Waverley was put on the map by Melbourne Cup winning racehorse Kiwi, but now something else is the talk of the South Taranaki town.

Its golf course was rated 10th best in New Zealand by renowned golf course architect Tom Doak in his book The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses volume 5.

Born in Michigan, USA, Doak travels the world rating his favourite golf courses and then evaluates his selections with three co-raters.

Waverley's country course made the cut and Doak credits the crew that built Tara Iti in Te Arai with finding the "rugged hidden gem".

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"You'd be surprised how much I can remember of a good course even after playing it once," Doak says.

"We played the back nine first, because there was no one around to show us where to go and with the threat of rain in the air I wanted to make sure I saw those holes."

Harold Symes is a member of Waverley Golf Club. He helped to provide materials for its clubhouse and cleared farmland so that the new course could be designed.

The course moved to Ihupuku Rd from Oturi Rd, near the railway station, in 1964 when the Bremer family sold the club 66ha of farmland.

Symes was a farmer, he remembers exploring the land that cost 50 pounds an acre with Norris Heginbotham, Ken Honeyfield and Noel Lupton.

"We walked and looked over the property. There wouldn't have been even half of it that was cleared. There was lupin and fern and gorse everywhere," Symes said.

"It was all cleared mainly by members volunteering their time, using our own possessions like a DC3 Oliver tractor with a blade on the front of it."

A life member, Jocelyn Symes got her husband Harold involved with Waverley Golf Club. He was a part of clearing the course and cutting timber for the clubhouse. Photo / Jesse King
A life member, Jocelyn Symes got her husband Harold involved with Waverley Golf Club. He was a part of clearing the course and cutting timber for the clubhouse. Photo / Jesse King

Symes believes they moved the clubhouse and the course because they had been located on quality farmland. It wasn't fenced off and the golf course made it difficult to stock.

The course was designed by Ernie Southerden, a professional golfer from Napier who was asked by his friend Heginbotham to evaluate the land's potential.

Southerden believed it could be a very interesting course and Symes accompanied him while measuring it out.

"We ventured up and down all the gullies and sometimes we had to go through all this gorse and that sort of thing," Symes said.

"He was using the natural contours of the sand country. Most of the country has got blowing sand ridges, it's all come in from the sea."

The new course was opened on April 24, 1965, and the full 18 hole course was opened on September 30, 1972.

Symes said that another big project in making the course what it is today was the building of a new clubhouse in 1959.

"The club decided that we needed a new clubhouse, so the Alexander brothers gave their trees and we went and cut down the timber on their sandy country.

"That clubhouse was built about a quarter of a mile further down the road because the first one was past its due date."

Built in 1959, the clubhouse was transported to the Ihupuku Rd location on a truck and pulled into place with a bulldozer. Photo / Stuart Munro
Built in 1959, the clubhouse was transported to the Ihupuku Rd location on a truck and pulled into place with a bulldozer. Photo / Stuart Munro

The clubhouse was transported to its current location on a truck where it was put on skids and pulled to where it sits today using a bulldozer.

Once the course had been established, means for financing its upkeep had to be put in place and that was done through planting trees and purchasing sheep.

A mile of fencing a year was completed voluntarily with second hand wire and posts to contain up to 430 ewes and their lambs.

"Somebody had to go around every time before golf was played and clear the muck off the greens because the sheep used to camp on it at night," Symes said.

"We kept one area at the far end of the course, which is in trees now, which we used to put the sheep in when there was a tournament."

As for competition, Symes got into the sport through his wife Jocelyn, who is a life member of the club.

"I thought golf was a sissy's game. My wife used to drag me to golf on a Sunday after I'd played rugby.

"That's why I've never had a decent follow through at golf, but I did get down to a 14 handicap."

Brent McAree is a former president of the club and believes that the course rated so highly because all 18 holes are different.

"The ball's above your feet, below your feet, you're hitting it uphill and downhill," McAree said.

"All the good golfers, especially the single handicap golfers, they love it because they've got to think about every shot."

McAree had never heard of Tom Doak until the American visited New Zealand two years ago and spoke highly of Waverley's golf course.

There are approximately 300 sheep on the 163 acres of land, which are a primary source of income for the club. Photo / Stuart Munro
There are approximately 300 sheep on the 163 acres of land, which are a primary source of income for the club. Photo / Stuart Munro

Doak said he remembered the holes well, especially the little green at the 12th, the back-to-back par-5's at 14 and 15 and the 16th - which has a picture in his book.

Four Doak-designed courses are ranked among the top 100 in the world. They are Pacific Dunes in Oregon, Ballyneal in Colorado, Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania and Cape Kidnappers Golf Course in Clifton, NZ.

"Since he started rating us, we've had a huge rise. The amount of campervans and people playing this course now, the green fees have gone berserk," McAree said.

"He's never introduced himself to anyone when he has been here. He can come down for a free weekend anytime and we'd be more than happy to shout him."

Doak said that it was great to hear a success story, because the entire point of his books is to steer people towards courses they might otherwise overlook.

Doak loves coming to New Zealand to play golf and is currently in discussions to build another golf course here. He also hopes to make it back to Waverley for another round.

McAree moved to Waverley over 40 years ago, he works on a dry stock farm in the South Taranaki town and also has a dairy farm.

He was a member of the golf club and on the committee until the 1990s, but then gave golf a break for 10 years as he was busy raising a family and working.

They're the same reasons that have caused membership numbers to drop among most golf clubs in the country, McAree said.

"It takes time. How many people have got five hours spare on a weekend? Usually both parties are working and things like that, it's tough.

"It's a speed thing, everyone says they haven't got the time. I can come down here, play six holes and then go home."

At its peak the club had about 300 members, but now it's at 90, even with subs sitting at what McAree says is an inexpensive price of about $300.

Doak agreed, saying Waverley's green fee "is a steal compated to most courses nowadays".

McAree would like to see more young people join the club, but jokes about its growing popularity.

"If you got up in the clubhouse on a Sunday which is a club day and said 'everyone over 50 get up and leave,' there wouldn't be many left," he said.

"I hope it doesn't get too popular though, otherwise I'll never get on the tee."

Where to golf in and around Whanganui

There are plenty of courses in Whanganui for people to play golf on, experienced or not.

With a history spanning over 120 years, Belmont Links offers two nine holes that are distinctly different from each other. Based in Westmere, the course features sandy fairways and challenging westerlys blowing in from the Tasman.

Other options in Whanganui include Tawhero Golf Course on York St in Gonville, purchased by Ray Rahui and Bonnie Moir in 2018. They began making improvements mid-year and have plans to expand the nine hole course.

Formed in 1925, the Castlecliff Golf Club offers an 18 hole links course featuring a free draining sand base on Awatea St. The club recently ran a hole in one competition with a car up for grabs, but no one was able to win the prize.

Venturing out of Whanganui, you have several viable options including the Waimarino Golf Course found on the Ohakune-Raetihi Rd with a stunning backdrop of Mt Ruapehu.

Bulls is home to the 12 hole Hawkestone Golf Course and 18 hole Rangitikei Golf Course, while Marton Golf Club offers a well-groomed 18 hole course in Santoft.