The Central Otago area of the South Island of New Zealand was originally best known as the scene for New Zealand’s very own gold rush in the 1860s, and Cromwell itself saw one of the major discoveries of gold in 1862. Nowadays, the whole area is much more focused on tourism, with Queenstown getting the lion’s share of the visitors. For golfers, most will also look to Queenstown, with Jack’s Point, The Hills, Millbrook and Arrowtown being the star attractions. But visiting golfers looking to find both an authentic and typically laid back Kiwi members club, coupled with a fascinating and ever-improving course, will strike it lucky 45 minutes down the road in Cromwell.
The club itself was founded in 1903, with 9 holes laid out on the land between the current clubhouse and Lake Dunstan. Later, the club moved a couple of miles around the lake to an 18-hole course at Lowburn. In the 1970s, the club moved back to its original home, to an 18-hole layout that is not dissimilar to today’s routing. That incarnation hosted a number of notable events, including the South Island Amateur Championships (twice, in the 80s), the NZ Seniors Championship (1998) and the Freyberg Masters in 2001.
In 2003, former European Tour player and South Island native Greg Turner was asked by the club to make some changes. Plans for a housing development meant that the par three by the clubhouse had to be replaced by another at the far end of the property (now the 14th), and Turner also implemented a program of tree removal.
More recently (in 2010/11) Turner returned, this time alongside partner Scott MacPherson. Ten new greens were built, alongside some changes to routing, a new par three (the 17th) and a reordering of some of the existing holes. The new greens in particular are substantially different; more undulating, with numerous tiers, swales, and tight run-off areas. The rolling sandy turf, coupled with the hot and dry microclimate found in the area (especially in summer), means that Cromwell often plays firm, and the low running option around the green will often be the percentage shot.
The course has now been lengthened to well over 7,000 yards, giving it the potential to provide a sharp test for tournament play in future. It’s an intriguing blend of rolling heathland territory with a certain whiff of links golf thrown in, and will aptly complement any tour of the region’s more famous courses.