After arriving in Auckland, Ryan and I headed north through a multitude of small towns that I can’t for the life of me pronounce or even remember. We stopped along the beach for a lite and delicious lunch at a small beach town, hit the grocer and butcher in Warkworth, the coffee shop in Matakana and a small Op Shop (thrift store benefiting local ambulance companies usually). I learned that that is pretty much the format to every New Zealand town – cafe, butcher, gas station, op shop, dairy, and a pub. Simple but very good living.
Eventually, we arrived back to his humble abode above the estuary in Mangawhai (the ‘wh’ becomes more of an ‘f’ sound) Heads. There is Mangawhai Village which is situated deeper inland and near the estuary of the tides which forms a bit of a harbor/wetlands and Mangawhai Heads which is a residential area/town that is closer to the ocean and surf beach. Ryan drove us down to the surf beach for a quick dip in the Pacific to offer a bit of an awakening to my senses after the long day of travel and to give us some energy for the rest of the afternoon.
Next on the agenda was a trip to the Paparoa Golf Club. Ryan had never been there before, but had heard great things about the experience. He knew that there would be not many signs to get there and there probably wouldn’t be anyone at the club to show us around (a typical rural honesty box system). What he didn’t know was how difficult it would be to find this place. We made it to the town of Paparoa (imagine the bare bones as listed above) and saw a sign with a directional arrow stating “Paparoa Golf Club 10 km.” Good sign as we didn’t think there’d be any signs! We continue up this road (which soon thereafter turned to gravel) for about 10-12 minutes passing a fork in the road about halfway. We haven’t seen any signs or any signs of anything other than farmland and so we decide that maybe the fork in the road was the way to the golf course. We flip a U and continue down the hill from whence we just came and hung a right at the aforementioned fork. Down this road we go for 10-12 minutes and still we see nothing. Now we are almost at wits end as we decide to go back to the original route and continue just a bit further up the road. We pass a couple of right hand turns that look promising, but there is nothing in the immediate sight looking down these roads, so we continue forward. After 5 minutes of driving and seeing nothing new, we backtrack again to those promising looking turnoffs and FINALLY, see just over the crest of a hill (not far from where we initially flipped the first U of the day) the sign for Paparoa Golf Club.
Let me tell you, it was worth every wrong turn we made. We park the car next to the structure at the top of the hill deemed the clubhouse and after opening the door, I see a little sign and coin drop detailing the $5 green fee and plea for honesty. A humble clubhouse complete with gentlemen’s trough and shower, Tuesday scorecards and Saturday scorecards and a bulletin detailing some membership notes. We find a gate to the first tee and much like my experience at Silvies Valley Ranch, “if you open a gate, close the gate.” We’ll address why on the back 9. The first required some local knowledge as it doglegs alongside the road and from the tee, it certainly appeared that you didn’t need to hit it very far right. When I found my drive in the left side of the fairway (I thought I would be right-center), I knew I was in for a bit of a day of surprises. I had just a flip wedge and figured I would land it short of the green as I just saw Ryan land on the front and bounce over the crowned putting surface. My ball hit a soft spot and ended up short of the green and short of the fence encircling the green. Many Americans would have no idea why a fence would surround a putting surface, but when you met the maintenance team at Paparoa, you’ll be soon to find out! **HINT** they’re not Baaa’d at their job.
So we continue on and play a couple of nice little holes with unique green complexes (the second is built into a hill with a sharp fall off right and the 4th is a nice medium length 3 par with the fall off left of the tiny green. Then we haul across the road again, opening and closing paddock gates to keep the grounds crew where the club wants them. The 5th/14th is a magnificent hole that entices a long drive over a crest to set up a short iron into a well protected greensite where short is in a clever hazard and flying your ball to the green would likely have your ball rolling long. The 6th and 7th shared a really wide fairway begging strategically placed shots for those that have played many a round at PGC. The 6th plays uphill to allow for an absolutely stunning treat at the 7th tee overlooking the ridges and rolling canyons of the rural Northland. The 8th and 17th had vastly different tee shots to the uphill 3 par. We played both of them to get the true experience and given the windy conditions and many sheep maintaining the course, the approaches were quite difficult! Playing one of my patented low running shots was a huge risk in that I didn’t want to peg one of the wooly beasts. Alas, my shots were safely executed and left 2 par putts to be holed (1 successfully). The home hole also played uphill, into the wind and into the sheep. As Ryan lamented, “this fairway is cut a bit tighter” and while I didn’t notice a huge change in firmness or roll, my approach was one of the best of the day leading to a tap in par 4.
Paparoa, you were a true gem and now that we know where you live, we’ll be back again someday soon!