Golfers who want to test themselves on PGA Tour-style layouts without flying to America in these uncertain times have an easy option – just head to Christchurch to take on the challenge at Clearwater.
The resort course, designed by John Darby and Sir Bob Charles, is built very much in the spirit of regular tour stops like TPC Sawgrass. Lots of sand and water means plenty of opportunities for heroic shots into the undulating and impeccable greens.
Like Sawgrass, Clearwater offers a stern test thanks to a design that puts a premium on good ball-striking, particularly when the wind is blowing across the Canterbury Plains, as is the norm.
The course was built on an area known as The Groynes – a collection of recreational lakes and waterways – and as a result has a natural look and feel. As is befitting of a course that has hosted multiple versions of both the men’s and women’s New Zealand Opens, it’s a tough, championship-style test of patience and skill.
After a good risk/reward opener with the option to cut the corner of the dogleg, Clearwater moves through some of the more subtle holes that draw on Sir Bob’s links experience. The third hole is an exacting driveable par 4 for big hitters with the green enticingly angled towards the tee but with a stream on the right. Perfectly placed bunkers challenge those who want to lay up for a tricky wedge shot.
The fifth is a fine par 5 with bunkers seemingly misplaced one day and then perfectly positioned in the ideal layup spot when the wind swings southerly the next – and it finishes with a tough raised green.
The course kicks into high gear on the strategic, par-4 eighth, where the accurate driver who can get close to the water on the right is rewarded with the perfect angle into the green.
From there it’s one water hole after another, with hookers having to be especially wary with water on the left of all but three of the final nine holes.
Like Sawgrass, which hosts the Players Championship, the site of Kiwi Craig Perks’ finest golf achievement in 2002, the finish is memorable starting with the tough 16th, the pick of the challenging par 3s. The penultimate hole, a shortish par 4, has a trio of bunkers on the right of the dogleg, placed close to the ideal spot from which to attack the most interesting green on the property, where a missed approach can be costly.
But it’s the final hole that is the true test with a tournament or match on the line. Water all down the left and a peninsular green call for a steady nerve and two pure strikes to reach the largest of the course’s putting surfaces. – MD