By: Darius Oliver
With announcements expected soon, that developers of the successful Tara Iti Golf Club on the North Island of New Zealand are to proceed with a second course, comes news from the South Island that Oreti Sands at the Southland Golf Club will soon be closed. Unless some future disaster befalls a Tara Iti, a Paraparaumu Beach or a Titirangi, Oreti Sands is likely to be the best golf course that New Zealand ever loses.
According to the club’s acting President, membership at Southland GC is down to less than 90 golfers, from a high of around 400. For the past few years the course has been maintained by volunteers, who can no longer sustain the effort. When the club’s current lease expires in April, members plan to close the world’s southernmost links and hand the golf course back to council.
It’s important to point out, that Oreti Sands is not only one of New Zealand’s best golf courses but one of the finest built anywhere in the world during the 1970s. Though hardly a heavyweight decade for golf course design, given the highest profile creations are the likes of Teeth of the Dog, Muirfield Village, Valderrama, Woburn, The Belfry and Sun City (Gary Player CC), Oreti Sands represents, nonetheless, the pinnacle of understated, lay-of-the-land golf from that era. It is clearly superior to the Tasmania Golf Club, for example, which some might argue was Australia’s best course from the decade.
The other obvious contender from Australia would be The Australian Golf Club in Sydney, a Jack Nicklaus redesign of a 1970s Sloan Morpeth redesign. Oreti Sands shares some similar design pedigree to The Australian, with Sloan Morpeth responsible for the original layout and touring professional Greg Turner involved in a partial overhaul last decade. Turner and his partner Scott MacPherson built three new holes at Oreti, and changed another two. Few would argue the course improved as a result, and some even suggest that the difficulty of the new greens has contributed to the membership decline.
Whether true or not, what’s disappointing about the plight of Oreti Sands is the sheer hopelessness of the club’s predicament. A short-term saviour might buy some time, but seems unlikely to solve the fundamental problem of declining membership and green fee visitation. Golfers in Invercargill have voted with their feet, and curiously chosen Otatara at Invercargill, Greenacres and Queens Park over the struggling Southland Golf Club.
As our course review points out, the turf at Oreti is no longer ideal for links-like golf and the facilities, including green fee honesty box, are somewhat sparse. For fun and value, however, the course is a genuine Kiwi gem and we would urge any golfer with an interest in Sloan Morpeth, or remote links golf, to visit soon and experience the place before it shuts down. They don’t build golf like this anymore, and in New Zealand they certainly don’t build $40 green fee courses anymore. More’s the shame, play it while you can.
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