As the first New Zealand club to be granted Royal status, in 2004, you expect tradition, grandeur, history from this parkland beauty in Heretaunga, north of the capital.
The irony is that Royal Wellington has all that and more, but the course you see today is an ultra-modern design woven into a traditional backdrop.
The club is more than 125 years old and it’s been on its current site – in a peaceful valley near the Hutt River –
for 115 years. The imposing clubhouse opened in 1908 and sits comfortably in an idyllic setting that sings class.
In 2004 the club was bestowed “Royal” status in conjunction with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews’ 250th anniversary. It was the first New Zealand club to receive that status, followed by Royal Auckland a few years later. But Royal doesn’t mean unapproachable, and the club welcomes green-fee players – especially during the week.
Less than 10 years after getting the Royal treatment, the club took a giant leap into the future when the design team of Greg Turner and Scott MacPherson opened up some new holes and revitalised others to create a quite majestic setting. Against a grand backdrop of long-lived trees – there are redwoods, cottonwoods and oaks that are more than 300 years old – the course plays its way around two natural streams. The trees – as you’d expect from top-notch designers – don’t interfere with your game but rather offer a frame for the hole in question. The overall effect, thanks to the water and quaint stone bridges is heritage and majesty.
The Turner-MacPherson trademark undulating greens are an absolute pleasure to play on – there’s never a straight putt – but while they look funky, they play truly. The key is not to get sucked in by the hole placements with your approach.
The other key to visiting Royal Wellington is to spend time talking to the friendly staff and playing from the right tees. Depending on which tees you choose to play, the course can be anywhere from brutal, to fun and fair. Pick the right tee for your game and enjoy fairways that offer exceptional surfaces.
The highlights start early and flow as freely as the nearby Hutt River – typified by the fourth hole, a dogleg par 5. This gem offers you so much to think about, you can end up uncertain of the best play. From the tee, the fairway splits in two, either side of a meandering stream. You can play for length on the left or a shorter, safer option to the right-side fairway. Over the stream, the fairway angles towards a lake and narrows dramatically as it gets closer to the green. The sloping, wide but narrow green sits nearly at right angles to the line of play, making it hard to hit with a long approach. It’s a classic risk/reward hole where simply loading and firing is not feasible.
That test of strategy plays out again and again on this dramatic, stately course. – MD
Photography by Nick Wall