Course Review: New Zealand Golf Club

Contributed by Sean Arble
October 2009

New Zealand Golf Club (Addlestone, Surrey, England)

Green Fees: 85 Pounds ($135 at October 09 spot rate)

Architect: S Mure Fergusson & Tom Simpson

Despite the many elements which combine to make the course better than its sum parts, it is the bunkering which is New Zealand’s standout feature.  It has long been my belief that Walton Heath’s bunkers are the best in the heathlands.  According to Patric Dickinson “They are curiously, aggressively, artificial looking.”  While not nearly as austere as Walton’s Heath’s pits, one could say that New Zealand’s are alarmingly charming, but just as effective and thus the equal of Fowler’s maiden design.

Because both sites are fairly flat the bunkers take on a more prominent strategic role and may explain why the architects seemed to take great care in creating thoughtful hazards which in the best of traditions guard rather than frame greens.  While admiring the strategy and beauty of the bunkering my appreciation for New Zealand has grown. There is a fair amount of wonderful architecture that is more often than not dismissed as “flat” and therefore uninteresting. This sort of attitude will lead golfers to miss out on one of the true gems of London.

Much of New Zealand is the product of Mure Fergusson’s 1895 design which was unique for its day in that it was carved out of a forest.  Fergusson continued to make refinements over the following 30 years as secretary of the club.  Not long after his death Tom Simpson was called in to make significant changes.  Being a former partner of Herbert Fowler and a member of Woking gave Simpson first-hand knowledge of good design principles.  Among the alterations were the addition of the great green complexes on the seventeenth and eighteenth, the short hole third and a grand bunkering scheme for the entire course.  Consequently it is fair to state that New Zealand is the product of both these gentlemen.

Holes To Note

The First, a tough opener that uses the angles well in shaping the strategy of the hole. Right from the get go the golfer can see the relationship between the turn of the fairway and the placement of a bunker further up the fairway. This theme appears throughout the round.

1st Tee at New Zealand GC

The safe line out to the right of the fairway really brings the bunker short of the green into play.

1st Fairway at New Zealand GC

Although New Zealand is relatively short on yardage, it starts out in stout fashion. The Second is another two-shotter which is often into the prevailing wind. The centre-line bunker completely dictates the strategy of the hole. While the bunker is deceptively large in size, there is room for the golfer to bounce a shot onto the green should conditions call for it. This sort of design is Simpson at his best. The bunker guarding the right side of the green exemplifies the difference in quality and placement between the two bunkers. Fortunately, New Zealand doesn’t have too many of this slap dash sort.

2nd Fairway Bunker at New Zealand GC.

Below is the very good Fourth. This probably has the most elevation change of any hole on the course. The slope of the fairway leading toward the bunker is visually intimidating, but only the longest hitters can reach the sand from the tee.

4th Tee at New Zealand GC.

Another great bunker! Notice how the flag is only half visible. The green runs away from the player, but there is all the room in the world to bounce one in. However, that doesn’t make judging this approach any easier.

4th Approach at New Zealand GC.

The Fifth is a one-shotter in front of the clubhouse. The idea of a short loop and a long loop is rather appealing. The club is a great example of understated elegance. Very old fashioned without being stuffy.

Clubhouse from the 5th Tee at New Zealand GC.

Six eases gracefully away from the house. A hidden bunker awaits in the right heather. It is a feature of New Zealand to tuck these pits where they are well camouflaged.

6th Tee at New Zealand GC.

Some of the bunkers must be hidden in slight dips because once you get near them it is hard to believe they weren’t visible from the tee.

Fairway Bunker on 6th at New Zealand GC.

The Seventh is a great par three and a fine example of what can be achieved on flat land. One well placed bunker is all it takes to create a cracking hole. However, in this case, a second bunker, which also protects the Thirteenth, is an added element. There is plenty of room to hit a tee shot, but the indecisive golfer who leaks a shot right must answer to the genius of Simpson.

7th Tee at New Zealand GC.

The following four holes are all solid, but the high points are the bunkers. Below is a photo of the diagonal bunkers emerging from the heather on the Ninth. To carry the right side and thus gain the optimum angle of approach requires a carry of approximately 230 yards or one can choose to scoot a ball past them.

9th at New Zealand GC.

11th at New Zealand GC.

Simpson was very creative in the angling of his bunkers. Many are on a diagonal line jutting toward or away from play. This feature makes it difficult to ascertain just where the landing zone is for the aggressive play. Notice how far short this bunker is of the Eleventh green. There is plenty of room to challenge the bunker and stay right to take advantage of the right to left slope, but the bunker angle obscures the view.

