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New Zealand

Yardage
5947
Par
68
SSS
69
Built
1895
Architect(s)
Mure Fergusson, Tom Simpson
Nature:
Flat, heathland with Tom Simpson holes. Exclusive, tranquil.
Location/Address:
South of M3, West of M25. Postcode: KT15 3QD
Secretary
Roger Marrett
Telephone
01932 345049
Professional
Vic Elvidge
Green Keeper
Paul Hobden
new zealand golf club, tom simpson,
new zealand golf club, tom simpson,
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Access Policy:
By arrangement with the Secretary
Dog Policy:
Welcomed
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
By introduction
Fees today
£95 - 2010

Review

There are many theories put forward as to how this Club acquired its name. The Locke King family, who owned the land, had strong connections with a number of those who colonised New Zealand and it is clear from the painstaking historical research of T D P Emblem that the Club was named by Hugh Locke King, its founder and first president, as a tribute to these pioneers.

Hugh Locke King, finest courses, new zealand golf club

Hugh Locke King

Opened 14 years before the nearby Swinley Forest club, New Zealand was somewhat similar in its initial structure, with a course laid through dense pine woods, and created for the enjoyment of the founder’s friends, who had a distinct upper class flavour and whose membership of 336 in 1928 included 80 with titles. Perhaps the most famous of these was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose name is still on a wooden locker in the delightful traditional-looking men’s locker room.

New Zealand like Swinley Forest was not mentioned by Frank Pennink in his Golfer’s Companion and it gives me pleasure to put this right, as under any grading of ‘joy to be alive’ factors it has to be in the list of fine clubs that give immense enjoyment.

Mure Fergusson, a renowned amateur golfer of the day, was invited to lay out the course and he became the Club’s first secretary.

Horace Hutchinson, a champion player himself and an early golf writer, described Fergusson as being “endowed with an admirable measure of self-reliance – a quality, which in golf, as in other affairs, is as a panoply of steel to its possessor; the idea of defeat is to him, subjectively speaking, a probability unworthy of consideration”!

Hugh Locke King’s interests turned to motor racing and he built the famous Brooklands banked circuit, where the top speed on the opening day reached 85 mph, but he financially overstretched himself and sold the Club to Fergusson and associates.

Mure Fergusson characature, finest courses, new zealand golf club

Mure Fergusson

I was fascinated to see a caricature of Fergusson, published in Vanity Fair in 1903, showing him wearing on his left hand a golf glove. This perhaps undermines my theory that modern professionals only wear golf gloves in the dry because they wish to encourage the average golfer to purchase these articles and increase their shop profits! Or perhaps Fergusson had shares in a glove maker.

It is interesting to note that in the same week as the opening of the Club in 1895, when advertisements gave the price of bottles of whisky as the equivalent of 6 new pence and claret as 2 pence, the famous cricketer W G Grace scored 210 not out for Gloucestershire v Kent and that on Queen Victoria’s 76th birthday that week, the speakers in Parliament included the likes of Gladstone, Roseberry, Campbell Bannerman, Asquith, Chamberlain and Balfour. The latter, a keen golfer and member of nearby Woking GC, was quoted as criticising the government in the familiar words “I do not believe in the whole history of Parliament there ever has been so great a sowing of promises with the prospect of so small a harvest of performance”.

The Club continues to this day to operate for the enjoyment of its exclusive membership, though visitors are welcome, as my father noted when a guest here in the 1970s. He tried to buy his host a drink but payment was declined with the steward simply stating that Mr X was in the clubhouse. Mr X was Chairman of the Shell company and felt it incumbent to provide generous hospitality to all!

Initially Mure Fergusson’s course had four holes to the west of Martyr’s Lane and the seventeenth and eighteenth crossed each other. Following Fergusson’s death in 1928, Tom Simpson, who had set up his own golf course architectural practice following his ‘apprenticeship’ to Herbert Fowler, was invited, with some help from Roger Wethered, to make major alterations.

Tom Simpson, finest courses, new zealand golf club

Tom Simpson

Simpson also a member at Woking, where Paton and Low’s work in substantialy reworking an old Tom Dunn layout to create what is one of the finest strategic inland courses in Britain, inspired the young, intelligent architect and New Zealand gained the benefit of his genius.

These alterations comprised constructing the present day 3rd, shortening the 7th to a long par three, turning the 10th in the opposite direction, amalgamating the old 10th and 11th and by utilising extra ground on Hoyt Common, uncrossed the 17th and 18th, creating two fine doglegs.

He also dispensed with various cross bunkers – a terror in the era of the gutta golf-ball – which now fulfilled little purpose except to trap well-struck shots. It was generally agreed that from the first to last hole, one fascinating challenge succeeded another and Simpson’s devices made the holes as interesting and fair to the modest rabbit player as to the tiger for whom in Simpson’s own words “the tiger, poor brute, deserves no sympathy”.

The turf on this dry sandy soil has always been praised and, playing down the fairways  that form charming glades between the fir trees, it is easy for the ball to run into the abundant heather alongside.

One initially perceives the course as flat and, indeed, there are no hills or ravines; nevertheless, after the first and second, there are many subtle movements in the ground that will defeat the brutish crack player unless he is uncommonly straight.

Bernard Darwin thought the course to be one of the snuggest and most charming of places for not too strenuous golf but he also recognised that, to be quite sure of one’s approach shots, we must not go down the middle but to one side of the fairway. But more of Simpson’s strategic requirements shortly…

The whole thrust of Simpson’s argument for strategic golf course design was that the running play was the key to the future of the game, but only if firm, fast conditions were retained.

