13 Oct 2017

How country clubs earn their bread and putter

From Country Life, 9:46 pm on 13 October 2017

Waiouru Golf Club doesn't have a dress code. Jandals are fine.

"Wear whatever you feel like wearing on the day," says golf club president Tane North.

The club, with its magnificent views of the central North Island mountains, has a membership of just 40 and needs all the green fees it can get.

Waiouru, like many country golf clubs, is struggling to attract new members.

"We don't really want to discourage anyone from coming."

Club members, including local shepherds and military personnel from the base across the road tend the golf club's trees, mow the fairways and even look after the greens.

"We're lucky the grass doesn't grow too much at this altitude because of the cold and the snow, so we just try to do the best that we can."

At Taihape's picturesque golf course, revenue from sheep grazing on the course, the bar tab and membership fees help pay expenses, including the full-time greenkeeper's salary.

"Basically he keeps the course up to scratch for 30 of us," says committee member Danny Mickleson.

"You know, you don't get your bank managers coming into town and your stock and station managers. You don't get the turnover of people like you used to.

"These people generally all played golf as a means of socialising and getting to be known in the community."

New Zealand has 390 golf clubs and is second only to Scotland in the number of golf clubs per capita.  Half of the courses in New Zealand have fewer than 200 members.

And that's pushing clubs to look at other streams of income and to market their unique features to attract casual fee-paying golfers - just to put a few more dollars in the bank.

Rangitikei's Rangatira club is the only course in the southern hemisphere with a cable car. 

Taihape reckons it has the finest par-three hole in the country and at 900 metres, Waiouru is the highest 18-hole golf club in New Zealand.

And even better, for the keen golfer, at that altitude balls travel much further than at sea level.

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