The Ad­ven­ture Golf Pro


New Zealand Golf Magazine - - REGULAR - WORDS AN­DREW WHI­LEY

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.

Paul Mahoney.

↑ Trea­sure Is­land Ad­ven­ture Mini Golf, Auck­land Air­port.

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