The fairways continue to be dominated by fine fescue grasses and run well but the greens, like so many other London clubs, have changed to predominantly poa annua (meadow grass) following the television led fashion. Let us hope that the newly appointed course manager gets the support to pursue sustainable policies in line with establishing Simpson’s firm and true conditions.

The 220 yard 7th, new zealand golf club, finest courses

The 213 yard 7th

After a pleasant first hole, the second, fourth, sixth and ninth are fine two-shotters on the way out while the 220 yard seventh requires such skill that a bump-and-run three, accomplished by playing from in front on the right, is often the preferred strategy.

The new eleventh is a good example of Simpson’s design challenge as he who skirts the left-hand fairway bunker gains a definite advantage of a far larger landing area for the approach. A drive down the centre has to be played over the approach bunker or risk running off to the left into the hollow.

Duncan on the 11th,new zealand golf club, finest courses

Duncan on the 11th

The option to play to the right makes the hole considerably longer but does give a narrow gap to the right of the approach bunker.

The hole’s tactical difficulties are of course completely nullified if the green is soft and receptive, as the ball can then be flown to the green and stopped near the pin. Such is target-golf.

The twelfth and fourteenth holes are of similar design requiring a good drive, holding the left without running out of fairway, leaving the opportunity for two long approaches.

The back tees give a total of 5947 yards (par 68, SSS 69, bogey 73) and so this might be considered a short course. Nevertheless, with five par threes and two par fours of less than 335 yards, this course, with no sacrifice to the modern fetish of mere length, not only requires considerable thought and strategy but actually its length is still a test and requires use of all the clubs in your bag.

The 16th, new zealand golf club, finest courses

The 16th

The finishing four holes are as good and as variable as you will find on any heathland course and none over 400 yards.

A one iron is certainly my preferred implement to the old-fashioned narrow fifteenth fairway where the trees encroach on both sides and a cross bunker has been allowed to remain.

A well-struck four iron should be sufficient to get home across a sea of heather to a flat sixteenth green, which is enclosed by well-positioned bunkers of delightful soft sand. There is an atmosphere about this hole that is most attractive.

The line into the 17th,new zealand golf club, finest courses

The line into the 17th

Tom Simpson’s seventeenth is left-hand dog-legged at almost a right-angle and the ideal tee shot is less than that of a driver, played just past the fir trees on the corner so a line is available to approach the green, which is defended by an imposing right-hand bunker and a tier in the putting surface which channels balls into the left hand bunker if approached at an angle. One can, on this hole, without thought drive too far.

The drive at the eighteenth, gives a classic Simpson ‘clearance’ choice demanding a tight line to the trees on the left for the tiger player but with a generous bale out to the right. The mere mortal can play for the wide bulge and have a clear shot to the green. The worst choice for the crack player is to hit long down the middle, as he will become blocked out.

Clubhouse behind 18th green, new zealand golf club, finest courses

Clubhouse behind 18th green

The deep strath, seemingly so natural, that guards the green, with its wings to throw the ball off line, with some similarities to the approach to Royal Dornoch’s eleventh green, emphasises the essential straightness required for a good score here probably to greater degree than at many of its more renowned neighbours on the Surrey and Berkshire sandbelt.

New Zealand is a course that ought to be played by anybody who mistakenly thinks it is necessary to have 7,000 yards to test the best, though one doubts whether the membership have any wish to attract that particular milieu!

Some have written of the devastation of the 1987 storm to some five thousand trees here, but there was a lesson from this event. I remember playing with a member many moons ago who explained that a heather expert from the Northern moors had recently advised that the reason the Club’s heather was dying was that it was being fertilised by the fallen deciduous leaves from some self-seeded oaks and silver birches, that had then been blown under the heather and mulched down. Consequently, a selective tree-felling programme was instituted which the tree huggers might have abhorred in their misplaced eco-anger but those of wiser, conservationist disposition supported.

Before we move on, one has to mention the warm welcome visitors and their dogs receive. The attractive old clubhouse contains the Secretary’s office near to a path from the small car park. There are not many clubs at which in these days of time pressure, that on arrival one is ushered in to a cup of coffee and made to feel like a prince. Many societies are drawn here and so often go home feeling they have been entertained to a very homely fare.
See: Around and About New Zealand Golf Club by T D P Emblem.

The contributions of Tom Simpson to Golf Course Architecture by Tom Mackenzie (1991)

Reviewed by Lorne Smith in 2010.

Reader Comments

On February 19th, 2012 Mark Fairhurst Said:

Had the real pleasure to Play New Zealand Golf Club earlier this week. What an absolute treat! A real hidden gem if ever there was one. I arrived very early morning, probably the first to arrive, to be warmly greeted and personally welcomed upon arrival by the club secretary. What a truly wonderful way to begin a memorable golfing experience. Course absolutely fantastic. Club house facilities rich in tradition. Hospitality faultless. Can’t wait for a return visit. Well worth the 400 plus mile round trip.

On September 14th, 2013 Luke Mullin Said:

Played 36 holes yesterday (14/9/13) and what an absolute delight! We were served up a tumultuous breakfast on arrival more than sufficient to fortify us for the challenge ahead. Although short by modern standards, the seas of heather and tight fairways meant that the usual monotonous teeing off with the driver was often eschewed in favour of other clubs. This made it a far more interesting challenge than the norm. It was a pleasure to experience heathland golf at its very best. The carvery lunch was superb and the choice of desserts was amazing. The staff were incredibly courteous and welcoming despite the exclusivity of the club. Although the onset of rain meant we only got to complete 33 holes I have to say it was one of the most memorable golfing days I’ve ever had. What a great experience!

On May 22nd, 2015 gavin gaunt Said:

I have just read your delightful article. I have played at N.Z a number of times over the years, however I am now 86 and although I still play at Piltdown it is from the forward tees.