Beyond the Tee: Professional Golfer Greg Turner on Otago’s Must-See and Top Destinations

By on August 4, 2021 0


This article originally appeared on Scout Magazine and is republished with permission.

In this ode to his old playground, our tireless golf researcher Greg Turner explores more than fairways and greens.

My Raw and Ready North Island Golf Guide Featured in the First Issue of Scout – so for the sake of balance, I thought for this issue, I would head south, to my home province of Otago.

I grew up in Dunedin and started my playing days alternating between the rolling, tree-lined fairways of New Zealand’s oldest club (the Otago Golf Club and its Balmacewen course) and the sweeping dunes the wind of Chisholm Links (a “links” is a seaside golf course set on sand dunes).

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Inside the club at the Otago GC.

SCOUT / Provided

Inside the club at the Otago GC.

There is a lot of history surrounding the Otago club, so take a walk around the clubhouse and look at the photos of yesteryear.

While you probably won’t come across any member who saw Arnold Palmer driving the green on the club’s most famous hole, The Glen, there are those who might claim they were there.

It’s always interesting when we look back on a course that we have known well but that we have not played for many years, especially if it is to see the young lions of today putting their skills to the test. I recently made a cart for my son (well, I dragged his bag, to be more precise), and noticed that the course was shorter and the hills steeper!

Along St Kilda Beach is the Chisholm Links, a public course owned by the council but operated by the local golf club. This is a true public links style golf course, with some of the holes around the headland known as Lawyers Head as spectacular as any oceanfront golf course in the world.

If you ever wanted to see an opportunity missed, Chisholm would be a great candidate. With relatively minimal investment, this could be a key tourism asset for the city, and golf tourism contributes much of the lucrative visitor market that the government has recently championed. The ties could certainly attract this demographic, but as the majority of the profits generated would fall elsewhere in the tourism economy, the club itself will never be able to make the required investment, forcing the board to recognize that ‘investing in its own asset would bring a big return to its constituents.

Alas, at a time when golf’s most prominent cheerleader is Donald Trump, it’s a politically hard sell. Still, for those who don’t mind less than pristine turf conditions, the course is well worth a visit (although you’ll want to avoid on days when a southern front is due).

When in Dunedin, travel down the peninsula to Taiaroa Head and its famous albatross colony.

It is the wild coast of the Southern Ocean, where all the senses are stimulated simultaneously. The combination of salt, seaweed, seals and seabirds provides an aroma that is not unpleasant but certainly distinctive. And throw your clubs in the trunk, as there is a quirky little nine hole links at ÅŒtakou that can provide a 1.5 hour golf course.

Dunedin is known as the Edinburgh of the South, and Scottish ancestry is everywhere here. Return to Dunedin via the main road and stop at Larnach Castle, where you will feel like you’ve been transported to the Scottish Highlands.

A stroll through the old buildings of the University of Otago along the Leith Stream will give a feeling of university, and I could never resist a visit to the extraordinary university bookstore.

The university bookstore: lots of intrigue.

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The university bookstore: lots of intrigue.

If you’re like me, you might want to set aside an hour or two to explore – and the Otago Museum across the road is also hard to resist.

Rather than rushing inland for the more moderate climate of central Otago, take your time wandering around. There are several routes to consider, and the most scenic is probably the railroad, but the avid golfer may prefer to head south on the scenic southern route along the coast and through the picturesque township of Brighton. The Otago coast has beautiful little bays with white sandy beaches and small rocky points that are well worth the detour.

The road turns inland at Taieri Mouth (few would recognize that the Taieri River is New Zealand’s fourth longest as it winds out of the Maniototo) and you’ll soon be back on State Highway 1, in south direction. You’ll pass just past the rural service town of Milton and soon arrive at Lawrence, most famous for being the site where Gabriel Reid initiated Otago’s first gold rush.

Soon the hills give way to a more austere, rock-strewn landscape, and fruit trees rather than sheep and cattle become the main accompaniment by the side of the road. Nearby, a gem of rural golf awaits at the entrance to Roxburgh (you’ll soon see it should be “Rocksburgh”). It’s a challenge to navigate the course without at least the occasional ricochet, and while length is less of an issue here than it is in more well-known locations, accuracy is paramount. I suspect a bulldozer was only used during construction here to level the parking lot.

Be sure to stop by the regionally renowned Jimmy’s Pies store opposite the course.

If your timing is right, it’s hard to get past the Bluff Oyster Game Pie (although the truth is I was so in love with the prize ingredient, can’t remember what came with the Oysters!).

Heading further west you’ll come to Cromwell, where the local course is next to the main road. The golf course is located on a sandy loam reminiscent of the famous Melbourne Sandbelt, and shares the characteristics of generally fast and true greens. I was fortunate enough to undertake a major redevelopment of much of the course, and when digging to build a new green I was surprised to find that the generally sandy soil was a bit denser. Fortunately, a long-time local arrived on the scene to inform us that the new green area was where the old “night cart” dropped its load. So if you notice that the 10th green is a bit lower than its surroundings, you will know that this is due to the displacement of some historical artifacts.

Cromwell is probably most famous for its fruit production, and there are plenty of roadside stalls where you can feast on all kinds of citrus delicacies. The area has become the center of Central Otago’s booming wine production and there are many wineries and restaurants worth a visit. Petrolheads should visit Highlands Motorsport & Tourism Park, where the need for speed can be met via a ride with a resident rally driver or a walk through the museum.

As you ascend through the awe-inspiring Kawarau Gorge, you’ll come across the original home of the local pinot in the Gibbston Valley, and if you can survive the urge to jump off a bridge (with rubber bands attached, of course) , you will meet The New Zealand Home of Golf Resort in the Wakatipu Basin.

You have to be a golfer’s head in the sand not to be aware of the virtues of Millbrook, Jack’s Point and The Hills, but make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to play at the original but fulfilling Arrowtown Golf Club or the spectacular Queenstown Golf Club in Kelvin Heights.

Lately times have been tough for hospitality and outdoor experience businesses, so indulge yourself in one of the area’s many excellent restaurants and get your adrenaline pumping on a jetboat or with a backcountry adventure. If you prefer a quieter pace, book an evening to soak up the charms of Arrowtown. The Dorothy Browns Cinema, Bar and Bookstore (an intriguing trifecta) exudes charm, and there are a number of quaint and authentic restaurants and bars along Main Street to satisfy any appetite.

Dorothy Browns: movies and more.

SCOUT / Provided

Dorothy Browns: movies and more.

The truth

Where to play

  • Otago Golf Club
  • Chisholm Links
  • Takou Golf Club
  • Roxburgh Golf Club
  • Cromwell Golf Club
  • Millbrook
  • Jack’s tip
  • The hills
  • Arrowtown Golf Club
  • Queenstown Golf Club

What has to be done

  • Taiaroa-headed albatross colony
  • Larnach castle
  • University of Otago
  • University bookstore
  • Otago Museum
  • Highland Motorsport and Tourism Park
  • Dorothy Brown

Where to eat


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