Bunker short of 11th Green at New Zealand GC.

There have been a handful of very good holes in the first eleven, but Twelve through the Eighteen is a special stretch and what make New Zealand better than the run of the mill good course.

The drive on Twelve features a bold dogleg which requires a well placed drive.

12th Tee at New Zealand GC.

Features like the slight drop on the front right of the green are generally not present on the first eleven holes.

Just short of 12th Green at New Zealand GC.

Right of 12th Green at New Zealand GC.

The Thirteenth has a very clever pair of centre-line bunkers, one of which is hidden behind the other making the carry up the hill longer than it looks. Similar to the previous hole, there is a wee swale protecting the front right of the green. This is a short, but well thought out par four.

Fourteen is the only par five and it is reachable, but not without risk. A hidden Cat Eyes bunker protects the right side of the fairway. Just over this bunker is fairway, perhaps this is an idea which could be used on other holes to increase the importance of tempting players to challenge the bunkers.

14th Tee at New Zealand GC.

Fairway bunker on the 14th at New Zealand GC.

In a bit of a twist, not unlike Littlestone’s Sixteenth, it is better to be on the outside of the dogleg as this bunker guards the approach from the right. The green slopes to the back, which is the best place to miss as all the trouble is near the front of the green.

14th Fairway at New Zealand GC.

The Fifteenth sees the fairway bisected by bunkers coming in from both sides and another centre-line bunker short of the green. Pay close attention to that bunker…

15th Fairway at New Zealand GC.

…it is another that is much larger than it looks from 150 yards away. The orientation of this bunker is unusual as well.

Bunker short of 15th Green at New Zealand GC.

The final one shotter, the Sixteenth, is approximately a 200 yard carry over the heather. The photo accurately depicts the obscured view of the green one has from the tee. Once again, clever bunkers partially conceal the target and distract the golfer from his goal.

16th Tee at New Zealand GC.

The newly renovated right hand bunker.

Bunker right of 16th Green.

The penultimate hole is a sharp legger to the left. The landing zone for this forced layup is a bit tight and a few trees could stand to come out. In fact, other than rough encircling some bunkers, the only other concern I have is the number of trees and how the space underneath is not kept clear of growth and debris. Many hundreds of trees could come out without anyone noticing, but it must be noted that due care is necessary to maintain a proper sound block. New Zealand has a very enclosed feel yet the M25 is only a few miles away. Below is a view of the green from well beyond the approach area.

17th Fairway at New Zealand GC.

This view of the green complex shows off the movement of the land and the deceptively large right green-side bunker.

Fronting Bunker and Green on the 17th at New Zealand GC.

The home hole does not disappoint. Like the Twelfth, this is another tee shot free of sand, but it is the approach with New Zealand’s answer to the Valley of Sin which is of most interest to the golfer.

18th Fairway at New Zealand GC.

Greenside bunker on 18th at New Zealand GC.

The club has bags of charm and the course is demandingly honest, but some readers may be curious about the vital statistics; par 68 and a breath under 6000 yards. These numbers will strike many as a bit on the light side, however, don’t be deceived. The story of New Zealand is discovered in its playing and with six holes which can take some reaching, only one of which is a three-shotter, and two very long par threes, New Zealand offers plenty of challenge. This sort of configuration is a wonderful example of how to combat flat bellies yet offer respite for the less gifted players.

Because exceptional courses tend to be created from exceptional terrain, New Zealand may not quite be in the league of the handful of more famous clubs around London. However, Bernard Darwin thought highly of the course and wrote “New Zealand is sui generis. It does not compete with other courses, but it sets its own standard and lives up to it.” For anybody wanting a pleasant game at an atmospheric club and interested in seeing how a cleverly conceived bunker scheme can transform an average piece of land into a very good golf course, New Zealand is well worth a visit.

4/4 – Walkability: New Zealand is quite flat.
3/4 – Architecture And Aesthetics: The photos speak for themselves.
1/2 – Strategy And Playability: The bunkers make up much of the design’s strategy and the course is playable for all ages.

8/10 – Total

Review by Sean Arble (June, 2009)

All Photos by Sean Arble

The Walking Golfer Course Rating System

Total is out of 10 Points

0 – 4 points – Walkability

0 – 4 points – Architecture and Aesthetics

0 – 2 points – Playability and Strategy

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The Walking Golfer Course Rating System

Total is out of 10 Points
0 - 4 points - Walkability
0 - 4 points - Architecture and Aesthetics
0 - 2 points - Playability and Strategy