Phil Hamilton and Michael Donaldson get away to one of New Zealand’s best links destinations.
With Covid-19 destroying all the best-laid plans, overseas links golf is on a hiatus for the next year or so. There will be no trips to Britain or Tasmania or Oregon to feast on a diet of links courses.
But there is a good option for those with a hankering to watch the ball scamper along the ground in the original and best form of the game – our own Kapiti Coast.
Sure, the links purists would only consider Paraparaumu to be the genuine article – and it is as good as any in the southern hemisphere – but there are other courses around the wider Wellington-Kapiti area where there’s plenty of opportunity to use the ground game, even if they can only claim to be partial links courses.
This is a fun course – the worst hole is the first. A slightly awkward dog-leg right where the kink feels too close to the tee. It looked like the best play was 6-iron followed by 5-iron. It didn’t make a lot of sense and felt like an awkward way to start a round.
But once you’re under way this is a cute course with some excellent par-3s, and two quite testing homeward holes with the 9th and 18th.
There’s a links feel to the land, some sand dunes and marram grass but also a lot of trees, too many really, and a few that get in the way.
The highlights are the green complexes – many elevated and prone to asking questions about what you dare to bite off.
Paraparaumu has arguably the best short par-3 in New Zealand – the notorious 16th – but Waikanae has claims to the next best. At just 115m long, the eighth is among the most intimidating tee shots with a steep drop-off to the right of the angled green and another drop to the right.
The lightning fast and relatively tricky greens are the highlight of this hooker’s hell.
We enjoyed what we saw of Otaki – abandoning ship after 12 holes as the pace of play ground to a halt. As we walked to the 12th tee there was one group waiting and one group that had just teed off. I think the club had a shotgun start for a club event and we wound up in the middle of it. A five-plus hours round was on the cards and we had a date at Paraparaumu Beach to prepare for.
Impressions of Otaki, that got rave reviews, were dulled by the experience.
The ups were the greens: quick, true and tricky.
The downs were the fact it felt like a lot of holes were a bit crammed in with a lot of tees requiring a walk backwards from the previous green. Some holes overlapped and there was a real danger of being hit by a not too wayward ball from another group. Add in the number of blind alleys and it didn’t feel like a pleasant walk.
Also, a number of holes hugged the boundary fence on the left-hand side making it continuously hard work for right-handed hookers and lefty slicers.
If you had the course to yourself it would be brilliant but on a crowded day it wasn’t that enjoyable.
The best course in New Zealand hands down. Yeah better than Tara Iti in our book.
It’s got variety, charm, memorability, a fun factor dialled up to 11 and – as Steve Williams will always say – the best set of par-3s in the country.
It might not have the sleek elegance and views of Tara Iti, or the high-in-the-air drama of Cape Kidnappers, but it’s got plenty of assets those courses lack.
The rolling dunes, the pitch perfect scale of dunes and bunkers, the old-friend charm, and a constant set of questions about what’s possible and what’s worth a risk.
Naturally the par-3s get all the attention – the semi-blind second, table-top fifth, downhill 14th and the diabolically small target offered by the 16th. But there’s so much more here to enjoy and work out, such as which way to go on the curvy ninth or the best option on the split fairway 17th or how to manage the signature 13th.
It’s definitely a course you have to come back to again and again to learn news ways of dealing with it. We had two outings in two different wind directions which made many of the holes take on a Jekyll & Hyde character over a memorable weekend.
And that’s the magic of Paraparaumu – it feels forever new, constantly interesting, tempting.
Miramar is hurt by its proximity to the airport but when you’re flying in from out of town it makes it the perfect place to kick off a golf trip.
While it’s more of a faux links, it’s also a good place to start working on some of those running shots before hitting the more genuine article up the coast.
The front nine holes run east to west and the bulk of the shaping is between holes which seems a waste but there are some good moments. The first is a tough, genuine opener and the two par threes are good, with the long eighth, Plateau, one of the hardest around.
The back nine runs mainly north to south and, while it gets cramped in the southern corner, is more memorable.
The best stretch of golf is from the 10th, a short par 4 where the fairway narrows the further you drive it. The 11th is another interesting short two-shotter, that favours accuracy over length. It’s followed by the course’s shortest hole that requires a pitch to an elevated green (very tough to hold with a tailwind) and then another good par four with out of bounds down the right.
Titahi Bay is where it all began for Michael Campbell. The nine-hole course sits high above Porirua and is brutally windy, even by Wellington’s standards, which explains Cambo’s success at event like The Open where solid ball-striking is the key.
Titahi Bay is one of the hillier courses in the country as it works down then up and down and up and then down and up again.
It kicks off with a long downhill par 5 before working back up with a couple of shortish par 4s. The third is a particularly good dogleg hole with a fiendish green that’s hard to hit even with a wedge in hand.
The sixth is the pick of the par 3s, a mid-length hole straight into the southerly that was made tougher by the fact we’d decided to play Titahi as a three-club challenge.
The seventh is theoretically a driveable par four but the elevated green has a steep drop-off on the left making it a much more sensible proposition to lay up, although that still left a tricky pitch.
While it will never be mistaken for one of Wellington’s best courses, Titahi is a fun play and a tough walk.
Boulcott’s Farm is not on the Kapiti Coast but was a good addition as our final stop on the way back to the airport.
It also fits in well with the other courses as it has a linksy feel with plenty of scope to play running shots.
Boulcott’s was formed when two courses merged and Chris Pitman, who did such a good job renovating Titirangi, built 12 new holes.
While it’s a flat site he added interest with swales and undulations and it’s a fun course to play.
Typically for Wellington, it’s windy and so sensibly most of the greens are open for running approaches.
Pitman seems to have applied some lessons in visual deception he learned while working on Titirangi, designed by the master Alister MacKenzie. The second highlights this with fairway bunkers that are much further from the tee than they appear.
The fourth is an early highlight and must be a fun hole downwind. Into the wind it was a beast with its well protected target.
The seventh is a memorable short par 4 with a deceptively tough crowned green that sheds any shots not hit perfectly. It’s the start of a strong stretch with a fine par 3 up next and then perhaps the best tee shot on the course at the dogleg par 4 ninth. A good drive opens up another green which is also tough to hit.
The 14th is a great risk-reward par five with a nest of bunkers about 60 yards short of the green. Fail to clear them and you’re left with a very tough bunker shot while those who dare and succeed get a helping kick towards the green.
The round ends with a quirky short par four that on no account should tempt you to take out driver due to the out of bounds up the right.