Story: Golf

Page 2. Golf’s rise in popularity

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First clubs

The Dunedin Golf Club initially faced problems obtaining enough equipment and finding a suitable playing area. It then fell on hard times when the adjacent Fogarty’s hotel, which doubled as the club bar, went bankrupt. Although another golf club was formed in Christchurch in 1873, it was not until the 1890s that golf emerged in sustained and organised form in New Zealand.

Princely problems

In 1920 Edward, Prince of Wales, played at Maungakiekie, Auckland, during his tour of New Zealand. He returned the next day to play with the club’s professional, Harry Blair, but his game went badly. The prince tried one club after another from his enormous and mismatched collection, which had mostly been gifted to him. Finally he asked Blair for advice on his clubs. The reply was, ‘Give them to someone you don’t like.’1

First Amateur Championship

By 1892 the number of immigrants from Britain, including many golf enthusiasts, had greatly increased, and in that year two more golf clubs were established – North Otago and Hutt (founded by David Howden, brother of Charles from the Dunedin club). In 1893 the New Zealand Amateur Championship was held for the first time, as a competition between the four clubs. This championship remained one of New Zealand golf’s leading annual events in the 2000s.

New Zealand Golf Association

Other centres soon formed their own golf clubs and in 1899 the Golf Council was set up to represent clubs and players nationally. This became the New Zealand Golf Association in 1910. By 1924 it represented nearly 100 affiliated clubs and 9,000 regular players, including 4,000 women.

Bob Charles

The first New Zealand player to gain an international profile was Bob Charles. He won his first New Zealand Open competition in 1954, aged 18, and turned professional in 1960. Three years later he won the British Open, one of the world’s leading golfing tournaments. One of the most successful left-handed golfers of all time, Charles gave the game a high profile in New Zealand for more than four decades, winning the Senior British Open (for players aged 50 and over) in 1989 and 1993. From 1986 he donated 1% of his income to New Zealand golf, supporting the Sir Bob Charles Scholarships awarded annually to promising young golfers. He was knighted in 1999 and retired in 2010 after winning more than 60 international tournaments.

First Open Championship

New Zealand’s first Open Championship – for professional as well as amateur players – was held in Napier in 1907 and won by a Wellington amateur, A. D. S. Duncan, who became the most prominent figure in New Zealand golf in the first decades of the 20th century. Amateurs continued to dominate the New Zealand game into the 1920s, but from about 1926 professional players, often employed as coaches at the larger clubs, dominated national competition.

Brassies, mashies and niblicks

Before the Second World War golf was a game mainly for the wealthy and the professional classes, and many significant business transactions were conducted between strokes. Players were expected to be smartly dressed on the course. Until steel-shafted golf clubs appeared in the 1930s, hickory-shafted clubs were used, with descriptive names such as brassie, spoon, mashie and niblick rather than the numbering system used later. Wheeled golf trundlers were unknown, and clubs were carried in a heavy canvas bag by a caddie, usually a young boy.

Golfing boom

A 1948 opinion poll rated golf the 11th-most popular sport in New Zealand. However, from the 1960s general affluence and the introduction of televised games drove a worldwide golfing boom which spread to New Zealand. Player numbers rose rapidly, prize money for national competitions increased, and top international stars such as the South African Gary Player were attracted to compete in New Zealand.

  1. G. M. Kelly, Golf in New Zealand: a centennial history. Wellington: New Zealand Golf Association, 1971, pp. 61–62. Back
How to cite this page:

Garry Ahern, 'Golf - Golf’s rise in popularity', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 10 December 2022)

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