The course started off as a single-green chipping and putting complex on a low lying sandy peninsula next to our home. It was the obvious location for such a green, being surrounded by water on three sides, sloping and with a natural sandy base, thereby requiring relatively minor site-works before shaping and sowing. This green was constructed starting in 2004 but has been significantly enlarged and enhanced during the succeeding decade. This green is known as the Estuary green
It then became logical to add two further greens in nearby locations, again on the lower (sand-spit) part of the property and therefore with the same sandy base. These were constructed, largely by hand, during 2005/6. One green is known as The Wharf, being on the ocean beach front and the closest green to the derelict Onekaka wharf. The other is The Penguin, so named because penguins nest above the green on the slopes of an adjacent cliff.
By using different tees a nine hole course was established using these three greens and enjoyed by many during 2007 – 2008
One visitor was Ricky Bartlett who famously in 2007 played every golf course in New Zealand during a twelve month period as a charity fundraiser.
Development of the Upper Course
The top two thirds of the course are located on a plateau 15 – 20 metres above the lower sand-spit level. Once pasture, the pakihi soil profile and poor drainage conditions had degraded during the 90s into swamp-like conditions with manuka and gorse rapidly taking hold. There were few contours apart from a shallow valley draining the farm paddocks to the south east.
During 2005-6 this area was cleared and planted with “pakihi mix” a clover rich grass brew designed to initiate rehabilitation of the soil. In subsequent years the entire area was oversowed with browntop fescues grasses, mounding was introduced and a lot of drainage was installed. The purpose of the drainage was to not only create dryer fairway conditions but also to ensure that the water was safely channelled away from unstable sections of the cliff edge.
During 2007 – 2009 all but one of the remaining greens were built and the initial 18 hole layout was established. In 2009 the club was formed, joined Tasman and NZ Golf, the course was rated and entered the Dot-golf handicapping system.
In 2010 Richard Barham (a qualified superintendent ex Gleneagles and St Andrews), became our greenkeeper and he embarked upon a number of course enhancements, including re-contouring of some greens, installation of a number of revetted bunkers and the construction of 18 new tees. To this day the course continues to evolve as the greens are further enlarged and new back tees are constructed. Further mounding and ponds will be constructed where they make strategic sense.
The prime design objective was to create 18 individual holes that were each memorable. The second was to ensure that almost every shot was challenging if not intimidating. Overcoming the challenge of daunting holes is part of what makes a course memorable. A third objective was to offer more than one strategic option on every tee. A fourth objective was to create a beautiful place with contouring pleasing to the eye.
Player feedback to date suggests that all of these objectives have been achieved.
The very limited area available meant that achieving the secondary goal (intimidation) required a focus on accuracy combined with distance control. Fortunately the contours of the property suggested very logical green locations in close proximity to trees, the ocean, the estuary, ponds and cliff edges. To these natural hazards we have added bunkering, some of it helpful to players (when near cliff edges), some not.
To sum up:
- There are 9 par threes, one par 5 and 8 par fours, seven of them driveable
- The greens are medium size (average 300m2 ) but surrounded by trouble. Distance control is critical.
- Most tee-shots require a decision to play safe (even on a par three) or to go for it.
- Many holes have no bail out with severe trouble either on both sides of the fairway target zone and/or in front of and behind the greens.
- Playing safe on the par 4’s often makes the approach significantly more difficult.
- The bunkers, most of them with revetted walls, are testing
- There are a number of blind tee shots.
- Three of the par fours require carries of 200+ metres and they are played into the prevailing wind.
- Wind is an issue especially on the cliff side holes. The golf course is in a windy location and shots are very exposed to the wind. This is not always apparent when standing on some tees.
- To date these design features in combination have resulted in much higher scoring than would be anticipated by the course and slope rating. These ratings are predominantly dictated by the length of the holes and don’t take enough account of the other features that make this course so difficult. We do hope to have the course rerated in due course but suggest that if you are able to play at Onekaka Links regularly it’s an opportunity to move your handicap out by at least five shots. If you choose to play here in the wind you could add another five shots.