We – as in myself and the vast majority of honest, decent Kiwi folk – genuinely hope you enjoy your stay and leave for home with happy memories and a seriously diminished bank balance.
On the paddock the rugby rivalry is guaranteed to be fierce but, of course, from a purely neutral point of view none of the four Home Unions is expected to feature at the pointy end of a World Cup which has gripped the imagination of many inhabitants of a small, isolated, inward looking country at the bottom of the globe.
You never know, though. England might surprise and bore us all rigid with the sort of turgid drudgery which won them the world title in Australia in 2003. Wales, Ireland Scotland? Fat chance. Instead, as always the crown is expected to find itself in the hands of one of Australia, South Africa, France and, dare I say it, New Zealand come the final’s final whistle at Auckland on October 23.
Now that we have got the rugby out of the way, let’s talk golf and, more specifically, what you can expect to find here on your travels. One promise that can be confidently made is that first-time visitors will be pleasantly surprised and suitably impressed with the quality, variety and sheer value-for-money courses which dot a wonderfully diverse landscape.
All tastes are catered for, from the award-winning Kauri Cliffs in the Bay of Islands and Cape Kidnappers on the Hawke’s Bay coastline, both owned by the American philanthropist Julian Robertson and rated among the top 100 courses in the world, to the likes of Waitoa Park, a ninehole postage stamp 80 minutes north of Dunedin where green fees will set you back all of $12.
World Cup organisers predict upwards of 75,000 foreigners will have NZ stamped into their passports within the six-week time-frame of the tournament. Those with intelligence, and we will give the majority the benefit of the doubt at this juncture, should ensure they don’t leave home without their golf clubs because there is a lot of time to fill in between matches.
So aside from sampling our many fine brews – the colder the better in this neck of the woods – you are advised to get out and about, smell the country air and swing away to your heart’s content at any one of the 380 club courses. That is an impressive number considering this country boasts just over four million people who call it home and it leaves New Zealand behind only Scotland in a rankings list of countries with the most courses per capita.
And while you are meandering your way around the many backs roads, side roads or narrow thoroughfares which pass for New Zealand’s third world road network, remember this: take your time. Time is a factor in your favour when sharing road space with a nation of drivers known for serious character flaws. The male of the species can be overly and sometimes dangerously aggressive when behind the wheel while the female equivalent struggles with the concept of simply acknowledging the presence of other road users.
You will find yourself spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding where to play a round. We have it all here: upmarket, pretentious, charming, classic, rustic, quaint, working class, downtrodden… there is a course for every tastebud and budget. An exhaustively researched survey has thrown up any number of candidates worthy of recommendation but space restrictions have meant a heavy culling process and the courses highlighted here have been identified by purely scientific means (i.e. the author’s personal likes). In order of a north to south geographical spread these are just two handfuls of courses you should go out of your way to play.
So there you have it. If there isn’t enough there to fill your golfing boots it might be a good idea to seek an alternative sporting pursuit even if the 10 featured courses are a mere taster of what New Zealand can provide for an unwary foreigner.
While the golf will help you while away the hours during your stay, you are certain to become aware of an entertaining sideshow taking place smack bang in the middle of rugby’s global showpiece.
The incumbent National Government has its fingers crossed for an All Blacks victory because there is simply no telling how the general public will respond to yet another World Cup flop. The Parliamentary elections are scheduled for November, meaning every politician and his pet dog will be barking promises from early October. With the present Prime Minister a smiling, waving cardboard cut out and his main Opposition rival devoid of personality, it promises to be a particular bland and dull election campaign. So if you find you have inadvertently stumbled over a talking politico while channel hopping on the TV, simply seek out the cartoon channels instead.
There remain only two more pieces of advice. Firstly, make sure you book with the clubs in advance, and, two, Kia Kaha. The latter is a Maori terms which means Stay Strong. It is much loved by Michael Campbell, one of this nation’s most popular golfing sons, who has shown that very same quality since his game began unravelling after his extraordinary exploits in 2005.