Architecture is not Palmerston North’s strong point, but on a recent visit, I was impressed by the number of trees gracing the city’s public places. Avenues of mature exotics line the long, straight roads and lend the suburbs shade, a sense of peace and permanence.
This tree trend was also well displayed at the Manawatu Golf Club in the suburb of Hokowhitu, where I was headed and which, at first glance, looked more like a botanical garden.
Along the fairways and in the club house gardens there are 12 indigenous tree varieties, including kauri, kowhai, totara, rimu, kahikatea, and 15 non-native species such as oaks, elms, chestnuts, pines, cherry, eucalyptus and even a row of Phoenix palms.
Their grand proportions dominate the course landscape and they’ve reached this stately old age because the course of the Manawatu Golf Club has had a very long life.
It is the oldest course in New Zealand and, by all accounts, one of the finest. The first recorded game of golf in New Zealand was in Dunedin in 1871.
In the 1880s and ‘90s when New Zealand colonial communities were beginning to emerge from the relentless slog of pioneering, the game’s establishment as a fashionable sport was being earnestly discussed throughout the country.
In 1895, one group of enthusiasts in Palmerston North formed a club and called it Manawatu. For one reason or another most sites in New Zealand that were originally chosen for early golf courses didn’t last.
The exception was this acreage at Hokowhitu which borders the Manawatu River and the city’s Centennial Lagoon. In 1895, it comprised nine holes and then in 1904, the neighbouring polo ground was included to make it 18.
The current layout covers 42 hectares that are as inviting as a walk in the park. This game of club and ball, however, is never a walk in the park.
And the tree-lined, benign-looking course with its beautifully manicured fairways and fast rolling greens is a stern test of golfing ability and pocked with over 50 challenging white-sand bunkers.
Bedevilled by an injury, I didn’t play at all. But on a sunny morning free from Palmy’s notorious wind, the others in my group set off optimistically and returned four hours later, some in despair, others looking smug and pretending to be humble.
I was among the smug as I whiled away the time on the very classy practice range or lounging in the café of the Manawatu Club’s sophisticated 19th, where through a large picture window I gazed over the closing hole known as Abraham’s.
It’s well bunkered and I gleefully watched the agony and ecstasy of golfers on their last legs hitting up the 18th. Another reason for my happy state of mind was that I was exceptionally well fed.
I’d had a John Daly breakfast in the café – bacon, eggs, hash browns, grilled tomato, toast and an excellent cup of coffee. The Hokowhitu Café on the first floor of the club house is popular in Palmy and you don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy it.
The course has a history of hosting New Zealand’s top professional and amateur events, and dishes on the menu are named for the likes of Grant Waite, Craig Perks and Tim Wilkinson, whose international professional careers were forged at the club.
None of my mates looked like joining the golfing greats but all agreed that what took the sting out of their duffs, their shanks, slices, atrocious putts and soaring scores was strolling among the trees of the Manawatu course on a sun-filled day.
Win a round of 18 holes at the Manawatu Golf Club for two people, valued at $140
Be in to win a round of 18 holes at the Manawatu Golf Club for two people, valued at $140.
To be in to win, enter here before 3 May, 2019.