I headed to Queenstown to visit some good friends in nearby Arrowtown. My Jetstar flight from Melbourne made the spectacular decent into Queenstown with the spring
snow-capped Remarkables in full view.
Yes, I was definitely impressed once again with the vista that greeted me! After a couple of days work and recreation I packed up my gear from my room at the historic New Orleans Hotel and relished the opportunity to get behind the wheel and drive north through some of the worlds most beautiful countryside.
I picked up my .................. thanks to the good folks at Euro Car Hire and took the scenic drive up to Christchurch. I had a day free to myself and wanted see some of the South Island’s scenery so allowed myself about seven hours for the drive past the gorgeous Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo to the Terrace Downs Resort.
I was greeted by villas set in rolling alpine countryside with wild tussocks and Mount Hutt as a backdrop. The Terrace Downs Resort is a high country mountain treat set on the Rakia River at the foot of the Southern Alps; it also has views that stretch across the spectacular Rakia Gorge. Activities include shooting, archery, jet boating, horseback riding, skiing, fishing and its very popular day spa. Some of the properties that surround the resort provide residents with one of the best living environments one could possibly wish for, with views that anyone would love to wake up to on a daily basis.
However, I was here for the golf! Yes, Terrace Downs is rated in the top Kiwi golf courses and I couldn’t wait to play it again. I was also looking forward to a restaurant at the resort that I had heard so much about; Hunters Steak House. I had certainly worked up an appetite after the drive up from Otago, so I really enjoyed my rib eye steak which the waiter served me on a sizzling hot plate. Medium rare local steak was definitely a must for a meat lover and complimented by a glass local wine I was ready to retire for the evening.
The next day I was greeted by fine sunny weather and crisp alpine air, as I warmed up my swing for the challenge ahead. The first hole is a great par five to start with and a good drive as I so luckily managed puts you in a good position to reach the green in two. I didn’t get home for two though; however I did start with a birdie after getting up and down from beside the green.
The parkland front nine is quite contrasting to the dramatic links style back nine. For mine it sets up the back nine where the course really shows its teeth. The array of lakes, tussocks and breathtaking views of the Raikia River and gorge. There are of course many risk reward holes and none more than the signature 16th hole. A short par three of no more than 110 metres with a premium being placed on keeping the ball low out of the breeze and of course picking the right club. However, as great a hole as the sixteenth is, this course is more than just one hole with many stretches of consecutive holes that demand great tee shots but also reward them with birdie chances.
The Championship par 72 layout was in excellently manicured and provides a test yet also an enjoyable round for all standards of players. It is really hard to believe that the course is only just over ten years old, as it sits into the natural landscape like it always belonged; at the foothills of the Canterbury Alps thousands of years ago.
Later that day I made the comfortable forty-five minute drive east to Christchurch, ‘The Garden City’ for my hotel in the city centre. I was impressed with the amount of development that has occurred and the friendly locals, one wouldn’t think that the locals had experienced some of mother nature’s worst possible challenges only a few years earlier. I settled in for the night early, as I had a 7.30 tee time the next morning at the historic Christchurch Golf Club at Shirley fifteen minutes north of town.
I was paired with some interesting members the next day, which informed me all about the history of the second oldest club in the country; founded in 1873. Over more recent times the course has been modified to restore it to its former style by architect Peter Thompson. The unique feature about this course I found was its first five holes prior to crossing the road and its closing holes back to the clubhouse. The subtle undulations in the fairways were a deceptively challenging element. An example of this was my favourite hole the par four fourteenth, where a decision needs to be made off the tee as to hit your drive on
the high side of the fairway and play a longer shot into the green from a level height, or hit closer to the green and play an awkward uphill approach. For the record I found out the hard way that the longer way was best. Also there are tiers and false fronts on many of the greens that place a premium on selecting the correct club to be hole high, or have to putt up or down hill on to the correct level as the hole.
After my round I ventured into the clubhouse for a tour of the memorabilia donated by the club’s patron Sir Bob Charles. Charles is New Zealand’s most famous professional golfer and launched his highly successful pro career after winning the club championship at the club.
After a very enjoyable mornings golf I headed off to the famous Riccarton Park Racecourse to try my luck on the gee gees.
Much lighter in the pocket after a late night and a day at the races, I must say I was feeling a little tired the next day. Although the thought of playing at Russley Golf Club and a strong espresso at Vivace Espresso in downtown Tuam Street got me going.
Russley is a relatively flat tree lined parkland course that has hosted many big professional events of the years including the New Zealand Open. Coupled by its proximity to the airport, relaxed atmosphere and easy going members it has a strong appeal to golfers of all levels. From a golf course layout perspective I really enjoyed the par five sixth and par three seventh holes that require a precise approach shot to be played into large undulating greens or find water hazards waiting to gobble up your ball. I did manage to avoid the drink and par both these holes.
I found the course to be very well maintained with firm, true putting surfaces and really enjoyed this fun golf course.
For my last night in the land of the long white cloud I checked into The Peppers Clearwater Resort. Doing it in style at Clearwater was a great way to end my trip, as I had magnificent accommodation right on the course. So, after a lovely meal at The Lakes Restaurant I was ready to tackle the course the next day.
With eighteen holes ahead of me, I was glad I stayed at Clearwater, being only five minutes from the airport to catch my afternoon flight back home.
The layout has streams that flow into seven lakes located throughout the course; hence it’s the ‘Clearwater’. A gentle start to the course didn’t last long with the par four third being a gem of a short par four hole. Bunkers right and left required me to lay up with a hybrid off the tee, and then an accurate high short iron approach is required to an undulating green. I managed to achieve all this until undid all my good work by taking three putts on
The ninth is a demanding par three that brings you back to the clubhouse. I needed to hit a solid four iron and avoid the water in front of and to the right of the green. I was extremely happy with par as I went quietly to the back nine.
The back nine can be summed up in a word. Tough. It has water on almost every hole, so if you are not driving it straight: look out! This is an example of a premium finishing hole, it has bunkers right and water left intimidating the golfer visually off the tee.
The green has two levels, which makes putting tricky as well; so a par here is a great score. Many of the New Zealand Opens and other major events have been decided by drama on this hole.
Steve Khatib founder of Golf Dynamics is an internationally respected authority on all matters golf, owing to his affiliations through many years spent with the worlds leading golf minds in the USA. Steve presents several popular radio and television programs throughout Australia and has been awarded PGA Teacher of the Year, PGA AAA Specialiast Coach and Master Clubfitter accreditations.
Clearwater was by far my most challenging Canterbury course and my three over par 75 felt like a two under par 70.
With my Canterbury crusade complete, I made the short trip to the airport to catch my Jetstar flight home direct to Melbourne, feeling inspired and satisfied with another unique Kiwi golf experience and thoroughly recommend Canterbury for great golf courses, spectacular scenery and friendly people.