From the snow-capped glory of the Southern Alps to the long curve of a coastline – and the flat plains in between – Christchurch has room for plenty of golf courses and offers everything you need for a golf holiday.
From Terrace Downs at the foot of the Alps to Waimari Beach on the New Brighton coast, there’s a variety of golf experiences and all within a relatively short driving distance of a revitalised city that’s entering a boom period after the hard yakka of rebuilding post-earthquake.
If you’re unfamiliar with Canterbury or you’ve put off visiting since the devastating quakes of February 2011, now’s the time to check it out. The wider region has about 40 courses – that’s more than 10 per cent of New Zealand’s entire golf-course population. And they range from lovely country tracks to resort layouts to classic championship courses.
Let’s start at the mountains with Terrace Downs Resort. There’s hardly a better setting for winter golf, playing in the shadow of a snow-capped Mt Hutt. Designed by Sid Puddicombe, the 18-hole, par-72 course measures 6,406 metres from the tips – or the ‘coal’ tees, as Terrace Downs describes them. The parkland-style front nine leads to a back nine that’s a more open, inland-links style. The course presents as an absolute picture with some clever and spectacular design features.
“There’s hardly a better setting for winter golf, playing in the shadow of a snow-capped Mt Hutt.”
The par-5 seventh is the longest hole on the course, playing 551 metres from the tips and a still difficult 458 from the white (‘stone’) tee. It doglegs down a terrace with a lake on the right and a fairway bunker on the left before finishing with shallow green that’s a tough target to hit and hold.
The signature hole is the shortish par-3 16th. Only 100 metres from the white tees, it’s not the length that makes it hard but the setting – trying to keep your eyes on the prize is almost impossible from a tee that’s perched on the edge of Rakaia Gorge with the Rakaia River some 160 metres below. While courses like Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs get all the attention for their spectacular location, it’s pretty hard to beat this hole. And then there’s the shot itself. Yes it’s short, but it’s nearly all carry across a part of the gorge that cuts in between tee and green. Any ball that fails to make it across the ravine is dead – lost in thick bush or down in the river. After the adrenaline of the 16th you need your golf brain back in gear for the 17th, which offers a split fairway with a risky shorter route or the sensible play down the right for the longer way home.
It does tend to be windy at Terrace Downs, but ironically winter offers the most settled weather and calmest days. But being high country (480 metres above sea level) the weather is changeable, so come prepared. The club advises to phone in the morning to check conditions and tee-times, which can be subject to frost. A new covered outdoor deck area means that no matter the weather, you can relax post-round in comfort.
Terrace Downs has a good restaurant, bar and accommodation that gets rave reviews, plus exceptional views. And there are heaps of other things to do in the area if you want to base yourself there for a day or two, including skiing, fishing and jet-boating. The course has gone out of its way lately to make itself more accessible after discovering some people thought it was too exclusive. It’s anything but – you’ll get a friendly welcome, they are open to group bookings and offer all sorts of well-priced deals.
If you want another day of golf in the area – or somewhere to play on the road home – do try Methven Golf Club, a friendly country course where the views are to die for.
The braided rivers that wind from the mountains to the sea in Canterbury offer a couple of great courses with exceptional vistas. Again with the Alps as a backdrop, Hororata Golf Club is a sweet country course on the terraces of the Selwyn River with many of its greens guarded by a meandering creek. And Waimakariri Gorge Golf Club – beside the river of the same name – is one of the most underrated and spectacular courses in the region. With open views to the Southern Alps, it has a pair of the most interesting par-3s in all the land, with the eighth and 17th holes playing towards each other from either end of a stepped terrace. The greens are basically back-to-back with players coming at them from either direction, which can create fun times.
Back down the plains in Christchurch, you might lose the views but there’s no city in New Zealand that offers as many top-class championship courses as densely packed together and as easily accessible from the central city. A short drive from the CBD – and we mean 15 to 20 minutes, tops, in a taxi or Uber – will get you to an array of top-notch courses: Russley, Harewood, Clearwater and Christchurch, a.k.a. Shirley Links.
Russley Golf Club is home to one of New Zealand’s premier courses and, like Clearwater, Harewood and Shirley, it’s ranked in New Zealand Golf Digest’s Top 50 Courses. Created from 50 hectares of dry riverbed near Christchurch Airport, thousands of trees were planted to give it the beautiful parkland look it has today.
“Created from 50 hectares of dry riverbed near Christchurch Airport, thousands of trees were planted to give Russley the beautiful parkland look it has today.”
The back nine has recently undergone a complete redesign by Greg Turner. The result is more open, undulating fairways, additional fairway bunkers and more modern, expansive greens. The course now offers more variety and interest for golfers of all abilities. A recent innovation is a playing option called “The Stones”, which incorporates tees from all five tee blocks over the 18 holes. This adds further challenge and fun for those normally used to playing from the same tees.
If you are flying or driving into Christchurch, Russley is only five minutes from the airport on the way into the city. There are also excellent accommodation options nearby, including the Commodore Hotel just across the road. The pro shop is well equipped with new carts, hire clubs and accessories. Visiting golfers are always warmly welcomed at this Christchurch institution with a fabled history.
You could easily walk to the Commodore Hotel from Russley and it’s an ideal location from which to stay and play at four of Christchurch’s top courses. Harewood is not much more than a par 5 away, while Clearwater is a short drive and Shirley is only minutes away by taxi or Uber. That’s the thing about Christchurch – it’s a compact city as far as golf goes.
