There has been a lot happening with the Gulf Harbour Course this month and I have been reflecting on my experiences at the club from the early days. From walking up the wooden stairs, looking at the silverware in the cabinets and reading the members and visitors book, to sitting in the bar getting a $20 martini cocktail made by the Director of Golf/ Cocktail waiter/ Bar owner and legend, it’s going to be really missed.
Membership at the course has been amazing and having this quality course on our doorstep has really made us lucky as golfers. The views we all know are amazing, the greens have always been top notch and the members have been “fun”. Some legends worked there as well in many roles over the years, I remember one who was seen riding a 1000cc borrowed Ducati superbike down the 18th fairway in jandals and stories of some serious socializing and pranks. Fun was had by all.
I fondly remember the quality of golf that has been played at the course. In the first few years (1998) I was able to watch world-class golfers at the “World Cup of Golf”. I remember looking at the field and wondering who I could follow and how many top golfers I could see in one day. Nick Faldo couldn’t be beaten that year as the best player to follow. I remember my plan was to not just follow 1 player for a full round, but I was unable to resist the clinical golf prowess of Faldo and spent most time up close with the crowd he attracted. I did spend some time following John Daly and remember his cigarette and coke consumption nearly every hole. When Daly lined up for the safe shot off the tee on the 16th (signature hole) the crowd signed in disappointment, he laughed and then turned his stance and bombed it into the greenside bunker to the excitement of all present. He was fun to watch, and it was a great event and made the course on the world stage. NZ Opens were great for the area, watching an exciting playoff with Niclas Fasth beating Miles Tunnicliffe was some great spectator golf. With a little encouragement from the Corp tent crew, my wife managed to flash enough cleavage to secure me a signed hat from the winner and runner-up that year.
There were some notable visitors to the course I remember seeing or hearing the stories about. One player booked 6 tee times on either side of his, on a quiet day when I was practicing on the range. Making way for the helicopter landing on the range was always exciting. Justin Timberlake was a keen golfer and was in Auckland for a concert, I wasn’t sure I caught a glimpse but the secrecy around visits of famous celebs was always part of the excitement of being a member of the Club. One friend who lived on the course told me of looking out his kitchen window one morning and recognising Robbie William teeing off on the 15th.
During the Rugby World Cup, there were sports celebs all over Auckland. I didn’t know the Frenchman on the practice green on the Friday before the French vs. AB final, but when Brian Lahore and Murray Decker turned up in the bar afterwards it was a cool reunion to watch with them and the former French caption Jean Pierre Reeves (1997 world cup final). The Japanese rugby team were based in the lodge down the road and trained at the club facilities. Too many of them in the spa one day flooded the whole men’s locker room, there were some big sumos in that team. All black captains, top international sailors, and media celebs were members and visitors often seen at the club.
The course had a great practice area, and you could go out any day and see dedicated golfers, like the young Korean girl and her father (great conversations were had in the men’s sauna) practising daily (Lydia later became world number 1). There were NZ Open winners John Lister, Micheal Hendry and top golfers Ryan Fox, and Daniel Hiller using the facilities regularly and up-and-coming Pros Kit Bittle and Jimmy Hydes. I remember a clinic with then Country Club Ambassador Micheal Campbell was well patronised by members and some great tips were shared by him. A few days later I watched as the club owners Aston Martin was put on the tow truck and repossessed, not long after that the club itself went the same way until the next owners and members steered it back on track. I did have dinner with one of the eccentric owners, a famous US Artist who loved painting other members' portraits (without their knowledge) with a theme that would make members blush.
There are some great NZ courses that can boast similar experiences and visitors, these are also among the top courses in NZ and renowned in the world. Gulf Harbour Country Club was one of the best in design, layout and facilities and I haven’t met any members past or present that wouldn’t agree.