Changes for Williamson Golf Course in Whangamata

Club volunteers, left to right: Mike Saes, with Phil Tataurangi, Warren Yass, Terry “The Famous Greenkeeper” and Tom Horsburgh. Photo / Provided

Phil Tataurangi, one of New Zealand’s most famous golfers, started playing at Williamson Golf Course in Whangamata when he was 7 years old.

“As a family, that’s where we used to vacation in the 70s and 80s. People had a family trailer and then built a bach in Moana Point. Mom and dad were teachers, so we were here pretty much every school break or long weekend I drove my Raleigh 20, with my clubs and stayed all day It was all I wanted to do and certainly heralded the start of my deep love for the game,” Phil said.

Phil is currently back at Whangamata and he’s back on the old course with fond memories, but this time for a very different reason. “Le Willy” is a nine-hole course offered by the founders of the town.

However, 44 years after Phil started playing on it, it is now surrounded by infill housing and many residents don’t play golf and worry about the safety of children, reflecting a problem around New Zealand with many homes now within yards of the fairways and greens.

Since stepping away from tournament golf, Phil has taken an interest in course design and construction and consults with several New Zealand clubs. With GroundVision’s Greg Shaw and the help of volunteer golf club members, Phil moves the second green 30 yards from the houses.

The old second hole was a long Par 3 and a member favorite. This decision disappointed some members.

With the risk of injury and damage, the insurance bill increases. Golf New Zealand also recommends that clubs assess and, if necessary, take action to mitigate the risk of serious injury. Phil is currently working with six other New Zealand clubs who find themselves in similar situations.

“I sympathize with clubs having to go through the process of evaluating their courses and in some cases changing certain holes, but these are different times and there are many factors contributing to the problem.

“The view that the course ‘was here first’ is no longer prevalent in society these days. There is a duty of care for golf clubs to operate responsibly and no one is to comfortable with residents or golfers being in danger,” Phil said.

Luckily, Williamson had a spare green, so with the help of many volunteers, the old one was rolled up and put back in place.

The Whangamata Golf Club has embraced the change and is now looking to shift the focus of the club towards golf-based entertainment to provide year-round enjoyment and interest to locals and visitors, rather than traditional golf.

Future activities could include mini putts, golf screens and golf stimulators, as well as modern cafes and bars in refurbished club rooms. And for time conscious audiences, perhaps a smaller purpose built par 3 course.

The club hopes that by Christmas the green will be set and in play – perhaps ready for the next 7-year-old to visit and begin their journey to becoming a PGA winner.

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