Regional | Golf

Tapora, New Zealand’s first golf course with artificial greens, has special links to Māori golf

The new artificial greens at Tapora Golf Course, in Kaipara. Photo / Supplied

The country’s first golf course with totally artificial greens – and with special connections to the Māori golf sector - has officially been opened for play.

Tapora Golf Club, on the Kaipara Harbour north-west of Auckland, has undergone a major redevelopment programme over the past four months – with the biggest improvement being the installation of totally artificial greens replacing the course’s traditional grassed putting strips.

The conversion to an all-weather playing amenity cost the club around $500,000. However, the club calculates the initial upfront outlay will pay for itself over five years through savings associated with reduced greenkeeper’s wages and lower operating expenses for the likes of specialist green lawnmowers, turf maintenance machinery, grass fertiliser, weed control and irrigation.

The new artificial turf – comparable to sports surfaces already now used in New Zealand for hockey and soccer pitches – has an estimated life of up to 15 years if maintained carefully. With the underlying civil works and landscaping to establish the new greens undertaken as a one-off cost, replacing the artificial greens at the end of their eventual “best by” date will be considerably cheaper.

Construction of the greens involved excavating nearly a metre of subsoil, which was then backfilled with free-draining rocks, followed by a layer of smaller gravel, then topped with sand – all of which was compacted with heavyweight rollers normally used for roading construction.

Family connection

The new greens replicate holes golfers would expect to find on a typical course – with gentle undulations, some slopes, and in some cases two-tiered greens. Each hole features multiple pin placements which can be changed on a regular basis to ensure variety for players.

In conjunction with the new greens being installed, the club also took advantage of the temporary closure of the facility to lengthen its fairways and install new tee boxes – adding not only distance to some holes, but also creating multiple angles to its nine holes.

The course has a special family connection with Golf New Zealand Māori golf development manager Aroha Tito, whose grandfather Chum was one of Tapora Golf Club’s founding members in 1964. The family owned a farm just a short distance away.

Aroha Tito’s name also appears multiple times on the club’s champions honours board for her repeated victories in the women’s division, while her grandmother and Chum’s wife Pepi Tito and Aroha’s mother Ngaroma Brown also appear on the honours board for their wins in several other competitions.

Greg Inger, the club spokesman and one of the main people behind the course upgrade and overhaul, said the club was excited about becoming the first golfing amenity in New Zealand to bravely go where no other course in the country had ventured.

'Next generation'

“The artificial turf which has been laid down is ‘next generation’ in terms of the playing experience it offers players. We’re not talking about teeing up on mini-golf style carpet here, but a simulated artificial grass surface which plays just like a normal green… except that you won’t find pitch marks or annoying weed growth coming through,” said Inger.

“Golf as a sport is on a huge popularity wave at the moment, and in fact has been since early 2020 when Covid-19 conditions meant people were looking for a recreational activity which could be played in ‘lockdown’ conditions. While general society is now back to a degree of normality, the momentum for golf has continued on.

“As a result, most golf courses in and around Auckland are now heavily booked over weekends – with strong numbers of women, youngsters, and families getting into the game. Tapora Golf Club is now aiming to be a genuine playing option for those struggling to find tee times in city courses – whether they are looking to play a social round with friends, a competitive challenge on a full-length course, or are looking for a golf course with classic Kiwi rural feel to it.

“We’re 100 kilometres from the Auckland Harbour Bridge, making the course an easily accessible option for a road-trip day’s golfing, where tee times will be a lot easier to secure than in the city.

“We expect that the attraction of offering all-weather greens on a predominantly sand base soil structure – the only ones of their type in New Zealand – will really come to the fore over winter when rain impacts on the playing viability for many courses.”

Tapora Golf Club celebrated its official opening of the new greens facility with a well-patronised tournament this month, including members and guest players travelling from across Auckland and Northland to be part of the special occasion. Chum Tito was fondly remembered in one of the post-match re-opening night speeches for his love and commitment to the club, from the founding days when the nine holes were painstakingly landscaped out of the countryside, until his death in 1995.

The 18-hole/par-72 course is open to the public for $25 a round. It is surrounded by farmland and avocado orchards and has magnificent views over the Kaipara Harbour from the elevated holes in the middle of the course.

- New Zealand Herald