Queenstown, Christchurch and Dunedin combine to offer southern-latitude golf in exceptional and unique environments.
If you are searching for an affordable yet world-class golf trip in New Zealand, look no further than the nation’s stunning South Island. To the south-west of the island on the shores of Lake Wakatipu lies Queenstown, one of the most strikingly beautiful towns on earth, and about six hours’ drive away on the east coast is the historically captivating city of Christchurch. Golfers can build an enviable itinerary at either destination, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Thrill-seekers have long converged on Queenstown in Otago for its abundant ski resorts and water sports, though the town’s reputation for sublime golf courses is a more recent phenomenon.
“It’s sort of a cross between alpine golf and desert golf,” says former tour professional Greg Turner, who is now among New Zealand’s most revered golf-course designers.
In this magazine’s new ranking of New Zealand’s Top 50 Courses [see page 68], six of the top 35 belonged to Queenstown: Jack’s Point (ranked fifth), The Hills (eighth), Arrowtown (ninth), Millbrook (11th and 20th) and, at No.32, Queenstown Golf Club.
“They’re resort-style with a New Zealand twist and magnificent turf quality – as good a turf quality as you’ll get anywhere in the world. Right up there with Melbourne,” Turner says. “It’s a stunning alpine environment. You fly two-and-a-half hours from Melbourne and you’re in a different world.”
Twenty-five minutes is the most time you will spend in a car getting to any of Queenstown’s golf courses, which leaves plenty of time to discover everything else the famous town has to offer.
Can you think of a golf course on clifftops with panoramic views of a vast lake and set against the backdrop of an imposing mountain range? It might sound too good to be true, but that’s exactly what you experience at Jack’s Point – the top-ranked course on the South Island – which is wedged between Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables.
Set on rugged and wildly undulating terrain, the fairways meander between rock formations. The highlight of the round is the four-hole stretch beginning at the dogleg-right, par-5 fifth where the green is set on one of the high points of the course overlooking Lake Wakatipu. The short par-4 sixth can be reached with less than driver by longer hitters, though the threat of the gorse-covered cliff to the left looms large. The sharply downhill par-3 seventh is just a flick wedge for some as your ball descends against the backdrop of the lake, and the uphill par-5 eighth features a double-dogleg and a blind lay-up before a steep climb to the green.
Another highlight at Jack’s Point is the dramatic downhill par-4 16th where you drive towards the Remarkables, which are several kilometres away but feel much closer in the moments while your ball is descending against them.
Queenstown Golf Club
Located on a peninsula of land surrounded on three sides by the lake, Queenstown Golf Club provides an enviable setting and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Formerly known as Wakatipu Golf Club, Queenstown’s current layout opened for play in 1975.
Hundreds of magnificent pine trees dot the property, although you wonder whether the superb views might be even better if the fairways were less treelined. The standout hole at Queenstown is the sweeping dogleg-left fifth, which frames the lake and dares golfers to drive over it for the shortest route to the green.
Arrowtown Golf Club
There is no fanfare at the charming Arrowtown, which is like going back in time. Barely more than 5,400 metres in length, the par-71 course is short, most of the fairways are narrow and the major obstacles include a public road dividing the course into two nines, countless hills and mounds with exposed rock and wacky natural slopes on many of the greens. There appears to have been no attempt to move earth at Arrowtown, which was originally a nine-hole layout until the early 1970s.
“I think people are really attracted to the fact that it doesn’t feel like it’s manufactured, that it’s a really interesting piece of terrain and it’s just great fun,” Turner says. “A lot of people who play there don’t realise that there’s not a bunker on the golf course because it doesn’t need a bunker.”
The modest clubhouse was built in the 1950s and only adds to Arrowtown’s appeal. The narrow outdoor deck overlooking the 11th hole below and mountains beyond is the place to be after your round.
While Arrowtown appeals to the old-fashioned golfer, Millbrook will attract those wanting a golf experience with modern luxury. Home to the 2023 New Zealand Open, Millbrook now features two 18-hole courses – Remarkables and Coronet – with five sets of tees on every hole and a world-class resort to enjoy when you’re not on the golf course.
Previously a 27-hole hole venue, Millbrook opened nine new holes in early 2022 – designed by Turner and Scott Macpherson – to complete the Coronet layout and this month’s NZ Open will be the first time the event has been staged exclusively at the resort.
The Hills Golf Club
As such, this year will be the first since 2012 that The Hills’ spectacular 18-hole course has not co-hosted the New Zealand Open with Millbrook. A private club, The Hills offers limited tee-times to the public.
In 2019, The Hills opened ‘The Farm’ – a bunkerless, nine-hole short course – though the venue’s most unusual feature is its vast collection of sculptures on display throughout the course.
Queenstown’s appeal extends far beyond just golf, especially during the high season of October to March. Jet-boat rides on the lake and through ravines on nearby rivers will give you a burst of adrenaline. If you’re attracted to rough waters, then you’ll fancy whitewater rafting and river surfing while more relaxed options include canoeing and kayaking tours. For a mind-blowing view high atop the town, take a ride 450 metres up Skyline Queenstown – the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere.
Otago is well-known for its pinot noir and wine lovers can get lost among the many tours available. If you like gin, check out Altitude Wine Tours, which launched the world’s first ‘heli-gin’ tour – transporting customers in luxury to three cellar doors in six hours.
