunker is all it takes to create a cracking hole. However, in the case of this hole, a second bunker, which also protects the 13th, is an added element. There is plenty of room to hit a tee shot, but the indecisive golfer who leaks a shot right must answer to the genius of Simpson.
There have been a handful of very good holes on the first 11, but #s 12-18 are a special stretch and help make New Zealand better than the run of the mill good course. Thirteen has a very clever pair of centre-line bunkers, one of which is hidden behind the other making the carry up the hill longer than it looks.
#16, the final par 3, is approximately a 180 yard carry over the heather. The photo accurately depicts the obscured view of the green one has from the tee. Once again, clever bunkers partially conceal the target and distract the golfer from the goal. As on the previous hole, there is a wee swale protecting the front right of the green. This par 4, may well be fairly short, but it is nonetheless well thought out.
The clubhouse has bags of charm and the course is demandingly honest, but some readers may be curious about the vital statistics; a par of 68 and a breath under 6000 yards. These numbers will strike many as a bit on the light side, however, don’t be deceived. The story of New Zealand is discovered in its playing and there are three All England candidates; #s 6, 7 & 16. There is a premium placed on hitting fairways and with six holes which can take some reaching this aspect of the game is greatly rewarded in keen conditions. Additionally, there are two long par 3s, consequently, New Zealand offers plenty of challenge with medium to long irons and wood play. This sort of configuration is a wonderful example of how to combat flat bellies yet offer respite for the less gifted players. Despite not being blessed with a rolling property, New Zealand drains exceedingly well. The flatter landscape offers a pleasantly cunning game with its many small and large swales kicking poorly judged shots into awkward recovery situations. Bernard Darwin encapsules the qualities of the club and course like no other can; “New Zealand is sui generis. It does not compete with other courses, but it sets its own standard and lives up to it.”
There is a plethora of fine courses to choose from in this area.
Bearwood Lakes GC: A modern parkland course set on a beautiful property.
Berkshire GC – Red Course: Famed Fowler course with 6 each of par 3s, 4s and 5s; combined with the Blue Course would make an admirable 36 hole day.
Camberley Heath GC: A hilly HS Colt course featuring a wonderful variety of par 4s.
Hindhead GC: Dramatic front nine playing through glacier valleys.
Knole Park GC: A dramatic property with daring holes draped over the land.
St Georges Hill GC (Red & Blue nines): A beautiful rolling heathland laid out by HS Colt.
Sunningdale GC: Old & New Courses: Possibly the finest 36 hole club in the world.
Swinley Forest GC: Perhaps the most charming day’s golf to be had near London.
Walton Heath GC: Old & New Courses:
West Hill: The often overlooked member of the 3Ws.
Woking GC: The playground of Low and Paton which blossomed into one of the most influential of all heathland designs.
Worplesdon GC: Next door to Woking and offering an equal number of lovely holes.