The Hills Golf Club in Arrowtown, New Zealand, has opened The Farm, a new nine-hole par three course designed by golf consultant and writer Darius Oliver.
Owned by New Zealand jeweller and entrepreneur Michael Hill, the private club hosts the New Zealand Open on the PGA Tour of Australasia, on its 18-hole John Darby-designed course that opened in 2007.
Its new par three course is described by Oliver as “an elastic, ‘choose your own adventure’ style” layout, with a flexible design that allows golfers to choose from multiple tee locations, distances and angles of approach. Oliver says it is “blessed with stunning scenery, fun holes and nine gloriously diverse green settings” and was built with “the lightest of touches and devoid of bunkers.”
The project started in 2016 when Oliver was asked to visit the club and review existing plans for a par three course. The layout was much more condensed and essentially a pitch and putt model.
“I told Sir Michael Hill when we first met that I didn’t think a par three course would add much to the appeal of the club for the serious golfer – sure they might bring kids and beginners there for the odd game but would be unlikely to want to play it themselves regularly,” said Oliver.
“Then I walked the site and immediately changed my mind. What I didn’t expect to see were nine ready-made and incredible par threes sitting there already on the ground – but that was the case. The routing really only took a couple of hours to figure out, and once I’d walked the property I called Sir Michael and the club’s general manager and superintendent Brendan Allen for a look, and they almost immediately bought into the concept.
“It’s important to note that this wasn’t a simple case of finding a use for excess land, part of my course ran across ground that had been pre-approved for subdivision – so they were essentially agreeing to forgo millions of dollars’ worth of property for a par three course,” continued Oliver. “The previous routing avoided these land plots, and occupied less than half the total area, so this was a completely different concept and calculation.”
Plans and consent application were agreed and approved in early 2017. By mid-2017, a haul road was built and fences and some trees were removed in order to accommodate the course. Course construction began with shaper Tom Paterson and Oliver working on the fourth hole in September 2017.
“It took an hour or two for Tom to get inside my head and figure what I wanted, and after that he was brilliant,” said Oliver. “As were all the Hills construction guys, mostly plucked from the maintenance team on the bigger course to help out. These guys worked tirelessly through some difficult conditions without ever losing focus, or enthusiasm. Brendan would regularly get on the machines himself, as would his assistant Ben Taylor after working a full day on the big course. It never ceased to amaze me, how eager these guys were to be part of the construction process.
“The site is really the star attraction – and in particular the views and the Arrow Irrigation water race, which runs through the property and is used numerous times in design,” said Oliver. “Five holes – the first, second, seventh, eighth and ninth – tee off either alongside or on top of the race and three – the first, seventh and eighth – play across the water. I would argue there are no highlight holes, however, as all nine are outstanding and unique in their own way. I love hitting all nine tee shots, and love hitting from at least two ‘areas’ on each of the holes. There are four great angles/shots into the second hole alone.”
Oliver said it was a race to get the double green for the first and eighth grassed in time for there to be growth heading into winter 2018. “After that it was fine tuning and finishing a few tees and surrounds. Brendan has done a remarkable job with the grow-in, along with his staff – in particular course foreman Sam. They have such a passion for the course and the concept that I have no doubt the holes will continue to mature and play well into the years ahead. I just can’t wait to get back and play some more myself. I went around four times one afternoon last month including twice with the key greenkeepers which was a real highlight. Our final round was played with a single club and was super competitive and great fun.”
READ: More about the course including hole-by-hole descriptions and photographs.
Construction was completed by March 2018 and the course opened for member play in early February 2019 and had its grand opening and was formally named by Lady Christine Hill at the New Zealand Open’s ‘Champions Day’ event.
“Overall, I can’t speak highly enough of the club or the client,” said Oliver. “The Hill family were fantastic to work for and their staff a delight to work with. We all had the same, singular focus and I know are very proud of the finished product.”