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A golf course with an unusual legacy: Tūrangi Golf Club

A power scheme and an Italian tunnelling boss are among the historical reasons Tūrangi Golf Club boasts such a handsome 18-hole course.

These days, the picturesque rural club is renowned for its manicured greens and fairways, mountain views and the especially friendly welcome on the edge of Tongariro National Park. “One of our big things is making sure people are genuinely, honestly welcomed,” says club committee member Tim McCarthy. 

“For everybody who steps onto the course, members will turn round and say gidday to them. And they’re welcome in the bar when they’ve had a round of golf.”

Tim McCarthy, club committee member

Tim and his wife, club administrator Fran McCarthy, are among about 50-course regulars though a contingent of international members also stays and play for months at a time. Most are drawn by the world-class river and lake trout angling options mere minutes from the course, but they also like to swing a golf club when the fish are not biting.

An unusual legacy

It’s a course that often surprises visitors, Tim says, thanks to some historical quirks that ensure it punches well above its small-town weight.

“It’s the physical layout that’s quite unique, the way it’s been sculpted into the land with some very big machinery more than half a century ago. No two holes are the same."

It’s also the way it’s been planted; all the mature pine and Douglas fir and native bush on and around the course bring a huge variety of native birds.”

Depending on the season, the trees are noisy with tui, bellbirds and kereru. Plenty of karearea – bush falcons - whirl overhead, while the abundant piwakawaka (fantail) population has been immortalised by a bird sculpture carved from a tree stump on the fifth tee.

Tim says the trees and resulting birdlife are part of the club’s unusual legacy.

In the mid-1960s, local residents Ian Patience and Barry Campbell negotiated the lease of land and drew up plans for a nine-hole golf course that would become a community project. Grazing cattle had to be removed and fledgling greens fenced off from sheep, with each green voluntarily maintained by individual club members.

The Italian connection

Around the same time, Italian-born tunnellers arrived in Tūrangi to work on the Tongariro Power Development project with the firm Codelfa Cogefar. Their boss Alessandro del Favero was a keen golfer who donated money to the club to buy a used tractor, as well as paying for the construction of a toilet block and a veranda off the clubhouse.

He also hired a Taupō golf professional as resident club manager and, when the course officially opened in mid-1969, it was Alessandro’s company that sponsored the celebratory party. The Italian company went on to sponsor an annual tournament, too.

“From what I understand, Alessandro actually donated a lot of man-hours of his own workers to do a lot of development on the second nine holes,” Tim says. “The story goes that he removed workers from the power scheme to get it completed. He used those big earth-moving machines to shape the holes and mould the greens to a standard you wouldn’t expect in a small town.”

Plenty of challenges

Later on, volunteers helped clear the bush to extend the course to 18 holes. A single men’s camp – used to house workers for the region’s hydroelectric project – had to be removed to make way for the final two holes. The government department managing the scheme sold a former men’s canteen building to the club, and the 185sqm structure was modified to create a decent-sized clubhouse.

Other Tūrangi residents helped plant trees, dig trenches, spray and mow greens, cart soil, and shear the sheep that were used to control grass growth.

The course is no pushover for players, either.

“There are plenty of challenges. The positioning and slope of the greens. The borrow on the greens is difficult to read; people don’t putt very well in Tūrangi. And all those trees. If you don’t hit onto the fairway, you can find a lot of trouble.

Better and better

“Back in the ’70s, all sorts of pro-am tournaments were played here but nobody’s ever gone out there and given it a hiding. The course record is only 66 strokes, over 5762m. And, during the ’70s and ’80s, ours was one of the most dominant clubs in the Bay of Plenty competition.”

Neither flat nor overly hilly, the course nevertheless includes three large, elevated greens at the top of hills. The signature hole, number eight, is also the longest par four on the course, with a tee that overlooks Lake Taupō. Neighbouring Mt Pihanga is another fine distraction for golfers.

“And the last green is a horseshoe shape, with a pot bunker in the middle, about a metre deep and you’ll often have a gallery of people watching you play from the clubhouse balcony. There’s always a big cheer from the clubhouse when someone hits that bunker, then gets out on their first shot."

“We’re very, very proud of what we have here. It’s the only golf course within a 60km radius of Tūrangi and it’s a course that just gets better and better.”



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  4. A golf course with an unusual legacy: Tūrangi Golf Club