The Adventure Golf Pro
PAUL MAHONEY IS NOT YOUR TYPICAL NZ PGA GOLF PROFESSIONAL. HE IS CONSIDERED THE #1 ADVENTURE GOLF PROFESSIONAL IN NZ. HE IS THE ONLY ONE!
Paul and his family have owned and operated the successful former Pirate’s Island Adventure Mini Golf in Christchurch and now Treasure Island Adventure Golf (Auckland) and Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf (Porirua, Wellington). Sadly, the facilities haven’t helped improve his putting but he has created a great family business!
It all started in 1996, when as the owner of a driving range and golf shop on Roydvale Avenue in Christchurch, he was keen to look at diversifying the business. The customers coming through the golf shop at the driving range were mostly male, with not a lot of new people wanting to give golf a try. He was researching online and saw the opportunity around Adventure Golf and how that was trending with family entertainment. Paul had considered “mini-golf” but it didn’t quite have the family appeal or “wow factor” he was looking for. However, when he saw pictures of Adventure Golf courses, he knew that it could be a perfect fit with his driving range. It could create a buzz that would set up his golf facility as a destination for families wanting to return time after time.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina looked to be the home of adventure golf, so Paul organised a visit to learn everything he could about the complexes; how were they built and how they were operated. On this visit, he was also fortunate to be introduced to Tom “the Designer”, who was constructing some of the best adventure golf facilities in Myrtle Beach and across Florida. The facilities all had themes and looked visually exciting, so that’s how the “Pirate” theme was born!
Arrangements were made and in 1997 designer Tom was on his way to Christchurch. Construction was underway on the site next to the driving range that had good street frontage. Travel down Roydvale Avenue today and there is no sign of the golf driving range or Pirate’s Island, as it is now a very active commercial area. Paul sold the driving range to Eddie Lee’s father, Charlie, in 1996 and the adventure golf facility to the Stewart family in 2007. It was closed in 2017 and the land was used for a new commercial development.
However, back in 1997, Paul was focused on building the best adventure golf facility, using local suppliers. With Tom’s expertise, everything was constructed onsite.
At the centre of the site a small mountain was created from recycled concrete and steel, which was then coated, thus becoming a focal point of the complex. For Tom, the build was complex as it was the first time that he had constructed an adventure golf complex outside of the US. He and Paul were able to bring together a talented team to construct everything from the course, tunnels, waterfalls, including the grand pirate ship. The buzz that was created through construction was so high that when they opened at the end of November (without any advertising) there was long queue of people excited to play the first Adventure Golf facility in New Zealand.
In 2001, after the success of Pirate’s Island, Paul flew Tom and his wife back to New Zealand and they travelled to Wellington to finish the negotiations on a block of land that would be perfect for a Wellington operation. Unfortunately, those dealings fell through, so they headed to Auckland to have a look around. As they were leaving the airport, they came across a large swampy area along a busy road. As Paul says, they were quickly on the phone looking for the right person to talk to at the airport about this land and what could be done with it. Local property people and engineers had told the airport that the land was 60% swamp and very difficult to do anything with it. Fortunately for Paul, Tom had spent a lot of time working with swamp land in Florida so knew exactly what to do.
Construction was soon underway and on the 28th December 2001, the 36-hole facility of Treasure Island was opened. According to Paul, “We were only 80% completed but we had seen the excitement from everyone passing by and as soon as we could, we opened the doors. With all the holiday excitement it was extremely busy from the first day. With 36-holes, we could now cater for larger groups and more activity on any day and with the warmer climate it has proven to be popular. Sometimes there is some reluctance around having to know how to play golf, but really no skill is needed and it is fun and low risk. The buzz a 5-year old gets from beating his or her mum, dad or grandparent on a hole is awesome”.
“We were also able to help Auckland Airport understand that the land could be useful, so it wasn’t long before Butterfly Creek was under construction and soon open. Having two businesses that cater for family entertainment has proven to be very popular. Plus, it has diversified the airport precinct. It is great to see families make the trip out to the airport to enjoy both Butterfly Creek and Treasure Island without even going to the ‘airport’ while still having a great family day out”. Two years ago, they completed a full revamp and upgrade of Treasure Island and last summer proved to be their best year ever.
