In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris reports on his recent trip to New Zealand.
Hibernating in New Zealand this winter allowed me to escape deluge and destruction at home and introduced me to a whole new style of golf. The beautiful New Zealand summer weather was an added bonus.
NZ has the most golf courses per capita in the world 1:7000. Due to Sir Bob Charles influence, it also has the most left-handers. Posh, palatial clubhouses are few and far between; NZ remains in pavilion mode. Even at the more stylish clubs an informal, relaxed, attitude prevails - especially towards golfing attire. There is charm in the casual way NZ golfers dress but a friendly open door, welcoming policy that includes visitors from neighbouring Clubs competing in each other’s competitions is more significant.
Nine-holes courses are easily accessible in every small town with cheap, green fees geared to make the game available to everyone. In NZ, there are variations on the golfing theme that I hadn’t seen before e.g. Speed Golf, Frisbee Golf and Cross Golf. The last named is played with an oval golf ball. Instead of a hole, rugby goal posts are the target. While, Frisbee Golf may be the best golf copycat game, I’ve seen.
A modest facility does not mean any lack of challenge. The casualness does not translate into poor etiquette. The game in NZ is comparable quality-wise with anywhere and it is noticeably cheaper apart from a handful of swanky, resort-type, establishments and golf equipment, which is very expensive because it has to be imported.
Annual membership fees rarely rise above NZ$600 (€360) per annum. Golfers under 30 years of age are given subscription breaks that helps to keep ‘trained’ and immensely valuable junior golfers in the game. Queenstown Golf Club is a good example. Full membership costs $639 (€384); under-30s pay $485 (€291); under-25s pay $385 (€231); under-21s pay $205 (€123.) There may be a shortage of 20-35-year olds playing golf in NZ but something positive is being done about it.
My primary objective was to play nine-holes courses. The normal fee to play two loops of nine-holes was usually NZ$15 (€9) deposited in an ‘Honesty Box.’ While being ‘elected’ an honorary life member of Port Chalmers GC in Dunedin where I was primarily based was something I would never have expected but it was no doubt influenced by the knowledge that it is most unlikely that I’ll ever be back!
Or, it may have had something to do with the ‘Ivan Morris Golf Day’ that turned out to be one the club’s best, fund-raisers during its centenary year? I devised a tournament that included several ‘fun’ concessions. Competitors were entitled to one mulligan, one free kick, one free throw, a gimmee putt and allowed to double their stableford points at a hole nominated in advance. The huge significance of these concessions became abundantly clear when my 28-handicap companion drove out of bounds at a par-3 where he had two shots and had earlier nominated that he would double his points there. He wisely chose to throw his ball back over the fence onto the green; claimed his gimmee putt for a gross 2/ nett zero for five points that was doubled to 10! Sadly, this ‘injection’ did not inspire him onto victory but it created quite a talking point in the clubhouse.
Becoming a ‘parachuted’ member of a NZ Golf Club was profound. It made me a de-facto, affiliate of the NZ Golf Association, which allowed me to turn up at nearby Golf Clubs on competition days and play for the competition fee only - usually NZ$5 (€3.)
Here’s how it works: as soon as you arrive introduce yourself at the ‘Match Room’ - proffer your NZGA membership/handicap card, pay the fee and wait. A variation of the shotgun start with multiple tees is usually employed. Soon enough you’ll be told with whom you have been paired and on which hole you should tee off.
Although the prizes are modest - usually vouchers of low value or golf balls, the game is very competitive. If I were to criticize anything it would be the handicap system. Cards may be marked and submitted every time you play whether playing in competition or not, which in my opinion increases slow play and ‘obliterates’ casual golf - the backbone of the game.
After the competitions, everyone remains on for the (prompt) presentation of prizes. There is always a raffle in which you are expected to partake for far more valuable prizes than the competition booty. In NZ golf, raffles are an important source of finance. Even so-called major competitions feature modest prizes. Captain’s prize days do not exist. As Captains tend to be in office for at least five years, they are not expected to put up expensive prizes. Reciprocal green fee arrangements between neighbouring clubs are common.
Volunteers do most of the green keeping and housekeeping duties and operate the modest club bars. On competition days, homemade sandwiches and a variety of edible treats are provided by the members on a voluntary basis at a nominal charge of NZ$3 (€2) with the proceeds going straight into the club coffers.
Words of the Wise: The placid golfer is often the easiest fellow to beat, for it is only the high-strung temperament that rises above its own ability to meet a great occasion - Bobby Jones.