Christchurch Golf Club at Shirley suffered extensive damage in the 2011 earthquake, but one of the positives was the building of a new clubhouse replete with floor-to-ceiling glass where you can look out on the demanding course you’ve just conquered. Consistently rated in New Zealand’s top 20, Christchurch can best be described – oxymoronically – as a parkland course without too many trees! The mature trees help frame the layout but they don’t get in the way. Instead, the hazards come in the form of strategically placed bunkers with steep faces. It makes the course inviting rather than foreboding. As the alternative name – Shirley Links – suggests, there’s an inland links feel.
Harewood Golf Club is another course that changed dramatically after the earthquake, but for other reasons. Once upon a time it was a sprawling 36-hole layout that was so close to the airport you felt like a lofted wedge might hit an incoming jet. As the expanding airport needed more runway space, it acquired land from the course. That allowed Harewood to turn two so-so courses into one clever track of 18 always-interesting holes. The redesigned (Greg Turner and Scott MacPherson) Woodlands course kept many of the trees from the original course but also removed about 500. The effect is to let in more light and air, meaning the fairways and greens offer impeccable surfaces and your game has more room to breathe as well. The green complexes have more contours and are entertaining without being tricked up. With the redesign came a super-impressive, 23-bay covered driving range. It’s now a premium golf destination and one not to be missed – especially if you haven’t been to the city for some time.
Clearwater Resort is often rated as Christchurch’s top course. Built on a collection of recreational lakes, it has hosted multiple versions of both the New Zealand men’s and women’s opens. So, yes, expect a daunting layout. The course makes the most of the trout-filled waterways and offers a unique feel of links-meets-parkland-meets-resort. While not long off the white tees (5,700 metres) the Slope rating of 130 indicates it’s a tough, championship-style test of patience and skill.
Another post-quake restoration project has transformed Waimairi Beach Golf Club. The club is perfectly located near New Brighton Beach and right next to the recreational area known as Bottle Lake. With a sandy base, the course was an ideal links layout in disguise, waiting its Cinderella moment. The once claustrophobic course has been opened up thanks to the loss of most of the pines and it’s been cleverly redesigned to make it truly links-like. The layout has always had the best greens in the city, thanks to the sand base. The earthquake also took the clubhouse but the club has again won on the deal with a clever, low-key building now in the centre of the course.
We can’t leave Canterbury without taking in the massive change that’s happened north of the Waimakariri River. The once rural enclave of Rangiora has become a bustling town that’s dramatically grown in population since the earthquakes. And that means the golf course is getting its due recognition. The treelined layout is quite challenging at nearly 6,000 metres from the white tees, meaning you need to drive it straight. There’s plenty of country charm here.
Nearby you’ll find Pegasus Golf & Sports Club, which is the social hub of the relatively new Pegasus township. The course, built by Kura Design, is open and circles around a series of small lakes. On first glance it looks similar to Clearwater, but is more open and expansive and therefore more fun to play – and the huge greens will help your greens in regulation stat, as long as you can master the testing second and third shots in. The course drains superbly so is a good winter option. Regularly rated in New Zealand’s top 20, Pegasus has hosted the New Zealand Women’s Open three times. The café bar is a perfect spot to relax afterwards and maybe browse the local real estate pages – because it’s the kind of spot you’ll think about retiring to.
Nine non-golf things to do in Christchurch
- Christchurch Gondola. Offers spectacular views of Canterbury Plains and across to the Southern Alps, and is worth every cent of the $28 entry. The price includes entry to the quirky but informative Time Tunnel ride and there is also a restaurant and shop at the 448-metre lookout chchattractions.co.nz/en/gondola
- Christchurch Art Gallery, a spectacular building featuring a flowing glass and metal façade that evokes the flow of the River Avon christchurchartgallery.org.nz
- Roam New Regent St with its Spanish mission architecture and its lovely cafés and bars – you’re guaranteed to find a place to suit your taste newregentstreet.co.nz.
- Pomeroy’s Pub on the outskirts of the city features some of the best beer in Christchurch, great food and conviviality www.pomspub.co.nz
- Take a trip out to Lincoln and visit The Laboratory, a great pub with traditional cask ales thelaboratory.co.nz
- Stroll Victoria St in the evening and call into Red Light District – no, not that kind of red-light district, but a great bar disguised as a laundry redlightdistrict.nz.
- Have the best and most surprising vegan breakfast in Christchurch at Portershed Café in Addington facebook.com/portershedcafe
- Check out Christchurch Casino for thrills and amazing food christchurchcasino.co.nz
- Have a night at the multi-level Dux Central. The Dux has been a Christchurch institution for years but this new post-quake venue is deluxe thedux.co.nz/dux-central
Where To Play
Christchurch Golf Club
Horseshoe Lake Rd, Shirley
+64 3 385 9506
Clearwater Ave, Northwood
+64 800 275 373
Harewood Golf Club
McLeans Island Rd, Harewood
+64 3 359 8843
Hororata Golf Club
Homebush Rd, Hororata
+64 3 318 2887
Methven Golf Club
Hobbs Rd, Methven
+64 3 302 8438
Pegasus Golf & Sports Club
Mapleham Dr, Pegasus
+64 3 920 3300
Rangiora Golf Club
+64 3 313 6666
Russley Golf Club
Memorial Ave, Burnside
+64 3 358 4748
Terrace Downs Resort
Coleridge Rd, Windwhistle
+64 3 318 6943
Waimairi Beach Golf Club
Bower Ave, Parklands
+64 3 383 0307
Waimakariri Gorge Golf Club
Thongcaster Rd, View Hill
+64 3 312 4339
Where To Stay
+64 3 358 8129
+64 9 320 5913
Peppers Clearwater Resort
+64 3 360 1000
+64 3 318 6943