Amid celebrations for the 100th staging of the New Zealand Open was the official opening of a unique par-three course.
Designed by Darius Oliver and known as ‘The Farm’, the course at The Hills Golf Club was christened with the playing of a 140-person ‘Champions Day’ nine-hole tournament.
Club founder Sir Michael Hill, who described The Farm as ‘possibly my finest achievement’, was among the participants alongside 120 keen amateurs and more than a dozen former winners of the New Zealand Open.
Beyond its reputation as a regular tournament venue, The Hills is renowned globally for an incredible collection of outdoor sculptures. From the giant ‘Seated Man’ statue left of the first hole through to the 100-strong pack of attacking wolves beside the 18th fairway, the artwork dotted across the course can distract even those playing their poorest golf.
Adding to the appeal of this exceptional member-only facility is The Farm, an elastic ‘choose your own adventure’ style par-three course blessed with stunning scenery, fun holes and nine gloriously diverse green settings that can be approached by all and with any club in the bag.
Built with the lightest of touches and devoid of bunkers, The Farm features wall-to-wall browntop bent, a magnificent near century-old irrigation race and was designed to be maintained by fewer than two full-time staff members.
As far from a simple ‘pitch and putt’ layout as you might find, the concept here was for The Farm to be both fun for absolute beginners, as well as a thrilling, stiff challenge (if necessary) for the accomplished golfer. Essentially, the member can choose to make their round as easy or as difficult as they wish. They can play at a range of distances and from a great variety of angles, and with as many, or as few clubs, as they like.
The Hills’ General Manager Brendan Allen played the Champions Day tournament with just a six-iron and putter, and finished one shot behind the top amateur.
The Champions Day event reflected the philosophy and playability of the concept. Sir Bob Charles, the 82-year old Kiwi legend, thrilled spectators with a hole-in-one on the final green, while 10-year old Josh Harris shot a one-over-par 28 in the morning drizzle to finish one stroke behind the leading amateur and only two behind the best of the professionals. Young Harris tied former Australian cricket captain, and scratch marker, Ricky Ponting.
Course designer Oliver said: “Words really fail here to do justice to this project and to the thrill of being involved in the creation of The Farm. Imagine being a golf course designer and wanting to build a beautiful, elastic par-three course that was playable and fun for beginners yet also challenging and fun for really good golfers – and then being offered this sort of site.
“As soon as we finished the routing we knew the potential was enormous. Although I’m proud of all nine holes and the overall finished product, I’m realistic about how much credit I can take for how it turned out. The site really is the star attraction. Not only is the scenery incredible and the almost 100-year-old water race perfectly positioned for thrills and excitement, no two holes are even remotely alike, nor do any of the greens require the same sort of approach. None of the views ever get old or tired, nor do the holes.
“On top of a great site, we enjoyed the benefits of both an uncompromised approach to development from the ownership as well as the complete commitment of a talented in-house construction and grow-in team.”