Story: Golf

Once the province of the wealthy and the professional classes, golf is played by more New Zealanders than any other sport. In 2009 almost 500,000 people played at least one round.

Story by Garry Ahern
Main image: Young golf star Danny Lee, 2008

Story summary

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Origins of New Zealand golf

New Zealand’s first recorded game of golf was in Dunedin in 1871. The Otago Golf Club is the world’s fourth-oldest outside the United Kingdom. Another club was set up in Christchurch in 1873.

Two more clubs were set up in 1892, and the New Zealand Amateur Championship began in 1893. In 1899 the Golf Council was set up to represent clubs and players nationally.

The 20th century

The first Open Championship, for both professional and amateur golfers, was held in 1907. It was won by A. D. S. Duncan, New Zealand’s most prominent golfer of the era.

Before the Second World War golf was mainly a game for the wealthy, and players dressed smartly on the course. In the 1960s there was a worldwide golfing boom, and player numbers rose rapidly.


Women played golf from its early days. A women’s golf club was set up in Otago in 1892, and the first Ladies Amateur Championship was held in 1893. By 1930 almost as many women as men played golf.

Māori have been prominent golfers. In 1903 Kurupō Tāreha of Ngāti Kahungunu won the Amateur Championship. His son, Kapi, and Kapi’s daughter, Audrey, also became prominent golfers. Walter Godfrey was another successful Māori golfer in the 1950s.

Between 1985 and 2011 player numbers almost doubled. More New Zealanders played golf than any other sport.


The amateur and open championships remain the country’s largest individual golfing events. Competitions for teams of two or four players have been held since the 1920s.

Major international successes by individuals include:

  • Bob Charles winning the British Open in 1963
  • Michael Campbell winning the US Open in 2005
  • Danny Lee, aged 18, being the then youngest-ever winner of the US Amateur Championship in 2008
  • Lydia Ko, aged 17, becoming the youngest professional golfer to be ranked world number one. By 2016 she had won two major championships and become New Zealand's youngest-ever individual female Olympic medallist at the Rio Olympics. 

Golf courses

The Manawatu Golf Course opened in 1895 and is New Zealand’s oldest. Napier Golf Club opened the following year on land donated by Ngāti Kahungunu.

In the 2010s New Zealand had about 400 golf courses – more per person than any other country except Scotland. International tourists visited New Zealand to play golf.

How to cite this page:

Garry Ahern, 'Golf', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 September 2023)

Story by Garry Ahern, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Sep 2016