At night, take your pick from a plethora of premium dining options in the centre of Queenstown, including Botswana Butchery, Little Aosta, Nest Kitchen at Kamana Lakehouse, Eichardt’s Grille or Tanoshi Cow Lane. If you’re looking for a drink, try Little Mez or Rhinos Ski Shack in Queenstown, while your best bet in Arrowtown is the recently opened Hyde, Liquor & Social.
Recommended accommodation options include The Glebe apartments and Queenstown House. The Glebe has a wide selection of living spaces, from studios to four-bedroom apartments, and six penthouses, available for any type of getaway for couples or large families. Located close to the starting points of Queenstown’s popular activities, such as jetboating, rafting, bungy-jumping, hiking, cycling, wine tours and fly fishing, The Glebe is the perfect place to plan your next holiday.
For more than 40 years, Queenstown House has been an iconic and luxurious bed-and-breakfast accommodation provider. Located a short walk from the heart of Queenstown, this property offers stunning views of the township, Lake Wakatipu and Walter Peak Station.
Guests can choose from a range of luxurious rooms, from three-bedroom apartments with fireplaces and sweeping views, to the more intimate king rooms in the main house.
The flight from Queenstown to Christchurch is only 55 minutes while the drive is about six-and-a-half hours, including stops.
One way to break up the drive about 50 minutes into the trip is a visit to Cromwell Golf Club, which is an inland links-style layout that hosted the final qualifying event for the New Zealand Open in February and bears a resemblance to the layout at Arrowtown.
Once you’re in Christchurch, there’s an impressive suite of golf courses to consider, while we recommend staying at the gorgeous Pavilions Hotel, which is right near an elbow in the River Avon.
With 90 rooms, suites, apartments and cottages, the Pavilions Hotel Christchurch is a dynamic social hub where guests and visitors can work, relax and take in some old-fashioned Kiwi hospitality.
Christchurch Golf Club
Dating back to 1873, Christchurch is the second oldest golf club in New Zealand. Only 20 minutes from the airport, Christchurch was redesigned by the late Peter Thomson with pot-style bunkers, creeks and ponds adding to its challenge. Christchurch is also the home club of Kiwi golf legend Sir Bob Charles.
The clubhouse was rebuilt after the 2011 earthquake and re-opened in 2016. Upstairs, the Sir Bob Charles Gallery pays homage to the 1963 Open champion.
Christchurch has staged the New Zealand Open 11 times – second only to Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club – and in 1990 staged amateur golf’s most prestigious men’s teams events, the Eisenhower Trophy.
Situated in the city’s northern outskirts, Clearwater has been a prolific host of professional golf tournaments this century, including seven New Zealand PGA Championships, two New Zealand Opens and five New Zealand Women’s Opens.
The resort-style course is best known for providing the launching pad for Lydia Ko’s extraordinary career. The 25-year-old shot to international fame by winning the 2013 Open at Clearwater as a 15-year-old amateur before she hoisted the trophy there twice more in 2015 and 2016.
Water features prominently at Clearwater, particularly at the long par-4 18th, where a lake framing the entire left side ensures a nerve-jangling finish.
Fable Terrace Downs Resort
An hour or so west of the city in Canterbury’s high country, Fable Terrace Downs is a destination in its own right. Twenty-five luxury villas complement the golf course, which offers parkland golf on the front nine and more open expanses on the closing side.
The views of the nearby Southern Alps and Rakaia River are sensational, and four sets of tees provide options for both seasoned and beginner golfers.
Harewood Golf Club
This year marks 100 years since Harewood Golf Club was originally formed. Previously a 36-hole facility, the club sold land in 2008 to make way for the expansion of Christchurch International Airport. The funds from the sale paved the way for a comprehensive revamp of Harewood’s Woodlands course in 2012 by Turner Macpherson Golf Design. New greens and tees were built while native areas were regenerated.
“I’m really happy with what we managed to achieve there,” Turner says. “With as little elevation change that exists across the site, I think it plays with a lot more undulation change than people expect.”
Pegasus Golf & Sports Club
Half an hour north of Christchurch, Pegasus is a three-time host of the New Zealand Women’s Open and staged the NZ PGA Championship in 2019. The golf course is modern with plenty of water to trick you up if you miss the generous fairways and greens.
Pegasus’ points of difference from most other Christchurch venues are its off-course facilities, which include a partially undercover driving range, tennis courts and gymnasium.
Russley Golf Club
Known for its impeccable conditioning, Russley’s parkland layout built much of its reputation in the 1970s as the host venue of the Garden City Golf Classic, while it also staged the 1985 New Zealand Open.
Turner Macpherson redesigned the back nine at Russley, intent on adding variety and reinstating playability to what were demanding playing corridors.
“Trees don’t only grow up, they grow out,” Turner says. “What felt like the right width of avenues 40 years ago gets really, really, really narrow [over time]. We were able to add, over certainly nine or 10 holes, a bit more space and a bit more strategic golf.”
Of course, golf on the South Island is much more than just Queenstown and Christchurch. Dunedin – where Turner grew up – is home to New Zealand’s oldest golf club, Otago Golf Club, and the rugged clifftop layout at Chisholm Links.
“[Otago] is a quite hilly inland course whereas Chisholm’s a true links so they were a nice combination of golf styles to grow up playing,” Turner says. “In Dunedin, golf is relatively inexpensive.”
At opposite ends of the South Island are two more courses worth exploring, Nelson Golf Club to the north and Invercargill Golf Club to the south. However you choose to divide your time on the South Island, the golf will leave you more than satisfied.