Paul, as an ex-Wellington boy, knew Wellington would love to have an Adventure Golf facility. Once Treasure Island was completed he ventured back to Wellington looking for a site. Eventually some land was found and a deal done with the Porirua City Council who had a vision that included boosting family entertainment in the area. So, Tom came back out and through the second half of 2004, they were able to construct Pirate’s Cove which opened prior to Christmas that year.
Paul had earlier in his career been a golf professional in the area, at both the Miramar Golf Club and Hutt Golf Club so he called on one of Wellington’s top ‘golfing royalty’, Michael Campbell, to come and open the facility. Paul laughs as he recalls the opening, “At the opening, Michael had spoken about his golfing career up to that point and his quest to win a major championship. Six months later, he won the US Open and as everyone knows, his life really changed. What was even funnier was that Michael was back visiting his friends and family in the area and the toast of the town. However, when he went back to play Pirates Cove, the staff didn’t even recognise him and charged him full price! I think it was probably the only golf facility where he had to pay to play at while he was the reigning US Open Champion! Even today, all the local golfers come through, trying to beat Michael’s score of 37 around the course”.
Today, Adventure Golf continues to be a family business. Paul’s wife, Sabina has been actively involved in the operations, marketing and design over the last 20-years. Their son, Ollie moved to the UK ten years ago and is now booked-out for the next two years building Adventure Golf complexes with his mentor, Tom who built the three facilities for his father. After graduating from Otago University, Ollie spent some time learning the Adventure Golf business and has just completed his 16th course, which is a major complex just outside of London. He is currently working on his 17th course which will be a UK £1 Million project not too far away from Heathrow Airport.
Paul and Sabina’s daughter, Sarah, is also involved and now handling the marketing for the Wellington and Auckland facilities.
Unfortunately, their oldest son Aaron, who was a former NZ Golf Junior representative, was tragically killed in Dubai in 2007 while pursuing his career as a tour pro. Certainly no one knows for sure, but it is highly likely that Aaron, despite having been such a free-spirit, would have been involved in the family business in some way as well.
Paul has been a proud member of the NZ PGA for 45-years and he has seen many changes in the game and believes he has made a significant impact on introducing many new people to the game. “I’ve seen thousands of people get their first taste of golf coming through our Adventure Golf facilities. They feel the excitement of the perfect shot and the ball going in the hole. Then as they are leaving, they talk about going to the driving range. I know, in Christchurch, when we had the Adventure Golf and the driving range next door to each other, there were really good synergies; here in Auckland we have JK’s around the corner, who have also benefitted from our location”.
“I grew up with a traditional game, having done my PGA Apprenticeship at the Hutt Golf Club. I spent some time chasing the dream of playing professionally in California before returning to Wellington and becoming the Head Professional at Miramar and then at the Hutt Golf Club. For me, it was very much about getting people into the game or having them enjoy the game as much as possible. Back then, we had golf clubs with full memberships and a lot of traditions. Today, I think the number one goal of all golf clubs should be to be encouraging people to come through their gates and get involved in the game. The quality of the PGA Professionals that are graduating and involved in the industry is extremely high and they are very talented. In many cases, they aren’t being used enough in growing the game or in leadership roles or assisting golf facilities to grow their revenues and make them more community engaged”.
“In the UK, my son Ollie is being engaged by some traditional golf clubs to develop Adventure Golf complexes to work with and alongside their driving ranges; they see this as both great revenue generators but even more importantly, as a pathway into the game. I think many of our golf courses around NZ could learn from this thinking. The clubs already own the land and to have a destination attraction like an Adventure Golf complex, is a great first step, especially if the club then has a driving range that the public can access. Then that will be the best first steps for anyone to get into the game. Ollie believes that in New Zealand, our golf clubs do not do enough ‘future-thinking’ but are more about ‘band-aid management’ in trying to stop the bleeding. Even some of the conservative golf clubs in the UK are seeing Adventure Golf as a win-win for economics; a win for participation and a win for family fun”.
So, could this be the way forward for many of our New Zealand courses? It has certainly been a positive pathway for Paul Mahoney and his family. “Adventure Golf has been great for us. Now if only I could get my golf game more in sync and improve my putting stroke. I’m sure I could have made it as a tour pro but being the #1 Adventure Golf Professional in the country is good by me!”
↑ Treasure Island Adventure Mini Golf, Auckland Airport.
↑ Treasure Island Adventure Mini Golf, Auckland Airport.