Royal Wellington Connects Golf’s Past and Future

It only took two meetings more than 100 years ago for The Wellington Golf Club to come to life. A committee of four men and four women, steered by Ethel Duncan and David Howden, met on April 30, 1895, with the mission to establish a golf club in New Zealand’s capital city. Eighty days later, a piece of farmland on the Miramar peninsula was transformed into a 15-hole golf course.

In 1908, after four years of hands-on work by contractors and club members, the first iteration of Wellington Golf Club’s current location in Heretaunga was opened by Prime Minister Joseph Ward and founding member ADS Duncan.

The parkland course adjacent to the Hutt River remained largely unchanged until 1974, when a new 18-hole championship course was completed. The club continuously evolved over the next four decades, but perhaps the most notable change happened off the course when Queen Elizabeth bestowed the club with royal status, one of only two clubs in the country to be granted the honor, in 2004 during the 250th anniversary celebration of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. It was then that the club became known as Royal Wellington Golf Club.

The final changes were complete in 2014 when the 18-hole championship Heretaunga course, featuring 13 new holes along with new greens, tees and bunkers, and the nine-hole Terrace course, composed of holes that did not require a makeover, officially opened. Now, Royal Wellington prepares to host the 2017 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC)  and looks forward to welcoming the event to New Zealand for the first time.

“I believe spectators and viewers at home will see that Royal Wellington’s championship course will provide a true golfing challenge in an impressive natural setting,” said Club Captain Andrew Harcourt. “It is sited alongside a river and displays meandering waterways, ancient trees and abundant birdlife. The course sits on a former river bed overlooked by a traditional and very welcoming member’s clubhouse and is truly one of New Zealand’s best golfing experiences.”

The ninth AAC joins a long tradition of championship golf contested on the grounds of Royal Wellington. The inaugural New Zealand Amateur Championship was held in 1899 and was followed soon after by the New Zealand Women’s Open Championship in 1903, both held at the original location in Miramar. Then from 1912 to 1995, seven New Zealand Opens were played in Heretaunga on the same ground where golf’s future heroes from the Asia-Pacific region will tee it up in late October for a chance to compete in the 2018 Masters and The Open Championship at Carnoustie.

“New Zealand has a very proud golfing history and to be hosting a golfing event of this magnitude is very special,” said New Zealand Golf CEO Dean Murphy. “The event will not only offer an unprecedented opportunity to promote golf in New Zealand, it is also an unrivalled playing opportunity for our best young players. New Zealand is a very proud golfing nation and we look forward to showcasing our beautiful country to the world later this year.”

Countryman Nick Voke, currently the top-ranked amateur from New Zealand, will look to follow in the footsteps of past New Zealand victors who got their start at Royal Wellington. Out of the seven New Zealand Opens held at the club, four were won by Kiwis, while aforementioned club member ADS Duncan claimed three New Zealand Open titles and a staggering 10 New Zealand Amateur Championships.

“For me personally, this is a very special opportunity, and after playing in three of these tournaments, this will probably be my last and there is no better way to finish than in my home country who will do an amazing job hosting. To win this event would mean the world and especially to be able to do it in front of all my friends and family in New Zealand,” said Voke.

The outgoing senior at Iowa State University in the United States earned his best finish in the AAC a year ago when he placed 11th. In fact, four of the top-25 finishers in 2016 were from New Zealand, a number surpassed only by Japan’s five representatives.

“I haven’t played the new layout at Royal Wellington much at all, so I won’t have that advantage like some of my teammates, but I am ready for the challenge after a great final year at Iowa State, which has given me some good confidence,” Voke said.

While the sport continues to grow in the region, it is only fitting that the 2017 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which was founded on the mission to grow the game of golf, will be played at a course with such a storied past. The history of championship golf in New Zealand cannot be told without Royal Wellington Golf Club, and now, as host of arguably one of the biggest golf events ever held in the country, it ensures the club will forever be intertwined with the game’s future.