Sports-loving RVers

By: Jill Malcolm, Photography by: Jill Malcolm


For 11 days at the end of last summer, Jill Malcolm joined a group of sports-loving RVers for a golfing holiday in the central North Island. The trip more than made the cut.

Most people own an RV so they can poke around in New Zealand’s natural environment. Every time I travel, I’m grateful for the means to consider the country in detail. But exploring isn’t just about watching a wonderful part of the world go by through a pane of glass. Nor is it about lounging in a deck chair gazing at the view (although I do that quite a bit).

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The real experience comes from interacting with the landscape via a useful (or even useless) activity. That is why biking, hiking, swimming, boating and kayaking are popular with RVers. And then there is golf. Many RVers have as much passion for tee time as they do for a happy-hour wine.

This is unsurprising; golf is the highest-participation sport in New Zealand. About 7 million rounds are played each year. New Zealand has 390 golf clubs, placing it second in the world for courses per capita. Only Scotland has more. 

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The Manawatu club house is a welcome sight after 18 holes of golf

The sport’s popularity with RVers was well-illustrated earlier this year when some 28 motorhomes and caravans and about 50 golfers and golfers’ mates lumbered into the tree-lined car park of the Manawatu Golf Club in Hokowhitu.

It was a large gathering, and there was also a long list of wannabes who didn’t make the cut. The chosen 50 headed for the bar for the first meet-up of a North Island Golf Safari. Play would take place at nine golf courses over 11 days, with two days for R&R.

March was an unpredictable month, and the weather didn’t always play ball, but it was never so far below par that a game was cancelled. Golfers ranged from rookies to champs. A handful are so dedicated they rove the country playing the game for most of the year. Garth Taylor, for instance, has played 214 different New Zealand courses.

His wife, Karen, has clocked up 192 and the couple intends to play 14 more this year. They go on two golf safaris a year and have joined the Veterans Golf Circuit, which takes them away from home for many months. On our one-and-only annual safari, the first tee-off was on the oldest course in the country.

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The allure of a bright green fairway full of promise

The Manawatu Golf Course, bordering the Manawatu River, first opened in 1895. Today, the manicured fairways and trees are as inviting as a suburban park. But the game of club and ball is never a walk in the park. After that first round on day one, there were a few aches and moans before players got into the swing.

The routine became a bit like a military exercise – 0800–0900 hours: hit-off; 1200–1300: recover, eat, shower; 1500: pack up, drive to next club; 1650: settle in, meet for drinks and gossip; 1830: dinner, drinks and bed. Repeat. 

But the game isn’t the only thing luring golfers to a safari like this. Playing a round was not the only entertainment; the camaraderie and off-course fun are just as important. The handful of us who didn’t play golf at all didn’t feel handicapped. While their partners were on the course, most non-players filled in the waiting hours with coffees or long walks.

But as soon as my husband Bill disappeared down the first fairway, I headed further afield and amused myself by uncovering something that summed up each of the towns we visited. In Palmerston North, for instance, I walked through Massey University.

In Fielding’s main drag, I discovered a bronze shepherd and his dog resolutely marching down the main street. Dannevirke announced its origins with an avenging Viking leaping from the Information Centre. And in a back street, I found the Robert Falcon Scott Memorial Fountain, which commemorates the explorer’s Antarctic expedition – incongruously since he had no link to the town.

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The end of a round on the Hastings Golf Club course

In Waipukurau, I followed the ‘river of edible fungus’ from which the town takes its name. In Hastings, I took a nostalgic excursion to Rush Munroe’s ice-cream parlour. I’d biked there every Sunday in my youth for an ice-cream soda and maple-walnut sundae.

And in Napier, I revisited the two-storey-high mural of Pania floating elegantly above a seafloor, her hair drifting behind her. She is the mythical protector of the reef and a symbol of the city. These quests were for my entertainment but there was also plenty of fun on the safari. Every evening we gathered for drinks and to re-hash the day’s high and lows, an activity as much part of the game of golf as chips and birdies.

Sharing the agony of shanks, slices, atrocious putts, lost balls and soaring scores lessened their sting. And there were plenty of yarns, jests and other capers. I loved the rural clubs, where we were welcomed like homing pigeons. In the way of country hospitality, the women of the Dannevirke Club turned on a huge homemade feast with meat, salads and irresistible desserts.

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Each club allowed all 25 RVs to park overnight

In Waipukurau, the deputy mayor made us toasted sandwiches, and at the Maraenui Golf Club in Napier, non-playing ‘ladies’ were invited to a splendid high tea. Overnight parking and the use of the facilities were provided at every club. Safaris like this are a win-win for clubs and RVers. Green fees, meals and bar takings help to fill the clubs’ coffers. A common purpose bonds participants.

The relationships we forged during the 11 days will hold over until next year. When we headed our separate ways on that last morning, it felt a bit like leaving the family. We said goodbye and promised to hook up during the year. We probably won’t. Meeting up with fellow RVers, enjoying time together and then detaching to pursue different dreams is one of the ways of life on the road.

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